Euthanizing God?


Now that I figured out I’m not Flannery O’Connor, I’ve been mulling over my experience with representations of Christian faith in popular science fiction. Note, this isn’t a researched thesis, so take it with salt.

Asimov’s classic “Caves of Steel” was one of the first sci-fi novels I ever read. Turns out the antagonist/murderer is a fundamentalist Christian, or ‘Medievalist’, that the android character tells to ‘Go and sin no more.” Irony abounds. Flash forward four decades to John’s Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War”, (great book, btw) which whips out a ‘stupid Christian’ stereotype in one of the early scenes. We got a space elevator, baby. Who needs the Sermon on the Mount?

Perhaps my impression derives from a peculiar selection of sci fi novels. Maybe I’m being peevish. However, it seems to me most of the fictional future wants traditional religion gone. Buried. Forgotten.

Cause of death varies, but there’s no need for God in fictional tomorrow. I ran into yet another example in a (very good) self-pubbed cyberpunk novel the other night. Oddly enough, it wasn’t the typical ‘Christian as villain/idiot’ trope. It was past contempt to outright dismissal.

In this particular projection, some tectonic event/discovery finally allows Mankind to dispatch God like a cantankerous, embarrassing relation. After all, He clung to life long past any reasonable expiration only by preying on the impoverished and uneducated. About time, eh? Future man gets to excise religion like a useless appendage, a sort of appendix on the human condition. Offering a meager, questionable inheritance, Mankind jettisons religion for a bright and shiny rocket ship/microchip.

If that isn’t a prelude to dystopia, I’m not sure what is. (See Communist Russia for recent historical example)

Yes, I actually paid attention in Western Civ classes. Yes, I understand stereotypes exist for a reason. Yes, I keep up with the world news. No, I’m not a Luddite. It’s the unreality of that prediction, the sheer disconnect with history, psychology and humanity I find so inconceivable.

We can bandy statistics, quote surveys, play Copy & Paste with internet articles forever. I’m happy to talk about it, but I’ll refer you to CHRISTIANS ARE HATE-FILLED HYPOCRITES and HOW CHRISTIANITY CHANGED THE WORLD to ground the discussion first.

Before you think I’m whinging or lobbing hand-grenades over the cloister walls at marauding secularists, I am painfully aware of abysmally stupid extremes. As un-Christian as it is, I loathe and mock those folks too. (I remain convinced sarcasm is a divine attribute. God is helping me.) Fact is however, people have been wrapping their lusts in good causes forever; religion doesn’t get a pass. And it certainly doesn’t mean God is cruel or faith is inherently tragic, debilitating, or divisive.

My net-friend, fellow blogger and writer Katherine Coble recently posted an interesting article: Christian vs Christ-Following. It is yet another comment on the unenviable but inevitable reality of Christian reproach. When I use the term ‘Christian’, I refer to those who have identified with the person of Jesus, hold to the veracity of Scripture, and trust in the grace of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection as the remedy to their sin and death.

Credibility demands I grapple with extremists and blunderers, but realism acknowledges for every high profile failure, reprobate, and lunatic, there are scores of people striving for devout, authentic lives. Yes, those people are flawed, conflicted. Who isn’t?

My concern here is the plausible depiction of believers in spec-fiction, and the challenge to not trade the mystery of God, (what C.S. Lewis called the Numinous) for the convenient high-ground of Morality or a cast of contrived Baptisney-land caricatures. Both the Numinous and the Moral are essential if I’m honest to my faith, but I think mystery is what ultimately captivates, just as it’s the person of Jesus who ultimately saves.

My question to Christian authors is if we don’t wrestle with portraits of real believers, a real God, and real faith, who will?

9 Replies to “Euthanizing God?”

  1. Your post makes some good points, most of which have been bouced around the internet a few times. I agree with you that Christian writers should attempt to portray Christians and Christianity as realistically as possible. Accepting Jesus into your life does indeed change you, but it doesn’t take you out of the world. You’re still very much “in the game.”

  2. Certainly can’t claim new ground with any of these thoughts. You’re right. It was just at the top of my mind after reading the latest example in that indie sci fi ebook.

