How Science Fiction Portrays the Future of Christianity
The title of this post unintentionally portrays science fiction as a unified front on the subject of what it has to say about Christianity in the future. Science fiction isn’t unified in reality–sci fi isn’t even always about the future, though more often than not it is. There have been a wide variety of ways in which Christianity has been shown in the future in so-called “mainstream” science fiction. Yet there are certain approaches that I’ve found to be more common than others. This post looks at what I see as the basic issue of how sci fi has seen the future of Christianity and also looks at how a number of Christian authors have responded to this challenge.
Star Trek exemplifies what I consider to be the most common approach science fiction takes to Christianity set in the future–Christianity, along with all other human religions, simply has ceased to exist at some point prior to the story setting, with very little commentary on how or why that happened. While some Star Trek has made certain references to Biblical ideas like heaven/hell, God/Satan, Genesis, original sin, paradise, and a few others, in spite of these references, not a single character, either major or minor, is openly stated to be a Christian in Star Trek (nor Jewish, nor Muslim, nor Hindu, nor any other human religion). Humanity has landed in a strictly secular future and religion is a thing of the past for our species. Other intelligent species, Klingons and Bajorans among them, have overt religious beliefs and practices. But humans do not.
Other stories, such as Frank Herbert’s Dune novels, portray a future of humanity in which humans remain as religious as we are now. Yet the religion(s) are no longer recognizable as stemming from faiths that exist today. Religion has changed, transformed, into something entirely new, even if human beings are still recognizably human. (The tribespeople of Hawaii worshiping Sonmi-451 in Cloud Atlas may be an even clearer example of this phenomenon.)
Some science fiction has vilified future religion (classic example: Robert Heinlein’s Revolt in 2100) and some have portrayed a small minority of Christian believers living in the future in a neutral or even positive way (classic example: Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama series). Among the classic sci fi novelists I know, only Jerry Pournelle (himself a practicing Catholic) portrayed futuristic space exploration in which Christianity retained an important cultural role in humanity’s future (as seen in the Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle novel, The Mote in God’s Eye).
In spite of many variations, including ones I haven’t named, science fiction usually portrays the future of Christianity in the following ways: 1) along with all other human religion, it doesn’t exist at all in the future, 2) religion exists, but Christianity doesn’t. 3) Christianity exists, but it’s the faith of a tiny minority and essentially insignificant.
While science fiction writers who in various ways erase Christianity from existence in the future don’t mean to be producing propaganda (as a general rule), I think such stories can have a propaganda effect, whether intentional or not. One of the things propaganda tries to do is shape the understanding of the future for those who hear it. The Nazis spoke of a thousand-year Reich. They tried to convince the German people of the inevitability of their (Nazi) destiny–in essence “Conform now, because the future is with us.”
I see a rather similar effect stemming from much of science fiction, even though sci fi stories are not produced by deliberate propagandists (with certain exceptions). Science fiction preaches future secularism to a large degree. Should we be surprised that in our time, the era of the rise of the popularity of largely-secular science fiction, has also seen a rise in people holding to non-religious (or non-Christian) worldviews?
Of course I’m not claiming that science fiction by itself is responsible for a general cultural turning away from all religion and Christianity in particular–but it seems reasonable to me to conclude science fiction has contributed to this effect.
In fact, the sense that science fiction engages in what is in effect propaganda is part of the reason why I write science fiction from a deliberately Christian point of view. Like Jerry Pournelle, I’m creating alternate views of the future other than what is commonly portrayed in sci fi. Some form of Secular Reich is not inevitable.
My approach has been to imagine that the future is even more Christian in important ways that in our present–i.e. I’ve imagined that the pendulum is swinging away from Christian faith now, but it will swing back again in the future. (Medieval Mars and Victorian Venus both conceive of a future more devoutly Christian than our present.) Lelia Rose Foreman has also written stories in which Christianity undergoes cultural changes in the future as human cultures change, but still remains Christian (in her Statterworld Trilogy), even though she has not imagined Christianity becoming important for the entire human race, just for a select group of future colonists.
Yet not all of our peers have taken this approach. While Kerry Nietz has written a Christian culture into the future with Amish Vampires in Space (and sequels) I would say his more distinctive series set in the future is the Dark Trench Shadow series (starting with Frayed), which portrays Islam as the religion of Earth’s future. No, that’s not a good thing in that story universe–Kerry’s method both runs counter to any assumption of a secular future and at the same time allows a direct comparison between Christian culture and its likely alternative, powerful even though the stories feature little direct commentary on religion.
Steve Rzasa in For Us Humans likewise sees a future decline in Christianity, but in his story, the act of meeting aliens in the near future is what damages religious belief for many Christians, shaking the sense that God has a special story of redemption for Planet Earth. Many humans, but definitely not all, turn away from religion–while in fact, the main alien character proves to be more interested in Christianity than most humans are. In short, in spite of a general decline, Christianity survives in unexpected ways in Steve’s tale.
In contrast to Mr. Rzasa, Joshua A. Johnston in his Chronicles of Sarco series (starting with Edge of Oblivion) takes an entirely different approach to the effect aliens would have on human religious belief. He imagines a future in which human beings have indeed abandoned Christianity to the point of essentially forgetting Christianity ever existed–only to travel to the stars to meet alien species who have religions with obvious parallels to the Christian faith. So humans come to know God primarily through aliens.
