This is probably going to be a rambling post, because I have to admit that I haven’t planned it. It just occurred to me that I might want to write something about faith in SF on the day that we Christians remember the death of our Lord.
It is a very common trope, about which I have written before, that atheists and agnostics commonly portray religion as a thing of the past, if they bother to do so at all. And we must not, of course, blame them for so doing. If they honestly believe that faith is no more than superstition, the fanciful fruit of childish minds, and if they also believe that humanity is advancing (toward what, I can’t imagine), then it is reasonable to expect such religions to wither and die, in the fullness of time.
Of course, any thoughtful writer who wishes to portray such a thing would do well to remember the historical fact that religions are possibly the longest-lasting human constructs of all, far outstripping governments, and rivaled only by languages and the family. “Optimistic” atheists have been predicting the end of religion for centuries, just as “optimistic” communists have been predicting the Coming Revolution, and so far both have been as disappointed as Fundamentalist Christians who have, in defiance of our Lord’s command, been predicting His imminent return.
I wish that it were more common in SF especially that casual mentions of faith existed. One of the best examples of that I can think of offhand is the role the Church plays in Niven and Pournelle’s Empire of Man as portrayed on The Mote In God’s Eye. It doesn’t play a huge role in the novel, but MacArthur has a chaplain, a service is held on Sunday, and it’s revealed that the Empire, like many historical kingdoms, is officially Christian, though there doesn’t seem to be any persecution of non-Christians.
Also well done is the Commonwealth Church that Alan Dean Foster came up with. It’s very much not Christian, and welcomes members of all faiths or none, but obviously, if we project faith into the future, it would be just as unrealistic to expect or portray only Christian faith as it would be to portray none at all. What’s saddening is that Foster and Niven/Pournelle’s work seems so alone in this assumption that faith will continue to exist when it seems to be the most reasonable assumption.
I’d be interested in a discussion about what makes this so difficult, but my guess is that since religion is so bound up in emotion, most writers simply don’t want to open themselves to potential attacks.
By the way, my story of Christianity in the future, which attracted several wonderful reviews, as well as being in the company of many award-nominated stories, can be found here: