Why is there such little Christian sf?

Christians have written fiction in all sorts of genres (e.g., childrens literature, Romance, historical fiction, fantasy literature). But not much crime fiction (Crime and Punishment does not count), not many thrillers, and even less science fiction.

So why the lack of Christian sf? We do have some. C.S. Lewis wrote a kind of sf trilogy but it was not your typical sf (deliberately so) and I am not sure how much it counts. Stephen Lawhead wrote two Empyrion books and Dream Thief which are proper sf. We have a postmillennial trilogy by [gone blank on name] but not much else.

The best known religious sf writer is the Mormon Orson Scott Card but Mormonism is like an sf religion of its own so is perhaps more conducive to that kind of thing.

Why if sf a mostly Christian-free-zone?

1. Is it because Christian beliefs about the return of Christ make imagining far futures which do not feature Jesus suspect? (Of course, you can do near-future sf like La Haye and Jenkins' Left Behind series.)

2. Is it because imagining alternative worlds to the one that God chose to actualize is considered ... suspect? Playing God?

3. Is it a problem with imagining intelligent life on other planets? Would this dethrone humanity from the place that God has given it?

Is good science fiction written from a Christian worldview possible? (I hope so because I do love good sf)

Comments

I suppose an important question is going to be what would make certain science fiction works "Christian". To what extent are the works of Orson Scott Card, or the original Battlestar Galactica, "Mormon sci-fi" just because they were created by Mormons? They certainly at times reflected Mormon beliefs, but there is also a lot of science fiction around that touches on theological and religious themes, without necessarily being "Christian" - or perhaps a better way of putting it would be that it may not be just Christian, and its Christian message may not always be explicit. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and LOST are but two examples.

There have been Catholic science fiction stories ("Gus" is a great one), as well as stories prominently featuring Catholics (Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow and Children of God, although Russell herself converted to Judaism).

Robert J. Sawyer may or may not be a Christian, but his book Calculating God at the very least suggests that his own faith may be expressed in some of the religious aspects of his writings.

Madeleine L'Engle's books also would count as Christian science fiction. And Marti Steussy, an ordained minister, Biblical scholar and professor at Christian Theological Seminary, has written some science fiction novels.

But I think the same issues that face defining "Christian music" may come into the attempt to define "Christian sci-fi". Is the latter any sci-fi written by someone who is part of the Christian tradition broadly defined? Or is it something that explicitly gives expression to an Evangelical viewpoint? Or something else?

I will be teaching a course on religion and science fiction again soon, and so I'll be interested to see how the discussion you're starting continues!
Gavin said…
I would agree with James here that it is a problem with defining anything particularly as 'Christian'.

That said I think all your three points are probably a valid part of why there may be a noticeable lack.

I often do talks on science and religion and make an effort to include a section on future scenarios including AI, aliens, etc. I find that some have never thought about it, others see it as irrelevant but a sizable portion see such speculation as 'un-Christian' and something to be prevented.
Glen Davis said…
I've wondered about this. I think it's ultimately an issue of eschatology. Even though Christians are all over the map about what proper Biblical eschatology looks like, I think most would agree that it's hard to map a Biblical eschatology onto multiple star systems or to incorporate something like the singularity.

That still doesn't explain why we don't have more near-future sci fi.
And besides - eschatology is not an insurmountable problem. Just a thorny one.

A specific suggestion: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller is worth reading.

@James - great suggestions and links!
ahswan said…
There are perhaps some Christian SF authors out there who aren't necessarily known as Christians; for example, Timothy Zahn (author of the Terminator Salvation novelization and a few Star Wars books, among others).

It seems that many Christian authors are content for writing for the Christian ghetto, which is a shame.
James Pate said…
I watched a good Twilight Zone a few days ago in which a supernova destroyed a planet, and the Christian character discovered that supernova was the star of Bethlehem. But the atheist told him that, whether or not there is a God, the people on that planet realized their time was up and were willing to bequaeth something good. This episode was based on an Arthur Clark short story. I can't say whether it's pro or anti-Christian, but it does wrestle with spiritual questions.
Anonymous said…
So little Christian SF because people struggle with people don't want to "mess" with the message of the future. Again, the more daring authors are self published. You might try smaller book distribution outlets like http://www.BarnabasWorks.com and the Christian Writers Guild for a less marketed selection. Blessings, JoAnne
David Reimer said…
In the serendipitously lateral leaps of the misfiring synapses of my "mind", your post reminded me of something I read on a blog some time ago.

What's more, I found it! (Thank you, Google.) It is a nice, real-life "Christian sci-fi" themed story, complete with a recommendation for a trilogy that does "what the best of science fiction should do"...
Matt F said…
I love science fiction too! Interesting stuff...

The other two things I thought might play into it are:
- the specificity of God's revelation in Jesus
- pluralism and the sociology of religion

If Christians believe that God entered space-time then that means you can't simply substitute Jesus for something or someone who sounds like Jesus without substantially altering the nature of the revelation. If something is Christ-less wouldn't that make it not Christian?

You can of course, do what Doctor Who does, one of the writers is apparently a Christian, and write about spiritual themes, the nature of humanity and do 'types' stuff like exploring the need for a Saviour figure (a la Superman).

