Science fiction & God


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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27 Responses

  1. Avatar spiffie says:

    I’d recommend checking out Clifford D. Simak. He was the third SFWA Grand Master, and often wrote science fiction with religious themes. He’s a mid-century sci-fi author, though, so go in expecting that and not a contemporary style.Report

  2. Avatar JosephFM says:

    As a diehard Dick fan, I appreciated this for taking his religious themes somewhat seriously – not many critics know what do with them, to be honest. I was a bit disappointed that it brushed passed him rather quickly though, nonetheless, but I understand it in this context. (I was more surprised by the lack of mention of Orson Scott Card, but nevermind.)

    What I think bears noting – and this is something I got from Dick and his fellow late great New Wave sci-fi author, Thomas Disch – is that science fiction writers, and fantasy writers as well, are world builders. They’re creatives, and more than that, creatives dealing with wholly fantastic concepts. So I would posit that what drives science fiction and religion together is in fact that creating fantastic stories is perhaps the most godlike act that humans are capable of, as well as one of the most central. And once you start creating worlds from whole cloth it’s hard not to have to grapple with the responsibility of trying to build universes that don’t fall apart two days later. If writing supernormal fiction (to say nothing of supranormal or supernatural fiction) is in some sense playing god, then the appearance of religious implications and themes is only natural.Report

  3. Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

    Somewhere in my library is “Earth Abides,” whose author I’ve unfortunately forgotten. It is post-apocalyptic and a delightful read written back in 1946. Interestingly, the hero ‘marries’ a black woman and she is the mother of all or most of those who follow. Her husband, the storyteller and the head of the clan is immortalized in a statute his grand or great grandchildren erect detailing him holding a hammer…so it is and so it shall be in the search for order.
    We need something on mysticism, “the cloud of unknowing,” the clash with the ideological gnostics.Report

    • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

      Bob, here’s a question for you, it’s something I’m not clear on.

      What if any is the difference between what you call “ideological gnostics” and well, regular theological gnostics?
      Please don’t just answer “read Vogelin”, I’m looking for a plainer and shorter explanation.Report

      • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to JosephFM says:

        JosephFM, well I just happen to be working on a little thesis related to an analysis that’ll identify contemporary Gnosticism. As you know gnosticism is like pornography; you know when you see it.

        The Theo-gnostics (I’m looking at my Gnostic Bible!) in my opinion (and therefore subject to error) probably rose in the Axial Age (800-500 BCE) at the same time a number of civilizations participated in what Voegelin described as the “leap of being,” the identification of a base tension between the mundane orders of existence and transcendence.
        Interestingly, we still exist in that epoch.

        While there is no accepted definition of (Theological) “Gnosticism” it is assumed by many, to be that period in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD that gave rise of systems taught by Basilides, Valentinus and Mani.

        Re: “ideological” Gnosticism I’d point to the ideological disorders of the 19th and 20th centuries and our own period under Obama, as adequate illustrations. The line-of-meaning that would be Marx, Hegel, Hans Jonas (Jacob Boehme) inaugurates the contemporary gnostic movement. We might keep in mind that in Hegel we are dealing with a mystic seeking self-salvation and in Marx, a man who imagined communism as the solution to the struggle “between existence and essence….”
        Marx did not understand Hegel, in much the same way Obama does not understand Marx, thus he is the epigonic Marxist.

        The contemporary gnostic seeks that knowledge which will result in the “new” or “super” man who will of his own volition rise above the mundane in a hypostatized (or sometimes not) tension of existence. And, this activity is always, I think, a function of the state, but can also be a product of dogmatomachy (a philodoxical conflict of “opinions”).

        I have a criticism of atheism coming out and I’m talking with friend that edits a mag over in Great Britain about a contemporary gnostic piece for him. And, I’m doing a paper on ‘contemporary’ gnosticism for Kritique, a journal for Santo Thomas Univ. in the Philippines and I hope to analize the necessary criteria to ascertain a gnostic component in a political movement. Sorry this is a bit discombobulated. Any questions just fire away.Report

        • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

          Well, I actually asked because Phil Dick always seemed to quite clearly be a Theo-gnostic, despite in some ways also being a postmodernist, whereas what you call contemporary gnostics are what I would call historicists.Report

          • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to JosephFM says:

            JosephFM, would you define “historicist” for me (no-snark!)?Report

            • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

              I mean it as someone who believes that history has direction, a path that can be predicted and controlled, with an idealized, Utopian end state (regardless of whether said end state is a classless egalitarian society, the worldwide dominance of liberal capitalism, the Rapture, the restoration of the Galactic Empire, or something else entirely.)

