Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Christianity and Science Fiction, Part 2

Rycamor writes a post that's so good, it deserves to be on the front page and not buried in the comments. Without further ado, then...

I don't know that there is any particular need for SF and Christianity to be reconciled, any more than a good beer needs to be reconciled with Christianity. I enjoy a beer now and then, but remain fully aware of its potential for disaster.

Growing up a missionary kid (from a deeply Christian extended family) and a sci-fi buff was interesting, but hardly surprising. In fact, from what I saw, Christian missionaries are more likely than the average person to be into sci-fi. I attribute it to a certain questing personality, as well as a need for some amount of escapism when living a stranger in a strange land. My father went from being a research scientist at Firestone to adventurer for God, driving a beat-up Landrover or his motorcycle all over Colombia. He still felt no compunction about reading a good Asimov or Van Vogt novel now and then, nor did several of his colleagues. I think it came down to this: there is an undeniable sense of enthusiam and playfulness with ideas that you don't get anywhere else but sci-fi. Even if you don't agree with the premises, the ideas are interesting and fun, and all the speculation on technology is fun, too. It's really too bad that modern Christianity doesn't have much propensity for this.

Of course it was obvious to me from the start that most scifi writers either held Christianity in contempt, or (perhaps even worse) didn't regard *any* religiousity as worth mention. But I had no serious problem dealing with that fact and remaining a believer. It wasn't until my 20s that I struggled with that, due more to serious consideration of scientific determinism than any scifi books. If anything, the books forced me to face and deal with many issues that the typical Christian avoids all his life.

It was also obvious that great writing is possible from Christians in that genre. C.S. Lewis was the first to open my eyes to that. There really is quite a spectrum in sci-fi's interaction with Christianity, like the grudging forbearance in some of James Blish's work, the covert sympathy in Cordwainer Smith's novels (and Neal Stephenson too, I think), before we even get to the obvious ones like Madeline L'Engle. I have also had the odd surprise now and then, reading an overtly-Christian sci-fi book that still manages to be a good story.

Also, I think the problem we have now is not purely due to the sci-fi community. Yes, philosophically, sci-fi has grown only shallower, but so has the western Church. The typical American Christian is not happy unless God is in their happy little box. They think they are braving the maelstrom of "cultural relevance" with modern worship services and even a singles dance or two, as well as structuring church to resemble some sort of giant self-help session (nothing wrong with these per se), but all the while not realizing that much of it still becomes a sort of liturgy. The heart of Christianity is not about holy places, emotional catharses or group activities but about quiet discussions in search of truth, and prayer for the courage to act on that Truth.

Out of such shallowness comes the idea that Christian sci-fi or fantasy writers should restrict themselves to thinly-disguised repackagements of some Bible story or--even worse--succumb to the Betty Swinford school of leaden dialogue and oh-gosh propaganda (Scott was seized with horror. He felt like he was caught up in a whirlwind and his world was falling apart around him. ). I think every American writer who is tempted to play up to the church's expectations should read Franky Schaeffer's "Addicted to Mediocrity", and then maybe "Sham Pearls for Real Swine". Yes, Schaeffer can be a little abrasive at times, but his analysis is not that off.