The conventions of sf are also tricky here since most writers have previously written religions as a reflection of the society rather than something that really is. I think most people reading sf would find the idea of any space race believe in Jesus to be bizarrely parochial and specific because it is tied to historical revelation! However, something nebulous like an unknown all-powerful God or a force or something could be conceived by multiple societies in different ways which appears to many readers I think as more plausible.
Dave Faulkner said…
Robin,

Thanks for this blog and your Twitter stream.

One Christian author discussed this very topic on her blog the same day you posted this. I also ventured these thoughts. Hope you find them helpful.
Brian said…
Just an aside - you mention not much Christian crime fiction but I've heard it said (can't remember who by) that crime fiction is THE Christian genre - everyone is fallen and has something to hide. The world may appear painful and random but sense can be made of it and no one gets away with it in the end.
Lots of explicitly theological crime fiction from Chesterton to P D James, but also just a whole world of crime fighting clerics.From Father Dowling to Cadfael
Churches and religious communities also make for ready made closed worlds, a good alternative to a country house mystery.
Lots of Christian themes/charatcers in works by not specifically Christian authors - Am enjoying the Rev Merrily Watkins mysteries - Hereford Diocesan Exorcist cum detective: Lots of Christian/new age interface.
Significant Jewish subgenre too. Yiddish Detective Union (Jewish/chendler pastiche/alternative history)one of my favourite reads laast year.
Can't come up with specifically evangelical examples, but given time probably would.
John Baw said…
Hi Robin & greetings from the Rock of Gibraltar. Interesting thoughts re: science fiction.

Made me think about the impact that this genre would have on our current generation. Parabolic language can be very powerful (Witness the success of "The Shack" all theological positions notwithstanding)but there is a gaping hole in the sf genre.

If we see good sf writing as nothing more than a parable - and we can think of Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings, both of which are fantasy but echoing a Christian world-view - it would not be too big of a leap to cater for fantastic science fiction, with extra-terrestrial life forms etc. whose dynamics echo some of the spiritual dilemmas that we find here and now.
Gerald Fnord said…
Hello; I'm a science fiction reader, not at all a Christian, and will try to be respectful.

I would say that a big part of it is that science fiction grew popular (to the extent it did) as, essentially, Enlightenment propaganda---basically, human beings are rational and good enough, in general, that we can dramatically improve the quality of our lives and the scope of our powers (to know, to explore, to inhabit) on our own steam. We are able to do this because we are able to observe a Universe that works by rules that, even if they are never bent to our personal choices, are also never bent to any other Being's Personal choices.

On the other hand, against this seeming over-glorification of Humanity is the strong suspicion that we are nothing special, living nowhere special and at no time of any importance...except to us---a relatively homogenous and isotropic Universe is the start of many important cosmologies. (Good call, Matt F. super.)

Though I know that some Christian tendencies in fact _encouraged_ parts of that viewpoint, it is over-all definitely not one of a fallen Creation needing the intervention of its loving Creator.

Last, and not necessarily least, the Enlightenment has a chip on its shoulder with regard to organised religion and to individual beliefs classed as 'superstition', as well as many other types of tradition. I must admit to not finding this entirely untoward, for example, when I read a citation of John Wesley's opinion of not believing in witchcraft, or James G. Watt's eschatological dismissal of ecological prudence---I see religious and other traditions as thousands of years of legacy code that contains massive amounts of kruft---but am also aware that some take their dismissal too far---those codes' transmissal and obedience and enforcement took energy, so they must have been worth that energy in survival-positive effects.

That's all a long way of saying that for many people there _is_ in fact a direct and definite opposition of what some class as a 'Christian' world-view and that implicit in science fiction, and that many of them go beyond that to feel them to be entirely opposed...the latter such would make difficult the acceptance, corporate and critical and mass, of Christian SF.
Gerald Fnord said…
Hello; I'm a science fiction reader, not at all a Christian, and will try to be respectful.

I would say that a big part of it is that science fiction grew popular (to the extent it did) as, essentially, Enlightenment propaganda---basically, human beings are rational and good enough, in general, that we can dramatically improve the quality of our lives and the scope of our powers (to know, to explore, to inhabit) on our own steam. We are able to do this because we are able to observe a Universe that works by rules that, even if they are never bent to our personal choices, are also never bent to any other Being's Personal choices.

On the other hand, against this seeming over-glorification of Humanity is the strong suspicion that we are nothing special, living nowhere special and at no time of any importance...except to us---a relatively homogenous and isotropic Universe is the start of many important cosmologies. (Good call, Matt F. super.)

Though I know that some Christian tendencies in fact _encouraged_ parts of that viewpoint, it is over-all definitely not one of a fallen Creation needing the intervention of its loving Creator.

Last, and not necessarily least, the Enlightenment has a chip on its shoulder with regard to organised religion and to individual beliefs classed as 'superstition', as well as many other types of tradition. I must admit to not finding this entirely untoward, for example, when I read a citation of John Wesley's opinion of not believing in witchcraft, or James G. Watt's eschatological dismissal of ecological prudence---I see religious and other traditions as thousands of years of legacy code that contains massive amounts of kruft---but am also aware that some take their dismissal too far---those codes' transmissal and obedience and enforcement took energy, so they must have been worth that energy in survival-positive effects.