A Walker Scott takes a similar approach to Johnston’s in No Road Among the Stars. No, humanity has not entirely forgotten its religious past in Scott’s story, but in the view of the many alien races this novel portrays in interesting and varied ways, humanity is stuck in an “adolescent rebellion stage” when it comes to how humans feel about God. A stage all the other races grew out of, discovering their own versions of faith over again, so humans are the least religious of all intelligent species. With the consequence of the human protagonist learning about faith from his alien friends.
There are of course many other approaches Christian authors could take to offer alternative views of the future. We could, for example, imagine aliens converting to Christianity en masse and sending missionaries back to a mostly unbelieving human race. Or we could imagine a future that really is wholly secular, while at the same time revealing what such a society would actually be like (it wouldn’t be a utopia a-la-Star-Trek).
Have you as a reader of this post given much thought to how sci fi shows the future of Christianity? Do you agree with my assessment and if not, why not?
And have you seen other means Christian authors have used to respond to how the future of Christianity is normally portrayed in sci fi? Which method do you think is best, if any?
I would suggest that there may be another couple ways in which Christianity of the future is viewed. One would be the Christianity as preserver of culture and faith as in A Canticle for Leibowitz. Another is in the more recent The Sparrow, where the Church (or rather a religious order) provides some of the motivation and all of the funding for interstellar exploration.
Hello sir, I don’t believe we’ve interacted before, nice to meet you.
I’d say Jerry Pournelle definitely portrayed Christianity (Catholicism specifically) as a keeper of future culuture and the same is true in the Medieval Mars anthology I sponsored and wrote the first story for.
Pournelle also shows his future Church influencing exploration, but not as the primary driver. Lelia Rose Foreman’s Shatterworld trilogy features Christians colonizing an alien world to flee persecution on Earth–but they explore that world in part due to interest in evangelizing alien species who live there.
Certainly there’s room for more stories along these lines.
I’m definitely going to check out the Medieval Mars anthology. Thank you for bringing it up (both in the article and here).
On second (or really third) thought, Medieval Mars only rather lightly assigned any role of preservation of culture to Christianity. Culture was also preserved, more importantly even, by educated people I called “lithium smiths.”
Thanks for the references. I will look into them. I have more to say on this topic but would first like to ask if you know of any works dealing with either of these premises:
1. A first contact sitution in which when the technologically superior aliens arrive, their first question is “have you seen this man?” at which point they hold up a Crucifix.
2. A post-apocalyptic story set during the 1,000 year reign of Christ as described in Revelation?
Hi John, thanks for the positive comnents. As for questions:
1. No, I haven’t read a story like that but I’ve imagined one and may write one some day. Though perhaps someone reading this knows someone else who has already written a story like this.
2. Post-apocalyptic stories generally portray things as terrible, a wasteland where people struggle to survive. A post-apocalyptic story set in the Millennium (as Christians who apply the futurist interpretation of Revelation would see it) would imply the Millennial rule of Christ will be some horrific nightmare. That’s a possible story, but not one I’d write and not one I’ve read. Though the idea itself is interesting. 🙂
Thanks for the response. What I had in mind with #2 was rather a different “post-apocalyptic” story- one set in the time frame between verses 5 and 7 of Revelation 20. This would lead up to the events of verses 8 and 9. Imagine a world where Christ and his saints have ruled for as long as the time that has elapsed between the end of the Viking Age and now. No one alive– well, no one naturally alive– has ever known a world in which Jesus is not the ruling sovereign of the Earth and yet…Satan is still able to deceive nations and lead them to war against Jesus. What would such a world look like?
I see. Post-apocalyptic only in the sense that the past of ordinary times would be forgotten.
My first thought is such a story world would have very little story conflict. But that’s not necessarily true.
I don’t know of anyone who wrote from this point of view…I never finished reading the Left Behind series. Did it actually enter the Millennium period?
Check out the “Lamb Among the Stars” trilogy by Chris Walley (out of print, but should be still available). It is exactly what Mr. Martin is asking about: set near the end of the Millennium (14,000 years in this case) during which sinless humans have explored and teraformed dozens of planets (Dominion Mandate), but then, some tiny kernels of sin start to reappear in subtle ways.
I’d be interested to see how Christianity could change in the future. It’s not likely to happen, because the sort of people most invested in Christian sci-fi like to pretend that Christianity has never, ever changed, except when those Catholics got too full of themselves for a bit. I’d be interested to see how folk Christianity supposedly evolved vs the more educated high church culture, too.
But most Christian authors (except maybe the Amish fanficcers) don’t really explore why people would WANT to stay in Christianity even (especially) if they had more options to get their needs met. I’d like it if that answer was the community, but the reality is that people stay or go depending on whether they get their needs met, and more often they get their needs met in other spaces.
I say that as someone whose behavior is exactly like that. Part of my reason for lapsing a lot is that I work a lot of Sundays with my retail job, but the other reason I don’t go is because my social needs don’t get met. It’s rare to find anyone who doesn’t mostly talk about their kids or kid-related subjects, and most of the time I don’t get spoken to like an adult, more like someone who needs things explained to them, and I get that enough in my retail job. No thank you.
(Aside rant: Odin Hare Krishna, WHY is our most important cultural signifier of adulthood popping out babies??? Most teenagers are capable of popping out babies [and a lot did in my rural hometown], but my college-educated self doesn’t count for nearly as much? Of course, my babyface doesn’t help in the slightest, but I can’t even grow a beard to help with that.)
Well, you are definitely shooting off on a tangent from what I was talking about. Star Trek isn’t profoundly secular because Gene Roddenberry didn’t think his local church was meeting his needs as far as I know. Nor were classic sci fi writers writing out Christianity from the future because it wasn’t helpful enough to them personally (as far as I know).
