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The Contrary Viewpoint

Until I see otherwise, I always assume the sci-fi authors I read are secularists who have no use for religion.
| Oct 14, 2015 | 11 comments |

About six months ago, on the last day of a library book sale when everything was going for a song, I randomly bought a couple dozen dog-eared sci-fi paperbacks. A few weeks ago I pulled one out and discovered, on actually looking at it, that it was about an alien invasion of medieval England.

I took this as a bad sign. Oh, I was game to see an alien spaceship interrupt an English army readying to attack France, but I wasn’t interested in cheap anti-medieval stereotypes or scorn. That the book was titled The High Crusade only seemed another warning. Still, I went ahead and read the novel. I’d paid for it, after all, even if only a song.

And it turned out to be the best book I’d read in months. It clashed the ornate, highly religious, and relatively backward culture of fourteenth-century England against the advanced, utilitarian, and completely secular alien culture so typically imagined. The author played out the war in surprising ways, and he treated the medieval culture of his characters with good humor and even something like respect.

I had thought it far more likely the author would make the clash a story of how poor, benighted, God-believing primitives were raised up by the light of science and secularism because, well, I assumed that would be his own worldview. I didn’t know anything about the author, and in fact I still don’t. But until I see otherwise, I always assume the sci-fi authors I read are secularists who have no use for religion. It may not be the only worldview behind science fiction, but it is the dominant one. It is certainly the one I most often encounter.

My worldview is Christian, and I’ve grown attuned to the secular and evolutionistic undertones common in science  fiction. And yet I enjoy sci-fi. Sometimes the contrary viewpoint annoys me, and sometimes it makes the story hard for me to buy; I can’t really get behind the idea that highly-evolved prairie dogs will rise to inherit the earth, even in science fiction. Often enough, though, the author’s underlying worldview makes no difference to what is in the story, though I suspect it made a difference in what was left out. Not every story comes armed with a clear statement, or even an implicit stand, on existential questions.

worldviewThere is a third way a secular worldview shows itself, and the way I most often experience it. The worldview reveals itself in a way essentially tangential to the story – the by-the-way explanation that attributes a whole species’ nature to its environment, the implicit assumption that the difference between humanity and animals is one of degree and not kind, that of course advanced cultures don’t believe in God …

The ultimate effect of these moments on the story can be very minor, and the effect on the reader (or watcher) even less. These ideas, once they are recognized as ideas, have little influence; it’s when they are unreflectively absorbed as attitudes that they are most powerful. Sci-fi is full of ideas – that’s why I love it – and they can sound credible to the point of being scientific. But the canny sci-fi reader knows that that is all part of the fun, that everybody is always guessing.

This is why, although I recognize the secular worldview that undergirds much of science fiction, I don’t reject the genre, or even all its provably secular works. To encounter a bad idea is not to believe it, and tangents usually don’t derail whole stories. Besides, as I learned with The High Crusades, our assumptions – even those based on past experiences – can always be wrong.

Shannon McDermott is the author of the fantasy novel The Valley of Decision, as well as the futuristic The Last Heir and the Sons of Tryas series. To learn more about her and her work, visit her website, ShannonMcDermott.com.

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Parker J. Cole
Member

I like your post. I remember when I first read L. Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield: Earth. At the time, I had no idea who he was or he was involved in Scientology or anything like that. No clue. It was one of my best reading experiences. For the first part, I devoured the book slowly. It was about 1000 or so pages and I didn’t want to rush it. Secondly, I only read during my lunch on weekdays  at work. So I would take 15 minutes to eat and then spend the next 45 lost in the book. Third, my boss was moving into the office space at the end of the month but until then, it was empty loaded up with boxes. Stick a chair in between the boxes, close the door, and I was secluded in Hubbard’s world. I read past the secularism of the story as I’ve had the same thoughts you have…I know it’s going to be there, I just want to enjoy the story.

So it was about a year and a half ago, on an FB post sharing one’s best books or whatever, I put down Battlefield: Earth and one guy goes, Glad you didn’t become a Scientologist. And I said, no one reading Battlefield:Earth will be come a scientologist. That was when I found Hubbard had specifically written the story for such a reason.  Go figure, right?

As I still have all my money and haven’t stepped into a Twilight Zone, I guess I’m okay. 🙂

I love the older sci-fi too and from your picture, it looks like something I’d enjoy. I like anything Edmund Hamilton, Jason Williams, Andre Norton’s sci-fi classics, and a few others. Nostalgia trip! Thanks for the post and I’ll stop wandering off.

Kat Vinson
Member

Poul Anderson has quite a wiki-page. And apparently he was known for that kind of thing. http://home.comcast.net/~gmcdavid/html_dir/anderson.html

Kat Vinson
Member

And apparently a movie was poorly made, based on this book!

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

To encounter a bad idea is not to believe it, and tangents usually don’t derail whole stories.

I think we’re losing something in this era when it comes to dealing with bad ideas. More and more it seems readers feel the need to attack ideas with which they disagree. And dismiss the entire story, even to verbally assault the writer. Amazon reviews and Goodreads reviews show this. Readers who didn’t know a book was Christian fiction or Christians who read something “unChristian”—it doesn’t really matter. There seems an inability to step back from the idea, say it is bad or wrong or one that’s different, and then enjoy the story as a story.

But I think the most significant thing is what you said here: “it’s when they [bad ideas] are unreflectively absorbed as attitudes that they are most powerful.”

