In delving deeper into my research of science fiction involving religion, I found a daunting rich fountain of multitudinous ideas. Narrowing down on an idea was an initially a intimidating task that I delayed by researching. What I ultimately found most interesting was the dialogue held between SF authors on the topic of religion throughout the decades.
While SF was greatly influenced by contemporary events, prevalent assumptions and schemas of the genre, attitudes toward religion are nonetheless not as homogeneous as I had believed. In the present political climate, the term echo chamber has aptly surfaced to demonstrate how certain ideas propagate within a community. SF it seems has always acted as a necessary needle for popping the aforementioned bubbles. Science fiction can help us understand something as contentious as religion and help dissolve societal assumptions, schemas within the genre, and the author’s own beliefs.
In hindsight it is easy to scoff at ideas that are clearly misguided, but contemporary assumptions are easily often overlooked. In the nineteenth century, it was widely accepted by academia that religion was obsolete and a vestigial tool of primitive cultures. Equally upsetting, if not more so, was the unchallenged belief that religion survived due to the naivety and gullibility of women. Noted female author Charlotte Perkins Gilman responded to the reductive conclusions of women and religion with her SF novel Herland (1915). Gilman depicts a female utopia without men, and without limited assumptions of female capabilities. I’ll end this thread here, don’t want to spoil anything. Not only does SF help dispel societal assumptions, it helps the authors undo their own assumptions.
Prodigious author Robert A. Heinlein has had left permanent marks in SF and society as a whole, as his works spanned the decades, his views of religion have been agile and amenable. In his novella If This Goes On – Heinlein presents a theocracy with a religious leader that abuses his power to satiate his lust. Moreover Heinlein adds a postscript in which he states that dogma should not be taught in schools at all and that religion is “a personal matter between each man and his God” (150) Heinlein’s view of religion as an individual pursuit is clear and unequivocal. It then shocked me when I read a synopsis of a Heinlein’s novel Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) in which he posits that religion can create the deepest communal bonds in a society. Like a master playing chess against him-self, Heinlein seems to engage in discussion with himself through his works.
I would be remiss to not mention that one of the prevalent schemas in SF is that religion is a societal tool for manipulating people and as a result is a widely held belief today. Many texts have been written in which religion is used to either sway the public to ill effect or to their benefit. Religion being an indelible part of society, should Government use religion to sway the people and make them happier, easier to manage? For such questions I’ll examine works of Roger Zelazny, H.G. Wells, and Lester Del Rey.
Hrotic, Steven. Religion in Science Fiction: The Evolution of an Idea and the Extinction of a Genre. London: Bloomsbury, 2014. Print.
Kreuziger, Frederick A. The Religion of Science Fiction. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State U Popular, 1986. Print.
Kurtz, Paul, Barry Karr, and Ranjit Sandhu. Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2003. Print.
Nahin, Paul J. Holy Sci-fi!: Where Science Fiction and Religion Intersect. New York: Springer, 2014. Print
Roberts, Adam. The History of Science Fiction. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Print.