Though in fact Christianity could change in many ways and still be Christian. All the songs could be different, services could be different in what actions are performed, the architecture and symbology could all be different, yet if this imaginary version of Christianity would be still talking about the Deity, death and resurrection, and importance of Jesus of Nazareth, if it would still be talking about sin and redemption, it would still be Christian. That is the fundamental need the Christian faith meets–redemption/forgiveness through the death and resurrection of Jesus as applied with or without ritual. It’s about dealing with personal evil and a desire to seek to do right.
A futuristic story could feature a form of Christianity that’s unfamiliar in all its externals but is essentially the same in doctrine. I’d find that interesting.
But what I find in modern times is some people wish to cling to what I consider externals (buildings, art, music, precise ritual) and cast aside what actually makes Christianity distinctive–which is its doctrine.
Well, not entirely a tangent. If the religion is going to survive, that means people would want to practice it (after there it’s a pretty wide tangent).
I was thinking of Santeria, which a Caribbean-originating folk religion that’s basically a Catholic-flavored poly/pantheism. I’m not sure how much it intersects with Voudoun, but they have Catholic-looking art and rituals to venerate saints like a personified Lady Death (Santa Muerte).
It’s basically what I imagine medieval folk Catholicism was like, a mishmash of pagan and churchy symbology that people invoke to gain protection or luck. Humans are superstitious animals, and it’s interesting to me to see how the superstitions permutate.
Protestantism didn’t start out particularly superstitious, but it sure picked up weirdnesses along the way, like the Quakers and Shakers. The modern folk Protestant version is more like the spiritual warfare stuff where you cast charms of protection and power by chanting the Lord’s Prayer or a Psalm or something sufficiently King James-y sounding. What is it in our brainpans that makes this behavior resurface time after time?
It wouldn’t even have to be future sci-fi Christianity necessarily, it could be the folk religion that contrasts with future sci-fi Christianity and how they blend in pop culture. Except, I feel like I have to specify, I’m not interested in one being proved bad and wrong, because I’m interesting in exploring the human interactions based on that rather than a dueling of boring ol’ dogmas.
Heck, we got something in that in the Cult of the Apocalypse, with the preppers and gun nuts mixing Revelations with survivalist folk myths about the lone, rugged individual/family who are the Last of the Noble Savages or some crap, from which springs a Purified Society (which would probably suck in actual practice).
Too true on the preppers and spiritual warfare stuff. The latter is, “white magic.” Funny thing is, they’re the most allergic to Harry Potter, yet their view of prayer is that God is a magic wand they can cast spells with. “Hocus Pocus, give me a Ford Focus.” Biblical prayer looks very different from their mythologized version. When Jesus casted demons out, he didn’t have to say, “I bind you, you Jezebel spirit from Norway.” I’m not even trying to be funny.
IF Christianity is nothing more than a set of dogma or intellectual concepts strung together, it’s worthless.
First, the intellectual concepts of Christianity are important, but you’re right, Christianity should be more than that
I wouldn’t call white magic intellectual.
I mostly agree with Travis, and feel the same as you in a lot of ways, Notleia. I’ve felt for years that Western “church” services aren’t biblical, aren’t helpful, and aren’t a healthy community. That’s why I’ve largely not attended on Sunday mornings, but rather found church community, accountability, and communal worship in other ways. I’ve always (100% of the time) felt like an outcast at “church.” I’ve felt way too much politics in the smiling hand-shakers at the door. Judgment if I don’t go on a Sunday, as if I need to tell them why I didn’t join them or else I’m sinning. Who said that the structure of Sunday morning Evangelical church is biblical to begin with? It’s not. Francis Chan’s newer book, Letters to the Church, makes that unendingly clear. People can go to church and experience zero accountability for their lifestyle. Christianity has been relegated by modern “church” to a passive, “What does it offer me?” religion. Whatever happened to Mark 8:34-37? Or Philippians 3:8-11? We rant and throw hissy fits if the music is too loud, but no one rants about how not everyone in the church is demanded to dedicate themselves to prayer and actually giving up habitual sins. The Bible itself makes it unendingly clear (by its own measure of what a Christian is) that a large majority of the people who go to church simply aren’t Christians, because their lifestyles and lives bear that truth out. They look no different, they’re not any kinder, more loving, or more accepting, (whatever happened to, “you will know them by their love”?) they’re not self-sacrificial, they don’t care about hospitality or helping their neighbors. Even more telling is the fact that they don’t share their faith because their faith means nothing to them because it’s fake to begin with and hasn’t actually changed their lives, because they don’t treasure Christ more than anything else. They don’t count everything as a loss for the joy of knowing their Lord. Part of the problem is we put cultural ideas about Christianity on a pedestal above the Biblical text, and separate ourselves from each other to maintain a comfortable distance. Rather than freaking out about politics, we should be freaking out that we’re not dedicating our lives to prayer and the passionate pursuit of the God we say means everything to us. If we did that, and actually listened to God’s word and treated people with respect and love, a lot would change. So, I definitely hope Christianity changes in the future. I hope it actually begins to resemble the church you see in China, and many other areas of the world, where there’s real community, and real commitment to the Bible, and to the God responsible for it.
I could probably write about that, except it would look a lot socialist. People ain’t got no time for volunteering because most of us work crappy jobs for crap pay with uncertain hours. If we had more money and leisure, we would have the spoons to do more nonprofit or volunteer work.
