Exploring the connection between science fiction and religion

Monk Praying at New Mount Caramal
(Photo sourced from: Wikipidea)
Monk Praying at New Mount Caramal (Photo sourced from: Wikipidea)

But it’s a human trait that when we encounter personal problems, these things most deeply personal are the most difficult to bring out for our logic to scan. We tend to flounder around, blaming everything but the actual, deep-seated thing that’s really chewing on us. -Frank Herbert, Dune

Many great works of science fiction draw from the well of historical Christian practices. In Isaac Asimov’s classic novel series, “Foundation,” a triune godhead, made up of Dawn, Day and Dusk, is the epicenter of a number of theological and institutional links to Christian tradition. 

“Dune’s” priesthood and divine-ruler structure clearly echoes the social and political system of medieval western Christendom, blending in an Islamic “jihad” concept and Hebrew prophetic tradition. There are obvious parallels between “Star Wars’” Jedi and Irish Christian monastics, from the stone beehive habitations to the iconic brown habits.   

But it is not primarily how fictional works reflect our religious heritage that enable them to help shape and deepen our faith.

Fiction seeps into our imaginations in a way that didactic instruction can’t. It allows us to move freely through other cultures, dive into other religions and live through relationships we would not likely form in our own world. It helps us gain insight into despair and the deeply human practices of joy and humility. We become more human by living through the humanity of others.

 In his “An Experiment in Criticism, C. S. Lewis noted “Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. … In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. … Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.” 

Kathleen A. Melhern is a professor who teaches Christian formation and church history at Denver Seminary. In her article “Is Reading Fiction a Waste of Time?” she explained that she has started assigning works of fiction in the courses she teaches. 

“We who belong to the church, who have cognitively accepted the Unseen Reality … also suffer from constricted imaginations,” she wrote in her article. “The disenchantment we have all undergone as products of the modern world has critically stunted our spiritual development, our knowledge of ourselves, our hopes and dreams for God in the world.” 

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