  3. Excellently put! As a Christian (Christ-Following) new science fiction author, I’m struggling with this very subject. My first book (which I’m hoping to publish within the next several weeks) has some spiritual (though not specifically Christian) themes. The second has (I hope) some examples of what I would consider “authentic” Christians, and the third (not written yet) will specifically deal with some speculation about the end times. I’d be very interested to see how you’ve dealt with this issue in your own work (Running Black looks cool – I like the cover!).

    I think one problem is that “Science” is quickly becoming (already is?) a sort of religion in its own right. By that, I mean that people tend to take what scientists say on faith without questioning much, and they often dismiss out of hand any alternative ideas. It seems to me that Science Fiction writers would be more likely to espouse this “religion” and so prefer to construct their universes to fit that belief. I know I do. 😛

    1. Hi Peter,
      Thanks for taking the time to come over and comment. Glad you like the article.

      There’s more than one way to measure the universe. The challenge as I see it is to integrate whatever themes organically. The story has to be internally consistent to work. IMO, there’s nothing worse than some ham-fisted didactic (of any stripe) to bolster a weak plot or cardboard characters trundling about with sandwich-board sermons.

      Regarding faith in my own fiction, I have no gift for being coy. I sidestepped the ‘parable/metaphor’ method and straight-up included Christian characters. They weigh the story’s dynamic with that worldview, which the reader can then handle as they wish. It’s definitely present but hopefully not contrived.

      I’ll stop here. I could ramble forever.

      Thanks again and good luck with your novels.


  4. If you keep reading in the Old Man’s War series, you’ll see some positive portrayals of Christians and Christianity in “The Last Colony.” I won’t otherwise spoil the book for you, however.

  5. I’ve got some serious thoughts in this area; I’m kind of stymied by the fact that you got this post out right around the time I’m thinking along the same lines. Eerie how that happens. Can Christians believe in the Jungian Field? 🙂

    Oh weird. I swear I came over to comment after reading the first paragraph and saw that I’m mentioned. (You’re going to think that’s why I came here. I’m chagrinned. 🙂 )

    “My concern here is the plausible depiction of believers in spec-fiction, and the challenge to not trade the mystery of God, (what C.S. Lewis called the Numinous) for the convenient high-ground of Morality or a cast of contrived Baptisney-land caricatures.”

    I didn’t write spec fic. I swear I didn’t. But when my latest story took a turn that way I decided to go with it. It’s taken me to some interesting places. The most interesting place is wrapping my mind around a paradigm that is both created by me but also not ignorant of the Judeo-Christian anthrotheism. Most of the great spec fic just imagines itself in a world apart from ours, wholly. Most of the terrible spec fic slaps a Jesus Saves message, shoe-horned into outerspace or some imaginary garden. How does one do it? How does one create while hewing to the Creator?

    It’s a fine line, and it frankly terrifies me because honestly, so much of what has come before is….TERRIBLE.

    1. K- Gold star for using the word ‘chagrined’. And don’t worry; some days I don’t even know what I’m thinking.

      Don’t you think all fictional worlds are grounded in reality, consciously or not? I mean, there has to be some recognizable/relate-able elements to make the credibility connection.

      If ‘made in the image and likeness’ the creative impulse is in all of us to some degree or another. Smothered, withered, frustrated, channeled wrong or right, it’s there. I think you should trust God, embrace the imperfection, follow the thread out of the maze, where ever it leads. If it needs adjustment, I wager God will let you know. There’s no sense in trusting in his grace if you never venture anywhere.

    2. “Can Christians believe in the Jungian Field?” I’m going to call it the Holy Spirit.

      Funny, Katherine, when I reorganized my RSS feeds in Feedly, I put you under Christian Speculative Fiction. I’ve always thought of you in that category, for some reason.

      I like the title of this post, Patrick.

      Seemingly unrelated, but strangely related, my oldest started Kindergarten last week. He’s been going to a Christian preschool where they actually *ahem* pray. The state sponsored school he is currently attending gives me no reason to think they don’t care about my child. They seem friendly enough and the halls are emblazoned with signs like Trustworthy Way, but my heart hurts despite it all. That my boy is growing up, sure, but also that the school feels so…sterile? God has been euthanized there, and in place is a system that lauds his virtues, but refuses to say his name. Thank goodness, as writers–speculative fiction writers at that–we can still say his name.

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