Fiction touching on Science and Faith

“A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle.

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Religious? You would consider “Wrinkle in Time” to touch on science and faith?

In the Zoroastrian sense of a cosmic battle between good and evil? …or religious in a new age way.

That brings to mind a horror series by Paul Wilson, called “The Adversary Cycle” or “Repairman Jack” (character in most but not all of the series). The first was made into a movie called “The Keep.” It had an interesting theology. A cosmic battle between two forces which are similar to but not exactly good and evil, named “the Ally” and “the Otherness.” The Ally uses people quite ruthlessly but is still better than the Otherness which is incompatible with human life even though it successfully manipulated people into helping it.

Chris Walley’s The Shadow and Night is decent sci-fi. As a geologist, he writes from a post-mil view, and it feels like realistic science. From terraforming to intergalactic space travel it was believable.Theologically it felt like it came apart about half way. Try to imagine a society free from sin, coming to grips with sins presence again.

Madeleine’s earliest and most formative memory was being awakened from sleep and carried out to the beach on a clear, cloudless night. The expansive dark sky, the bright stars, and the sound of the waves offered a glimpse of glory, a revelation of creation and its bounty. This first glimpse of the enormity and depth of the universe would contribute to Madeleine’s understanding that science and God are not at odds — a radical and, to some, even blasphemous assertion that would appear as a theme in several of her novels, including *Camilla* and *A Wrinkle in Time*
- from the biographical sketch by Abigail SantaMaria on the author's web site.

A Wrinkle in Time won the 1963 Newberry Award. Her book was criticized by both religious fundamentalists and atheists. It’s actually one of the most frequently banned novels of all time.
She was an Episcopalian, and for more than three decades served as librarian and writer in residence at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.

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Thanks for the good suggestions.

At some phase, my brains were quite strained. At that time, I read spefi (speculative fiction) intended for teens as a way to relax. Simple stories which did not demand much thinking. An additional benefit was that I got a better grasp of what my children were reading.

After reading tens of books, the basic themes in the books became familiar. One of the basic themes was a fight between good and evil, where the hero of the story (often a teenage girl) had to select between good and evil. The evil offered all kinds of temptations but finally the hero decided to select the good. At the end, the evil was defeated (with some exceptions). This kind of fight between good and evil may be seen as something connecting these stories with a typical theme in religions.

In many of those books, the hero had some special abilities. The hero was perhaps harried or despised but found a way to overcome this through her/his special abilities. My interpretation of this is that this was a fictional way to handle common problems in the life of teenagers. The special abilities were often some form of magic or an ability to communicate with invisible creatures, which may be one reason why conservative Christians may have difficulties to see the basic theme of a fight between good and evil behind the story. For example, Harry Potter has been condemned by some Christians because of the magic while others have seen these stories as a nice example of the fight between good and evil in the life of children / teenagers.

Most spefi stories include something that is beyond the current scientific knowledge. The simple stories are easy to read without much thinking but they might also give inspiration for thoughts about what is scientifically possible or impossible.

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Thanks for “Spefi.” I hadn’t heard that before. How do you pronouce it? I’m hearing “Speffy” (American Midwest accent) in my head, which probably isn’t right.
“Forumla Fiction” is the term for the predicatable story formulas you describe. While Morgan Busse’s Ravenwood Saga (really more fantasy than Scifi) is formulaic, it does have some nice features I though were unique. The main character’s life is saved by her enemy (whom she was commissioned to destroy) through a sudden marriage. She is faced with this unexpected union and how to deal with it, the recognition that her identify is not fixed and certainly not by her past, and matters of faith she had been unaware of. But it does fit your description of formula fiction.

Unfortunately, even as a church librarian, I found most of the fiction from Christian publishers wanting, or so edgy that it would be easily challenged. In spite of the violence, I enjoyed a number of Stephen Lawhead’s novels (the research for Byzantium was really impressive and he built a great story out of the research, and I enjoyed his reworking of the Robin Hood story). But his work is historical or fantasy. Or a bit of both.

I do not know what is the correct way to pronounce it. Local libraries (and probably most national libraries) started to use it a few years ago. I guess the reason was practical: it is sometimes difficult to decide whether a book should be put to the shelves labelled ‘scifi’ or ‘fantasy’. Especially the sci-fi books intended for teens include much that could be classified as ‘fantasy’.

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Violence is very common in sci-fi. Sci-fi writers with an US background often reveal their background by lifting the heroic actions of ‘Earth Space Force’, where the real heroes and models come from the US troops, Navy and marines.

