Too Much Religion in Science Fiction?

Tiffany Vogt over at Airlock Alpha has an article up suggesting that current science-fiction is short on the science and too long on religion. Citing Lost, remedy Battlestar Galactica and Caprica, look she suggests that religion can be an element, but not the overarching theme:

Angels, purgatory, limbo and monotheistic/polytheistic religious wars -– each has its place in science-fiction, but they are merely an element. They should not be the core of a science-fiction story. Relying too heavily on these elements in the place of true science-fiction only serves to alienate the very audience that such shows seek to engage…It is time to get science-fiction back on track. Where is the science? In today’s sci-fi, we want to be challenged by the possibilities of what lies ahead if such things as time travel, alternate universes, alien life and the rise of artificial intelligence come to fruition. Give us more of that.
That is, after all, what science-fiction is truly about. We want to see Cylons and smoke monsters. Do not kill the science in “science-fiction.”

Now I will admit that my sci-fi tends towards the Star Trek Universe, Babylon 5 (and its spin-offs) and Firefly, so I can’t comment directly on Lost or BSG. But I do think that Tiffany is missing the fact that alot of sci-fi has at its core religious themes.

Good sci-fi looks at questions about humanity: What is good and evil? What is the soul? How do we learn to get along with each other? What is the afterlife? What is sin? What is death? What is the good life?

True, Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek was pretty atheistic, but have you noticed that the less Roddenberry had direct control over the franchise, the more elements of religion were explored? It started with Star Trek: TNG (think about Worf and the Klingon religion, particularly the episode where Kahless, the Messiah of Kronos, returns), and hit full-tilt with DS9 and Captain Sisko being practically a god to the Bajoran people (he was emissary to the prophets aka the “worm-hole aliens”).

Babylon 5, written by J. Michael Straczynski, has religious themes and elements all throughout the show. From different species, cultures and religions having to learn to get along through channels of diplomacy (the whole reason for the creation of the Babylon 5 station), to explorations into the nature of the soul (Delenn being attacked by the soul-hunter), to the ultimate battle of order versus chaos (Vorlons versus the Shadows, a direct reference to the Babylonian creation myth and the entire reason that JMS used the name “Babylon” for the series), Heck, Captain John Sheridan is accused of having a Messiah-complex, and Commander Sinclair becomes Valen, the spiritual leader of the Minbari.

Firefly, though cut short by the evil suits at Fox, had some beginning strands of religious themes. Captain Reynolds was a religious man, but after the battle of Serenity Valley, became hard towards any notion of God. A Shepherd (like a monk) joins the crew and questions his faith and why he exists. River and Simon are strung up to be burned at the stake by a conservative religious planet because River has the gift of second-sight and must therefore be a witch. (No word on whether or not she had turned anyone into a newt.)

All of these shows, while having lots of futuristic technology, aliens, transporters and space ships, had at their core an analysis of humanity. And religion plays a big role in how humanity thinks, behaves and feels.

Add to that the many classic novels that have had religion at their core, like Niven and Purnelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye and especially Frank Herbert’s Dune, and the notion that good sci-fi should be nonreligious becomes increasingly unsupportable.

In response to questions about the themes of religion in B5, Straczynski said this:

If you look at the long history of human society, religion — whether you describe that as organized, disorganized, or the various degrees of accepted superstition — has always been present. And it will be present 200 years from now… To totally ignore that part of the human equation would be as false and wrong-headed as ignoring the fact that people get mad, or passionate, or strive for better lives.

So I’m all for fire-fights and Borg invasions; I’m all for clone wars and snazzy technology that we in the 21st century can only dream of. But to deny the “heart” of science-fiction is to make these shows nothing more than a chance for CGI departments to experiment with visually stimulating special effects. Sci-fi that doesn’t look at questions of humanity, including religious themes is nothing more than “sound and fury signifying nothing.”

5 thoughts on “Too Much Religion in Science Fiction?

  1. As an agnostic and not an atheist, and a very hard-core sci-fi lover, I definitely agree. Though I don’t always agree with religious views, I definitely think my favourite shows would be lacking something without it. It’s not about agreeing with religion or not, its about having faith in something, whether you follow an organized religion or not. And I really enjoy how these plays out in these shows in particular, especially Babylon 5. I’ve been rewatching it and have been really enjoying it again. The religious parts of the show is what makes the show – its about different people, interacting and attempting to understand eachother, and even tolerate eachother, despite cultural and religious differences. And that’s something I think we need more of in our society.

    I’m glad I stumbled upon this post, it was a really interesting read, and I think I may have to stop back in to see what else you’ve got kicking around! A really great post – I look forward to reading more!

  2. Oh, do not brag about religion. It is not part of my beign, I like my scifi without stupid religion.

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