By its very nature science fiction is speculative, providing a safe space to ask critical questions about our current world within imaginative environments used to focus upon those questions. As theologian Stephen May comments,
[s]uch invention can either suggest a universe as strange as possible (with equally strange creatures inhabiting it), or one like ours – except for one vital difference.
Stephen May, Stardust and Ashes: Science Fiction in Christian Perspective
(London: SPCK, 1998): 15.
These speculative environments allow the anxieties and hopes surrounding science and technology to be articulated by the wider community, even if they don’t consider themselves ‘science fiction’ fans. Australian media scholar Lelia Green comments:
The widespread fascination with the interface of biology and technology, and the potential for fusion between the two, is a continuing theme of contemporary narratives. Through films such as Blade Runner and The Matrix, our society tells itself stories about what it is to be human in a world where humans are increasingly influenced by, and dependent upon, technology and technocultures. Here the myths of loss and longing are play out in the context of technologically driven futures, where machines can feel feelings and have roles with more humanity in them than the ‘people’ characters do. A recurring theme of these narratives concerns the merging of the human with the machine, and questions of the essential nature of humanity. These are boundary issues. The fascination may, in part, be attributable to questions about how much technology compromises the essentially human: not a pacemaker, nor a bionic ear; not a test-tube conception, nor cultured skin—but the suspicion is that there is a boundary beyond which it is unsafe to go. How far is too far?
Lelia Green, Technoculture: From Alphabet to Cybersex
(Crowsnest, NSW: Allen and Unwin, 2002), 167
Science fiction is therefore a rich source for theological reflection, not only from writers who weave religious characters and ideas through their work, but also as a space to think theologically about God, humanity and the world around us. Recently, James McGrath at Butler University (who blogs at ReligionProf) has been doing some excellent work in promoting this through both his own monographs and edited collections. These move beyond simply pointing out religion in science fiction texts to beginning a theological conversation coming out of (and returning to) those texts.
- McGrath posts here on his recent visit to ?eoCon: Where Theology and Popular Culture Meet at Virginia Theological Seminary.
Some good resources on theology and science fiction are shown below. Not an exclusive list, but a good starting point.