Yesterday at church I found in our library the non-fiction book Life in the Balance by Joni Eareckson Tada and Joni & Friends. I’ve learned a lot from Joni and her ministry, but I admit I haven’t read a lot of her later books. This one I eagerly checked out.
Surprise, surprise, the book is not at all what I thought it would be, though I’m not quite sure what that was. Here’s a part of the foundation Joni lays in chapter one:
The other day, while having coffee with my friend Shirley, our conversation turned to the unlikely subject of people in comas. Six months earlier, her cousin had suffered a severe stroke and has yet to respond. With hopes for a full recovery quickly diminishing, and health insurance nearly depleted, Shirley explained that her cousin was yet again transferred to another nursing home. This one was more of a state-subsidized warehouse for “hopeless cases.” My friend looked at me with doleful eyes. “What would you say to the family, Joni?”
It happens to me more often than it use to . . . questions like that. And they’re not just about end-of-life implications o someone in a coma. Today, it’s questions about stem cell research and abortion. It’s what to do with the little boy with autism who’s disrupting Sunday School, or the marriage that’s cracking apart from caring 24/7 for a parent with Alzheimer’s . . .
Joni goes on to give a thumbnail sketch of each of the upcoming chapters, and it’s clear, this book is about ethics in a culture undergoing scientific and technological change that is outstripping our understanding of their implications. How do we as Christians know what to do when we face troubling circumstances: disabilities, abortion, choices between life and death? All of that makes me think, What do we as Christians do in a world of super drones and string theory and cloning and possible pandemics and the push for euthanasia?
Serious subjects. At least one speculative author has taken the task of facing such questions head on in her fiction. I’m referring to Karen Hancock in her 2009 novel Enclave.
Here’s what I wrote soon after its release:
Karen Hancock’s The Enclave [is] a science fiction/suspense novel dealing with such issues as cloning, genetic engineering, and cryogenics. One of the things that struck me about this novel was how necessary it is. We live in an era of scientific revolution, much of it centered on the human genome.
For me as a non-science oriented person, I’d just as soon ignore it all. But the fact is, the discoveries of today will be married to a set of ethics to be determined, and that interplay will affect society. We Christians need to be at the forefront mapping out how right and wrong fit with these new discoveries. Because Man can clone, should he? Because Man can tweak a baby’s DNA to make him taller or stronger or maler, should he?
Karen Hancock opens up a number of these scientific topics, then couples them with an exploration of cult activity. But here’s the thing. Karen says what Christians need to hear. Her story brings serious matters front and center, not in the form of absolutes already digested, but in the form of questions.
After all, the protagonist in The Enclave is a brilliant geneticist, and he is a Christian. Not an Intelligent Design Christian, either, but one who believes in creation. You see the questions that spring to mind with nothing more than that simple description.
It is this aspect of speculative fiction—the ability to look at the hard issues, the complex topics—that I think too many people overlook…
The Enclave doesn’t dodge any of it, but neither does it give easy or simplistic answers. The problem isn’t “cloning,” or the answer, “down with science.” Instead, because of the second story thread, the one for which the book is named, the real problem comes to light—Man has a desire to be God.
The science issues, then, take a backseat. There is no answer to them apart from the answer of bowing to our sovereign God and saying, Your will, not mine. No legislation will insure that cloning will not violate someone’s human rights or spiritual well-being. No advancement in the study of longevity will ensure immortality. In other words, the science issues, while important for us to think about, should only lead us to the realization that God must be honored as God before we proceed in these endeavors.
And as our culture shuttles Him off to the side and claims that faith should be private, not public, we open ourselves up to antichrist figures such as the one that serves as the antagonist in The Enclave. Yet again we see the truth surface in a work of speculative fiction.
What books have you read that are addressing the big issues of our day? Can speculative fiction do a better job of that than can non-fiction or contemporary fiction? Why do you think so, or not?