This panel featured five authors with different religious backgrounds: Agnostic, an Episcopal minister in training (with an interest in Paganism – not a practicing interest, but a fascination), an atheist with knowledge about Eastern religions, a Church of England priest, and an atheist Unitarian Universalist ex-Catholic.
Some of the themes discussed:
- Does much of science fiction tend to assume that religion is gone or has lost its relevance? Is this a realistic assumption; religion tends to stick around.
- Considerations of current religions and how they would adapt to futuristic technology – Amish in space, wondering in which direction Mecca lays when in space.
- Why is religion rarely mentioned in Steampunk when it was very much a part of Victorian life? Rejecting God for science and invention (Frankenstein was brought up as an obvious exception)? Is it because Steampunk is a punk genre – against status quo/against religion?
- Why does religion appear to be more prevalent in fantasy than in science fiction? Is it?
- The portrayal of gods in science fiction and fantasy – the difference between physical, present gods vs. the absent, unknowable god.
- How do you define a god. If it’s inside and part of the universe, is that a god or a really powerful creature? If god is outside of time and creation can he affect the universe itself?
- Will we bring our gods into space with us? Discussion of Firefly (Shepherd, Inara’s “Merciful Buddha!”), American Gods.
The panelists went over a few of the stories and universes that embrace religious stories and create new pantheons: BSG, SG Universe, Babylon 5, DS9, Star Wars, Safehold series, Firefly, Sandman comics, American Gods.
I was annoyed when a God of of the Gaps argument came up. An audience member asked “Where is the god in Doctor Who?” One of the panelists suggested that god in Doctor Who can be likened to the Book of Esther, in which God is the hidden force that is always at work. And could perhaps the fact that the TARDIS is always putting the Doctor not where he intends, but where he needs to be - could this be God or Fate at work?
Hmmm…nah. If that’s not God of the Gaps, it’s at least assigning mystical cause to a poorly understood phenomenon. I prefer to think there is no god (other than local socially created religions) in my Doctor Who.
There was an interesting portion of the panel during which the authors spoke about how to write gods into your stories. They discussed that when placing god as a character, you have to have rules about what your god can and can’t do so they don’t steal the spotlight or lead to plot gaps (“Can’t explain it? God did it!”). They also discussed the importance of being careful with other peoples’ deities; not that it’s necessary to respect the mythologies, but to know which rules you are breaking. They urged doing your research before portraying gods that have an established mythos.
At the end of the panel, the moderator sent us away with a few ideas to ponder:
- Did Jesus die for the aliens in all of the other galaxies, or just the ones in ours?
- If we survive the next 1000 years, what will religion look like?
- When we discover warp drive and find new religions in new galaxies will we adopt those?