Sunday, April 13, 2008

Visions of a Futuristic God -

A couple of months ago, I learned about Gabriel McKee's The Gospel According to Science Fiction: From the Twilight Zone to the Final Frontier from the blog of my friend Robert J. Sawyer, himself something of a legend in the science fiction field whose books frequently address religious topics quite prominently. McKee has a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and maintains SF Gospel website and blog, so he clearly has the chops for the task.

While I was anticipating the book to be good, I have to admit that I was not quite anticipating the sheer scope of McKee's enterprise. Across 10 chapters and 250 pages, he covers nearly the full range of religious themes, from the institutions and rituals that comprise social religion to the innate logistics of the afterlife and apocalypse, to the very nature and purpose of belief.

Much of the book recounts specific examples from science fiction literature, film, and television ... examples which clearly illuminate the different aspects of religious experience. Some of the discussion are purely in the realm of science fiction, such as the analysis of godlike alien races, but still others go to the very heart of quintessential human experiences such as faith (or lack thereof) and the nature of free will (or lack thereof).

McKee's book is not merely a rehashing of these concepts but, in the terms of Howard Gardner's Five Minds of the Future, presents a true synthesis of them with the most fundamental questions of human existence. For example, consider this passage from the end of the chapter on faith vs. skepticism, entitled "Believing and Knowing":

"Far from being merely 'nonoverlapping magisteria' with nothing to do with one another, science and religious experience can in fact strengthen one another. In faith, the scientist can find a driving factor for exploration, a divine reason to inquire into the world's mysteries. In science, the believer can uncover the secrets of God's majesty, perhaps finding in subatomic particles or distant stars something mystical."

Though often skeptical of religious institutions and favoring rational explanations over faith-based ones, the literature of science fiction has always been deeply rooted in a search for meaning, for sense out of the seemingly chaotic universe. In this sense, it is the form of literature which most coincides with humanity's deepest spiritual foundation - looking into the heavens and asking "What is out there and what does it mean?"

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