I find myself running into a wall sometimes when trying to share my vision for Christian speculative fiction. I say that I think we should look for stories that point back to God and make use of our faith. To some people this sounds like me saying, “I think our stories should read like sermons. Or close.” Or, “Since I see some risks in fiction, that means I only want to write safe fiction.” But that’s not what I mean. I think faith can be a source of inspiration for story ideas and can produce some very interesting ones, based on us exploring notions that aren’t commonly examined at in the world of speculative fiction at large as it is now, which means taking risks at times. As an illustration of my point and a continuation of the Aliens in Science Fiction series, let me offer a specific story idea to illustrate one small patch of the the fertile ground Christian speculative fiction writers have available to us–vast areas of story ideas that are both centered in our faith and which are also unusual/original. Note this post is an adapted and re-edited version of a personal blog post I first write in 2013.
My original post focused on the world “Rapture” as commonly used by Christian Evangelicals, but in fact the Rapture isn’t that important to the story idea I’m discussing. What is important to the idea is the so called “Tribulation,” a period of terrible suffering seen to be in the future. During the Tribulation a wicked ruler will have complete control over Planet Earth, who will deceive those who live there. That concept is important to the story idea I’m offering up for discussion here.
And before someone who is not Evangelical or not at least not a conventional one starts saying the futurist understanding of the Book of Revelation is a relatively recent thing and there’s no real reason to believe it’s valid, I would recommend that you read City of God by Augustine who saw both symbolic and futurist meanings in Revelation, managing to in effect believe in a literal Tribulation (though he saw the two periods of 3 1/2 years as happening at the same time, so he thought the Tribulation will be half of seven years) and a literal return of Jesus and a literal establishment of Jesus’s eternal reign on a literal new heaven and new earth, without talking about “Rapture” at all and while at the same time seeing the Millennium as referring to the triumph of the Church at present (making him a hybrid of modern Post- and A- millennial thinking…and also most definitely a futurist on interpreting most of Revelation).
And in any case, this revolves around a story idea–story ideas in science fiction or other speculative genres should not be obviously false as in self-contradictory, but it’s legitimate for a story to wonder about things that a person might believe cannot happen. But if they happen anyway, then what?
The Rapture loomed large in the Left Behind series (which I managed to read four volumes of before getting bogged down in how mediocre and slow-paced the series is) which saw the Rapture as ushering in the Tribulation. But again, it’s entirely possible in terms of what is not intellectually self-contradictory that the Tribulation could come without a Rapture. So again, the Rapture isn’t really important to this story idea.
During the Tribulation, “futurist” interpreters of Revelation generally believe that a person (some have interpreted it as an empire or kingdom rather than a person) called the “Beast” in Revelation 13 and elsewhere “the Antichrist” will rule over the doomed but defiant human realm. This standard scenario has been written about exhaustively by Christian writers, not only in the futurist-but-not-very-speculative Left Behind series.
I’ve heard the suggestion floated that perhaps the unbelieving world will ascribe the sudden disappearance of so many believers in the Rapture that LaHaye and Jenkins write about to aliens abducting them. Let’s run with this idea to help us generate a concept strikingly different that what Left Behind did.
Imagine a portrayal of the Antichrist in which he publicly proclaims that not only did aliens snatch up the Christians, but that aliens were responsible for existence of Christianity in the first place. (Or non-Rapture, he simply claims Christianity came from aliens.) If you read the account of God coming down on Mount Sinai to meet Moses in fire and smoke, it sounds almost like a rocket landing. And UFO-ologists have long maintained the “wheel within a wheel” of Ezekiel chapter 1 is a description of a UFO.
The figure of the Antichrist in this story idea would say these events were exactly that—aliens trying to reach humanity in ancient times. And these aliens were a wicked race, because they, being birdlike (which is why angels are portrayed and having wings, he would say) naturally mate for life and found themselves repulsed by human beings who very often do anything but mate for life between males and females. SO these aliens interfered in our culture, trying to rewrite human behavior through the monotheistic religions—especially Christianity—in order to suppress our “natural” sexuality. The Antichrist would claim these aliens would be the ones responsible for the miracles of Jesus (through high tech illusions and cures for diseases) and other signs in the Bible that supported the founding of these Abrahamic religions in the first place.
This deliberate cultural engineering on the part of sinister aliens, intolerant aliens, sheer bigots! would be portrayed as the reason the Bible has harsh words about homosexuality and “falsely” portrays monogamy as the natural state of human beings—what’s natural to human beings, the Antichrist would say, would be to enjoy one another in any way we desire (in my story, “other aliens” would have appeared to the Antichrist, explaining all of this, offering to “help” him and all of humanity)…
The Antichrist should be portrayed for the most part in the way he would portray and think of himself, as a compassionate and powerful human leader, rallying the human race against what he convincingly calls sinister alien forces attacking the Earth repeatedly. In fact, many passages of Revelation, in which a “burning mountain” is said to fall on the Earth (chapter 9), raising up an army of a weird creature only a like locust from “the Bottomless Pit” immediately followed by creatures reminiscent of centaurs (but not), rather sound like an alien invasion.
He would overtly rally people against these invaders and any Christians around after that would be seen as filthy traitors, saboteurs loyal to the enemy, worth of death, since they are in league with the aliens. The mark of 666 would be deliberately and openly used to flush out believers, based on its mention in Revelation 13 and the commandment there not to take the mark (making it a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy). People would willingly and gratefully line up to mark themselves with “666,” eager to prove they are loyal to the human race and its cause…
As a leader that looks askance at Christianity and its doctrines, the Antichrist would first find it easy to make an alliance with Israel, forgiving their loosely practiced monotheism, since they are in fact an overwhelmingly secular state. But once he realizes they do not intend to fully come along with his social program to “re-humanize” religion, which would include forced acceptance of Paganism and its sexual rituals (“the original human religion,” he would say), he would deliberately defile whatever he can that’s holy in Judaism and eventually assembles an army to invade Israel.
When the army of heaven descends to meet him at the literal battle of Armageddon, in my story the Antichrist proclaims it’s a host of aliens attacking from above and we humans need to do all we can to fight them—like we so often see portrayed in science fiction movies, such as Independence Day, the Avengers, etc. Noble humans facing overwhelming odds against alien invaders, but doing so with courage, because they’d be fighting for the fate of Planet Earth.
Note this story would feature characters who would find these explanations persuasive. The story itself could present the arguments that God in an alien invader in the strongest possible terms…until the end of the tale. Explanations so persuasive that even believers in the story would wonder if they hadn’t been duped by a God who continually seems to rain down judgment from above…as if from orbit…as if He were, in fact, an alien.
Such a story might run the risk of a reader drawing the conclusion that God really is an extraterrestrial of the Ancient Aliens sort (not as in the series I once wrote for Speculative Faith about God being an “alien” as in non-human), but the risk would be worth it to portray a compelling Antichrist, instead of the cardboard cut-out of a villain used by the Left Behind series and other Christian ficiton. Which would have the potential of causing someone to really think about Revelation has to say, while also still making meaningful references to and multiple portrayals of faith during the Tribulation…