These ‘Space force’ stories tend to direct the violence towards aliens. Excessive violence against other humans might be problematic but it is much easier to justify such actions against aliens that are a threat to humanity.

The ‘Space force’ stories include many new scientific findings but usually lack clear connections to specific religion or faith. I guess this is intentional because the potential audience is wider when nobody gets offended by matters related to religions. Although these stories avoid questions of faith, they sometimes include questions of ethics, what is right or wrong. For example, if an alien species threatens human populations, is it ethically acceptable to perform a genocide of that species? Or if there is a possibility to prevent an attack to Earth by destroying solar systems or a galaxy, is that ethically acceptable?

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I wonder if you ever read Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea Trilogy. I suppose it would be classified as fantasy rather than sci-fi, but like Lord of the Rings and like the Narnia stories there are fairly close echos of Christian themes.

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I’ll have to read it. Thanks!

Update: Just placed a hold at my library.

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Really???

What Christians themes do you see?

A Wizard of Earthsea: A poor boy, Ged, with powerful magical abilities grows up first under the tutelage of a village witch, then a wise teacher, then a wizard school. He is tempted by a girl and taunted by a rich boy at the school into doing something stupid and dangerous, so he spends much of his later life chasing and running from a dark shadow of his own creation.

Tombs of Atuan: A girl is brought up to serve the dark gods of a tomb (on one of the more repressive militaristic islands) and encounters a much older and wiser Ged searching the tomb for a lost talisman.

The Farthest Shore: In his old age, as greatest mage of the world, Ged brings along a young prince to combat a wasting illness growing among the islands and invading dreams due to the efforts of a sorcerer seeking to escape the inevitability of death.

These descriptions are from the top of my head because I have read them many many times in my life. Definitely classic fantasy literature.

The only themes I would imagine being called “Christian” are universal human ones which I think can as easily called Hindu themes or Buddhist themes. It is not like the books of C.S. Lewis which are obviously and intentionally Christian - both Narnia and his space trilogy. As for the Lord of the Rings, I don’t see much in the way of Christian themes there either. I would say it draws more from British myths. Even “The Silmarillion” which has its own creation myth doesn’t sound particularly Biblical to me.

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Been on my “list” for years, and I never get to it. Thanks for the reminder.

Wow you remember it much better than I. Haven’t looked at it again since reading it in my early twenties maybe. Probably just thinking of the God allusions in general and matching that up vaguely to Christianity. The problem here is I don’t have much detailed familiarity with Christian theology.

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LOTR is suffused with Christianity, but it isn’t overt and obvious. Religion isn’t explicitly mentioned, and I think that’s what made the books and films appeal to all kinds of people, side-stepping attacks from anti-religion folks.

A few of the refereces: The three offices of Christ are present (prophet priest king), Frodo bears away the evil of the world, the ring is destroyed on Mar 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, and so on. There are several Marian figures in the books. I think Peter Jackson realized this, since statues of these women in the films appear as Mary is typically depicted.

Here’s Mary:

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Love Le Guin for her imagination, but I don’t expect Christian themes from people who don’t espouse Christian beliefs. I should read the trilogy again.

I agree. Christian themes in LOTR include friendship, loyalty, sacrifice, courage, mercy… there are more complex ones but that would take more time than I have today (evil as corruption/negation; creation care; love of peace, etc.). These are Christian themes. Tolkien brought these themes and values to the fore and created a universe in which these were shown to be the beautiful things they are. He wrote fiction that was able to inspire us and show us their power.

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A non-Christian can write a work that draws heavily on Christian themes. Even a very moving work. My favorite example is Wagner’s opera Parsifal. You’ve never heard such gorgeously reverent, uplifting music. If you didn’t know better, you’d assume the composer was a believer. First time I saw it at the Met, there was a man in the audience who was fooled. He said , “Was Wagner religious? that music in the temple was heavenly!”

The thing is, Wagner was not a Christian. He was egotistical, dishonest, anti Semitic, and a creep in general. Besides, the theology of Parsifal sucked to high heaven!

So Parsifal is my cautionary tale about assuming anything about a composer’s religion just by listening to the music.

Of course, there are also good, decent non-Christians who write music with Christian themes. e.g. Leonard Bernstein’s Mass.

Yes, I think theologians call that ‘common grace’. You don’t have to be a believer to come up with great stuff. That’s for sure! Humans are amazing in so many ways so we should never be surprised at that!

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