So true!

Becky

Kathy E
Guest
Kathy E

Poul Anderson’s High Crusade – one of my favorite novels! The humor of the whole idea and the civilization he created, I loved them. I think The High Crusade was one of Anderson’s very best efforts. He was one of the top SF writers of his period (John Campbell & Analog, etc).  Plus Anderson and fellow author Gordon Dickson (try to find copies of his Hoka novels-hysterical SF!) were both founding members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a medieval recreation organization. Dickson’s sense of humor was almost always present in his writing.

Leah Burchfiel
Member
Leah Burchfiel

Somewhat-tangent: Part of me wants to nuke the word “worldview” from orbit because it’s not a very useful word, or at least when people conflate it with POV, cultural views, or both at the same time. It seems to be a word that people use when they want it both ways.

Like, they’ve spent so much time deriding cultural views (arglebarglepostmodernism, etc), that they don’t want to admit that this viewpoint they are promoting is very much a product of their largely white, very American, very Protestant subculture. And it can’t really be a personal viewpoint it’s not really about what individual people think, it’s about what they want individual people to think, i.e. feminism, LGBTQ-ness, leftover McCarthyism, etc.

Other semantic thoughts?

Paul Lee
Member

I guess people use “worldview” when they mean “set of established beliefs” in order to be more generic and inclusive, because the secularists get all bent out of shape when anyone implies that their belief systems are “religious,” so we don’t really have a better word when comparing religious and non-religious belief systems.

But you’re right. A worldview as a personal perspective and way of understanding doesn’t have much to do with the subcultures you identify with or the institutions you support. Different worldviews could converge on the same basic belief.

Autumn
Guest
Autumn

Dragon Riders of Pern came to mind after reading this article.  I quit reading them because even though I liked the overall idea of the books, they felt like they were dragging on a lot.  Those were books where the world view annoyed me.  I don’t mind reading things with a different world view than mine, but they need to be well written and interesting, else they become annoying very quickly.

If a story is well made but has a different viewpoint than mine, I take it as not only entertainment, but an insight into other people’s thoughts, and something to help me think about how I as a Christian should respond to things.  I also do that with fiction I dislike, I’m just more likely to quit reading the dislikeable fiction, no matter what I’ve learned from the parts I already read.

Another thing that I think matters is how the different characters and viewpoints are portrayed in the story.  If the author shows a well thought out and realistic storyline for each character regardless of their views, that makes it less annoying than a story that simply fleshes out one viewpoint and subtly insults the other viewpoints.  I think that’s one thing I liked about Fate Zero.  There were many character types with different philosophies presented.  Many characters insulted or respected each other for various reasons, and in the end it showed who these characters were as people rather than making fun of just one character’s beliefs.

AuthorNNBrown
Member

This is a very interesting article. To be quite honest, I would not have thought of seeing Christian Science Fiction. As a Speculative Fiction Author, I would have thought that those of the Judeo-Christian faith would have not entertained thoughts of otherworld ideals and beliefs. I’m a Buddhist, but if I had to be honest about it, I’m having a crisis of faith as I did more than 30 years ago. I’ll rock that out in whichever the wind blows me faith-wise.

I will find this book and read it. Thanks for the article. I enjoyed reading something different and new to me.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

NN, glad you stopped by and hope you’ll feel inclined to visit again. I think we can accommodate you as far as “something different” is concerned. 😉

In that regard, you might be interested in articles in our archives filed under science fiction. Here’s the link: http://www.speculativefaith.lorehaven.com/category/genres/science-fiction/

Becky (one of the administrators here and a regular contributor)

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

Welcome, NN!

I’m the chap who was running the Twitter tonight. I’m glad you found the article and were encouraged by it, and returned the same in your comment.

Indeed, there’s a strong perception out there that most or all biblical Christians* don’t want to hear about others’ beliefs. I think in some cases that perception is justified. There are some Christians who fear exposure to beliefs they don’t (and won’t) hold. But as Shannon said, “To encounter a bad idea is not to believe it.” For me personally, I’m a huge fan of Star Trek and Doctor Who and other stories that are not written to be in accord with my beliefs, but can’t help reflecting truths and beauties about the world anyway. This is because the universe is God’s universe, so anything good and beautiful in the world (as sick as it is) is put there by a good and loving God.

* By the way, when I say “biblical Christians,” I’m referring to a particular belief that a holy, loving, and all-powerful God has created the world, and humans rebelled against him and became His enemies (bringing all the evil and suffering we see today), but God has spent millennia putting together His rescue operation, which reached a climax when He came to Earth Himself, as a Man, in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus’s mission was not just to teach about peace and unity, but to announce a thing called the “Kingdom of Heaven” and then sacrifice Himself to take the penalty for man’s evil. He then brought Himself back from the dead and inaugurated the “Kingdom of Heaven” — the work Christians do today while we look forward to His return to set everything right on Earth at last.

For my part, that last bit sets my heart beating faster because I believe that when Jesus purges the Earth of all evil, we just might have some of those things that science fiction tries to hint at — but without laser battles because there will be no one to fight. 🙂 That’s my view, not all Christians’ view.

We have other beliefs (such as hard truths about what we believe happens to people who reject Jesus’s person and mission). But that is the best faith summary I can come up with before watching Tomorrowland tonight.

Again, thanks for stopping by and I hope we can be of help to your coworker.