Like, if we had M4A so that even freelancers and small businesses and part time retail people had access to healthcare, or strengthened unions and update laws so that a single minimum wage could support a small family again and enforce better-set hours so that retail employees can plan stuff beyond a week in advance. And whether mandating more full-time positions or whether that becomes obsolete with more salaried position or some other means.
Except I’m not sure of a good plot to put to that, since most plot is driven by conflict. I love the slice-of-life genre, but it’s super hard to write anything that doesn’t have a lot of conflict. Also since a some people find Star Trek a little bit propaganda-ish, mine would probably be the same.
It’s not about volunteering in the traditional sense. It’s about community. Being a human to other humans. Literally everyone can do it.
Most of that still takes organization and effort to be effective. The Church Lady Network in my hometown was the ones who organized funeral dinners, the baby/wedding showers, VBS, and the 4th of July barbecue thing.
I’m growing convinced that civilization is mostly driven by middle-aged ladies, whether or not they are a specifically a Church Lady Network.
Lol, I know what you mean.
I’d say that, in addition, a lot of society moves and improves by those who just take a little time out as needed. My family has always been insanely busy, yet they’ve made a difference in other people’s lives just because of the way they live, or the fact that they’ve been willing to take the time out(sometimes even just a few minutes) to mentor other people or be there when needed. Sometimes that’s advice or being a sympathetic ear, other times it can be more practical things like giving a family member or friend a lift to work for a few months until they can afford to get their car fixed.
I get what you’re saying Brennan. Way too much emphasis on worldly success in the American church. Materialism runs rampant. Even in churches that condemn the “Prosperity Gospel.”
I grew up a preacher’s kid and the hypocrisy and back-stabbing I saw led me to have a nervous breakdown before my teens.
I faithfully attend church still. But the shallow selfishness and lack of love poisoning nearly every church I have attended breaks my heart. I’m trying to be the change Christ’s Body needs.
Yeah, I think that’s the important part. To try to be the change. I’m trying to do the same–actually live out what I say I believe. You’re never going to completely agree with anyone. So… it shouldn’t really get in the way of actually living in community with people.
I don’t think I’ve had people at my church treat me like a kid (and they’ve had plenty of excuse to since I think some of them know I still live with my parents.) But, I tend not to enjoy weekly services so much. The sermons tend not to be satisfying and now and then there’s just a bunch of subtle things in there that I disagree with. (I hate the whole ‘God loves you and brought you far, so there’s no way things can go horribly bad’ vibe I get sometimes). I sort of prefer going to small group, and I somewhat feel like small group is often closer to how Christianity started out/God intended.
This is a very interesting post because I’m currently working on a hard sci-fi space exploration and colonization where people are reeling from not finding alien life no matter where they look and the church is still behaving like today, sending out missionaries and dealing with the ethics of scientific advancements.
Something I like to write in fantasy, and will probably explore in scifi as well, is have people believe in God, the devil (and sometimes other spiritual entities, depending on the culture), but they aren’t notably religious about it. Like, a pretty decent amount of them don’t have a relationship with God. So, basically, it’s exploring the possibility of it being common for people to believe in God, and maybe contemplate him and the way he affects their lives, but to not pray very often or worship him much, if at all. So God, in that case, would simply be considered a reality of the world, like the sun or moon.
And, since we’re talking about scifi and religion, here’s a fun song. The video’s kind of cool, and I like how it uses mythology and combines it with the fact that mythology often had to do with things like the sun and moon:
Yeah, this video doesn’t strike me as fun, it strikes me as promoting goddess worship, even if indirectly, which is an example of sci fi promoting Paganism, which is something it also does at times, though I didn’t address that in my post.
(Fantasy as a genre more often has a troubling relationship with modern Paganism.)
I guess I just haven’t known anyone that would actually take something like this seriously, though I probably wouldn’t show it directly anyone that I knew was struggling. It’s also kind of about getting inspiration needed to write about someone that’s from a vastly different perspective than me. It takes a lot more work for me to understand why someone would actually want to devote themselves to worshipping those things.
I really liked your overview of how various authors have portrayed or not portrayed Christianity in SF, but as a writer I have wondered, how much of it is up to authors and how much of it is up to publishers? How does one portray their faith as real and get published?
As far as the discussion goes, I think worship within a church as well as individual worship and small group worship (worship meaning: fellowship, prayer, music/praise, acts of service – like going out and serving food at a homeless shelter or cleaning up a community park or raising money to fight human trafficking), is an important aspect of faith. I love my church family. I know it isn’t flawless – it’s made up of forgiven sinners saved only by Christ – that’s the reason we’re there! It takes going and being a part of it every week to see Christ’s love at work in people’s lives, seeping in the edges, mending the cracks, and breaking down our walls of protection (the desire to look good when things aren’t) so we can have the courage enough to be vulnerable and truly love God and others. It’s easy to see the flaws – yes, I know that lady over there gossips and that guy over there struggles with alcoholism, and I struggle with obesity/gluttony. But God just keeps working on us and in us, and we all keep on leaning into him with hope for our healing, with hope that we can love him and each other enough to be a light to this world. Going to worship isn’t about going to an ideally, perfectly loving place, it’s about learning to love God and love others even when none of us measure up – not even the lady with the perfect hair and make up who is trying to hide her fears behind her facade and who, someday with Christ’s help, will lean into him and learn to love herself with God’s eyes and once she does that, she’ll start loving others and seeing the beauty in every face. I plan to be there and see it when that happens because I believe that God is powerful enough to mend every hurt and every broken bit of us.
