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Religion, Science-Fiction: Another Point Of View

Two Strips of Latinum: A balanced look at the whether religion has a place in the genre world

Recently, one of my fellow columnists on Airlock Alpha, Tiffany Vogt, published a piece that has caused quite the stir on the Internet and has sparked quite a bit of debate.

In that column, Tiffany takes the creators and writers of Lost, Battlestar Galactica and Caprica to the virtual woodshed for the use of religion in their shows, calling it, … pontification on their religious views.

I can respect many of the points she raised, especially in the case of Lost, whose ending was a total train wreck in this writer’s eyes. Not for the use of religion per se, but for the improper use of it. Frankly, the way that ending was presented, it hit me as a severe case of writers who could not get the ending right and simply took a blind shot at it.

It simply did not make sense, not for the religious side of it, but simply because it did not fit the storyline at all! The ending episode of Star Trek Enterprise, which so many fans of Star Trek did not like, was much better in comparison.

However, I take issue with my colleague on the subject of Battlestar Galactica. From the very beginnings of the show, religion was a focal point of the program, going back to the original series in the late 1970s. Anyone who has studied comparative religions can clearly recognize the religious connections in the original series, and thus the re-imaging of the show having religion as a part of the storyline was to be expected.

I will go further and say that that the use of religion was a bit over the top at times, but, unlike some issues which are put into shows, it did not give me the feeling of it being forced into the story as an afterthought, like jamming a book into a small space on a shelf that it really should not fit. As a religious person myself, I thought the storyline about Baltar and the cult that believed in only one god was very well written and extremely thought-provoking. However, I also will admit that the ending of the series left me a bit puzzled, but it fit the show and the way it had progressed over the years.

The question becomes, do these mistakes give validation and just cause to seek the removal of religion from the worlds of science-fiction, or should they be treated as they truly are, as examples of how not to pursue that topic? Frankly, to take these and make them the standards in a call to eliminate religion from science-fiction is absolutely ridiculous.

We, as fans of science-fiction, operate on the assumption that there is intelligent life on the far away worlds that we enjoy watching or reading about. If we operate on that theory, then we must see that assumption through to its logical conclusions, specifically that the life on those worlds possibly have totally different concepts of life and that they might have religious systems that are totally unique to their worlds. This possibility is a truly wondrous one and something that makes for very fertile soil for the imagination of writers who seek to explore those strange new worlds.

One of the science-fiction genres that took a look at interstellar faiths and did an absolutely brilliant job doing so was J. Michael Straczynski’s amazing show Babylon 5. During that series’ five-year run, it repeatedly dealt with the concept of religion among all of the residents and visitors to that space station, doing so seamlessly, unlike the messy ending of Lost.

One episode in particular comes to my mind, The Parliament of Dreams. In that episode, each of the worlds represented on the station gave a presentation on the religion on their world. The way Cmdr. Sinclair handled the presentation of religion on Earth was a masterpiece and is must-see television for any fan of the genre.

What should be done about religion in science-fiction? The easiest path is one of a knee-jerk reaction, and advocate the removal of religion from the genre, in the name of returning science to science-fiction. The trouble is that, by doing that, you do bring science back in, but at the cost of the fiction.

How to handle this issue can be compared to the swinging of a pendulum. You can take the extreme on one side of the swinging arm, and advocate no religion in science-fiction, the opposite side of its path where you push religion, much like the ending of Lost did, or you go where you usually find the truth, somewhere in the middle.

Seeking to remove religion from science-fiction, in the name or returning science to it, will return the science, but what about the fiction? The immortal words of the opening of Star Trek said, … to explore new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations. We must be brave enough to explore what those new civilizations are like and not blindly assume that they will be extremely similar to ours.

If you are going to look at other worlds, you have to be brave enough to look at all of the world, not just the particular parts you like. After all, the genre is called science-fiction, not just science, or just fiction.

There is room for religion in science-fiction, but it has to be balanced and done properly as a clearly defined and integrated part of the story. Gene Roddenberry showed us all in Star Trek how science-fiction can be used as a morality play, using the bully pulpit of television to take modern-day issues and confront us with them, but do so where we don’t instantly overreact, but pause and consider what we have seen. Science-fiction needs to get back to that model that he did so well.

Before someone points out that Roddenberry did not have religion in “Star Trek,” I must point out that the episode, Bread and Circuses was another masterful way of dealing with religion on other worlds and was one of the thought-provoking episodes of the series. Also, both in Balance of Terror and in the novelization of the first Star Trek movie that he wrote, Roddenberry established the existence of a chapel where those with religious faith had a place to go when they needed it.

It is so easy to make a television show or a movie about soaring spaceships and great, epic and terrible battles in space. However, the true challenge is to examine what life on another world would be like in other ways than just zooming through the cosmos. That is what the writers of Caprica are attempting with their show, and because of that, are blazing trails into new territory for fans of the genre. I, for one, hope they get the fair chance to continue this.

The Teacher wrote that to everything there is a season, a time to every purpose under heaven. What science-fiction writers for television and the movies need to do now is consider how to tell their stories better, more smoothly, and well-written instead of putting an issue in and turning a script into a cloth covered with patches that are pulling at the stitches that are holding them, because they were not properly matched to the original cloth.

Think about it.

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Could they be a Rut-ro! Shaggy
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