That's all a long way of saying that for many people there _is_ in fact a direct and definite opposition of what some class as a 'Christian' world-view and that implicit in science fiction, and that many of them go beyond that to feel them to be entirely opposed...the latter such would make difficult the acceptance, corporate and critical and mass, of Christian SF.
Gerald Fnord said…
Hello; I'm a science fiction reader, not at all a Christian, and will try to be respectful.

I would say that a big part of it is that science fiction grew popular (to the extent it did) as, essentially, Enlightenment propaganda---basically, human beings are rational and good enough, in general, that we can dramatically improve the quality of our lives and the scope of our powers (to know, to explore, to inhabit) on our own steam. We are able to do this because we are able to observe a Universe that works by rules that, even if they are never bent to our personal choices, are also never bent to any other Being's Personal choices.

On the other hand, against this seeming over-glorification of Humanity is the strong suspicion that we are nothing special, living nowhere special and at no time of any importance...except to us---a relatively homogenous and isotropic Universe is the start of many important cosmologies. (Good call, Matt F. super.)

Though I know that some Christian tendencies in fact _encouraged_ parts of that viewpoint, it is over-all definitely not one of a fallen Creation needing the intervention of its loving Creator.



(continued on next rock)
Gerald Fnord said…
(continued from previous)

Last, and not necessarily least, the Enlightenment has a chip on its shoulder with regard to organised religion and to individual beliefs classed as 'superstition', as well as many other types of tradition. I must admit to not finding this entirely untoward, for example, when I read a citation of John Wesley's opinion of not believing in witchcraft, or James G. Watt's eschatological dismissal of ecological prudence---I see religious and other traditions as thousands of years of legacy code that contains massive amounts of kruft---but am also aware that some take their dismissal too far---those codes' transmissal and obedience and enforcement took energy, so they must have been worth that energy in survival-positive effects.

That's all a long way of saying that for many people there _is_ in fact a direct and definite opposition of what some class as a 'Christian' world-view and that implicit in science fiction, and that many of them go beyond that to feel them to be entirely opposed...the latter such would make difficult the acceptance, corporate and critical and mass, of Christian SF.
Robin Parry said…
Gerald

Thanks for your well-considered thoughts.

Robin
Callen Clarke said…
Hello to all.
Well, if I might muck up the works here... I have been pondering this question for most of my adult life, on and off. Some of my solutions to the above problems:

Issue #1.
Eschatology,
Three Solutions:
1.
Set the story 'out there' instead of here on Earth in the Future. One does not have to deal with the Earth to deal with futuristic ideas. This is a simple solution, but it raises other problems, i.e. Christology. For that, see below.


2.
Set the story in the Near Future, avoiding Apocalyptic issues.

3.
Give the Apocalypse itself a speculative treatment. After all, Jesus Himself did not fulfill the Messianic Prophecies of the Old Testament in the way His contemporaries understood it. How did the reality of the Messiah differ from Messianic Expectations? Could we speculate on a similar 'gap' between our expectations of the Apocalypse and what it might actually be?

This approach is the most daring, and also the most dangerous. One should be careful in all of these approaches to make clear to the reader that these are speculations intended to raise awareness and invite reflection on the basic issues at hand, not alternatives or supplements to Scripture itself. I have written or planned scenarios in solutions 1 and 2, but only pondered the possibilities of 3.

Issue #2, Cosmology
Solutions:
1.
Create a 'Universe' that reflects the Biblical World View. By this I don't mean an ideal world, but a world in which the moral and spiritual principles presented in Scripture are in force. Give subtle clues to the reader so that they will be able to interpret what they're seeing. Even better, create a 'Universe' that reflects Biblical Imagination and Culture, i.e. re-imagine the Fall, Salvation, etc. or even alternatives. For example, what if there are 'people' out there somewhere who are like us but not as sinful? Or More Sinful? What would that look like?

2.
Give the Biblical Narrative Universal significance. Extend the consequences of the Fall and Redemption of Man beyond the confines of Earth itself to incorporate all of Creation in the end results. This doesn't need to actually be depicted but can be part of the background exposition of the story. This approach can be combined with #1.

Issue #3:
Christology.

As I see it we have two alternatives:
1. Every world has its Gethsemane and its Golgotha, or,
2. Once and for all for all time.

If we take approach #1, we must re-imagine Salvation itself, a tricky business. However, if you think about it, allegorists do this all the time. It must be done with great care and reverence, obviously.

Approach #2 is theologically 'safer' but has its own complications. For starters, it means that Man specifically is in need of Redemption, and that other beings who inhabit the Universe may not need or may not be permitted Redemption. This raises some interesting possibilities, I.E. the existence of 'sinless' Angelic-like beings, and/or the opposite— irredeemable beings, pseudo-demonic, etc. Incidentally, have you ever noticed that almost all Aliens fall into one of three categories:
Angelic
Demonic
Human-like
???

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