              And yes, that second-to-last was a reference to Asimov’s “psychohistory”. (Which actually makes me want to write a piece on the conflicting philosophies of Foundation and Dune…)Report

              • Avatar North in reply to JosephFM says:

                Asimov reference! Plus ten points for Griffendor. Well done Joseph, I tip my monocle to you.Report

              • Avatar JosephFM in reply to JosephFM says:

                This is in contrast to Dick – of all the people you cite as modern gnostics, only Boehme seems to have been an influence, and there moreso in formulating an explaination to his own experiences of divine revelation and/or drug-induced psychosis.Report

              • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to JosephFM says:

                BTW, which Dick book would you recommend for me to read…and I don’t have the time?
                Jacob Boehme (1575-1624), kind of an old dude..not a modern gnostic, just in the line-of-meaning!
                I would think most SF writers would be just bloated with gnosticism, in that the spiritual denouement centers on an overview (absolute knowledge/apodictical) that makes the human being a “liquidator” of a state in collapse and not a participant of the disorder, who happens to know the total history of the cosmos as opposed to St. Augustine’s view that Christian baptism began the journey defined as “endurance” in the tensions of existence, within the community (Plato) and a situation that was very uncertain!Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

                Rent “A Scanner Darkly”.

                If, afterwards, you say “well, that was a freakin’ insane waste of time” then don’t bother.

                Otherwise, you’ll probably start devouring him.Report

              • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Jaybird says:

                My picks would be Ubik, Flow My Tears The Policeman Said, and VALIS.

                But Jay’s probably right.Report

  4. Avatar Ian M says:

    I read Mysterium by Robert Charles Wilson and thought that was one of the better SF religion books I’d read. It’s about a dystopian alternate history in which a different form of historical Christianity takes hold.
    In case you haven’t heard of them, the Libertarian Futurist Society gives out the Prometheus Award yearly. Their taste in SF is better than their identification of libertarian themes (Ken MacLeod being a big old commie), but it might interest you. Anyone who awards Charlie Stross, Neal Stephenson, Ken MacLeod, F. Paul Wilson and Vernor Vinge is doing something right.Report

  5. Avatar Maribou says:

    Really interesting article, thanks for linking to it!Report

  6. Avatar Jivatman says:

    For a really amazing libertarian novel that has even more intentional and explicit libertarian themes, try “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” by Robert HeinleinReport

  7. Avatar Paul Barnes says:

    Mike Flynn “Eifelhein” about aliens crash-landing in 13th century Germany and encountering the local community.Report

  8. Avatar Stuhlmann says:

    What about Frank Herbert’s Dune series? Religion was a major theme in them.Report

    • Avatar JosephFM in reply to Stuhlmann says:

      They’re mentioned in the piece – IMO they come down pretty hard on the side of religion being, at its core, a method of enforcing and manipulating culture -thus the dominance of what seem to us to be bizarre syncratic religions (and especially hybrids of Buddhism and Islam), as well as the role of the Bene Gesserit.

      To the extent that they acknowledge actual divinity, it is only through power and “the spice” – thus Leto becomes a tyrannical “god” in order to change mankind, taking upon himself the burden that his father denied, which in turn was only possible because the Bene Gesserit lost control of their messiah-breeding project immediately before its fruition.Report

  9. Avatar A.R.Yngve says:

    In my novel DARC AGES (available for free reading online), the protagonist is frozen for 900 years, and then revived on a future Earth where Elvis has become the new God — and Christians are a persecuted minority.Report

  10. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    In the prosperous suburbs of a state-spanning Los Angeles, we encounter a populace that never has to work, whose citizens gain degrees in shopping and have, for lack of a better term, become incredibly stupid.

    That sounds an awful lot like Kornbluth’s “The Marching Morons”. Given Haldeman’s knowledge of and respect for the classics, I’d guess it’s intended as a tribute.Report

  11. Avatar Dave PV says:

    Addressed to A.R.Yngve-

    There is a book by an interesting SF writer named, Jack Womack, that you may find interesting. I’ve read Random Acts of Senseless Violence by him, and came away depressed and impressed. Anyway, though I’ve not read it, he has another book in a series (of which Random Acts … is but 1 of 3) which includes a book called, Elivessey. Set in a near future, it features–through an SF trick–a young Elvis as a new godhead to lead the dystopian-ravaged denizens of a society on the brink of collapse…

  12. Avatar Bruce Bayles says:

    For an interesting blending of science fantasy and spiritual insights, the reader might want to take a look at a new novel, 2034, by Robert Renfield. Cast in a cloak of boy’s adventure-fantasy in a post-apocalyptic future, it weaves in spiritual matters without being too blunt or obtrusive about it. I enjoyed it pretty much just for the story itself.