List of religious ideas in science fiction

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Science fiction often portrays real religions being exported to alien planets

Science fiction will sometimes address the topic of religion.

Usage[edit]

Despite the long history of conflict between the disciplines of science and religion, the literary genre known as science fiction sometimes addresses the topic of religion. Some stories use religious themes to convey a broader message, but others confront the subject head-on—contemplating, for example, how attitudes towards faith might shift in the wake of ever-advancing technological progress, or offering creative scientific explanations for the apparently mystical events related in religious texts (gods as aliens, prophets as time travelers, etc.). As an exploratory medium, science fiction rarely takes religion at face value by simply accepting or rejecting it; when religious themes are presented, they tend to be investigated deeply.

Some science fiction works portray invented religions, either placed into a contemporary Earth society (such as the Earthseed religion in Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower), or in the far future (as seen in Dune by Frank Herbert, with its Orange Catholic Bible). Other works examine the role of existing religions in a futuristic or alternate society. The classic Canticle for Leibowitz explores a world in which Catholicism is one of the few institutions to survive an apocalypse, and chronicles its slow re-achievement of prominence as civilisation returns.

Christian science fiction also exists,[1] sometimes written as allegory for inspirational purposes.[2]

Orson Scott Card, has criticised the genre for oversimplifying religion, which he claims is always shown as "ridiculous and false".[3]

Afterlife[edit]

Main article: Afterlife

Angels[edit]

Main article: Angels
  • In Out of the Silent Planet (part of the Space Trilogy), by C. S. Lewis, the protagonist meets "eldila", mysterious beings of light native to the void of interplanetary space (who are actually what Christianity defines as "angels", and who are also identified as Mars, Venus and other deities of Greek and Roman mythology), and are completely loyal and obedient to God, and have never wanted to be worshiped as gods themselves (although the ancient Greeks and Romans mistakenly did so)

Creation myths[edit]

Main article: Creation myth

Demons[edit]

Main article: Demons
  • In the Doom series, demons from Hell have come into the universe through an inter-dimensional portal which is located on Mars
  • In Princess of Wands, by John Ringo, a Christian housewife and soccer mom gets involved in an organization which co-operates with the FBI in dealing with demons
  • In That Hideous Strength, by C. S. Lewis, the villains of the story are guided by beings they call "macrobes" which are clearly meant to be demons

Devil[edit]

Main article: Devil

Eschatology and the ultimate fate of the universe[edit]

Evangelism[edit]

Main article: Evangelism
  • In S. M. Stirling's Nantucket series, the entire island of Nantucket is suddenly transported into the past, to about 1300 B.C, and the modern Americans marooned in the past must make the best of the Bronze Age world in which they find themselves; the Christians among them face the dilemma of whether or not to embark on missionary activity and spread their religion - even though Jesus Christ had not yet been born, and the very act of their spreading Christianity might so fundamentally change the world that Jesus might never be born at all
  • In The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, most of the Jesuit missionaries sent to investigate a radio transmission from an unknown planet (believing that they have been chosen by God to be the first to set foot on an alien world) are killed by the planet's inhabitants; and the sole survivor is enslaved but eventually escapes and returns to Earth with his faith in tatters

God or deities[edit]

Main articles: God and Deity

Heaven[edit]

Main article: Heaven
  • "The Reformers"( Weird Science #20)—When three space men dressed in scifi versions of religious garb land on a planet to "free it of evil;" they are greeted by a man named Peter who informs them they are not needed (for there is no crime, no immorality, nor any of the evils seen in other societies); so they create evil for which they blame literature, clothing, and alcohol (as they have done on previous worlds)—including Earth—and we learn that their leader is the Devil and the planet they are on is called Heaven.