I know what you mean, but isn’t that the problem? The attitude that “we’ll get there eventually doing everything the way we are”? Do we really take our issues seriously? So much of the problems in our lives don’t go away until we make a serious commitment. The issue is, God literally demands our entire lives from us, and many barely give him anything. “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off.” It wasn’t to be taken literally, but the general spirit behind it is: don’t mess around and think it’s okay to take your sweet old time giving up old habits you know are evil. Yes, everyone makes mistakes and slips up, and we have grace with each other, and God has grace with us. But there’s a reason the Bible says that liars and the sexually immoral, etc., will not see the Kingdom of Heaven. Because God views it as very serious, yet we just let it slide by in our politically correct, comfortable churches. Nothing changes until we see our issues for what they are, and hold each other accountable for repenting and dedicating our lives to obeying and finding ultimate joy and satisfaction in Christ. I think part of the importance of a Church community that holds each other accountable is that we build each other up in our faith, and correct each other when we’re off, so that we can continue treating things seriously, rather than saying, “Yeah, he struggles with alcoholism… *shrug*” Or, “Yeah, he’s a bit verbally abusive to his wife sometimes *shrug*” And just end up enabling people. I’m assuming that’s not exactly your attitude, but there’s that sentiment lurks behind it all, I think, because that’s our culture. Good, strong church community happens in “normal” western churches, of course, but you usually see it resembling a bit of the New Testament early church only in an exceptionally good small group. It’s the exception a lot of the time, rather than the norm. One of the problems is that the structure of Sunday morning church enables people to be passengers aboard a plane they think will take them to heaven. But we know it won’t. You read the New Testament and there’s sober warning after sober warning about the seriousness of sin, and the massive cost of becoming a Christian. Where’s the seriousness? Where’s the cost? It’s been substituted for a comfortable religion masquerading as the real thing, but devoid of the power and the fruit borne out in real peoples’ lives. Obviously, I’m not advocating for legalism. I’m saying much of the time, we’re hypocrites who don’t take God seriously. Faith is made real through action. The book of James makes that very clear. No action? No faith. No fruit? Not a Christian. No growth? That’s a problem. Let’s encourage each other to take that seriously. I think we can agree on that, right? I know, long rant, and you may agree with all this, just wanted to make sure I was being clear. (I’m probably still not…) I suppose I should add that habitual sin also makes it impossible to really enjoy intimacy with Christ. So, when we let habitual sin slide by, we’re communally settling for a pile of dog turds instead of a steak dinner. First, it’s gross, and second, it’s ridiculous to do that if we say we really believe the Gospel. Either we need to take it seriously, or not at all. It all just ends up being the lukewarm water God said he’d spit out. Rather that we’d be hot or cold. . .
*le sigh* I guess it’s a Calvinist thing that things can’t be real until someone bleeds over them.
I’d be more laissez faire about it, except it’s used to manipulate people way too often. That if they sacrifice harder, submit harder, deny the flesh harder, be miserable harder, then they’ll get something good out of it in return. Except what if they don’t? What if they’re pushed to keep doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results?
Like, the problem is not that the alcoholic drinks, it’s that their dysfunction makes drinking the easy way out. The goal shouldn’t be merely to get them to stop drinking, but to get them functional. If all you do is get them to punish themselves for drinking, they still lack the skills and coping mechanisms to be functional.
Notleia, a church is not intended to meet all of everyone’s needs. A church is best seen as a place where Christians can minister to the needs of other Christians. Where we can help others, but never with the expectation that all problems will be solved. That’s not how Christianity has ever worked.
It’s as individuals we progress in faith or not and it’s always been that way–Christianity is most importantly about an individual’s relationship with God.
Notleia, what you’re talking about is the opposite of what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a community that gracefully lifts each other up, encouraging each other toward good, attempting to help each other heal, and pointing out when each other is purposefully indulging in habitual sin, not to make each other feel horrible, but because we care about each other and want the greatest good–which is to love and obey Christ, and to be whole, together. You’re confused because you just don’t understand what loving Christ does to you, and so you don’t understand that guilt is not the motivator. Also, this is about Christians encouraging Christians to live out what they say they believe. It’s not about getting non-Christians to stop sinning. And sorry, Travis, but you need to read the New Testament a bit more if you think it’s only as individuals that we progress in faith. What in the world is the point of the church, then? Yes, we progress as individuals, but only in community. (Is that what you were saying? Can’t tell if I’m misinterpreting what you said.)
Notleia, you can’t have fairness and justice unless you have a community that holds YOU accountable. You can’t erase racism or sexism unless you have a community that holds you accountable. You want to eat a mountain of frosting and yet make it to meet all your needs. It’s just not the way the world works.
And no, it’s not a Calvinist thing. It’s a Scriptural thing. “1 Peter 4:1
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,” the entire Christian church (Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Evangelicals, etc.) would tell you — “Yeah, the Bible says that, and it means it.” But you don’t put any stock in the Bible.
Even still, here’s a few more: “1 John 3:16-18
16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” -2 Timothy 3:12
“Hebrews 12:1-3 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
“Philippians 3:8-11 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
“Ephesians 5:18-21 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” — that doesn’t sound very individualistic, now, does it Travis?
And neither does this: “Ephesians 4:11-14 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds[a] and teachers,[b] 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,[c] to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”
Then you read the book of Acts, and you see this is not just an individualistic thing. We can’t do it alone. God’s view of the Gospel included unity in him together–communal agreement and life together. Gracious community. Now, tell me, when you read the book of Acts, and you read what was written about the early church, do you see that anywhere in any American church?
