Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Religion And Imagination

See "God And Alien In Anderson's Technic Civilization" by Sean M. Brooks here.

In my teens, some of the imaginative fiction that I read contradicted my religious education:

we were told that there was no reincarnation yet one comic book superhero was a reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian;

we were told that the Catholic Church would persist until the end of time yet many sf novels set in the far future showed no surviving Christianity;

we were told that any unFallen race would know of God yet James Blish's "A Case of Conscience" ended with an unresolved theological problem - the Lithians were sinless yet Godless;

we were told that God was indestructible yet He died in Blish's Black Easter.

The problem in "A Case of Conscience" was resolved, for me at the time, when this work was novelized and, in the extended text, the fictional Pope suggested that the Lithians were a demonically initiated planet-wide hallucination. Now, I would find such an explanation highly implausible. Data that contradict received beliefs do not exist? Fossils are a test of faith? (That issue also is discussed in ACOC.)

In Poul Anderson's works:

the Technic History has a Jerusalem Catholic Church in the Terran Empire but we are not told whether Christianity survives into later civilizations;
it definitely does not survive into the far futures of other works like Genesis;
"The Martyr" ends with a member of a superior race disclosing that human beings do not have immortal souls.

Once, I would have found such contradiction of received beliefs troubling. Now, I do not subscribe to those beliefs and in any case welcome any speculation in either fiction or philosophy.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Thanks for linking this blog piece to my article! I'm in haste, so this will have to be briefer than I wish.

I do believe the Catholic Church will survive to the end of time/Second Coming of Christ. But it does not bother me if some SF writers disagree or at least don't think the Church still exists thousands of years from now. They were writing fictions, so I would expect them to try out different ideas or scenarios.

And we do see mention in one of Anderson's Post Imperial stories, "The Sharing of Flesh," of people still believing in God. One of the characters exclaimed, "In the name of God," or "In God's name." That might be a hint of Christianity still existing at that time.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Your mention of "The Martyr" reminds me of how Poul Anderson wrote a number of stories with surprising, even shocking endings. These being "Welcome," "The Martyr," WORLD WITHOUT STARS, and "Eutopia" (are there any others I missed?). I was definitely surprised by the endings of all these stories the first time I read them!

I might have included "Sister Planet" as well except it was not quite like the others I listed. The impact or shock in that story laid in what the narrator did, not so much the exact ending of the tale. "Sister Planet" so strongly affected me that I did not read it again for years.


Paul Shackley said...

"Duel on Syrtis"?

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Possibly, but I would need to reread "Duel" to be sure.