Boy, these topics just aren’t getting any easier, are they? But before I dive in, I want to plug Betsy’s posting from a few days ago. I very much enjoy the diversity of thought within the SF/F community, but Betsy’s right when she comes to religious tolerance — we need more of it.
Anybody who thinks that they’re right and everyone else is wrong is, well, wrong. It’s not like you’re gonna go to Heaven and St. Peter’s going to say, “Well, you lived a good, righteous, generous life, but the correct answer was…(insert specific religion here). Too bad for you.” In a nearly infinite universe, there’s bound to me more than one way to get there. So let’s respect that.
All right. Off the soapbox and moving on.
So yeah, I played a cleric. And I wanted to be a Jedi. Didn’t you?
When I think about my first exposure to religion in fantasy or science fiction, I think of Dungeons & Dragons and Star Wars. I’m a child of the ‘70s, so this shouldn’t come as some huge surprise.
My copy of Deities and Demigods introduced me to mythology as well as the notion that you didn’t have to believe in the same god to get along or be considered “good.” In D&D, you could play priests of other gods and work miracles. You could get along with the priests of other gods – at least so long as your alignments were somewhat compatible.
Then there was the Force. There have been a lot of trees felled and pixels transmitted with regard to religion and Star Wars. Suffice it to say, it introduced me to ideas of mysticism and spiritual interconnectivity that I was completely unaware of, and could hardly define as such at the time.
Indeed, to an eight-year-old kid raised in the Catholic Church, this was very profound and occasionally troubling. Gray areas at that age are mind-boggling and sometimes revelatory. They’re also transient, given the lack attention span. Glimpses of insight and incongruity are often ignored by kids, either because of a shiny distraction or simply because they’re too hard and uncomfortable.
As I got older and read more SF/F, the gray areas not only became more insistent, they became more interesting. My friends and I started considering those awesome questions like: Would aliens worship the same God? Did our God make just this world, or all of them? What if we tried to convert the aliens? Would they even have the same appreciation of religion?
I would say that the most interesting and original mix of genre fiction and religion that affected me came courtesy of a role-playing game. Torg was a multi-setting RPG released in 1990, and the novelty of the game came from the notion of several dimensions invading Earth at once. So you had the high-tech spy dimension in Japan, the sentient dinosaurs in North America, the wizards and knights in England, etc.
In France, you had the Cyberpapacy.
I know, it was as crazy as it sounds.
In this setting, the Western Schism in the Catholic Church was won by the French, who then ruled over Christendom with an iron fist. I don’t remember how they gained advanced technology, but ultimately the setting became a totalitarian cyberpunk dystopia crossed with a whacked-out version of Catholicism. Think cyborg Templars, the “God Net” and a virtual Hell from which you could never log out.
The Catholic boy in me rebelled. It wasn’t very comfortable to read about priests and knights doing terrible things to the folks who trusted and believed in them and in their God. But…at the same time, I couldn’t put the books down.
Maybe it was more about the folks I played with at the time, but I found the games we played in the Cyberpapacy setting very compelling. The thing was, the bad guys running the show in that setting fervently believed in the Cyberpope and the Church…and in God. And they did Very Bad Things anyway, believing they were acting for the greater good.
Remember, I was 18 at the time and perhaps more naïve than I should’ve been. But the Cyberpapacy prompted me too look up the history of the Church, and over time, I came to understand the differences between faith and doctrine, spirituality and religion. God may be infallible, but religion, a creation of humanity, sure ain’t.
Hey, there are folks out there turning the Jedi Order into a real religion. Don’t laugh at my RPG epiphany. Besides, Torg wasn’t some major tipping point, nor was it even the beginning. It merely got me thinking, and that’s what good genre fiction does.
Long story short, you’re going to come across some excellent genre fiction that tackles religion, ethics and/or spirituality, if you haven’t already. If you disagree with it, it would be easy to just close that book (or game) and dismiss it for any number of reasons. After all, it’s easy to have our beliefs confirmed by just reading and watching the stuff that we agree with.
Sometimes, though, it’s good to be challenged, and genre fiction can do that in so many fascinating ways. Sometimes, we need to read the stuff we disagree with. Maybe we walk away affirmed in faith. Maybe we start asking questions. Maybe we just get a better understanding of how others see religion.
None of these are bad things.
Want to get a copy of The Daedalus Incident now? As in, within the next few weeks? Get on over to Con or Bust and bid on a signed galley of the book! Proceeds go to helping people of color attend SF/F conventions. The auctions end Sunday, so go bid and help folks experience the SF/F community, and help the community experience them, too!