Science Fiction and Theology: A Match Made in Heaven?

What are some of the theological issues that science fiction can effectively explore?
Sci-fi Space
 (Kai StachowiakPublic Domain)

Science fiction can be more than just stories about big-headed aliens, evil robots, and laser guns. It can probe complex and provocative theological ideas, or so claim the theologians interviewed in a recent io9 article titled “Big Theological Questions that Science Fiction Should Answer.”

The article’s author, Charlie Jane Anders, interviewed several theologians who also happen to be sci-fi nerds, including Lorenzo DiTommaso, Robert Geraci, and James McGrath. The reason for this interest in sci-fi, according to DiTommaso and Anders, is that “science fiction is great for proposing answers to huge questions, without being stymied by theological firewalls,’ or having to stick to the rigor of formal philosophy.” Indeed, a cursory survey of even recent sci-fi titles will reveal shows — e.g., Battlestar Galactica, FlashForward — that have explored theological ideas.

The theologians came up with a list of five theological topics that they’d like to see sci-fi authors address more often:

  1. The Philosophy of Creating Worlds and the Future
  2. What if God was provably real?
  3. What if the Bible was literally true?
  4. The Relationship Between Science and Religion
  5. Why do we have faith?

The Slacktivist posits an additional scenario: What if it were possible to know who “the elect” (i.e., those whom God had predestined for salvation) were? The Slacktivist isn’t exactly Calvinism’s biggest fan and claims that such knowledge would cause Calvinism to “collapse partly due to ethical incoherence and partly due to ethical horror.” He elaborates:

Some people are God’s children and some people are not. Legal equality, justice, the Golden Rule, universal human rights and human dignity are still necessary in this framework, but only because of our incomplete and imperfect knowledge. Better knowledge, more complete knowledge, would allow us to stop treating all people equally because, in this scheme, people are not equal. There would be no reason to treat everyone the same because, according to this doctrine, everyone is not the same.

Some are loved by God, others are not. Some are God’s children, others are irredeemably damned. If we knew for certain who was who, then our ethics would be transformed — reshaped to align with the character of God that this scheme suggests. Ethics, in other words, would revert to something more like the ethnic cleansing of Jericho and Ai.

[…]

A majority of the population would come to see — to know — that they possess a greater capacity for love than God does. I don’t think any religious system could long survive such horrifying knowledge.

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with The Slactivist’s take on Calvinism and its implications, you have to admit that such a theological scenario holds plenty of potential for some provocative and engrossing storytelling. Can you think of any other theological ideas that science fiction can or should explore?

This entry was originally published on Christ and Pop Culture on .