My wife and I celebrated our sixth anniversary on Sunday. Happy Anniversary, Sweetie! I can’t believe it’s been six years since we got married (at age 21!). I wouldn’t trade a second of it for the world. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of any significant, groundbreaking statement to make on marriage, or our wonderful marriage specifically, so this post is about science fiction.
I am gigantic sci-fi nerd. YUUUGE. Recently, my three-year-old asked me what my favorite movie was, and I had a hard time deciding if it was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn or Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Apparently John Carter was a gigantic flop; I thought it was fantastic. And I almost always have a space-obsessed novel on my nightstand. Right now it’s a fantasy piece recommended by a friend, but that’s not the norm.
I love speculative fiction, but I’m struck that the future speculated is always so decidedly atheist. Futuristic fiction so often discounts religion as meaningless hocus-pocus or as a harmful set of superstitions. This pattern holds true across a huge spectrum of the genre. The “big three” authors of classical sci-fi all lean toward atheism. I love Robert Heinlein (Go read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress right now; it’s amazing), but he treats religion as essentially silly throughout Job: A Comedy of Justice. Arthur C. Clarke advances a fairly naturalistic viewpoint, and Isaac Asimov is so atheistic that a friend of mine who is also a big sci-fi reader has stopped reading his stories. That compelled me to not start reading them. More recent authors, such as Robert Charles Wilson, also often treat religion with a similar skepticism. The major contemporary exception is Orson Scott Card, a noted theist (who is Mormon and tries really hard, but gets Catholicism totally wrong in Speaker for the Dead).
One of the biggest culprits is also my favorite series: Star Trek is intentionally secular. Both Gene Roddenberry (series creator) and Brannon Braga (who wrote Star Trek for TV for almost 20 years) are on record as intentionally keeping human religion out of the series as much as possible. Alien religions are another issue. Those get a lot of screen time, but humans are “more enlightened.”
My question is why? The main thrust of these sci-fi stories is that technology will be more advanced in the future, and that humans will know more, meet lots of new types of people, and explore many new places. Why should those things cause humans to “lose” religion? Humans have been advancing in technology, and meeting new people, and finding new places, for thousands of years. But this hasn’t been the impetus for humans ditching religion. Admittedly, in many cases, it has been the cause of people taking up a new religion. But humans haven’t ditched spirituality.
So why has science fiction? What is that these authors are speculating about? Ultimately, I think it’s a rejection of the morality that religion stands for. Sci-fi authors seem to think that religion is little and includes only little concerns, such as sexual morality. Star Trek: The Next Generation is often labeled “The Sex Generation,” and with good reason. It has no reference to Christianity, but Commander Riker finds a new alien to bed in every other episode. There’s a certain crass dichotomy to it. The less we talk about religion, the more we’re going to focus on the types of things that a typical viewer’s religion frowns on. For predominately atheist sci-fi authors, a world without religion is one in which they don’t have to encounter the superstitions of believers, or be told that they should exercise restraint in personal decisions.
But if that is really the view of these authors, they are wrong for at least two reasons. One, a world essentially devoid of human religion is perhaps the least plausible facet of the future that these authors speculate to. Questions of a higher power have dominated human thought for thousands upon thousands of years. There is no reason to believe that humans will stop posing these questions in the few hundred years it takes for the Borg to reach earth. The human heart longs to know why there is something rather than nothing, and whether there is life after death. Science doesn’t answer these questions, but religion and philosophy can.
Secondly, this view is wrong because religion—specifically the True Religion of Jesus Christ—is anything but little. It is not concerned with the small things of this world, but with the grandeurs of eternity. Many sci-fi authors dream of a perfect world, and that’s a good thing. But they do not consider the human soul, the human need for the eternal. These authors look to technology to solve our problems, to make our temporal world a paradise. But the great promise that these authors are looking for isn’t speculation. It isn’t a dream. The wonderful future they yearn for is real, is guaranteed, in the Life Everlasting. But it is through religion, which they think will be eliminated from the future, that this perfection comes. These authors dream too small, when reality is already so big.