Are Science Fiction And Religious Faith Compatible?

by Matt Sitman

Garret Johnson thinks so. He argues that reflection and humility “are two virtues that dystopian fiction, as a rule, argues are vital and necessary for any free, humane society” and that “also happen to be at the very core of Christian thought.” How he sees the former virtue at play in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451:

More than just a novel about “censorship”—as the cover usually claims—Fahrenheit 451 is a picture of how private citizens’ lack of will to reflect, on anything, leads to censorship. And not just censorship of reading material, but a soul-crippling censorship of thought. Monolithic government-control has been achieved through the means of a thoroughly entertained populace. It’s a world where TV and sports and bite-sized snippets of inconsequential news have become the center of all culture and society. And reflection, thought, has become a pesky, bothersome thing that just gets in the way of all that. Reflection causes only sorrow, those in charge say. And so, for the good of society, books—which induce reflection far more than most things—are illegal.

Reviewing The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer’s Amazing Pulp Journey, a study of the eponymous editor’s role in the creation of the science fiction genre, Michael Saler makes this observation about it’s relationship to religion:

Although Fictionalism privileges the secular imagination, it is not antithetical to religion. Some among the religious accept fictions as sources of revelation and endorse an “as if” attitude as the way to apprehend them. J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, for example, had an ingenious strategy for addressing the widespread contemporary understanding of the Bible as a cultural rather than a revealed text. In advancing what Tolkien called “Mythopoeia,” the two tried to reverse the secular tide by defining fiction as theological. Fictions (like The Lord of the Rings or the “Narnia” series) were useful myths inspired by God — with the exception of Christianity, which itself was both mythic and true. Fundamentalists can also be enraptured with fiction as religious touchstone, which partly explains the extraordinary success of the “Left Behind” series of novels and video games.

Palmer was raised as a Catholic, but as an adult rejected doctrinaire belief and practice in favor of a no-less-spiritual, Fictionalist orientation to life: he venerated the imagination and the sense of wonder it engendered.