Hell[edit]

Main article: Hell

Jesus[edit]

Main article: Jesus
"Give us Barabbas!" Were they all tourists? (from The Bible and its Story Taught by One Thousand Picture Lessons, 1910)
  • H.G. Wells' A Modern Utopia, takes place in an alternate timeline in which "Jesus Christ had been born into a liberal and progressive Roman Empire that spread from the Arctic Ocean to the Bight of Benin, and was to know no Decline and Fall" [5] - with profound implications for Jesus' religious teachings, and later on those of Muhammad
  • In Behold the Man, by Michael Moorcock, twentieth-century Karl Glogauer (a Jew obsessed with the figures of Jesus and Carl Jung), travels in time to the year 28 A.D. where he meets various New Testament figures (such as John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary), and discovers that Mary and Joseph's child, Jesus, is a mentally retarded hunchback, who could never become the Jesus as is portrayed in the Scriptures, and after having a mental breakdown, steps into the role of Jesus, eventually dying on the cross (having specifically asked Judas to betray him)
  • In The Didymus Contingency, by Jeremy Robinson, a scientist's time-travel to see Jesus' death and resurrection—only to witness several scenes not recorded in the New Testament (while realizing Jesus was a fraud)—faces the dilemma of whether or not to make a revelation in the present which would shake the foundations of Christianity is complicated further with the appearance of an assassin from a different future...[6]
  • The Last Starship from Earth, by John Boyd, is set in a dystopian society in the very near future (in an alternate timeline) where Jesus Christ became a revolutionary agitator and was never subjected to crucifixion; and who overthrew the Roman Empire by force of arms, and established a theocracy that has lasted until the twentieth century
  • In Garry Kilworth's story "Let's Go to Golgotha!", tourists from the future can book a time-traveling "Crucifixion Tour", but before setting out, they are strictly told that, when the crowd is asked whether Jesus or Barabbas should be spared, they must all join the call: "Give us Barabbas!"—however, when the moment comes, the protagonist suddenly realizes that the crowd condemning Jesus to the cross is composed entirely of tourists from the future, and that no actual Jewish Israelites of 33 A.D. are present at all
  • When the protagonists of Clifford Simak's Mastodonia make trips to the past commercially available, American church groups band together and seek to purchase an exclusive franchise for Jesus' time on Earth—not because they want to go there but because they do not want anyone at all to go there (the clergymen state quite forthrightly their apprehension that time travel would disprove some of the accounts given in the Gospels and thus undermine Christianity)—when refused, the church groups turn aggressive and energetically lobby Congress to ban time travel altogether; opening an enormous theological debate unresolved by the end of the book
  • In The Rescuer, by Arthur Porges, future scientists destroy a three-billion dollar time-travel project because a religious fanatic had taken over the machine, heading for Golgotha with a rifle and five thousand rounds in an attempt to save Jesus and the affair must be kept from the public, since some might identify with "The Rescuer"
  • "Resurrection Day", by Thomas Wycoff, is about a man sent back into time to steal Jesus' body to disprove Christianity
  • In There Will Be Time, by Poul Anderson, a young twentieth-century American (who has discovered that he has the ability to travel through time without any need of a machine) reasons that there must be others like him and that Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion is a good place to try locating them, goes there and walks through the street singing the Greek mass (which is meaningless to people of the time), but get himself located by agents of a time-travel policing organization, who take him to their headquarters in the far future—without getting to see Jesus at all
  • In the TimeWars series by Simon Hawke, set in 2461, Cardinal Lodovico Consorti proposes to use the recently discovered time-travel technology to obtain empirical proof that Christ indeed rose from the dead after being crucified, causing the Catholic Church to excommunicate him (the Church hierarchy preferring to continue relying on faith alone and not seeking factual confirmation)
  • Times Without Number, by John Brunner, depicts an alternate reality in which the Spanish Armada had conquered England; and when time travel is discovered—controlled by the Catholic Church—it is decreed that every new pope would be privileged to travel to Palestine in the time of Christ's ministry, while everyone else is strictly forbidden to go there
  • In The Traveller, by Richard Matheson, a confirmed skeptic is chosen to be the first to travel in time to see the crucifixion (in a kind of traveling cage which makes him invisible to the people of the past) and he witnesses the actual event, causing him to feel empathy for Jesus; and is hauled back to the present after attempting to save him; and, although he had seen no miracles, he is a changed man, having seen "a man giving up his life for the things he believed" and stating, "that should be miracle enough for everybody"
  • The plot of Jesus Video, a German novel by Andreas Eschbach, revolves around the search for a hidden video camera that is believed to hold digital footage of Jesus recorded by a time traveler[7]
  • In Robert Silverberg's, Up the Line, featuring a company organizing tours into the past, a character notes that "the crowd at the Sermon on the Mount grows bigger and bigger, every time I go there again"

