Culture At Large

In search of sci-fi spirituality

Andy Rau

I came across an interesting post about science fiction and spirituality at the Opus blog. The post starts out by asking whether or not science fiction can ever be "spiritual," given the predominance of humanist, atheist, and generally non-Christian themes in the most popular science fiction books and shows.

The task of finding spiritually edifying themes in science fiction is made difficult by the fact that, in general, it isn't being written by Christians:

Is it possible to find great worth and spiritual meaning, perhaps even "Christian" spiritual meaning, in a work by an agnostic, or perhaps more important, an atheist? That's a thing that many Christians seem to stumble over and wrestle with, and for obvious reasons. What good does it do to ingest the works by someone who has outright denied the existence of God? Is there any possible merit to be found in them? How do we do "Christian" readings of such materials, or is it even worth the effort to do so?

Those aren't just questions for science fiction--those are questions at the very heart of Christian interaction with a fallen culture. I know Christians who believe that God is reflected (albeit dimly and in a distorted way) in even the most abhorrent pieces of art; and I know other Christians who feel that any "element of truth" derived from a non-Christian source is simply not worth investigating.

The post goes on to cite Babylon 5 and Firefly as examples of sci-fi shows that have spiritual merit despite the creators' atheism. Part of what makes the shows spiritually relevant is their willingness to include religious characters and story elements that run blatantly contrary to their creators' personal beliefs. (The post then raises an important related question: are Christians willing to follow suit and include honestly-portrayed non-Christian characters and ideas in their own writings?)

Speaking as a science fiction fan, I'll confess that the search for spirituality in the sci-fi genre can be a frustrating one. As the above post notes, much of the most popular sci-fi (notably Star Trek) is aggressively humanist in outlook. Other pieces of sci-fi are sometimes cited by Christians as spiritual because they contain religious metaphors or themes--but if you look closely at the most popular "spiritual" pieces of science fiction today (Star Wars, the Matrix trilogy), you find that the spirituality is either extremely shallow or is so generically symbolic that it has little relevance to everyday faith. (I've not seen the Firefly show, but the film Serenity struck me as having little to say about faith beyond a vague admonition to "believe in something." As for Babylon 5--well, I'm a rabid fan of that show, but I always felt that despite its friendliness towards religion, the overarching message of "seize your own destiny" overshadowed its occasional nod to the value of faith.)

I'd like nothing more than to stumble across spiritually-edifying science fiction, but the sci-fi that people are watching today strikes me as a pretty bleak spiritual landscape. What do you think? Am I judging the sci-fi scene too harshly? Spiritually speaking, has the realm of science fiction been surrendered entirely into non-Christian hands--and does that mean it contains no real spiritual value for Christians?

Topics: Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Entertainment, Art