No. You don’t. You only see it happening in smaller groups WITHIN churches. Which is great. That’s wonderful. But gracious, loving, accepting, encouraging community, where we hold each other accountable and face issues together, should be the defining mark of Christianity, rather than that we have to really search our brains for an example.
That’s nice and all, but I’d like something better than the No True Scotsman fallacy to protect the vulnerable from those who use the language of religion to gain power over others.
Same with the patriarchy, really. You haven’t shown anything more substantial than the No Scotsman for what’s supposed to make your idea more functional in practice than what’s happening already.
Using the language of religion to gain power over others is expressly forbidden by the Bible. If everyone believes the text of the Bible as their guide, and is open to being accountable to everyone else in a community of Christians holding to the same, and who live together closely with the entire community constantly measuring their behavior against the Bible and holding each other accountable, that protects vulnerable people from being abused by those within the community. Same with the role of men as leaders. Pastors have elders to hold them accountable. There’s a reciprocal, circular pattern of responsibility and accountability, along with a system of how to graciously correct and confront people, as well as a system of punishment, in the text of the Bible.
I hate to bruise your cute naivete, but there are people who think that power is more important than Bible. A lot of these people try to be leaders or *gasp* pastors for the sake of power and privilege rather than Jesus.
Um. I’m not naïve. Did you just barely skim what I wrote? That’s why there’s communal accountability in close relationship (which exposes the very types of sins you’re talking about), and a system of correcting/confronting and punishing people in Scripture. It’s real straight forward. Every pastor/preacher needs elders he’s accountable to, who know his lifestyle and hold him to it. Those elders are accountable to the congregation, who need to live in close relationship with them and know their lives. The congregation are accountable to each other, living in close community and taking responsibility for their families and for the others in the community. And the congregation is also accountable to the Pastor. Get it? Many modern churches don’t live in close community with transparency, and aren’t accountable to each other, and don’t follow the plain text of the Bible on how to live with each other and hold each other accountable. That’s where problems multiply. If anyone is getting into leadership for the sake of power and privilege, the text of Titus 1 says:
“7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.”
Get it? Silence people teaching for shameful gain. Um, nothing naieve or rosy-colored about that. If an overseer is violent (abusive), greedy for gain (doing it for selfish reasons), immoral, quick-tempered (yells at his kids a bunch), he’s disqualified from his position of leadership. Sooo, the other elders or people in the congregation confront him. If he refuses to change, he’s out of there. Bye.
Tell me, Oh Wise Notleia. What’s your solution to solving the subtle manipulation of power? And how is it better than the biblical model alluded to in part above?
I feel like our conversations are going like this:
Employee: This problem is happening a lot, and I had these ideas for fixing it.
Middle Management: No, that’s against policy.
E: Then how do you propose we fix this?
MM: Read the handbook. This shouldn’t even be happening if the handbook was followed properly.
E: But this IS happening. Like, A LOT. Shouldn’t we take specific measures to make this not happen?
MM: Did you read the handbook?
MM: Have you been reading your handbook? Maybe it’s because you have a bad attitude and a terrible work ethic.
I just mentioned specific measures to fix it and you completely ignored it.
No, you’re just quoting the handbook. You’re not showing any understanding of how abusive behavior operates IRL and who the abusers are.
No, you’re just claiming that. And it’s completely false.
Strawman Fallacy. Brennan is well aware of abuse in the church.
Notleia–just revisiting this now because of Rachel’s additional comments.
And… wanted to say that as much as I think some of your conclusions about the bible/faith, etc. are wrong, I do hear you. And I do believe you have every right to question things–and to have a different opinion. Re-reading my comments above and they seem more flippant than is appropriate. I’m passionate about the Bible because it’s changed my life so profoundly. I hope you can forgive when I get overzealous, or riled up… but that’s fine if you won’t.
It seems clear from your comments (correct me if I’m wrong) that you’ve suffered actual spiritual abuse. If you’re comfortable with it, I’d like to hear how that went down. (And no, I won’t say anything about you being in the wrong. I have a tendency to be overly focused on ideas in a debate, and it’s a bit too easy to not address the other person’s humanity, and I don’t want you to feel like I don’t care about your actual life. I feel I’ve been insensitive to you.)
A lot of people are not following the handbook. Like those hypocrites you just mentioned.
What??? Hypocrites exist? I’m shocked!
Bad people pretending to be good to gain power and privilege? Where’s the fainting couch?
Jesus never talked about hypocrites. They must be a new phenomenon common only to the 21st century.
Brandon, while you are right that churches can be too tolerant of sin, dude, loads of Christian people are doing their best to deal with their own sin. Your broad stroke condemnation of churches (from someone who has said he doesn’t even attend a church himself) is too broad.
First, my name is Brennan. Second, I don’t think so. Though of course you’re right, there are loads of Christian people trying to deal with their own sin. Still, if we continue in sin, we’re not doing our best–or, at least, we’re not completely surrendered to Christ. And the main point was more to point out that we need to build each other up in community, or else we will fail.
Also, I do attend a church. (Sorry, I hadn’t been clear enough in the previous comment) I had stopped for a while, but decided to just pick a church and start going (because reading the Bible convinced me it’s important). I’ve also continued with the Bible study/prayer group I meet with regularly, along with the group of men (some of whom are Pastors and who I am accountable to) who I meet with for prayer, and live my life with. Because Sunday morning services aren’t anywhere close to the community we need, or that’s talked about in the Bible.
Glad to hear it. I’m impressed by your knowledge of God’s Word.