Judaism[edit]

Main article: Judaism
  • "I, Gezheh" by Clifford Meth, presents a futuristic universe where the proselytizing Hasidic sect Chabad-Lubavitch have gained influence over many alien worlds

Logos[edit]

Main article: Logos

Messianism[edit]

Main article: Messianism

Millennialism and Millenarianism[edit]

Main articles: Millennialism and Millenarianism

Original sin[edit]

Main article: Original sin
  • A Case of Conscience, by James Blish, is the story of a Jesuit who investigates an alien race which evolves through several forms through the course of its life cycle and which has no religion, any concept of God, an afterlife, or the idea of sin
  • In Perelandra, by C. S. Lewis, the protagonist must stop a second Fall of Man from happening on another planet
  • The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, revolves around the idea of original sin through the mention of Dust

Pope[edit]

Main article: Pope
  • In "In partibus infidelium" ("In the Land of the Unbelievers") by Polish writer Jacek Dukaj, humanity makes contact with other space-faring civilizations, and Christianity—specifically, the Catholic Church—spreads far and wide until eventually humans become a minority among believers and an alien is elected as Pope
  • In Project Pope, by Clifford Simak, robots on the planet End of Nowhere have labored a thousand years to build a computerized, infallible pope to eke out the ultimate truth, jave their work preempted when a human Listener discovers what might be the planet Heaven

Star of Bethlehem[edit]

Main article: Star of Bethlehem
  • In "The Star", by Arthur C. Clarke, a Jesuit serving as the astrophysicist of an interstellar exploration ship suffers a deep crisis of faith upon discovering that the star seen on Earth at 4 BC was actually a supernova which destroyed an entire sentient and highly developed race—in Christian religious perspective, God had utterly destroyed these peaceful and virtuous beings in order to announce to humanity the birth of his son

Penance[edit]

Main article: Penance

Reincarnation[edit]

Main article: Reincarnation

Theocracy[edit]

Main article: Theocracy

Depictions of a fictional society dominated by a theocracy are a recurring theme in science fiction. Such depictions are mostly dystopian, and in some cases humorous or satirical.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Mort, John (2002). Christian Fiction: a Guide to the genre. Libraries Unlimited. pp. 159–184. ISBN 1-56308-871-1. 
  2. ^ Sammons, Martha C. (1988). "A Better Country": The Worlds of Religious Fantasy and Science Fiction. Greenwood Press. p. 21. ISBN 0-313-25746-9. 
  3. ^ "On Religion in SF and Fantasy: An Interview with Orson Scott Card"; Writing World online; accessed .
  4. ^ Doctor: "Serve you, Sutekh? Your name is abominated in every civilized world, whether that name be Set, Satan, Sodos..."
  5. ^ "A Modern Utopia," Chapter 9
  6. ^ Note: The Didymus of the title is the Apostle Saint Thomas, whose initial skepticism of the resurrection earned him the title "Doubting Thomas".
  7. ^ Note: The book, written in 1997, was adapted into a television movie called Das Jesus Video in 2002. The film was released in English under the title The Hunt for the Hidden Relic (or Hidden Relic).

Further reading[edit]

  • Clark, S (2005), Science Fiction and Religion, Blackwell Publishing.
  • McKee, G (2007), The Gospel According to Science Fiction-From the Twilight Zone to the Final Frontier, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
  • Riley, R., (1985), The Transcendent Adventure: Studies of Religion in Science Fiction Fantasy, Westport, CT., Greenwood Press.

External links[edit]