Science fiction does not always “get” religion

Anyone who loves science fiction as a literary genre soon discovers that there’s typically little respect for authority and less for religious beliefs in most author’s works. It’s not surprising therefore that religion, organized or not, gets pretty beat-up in most science fiction novels and films.

Charlie Jane Anders has collected seven examples of this and posted them in a self described rant online:

“Religion is a huge part of science fiction – and it makes the genre better and more fascinating, as Battlestar Galactica proved. But there are seven mistakes SF should avoid in portraying the spiritual realm.

BSG wouldn’t have been nearly as epic if it hadn’t included spiritual themes from the beginning. The inclusion of religious elements added a way bigger scope and grandeur to the story of humanity’s last remnants struggling to survive – and it was realistic, since you’d expect people to be asking the big theological questions in that situation.

In general, religion and spiritual topics are a huge part of science fiction – if you’re really determined to avoid them altogether, you’re probably stuck with a few golden age novels, and a handful of Lost In Space reruns. But just like other science fiction elements, like first contact, time travel and space battles, science fictional religion can be done well – or it can be cheesy and weird.”

Read the full article here.

The recently concluded Battlestar Galactica series appears prominently in item number 4: “The all-purpose patch for lazy writing”…

My favorite, reasonably respectful treatment of religion in science fiction continues “Deep Space 9”. Have you seen better?

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Category : The Lead

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  1. Samuel Keyes

    Ha! My roommates and I have been watching BSG, and we’re not through with season 3, so no sure about the end, though I have to say that it makes religion more interesting than much SF.

    I’ve never been at all impressed at the way movie/TV SF has handled religion. Books are a different matter, and for that I point all my fingers toward the great Gene Wolfe, a self-proclaimed Thomist and probably my favorite novelist, in the SF genre and out of it.

  2. BSG is well known for using Mormon theology and allusions.

  3. I would agree that DS9 was the best series to handle overall religion. I do think Babylon 5 had some good points on this and some bad. The series was respectful of religions and of religious practice; but the way it handled grand themes was sometimes over the top.

    Actually, I could never get caught up in BSG – too much MTV editing for my old eyes. However, so much of what it was hailed for at its end – for example, serious portrayal of politics and religion, war and terrorism, of choices made at terrible cost, and of the conflict between freedom and order – were done, and done well, on DS9 and Bab5.

    But, then, each generation believes it’s the first to have discovered sex, too.

    Marshall Scott

  4. tobias haller

    My vote is for Babylon 5. The mind behind the series was trained by Jesuits, and it shows. Some superb treatements of ethical / moral issues.

  5. Priscilla

    If you are not happy with the way your personal beliefs and the things you find important are portrayed in the media then you have the ability to create your own media to right that perceived wrong.

    Making blanket proclamations and decrees to the creators of an entire genre of writing and media portrayals who didn’t seek your input seems to be a bit over the top in the ego department to my eyes.

    [Reminder to Priscilla and other commenters. We value your comments. Our policy is that you sign your full name to all posts. – eds.]

  6. tgflux

    I’ve loved all the shows mentioned (inc. the just-concluded BSG), but my two favorite “religious” sci fi programs, both came from Star Trek: The Next Generation: “The Measure of a Man” (the single greatest TV show to EVER deal w/ “life issues”: where they are, and where they aren’t), and “The Next Phase” (because the cocksure atheist Ro Laren, confronted w/ her own mortality, comes to the realization that she doesn’t have all the answers. Classic line: fearing her native rituals to be performed for her own death, exclaiming “No, not the [Bajoran] death chant!” ;-D).

    These two episodes excel, because they raise QUESTIONS, rather than give answers: the very best sort of sci fi!

    JC Fisher

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