Brennan sorry for my errors.
Hey, no worries at all. The name thing was not really an issue. Just wanted to point it out. 🙂 I’m sorry for my errors, too. I do appreciate your feedback.
Soooooo your suggestion is to just submit and surrender harder. What if that doesn’t work?
My suggestion is to follow what the Bible plainly says about behavior, for the reasons the Bible says we should do it, which is very different from Christian-flavored moralism (because it has a different motivation, end-goal, reward, etc.). Try to live in community with other people in the way I want them to live toward me, and to contribute to positive change by living it out. It’s basic pre-schooler stuff, as you’ve advocated for in a previous comment on another post. It’s working well so far in my life (though imperfectly–I’m working on it). I thought what you wanted was community. That’s what it looks like.
This may seem like an offensive question, but I just don’t know you and am curious: When was the last time you read the actual Bible? Or, when was the last time you read the New Testament, and took it as it presents itself?
“Took it as it presents itself”? Do you realize what kind of nonsense that sounds like to someone with an English degree? It’s something like “have you tried reading it without looking at the words?”
Dude, we all bring our interpretations and biases and assumptions to any given written text. I’m definitely interested in reading in a historical perspective with details on the original context, but usually the response to that is “no, not like that.” What people usually mean is, “read it the way I read it and stop disagreeing with me.”
And I went to a private Christian elementary school where about the only parts of the Bible we didn’t cover were the drier bits of the Pentateuch, the judges besides Samson, the minor prophets, Revelations, and all the assorted bits about rape and sex and violence that kids shouldn’t know about. And I’ve caught up on the parts I didn’t learn then.
In fact, I’m confident that the only way you could top me for Bible scholarship is if you went to seminary and learned the original Greek.
Sorry, Notleia, I meant to post my comment here but it got posted above instead. I hope you will scroll up to read it.
Of course you have to read it within the historical context. You’d be an idiot not to. When you take a text as it presents itself, you take the original context and authorial intent and let that direct your interpretation of it. It’s basic exegesis. You practice rampant eisegesis, rather than exegesis. That’s why I said what I did.
It’s honestly laughable that you claim biblical scholarship with an English degree and reading through the Bible in elementary school.
What’s your degree, then? English majors speak mostly the same language as seminarians. The seminarians just have a lot more specific vocabulary.
“Authorial intent.” Pfffft. The entity known as Paul did not write half the Epistles. Which author should we go by?
Also I’ve read Bible more than a few times since elementary school. It’s not like I haven’t touched it since then, but if I have to sit through another sermon on the Beatitudes, I’m going to give myself permission to clock my brain the eff out.
I learned Revelations by means of a Church of Christ pastor (the kind with no musical instruments) who was a nice, quiet, scholarly guy who introduced me to the historical interpretation of Revelations (that the events have already happened, unlike what Left Behind portrays). He had a very thorough Power Point.
Though honestly, hanging out with the Church of Christers is what killed any lingering thought of literalism stone dead. They use proof-texting to a ridiculous extent.
Thanks, that’s helpful. As regards literalism… depends on what you mean by that. Technically, you can’t interpret the Bible literally. Though if you mean interpreting depending upon the genre of each book, the original intent so far as it can be determined, etc., that’s different.
Revelations is so unclear. People are quite dogmatic about the Left Behind interpretation but I’m not convinced.
I’m Church of Christ. And an English major. FWIW
I dislike LB both for its weird interpretations of Revelation based on Scofield more than John the Apostle’s book and its horrible plot/characterization/textual mechanics.
This is why I hire an editor. Woops…
I went to a bible college and took numerous classes on theology and biblical exegesis. New Testament and Old. My degree ended up being in Business Management. But I study the Bible daily, and have studied mass amounts of commentaries, historical interpretations, the historical context of the books, the reasons for the historical interpretation of the authors of the different books (and myriad different conclusions on them), and the culture of the people the books were written for (partially for my writing, and partially for personal study–which again is close to an hour per day, with skipped days here and there).
Oh, Bible college. I’m sorry.
I hope they were accredited outside their denomination, or else you’ll probably have a crap time transferring credits if you want to do more education. And you probably had to pay for that straight out of pocket, too. That sucks.
It was accredited and the credits transferred. (I transferred to a secular university after 2.5 years and finished out there) Although the classes on theology did nothing for my major.
Notleia, I hear what you are saying. I think the problem is that you and Brennan have different experiences of church. Most Christians today have denominations they will and won’t attend for various reasons. Why don’t you try finding a community that suits your conscience better? For example, not all communities allow discussion of politics from the pulpit. There is no reason that you have to allow your parents’ version of Christianity to define yours. I now attend a different denomination than I was brought up in, not because my needs weren’t met, but because my conscience could not sanction the things that that community saw as perfectly fine.
Wow, you are a breath of fresh air in this conversation (I’m not even being sarcastic).
Sadly, denominational infighting means nothing would be solved in this comments section, because any denomination I’d like to hang out with wouldn’t be “Biblical” enough for Brennan.
I don’t care what you do, notleia. The only reason I try to engage you is because you make sweeping statements that are founded on your own emotions and negative experiences with people–and they’re just not a complete picture. I agree with Heather.
I would have no problem attending a Catholic church, a Baptist church, an Evangelical church, etc. Community and unity is important. Your interpretation of who I am is completely off.
For clarity, I argue with you not to make you think just like me, but because I hope that you can grow to love Jesus with everything and experience life lived in intimacy with him. Because it’s the most wonderful thing that’s happened to me. Why would I not try to engage you on that level? If you’re done conversing about it, I’m fine stopping. But if you’re open to it, I’d like to continue in the future.
So your solution to the corruption is to leave the church?
On television SF, there are two series that I know that posit a continuation of Christianity in a recognisable form in the future: Babylon Five from the 90s and The Expanse which is still in production. In B5, season two and following, Benedictine monks even set up shop on the space station and the leaders among the resistance against a fascist government that takes over Earth are a Rabbi, a Baptist preacher and a Father Superior of that same order (sounds like a set up for a joke, I know…). The Expanse foregrounds Mormons and Methodists mostly and depicts the Mormons as being on the forefront of interstellar expansion. It’s the only SF TV show I have seen in which a character asks another “Have you received Jesus Christ as your personal savior?”, mean it, and not get a snarky or condescending response.
I haven’t seen The Expanse but I did know about Babylon 5. Thanks for pointing out what I missed!
The Ender series from Orson Scott Card portrayed the future with the Catholic church on other planets, but some planets had no religious bent.
Christians tend to overstate the wordly power of religious belief in its contrast to what we know of human behavior. High materialist affluence begets high materialist philosophy; a tiny, irrelevant religious minority in a high-tech future would be expected. Christians also tend to not leave room for the idea of God being okay with this situation, or being proactive in removing religious belief at large from the universe. God is pretty inscrutable.
But Jay, who is to say the future will be (as you called it) “high materialist”? I don’t presume that.
My thoughts too, Travis.
Babylon Five portrayed Catholics and Baptists in a neutral to positive light, and considering the Shadow War in the series made an interesting parallel to Christianity. In one of the lost episodes they actually portrayed Satan as bound to the earth and wanting to be cast off into Space to cause problems. I would also mention the Book of Eli with Denziel Washington. The Skullduggary Pleasant series paints the Rapture (not in a very positive way-mo). There was an Amazon original movie (possible pilot for a series) that sought to paint Christianity in a very interesting way, but a series was never made.
One of the difficulties in Science Fiction and Christianity (with evangelicals anyway) is that Eschatological doctrine casts a heavy shadow on how the future is viewed and what that future should look like. Left Behind kind of saturated that idea and market anyway, and there isn’t always a lot of mystery from an eschatological standpoint. I don’t think that means science fiction has to deal strictly with the future. The one area I think Christianity has the ability to influence and that’s the topic of ethics.
In my universe, Christianity is present. In fact, two major races of beings have been converted to Christianity; it has taken root in other alien cultures as well and his widely practiced on earth. My assumption: why would things be different in regard to religion just because we are able to fly through space? Ideas like the one in Arthur C. Clark’s Childhood’s End, that religion will “just disappear” are silly. Religion is one of the things that is characteristic of the human race. In my sci-fi universe other races of being have religions of their own. Religion is part and partial of being human(oid).
You forgot the strain of Christians as murderous hypocritical cult as found in Johnny Mnemonic, the Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd, etc.
In any case, the Church as a mostly unified organization of previously Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, etc. believers exists and is featured heavily in the second official novel of my I/O Saga, Soulbright. I included it precisely because I wanted to provide a counterpoint to the views of scifi authors like Anne McCaffrey (Dragonriders of Pern series), who is on record saying religion has caused enough suffering, therefore they are not included in her novels.
Your post was interesting, with lots of references for me to check out. The only sci-fi series I could think of having read that includes Christianity was C.S. Lewis’ trilogy.
I did read the beginning of a book (who’s title and author escapes me – but maybe you’ve heard of it) which consisted of a bunch of smaller stories within the novel world.
The first story had the protagonist visit another planet where lived an isolated group of monks. When he approached them, they were going to kill him, but his shirt fell open and they saw the cricifix hanging on a chain around his neck and didn’t kill him.
He stayed with them a little while and finally they took him to a cave at the bottom of the cliff where they lived. The cave had these starfish-esque creatures all on the walls, but the little creature was shaped like a cross. They put one on his chest, and it melded to him and was a parasite, living off his life and keeping him from dying.
Does this sound familiar? It started out interesting from a religious perspective but went weird fast. The next story in the set was also bizarre so I laid it aside.
Thanks for an interesting post.
C.S. Lewis wrote some really good essays about Christianity and space travel.
His Space Trilogy is set in the present (1950’s) so the issues addressed here are not present.
I have written a Science Fiction novel concerning overpopulation titled, “We the People Are Good to Eat”.
The blurb states: “In a fatally overpopulated future Earth, all that the people have to eat is each other, and they thank God for every meal.”
While I don’t want to give away the plot, there is a scene in which a Christian Pastor named Reverend MacDougal is asked; “If we can’t avoid engaging in cannibalism, what must we do to make things right with God?”
Reverend MacDougal answers, “The Scripture says in First John, Chapter 1, verses 8 and 9, ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness’.”
The questioner states, “The Lord purifies us, through our faith in the shed blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; but Jesus died to take away our sins. Not to make it easier for us to keep them.”
“We know that.” Reverend MacDougal explained, “We have accepted Him as Savior and Lord; and have been praying to Him to free us from the curse of cannibalism, which He will do in His own time. Until then, for as long as we have nothing else to eat, we will continue to thank Him for what we do have; and continue to wait upon the Lord for His cleansing.”
What do you think?
There’s also The Expanse by James S.A. Corey, which features, in the slightly distant future, mankind inhabiting the whole solar system and one man trying to implement Mormonism throughout the system. Thus far as I know, neither co-author is Mormon.