James F. McGrath, editor
Lutterworth Press £17.75
IF IT can be said that
religion has a rhetoric of its own that sometimes seems to morph
into gobbledegook, then science fiction (sci-fi) is always on hand
to keep it company. And if sci-fi is an acquired taste, there is
also that about religion which attracts some people and repels
others. But the difference is that, whereas sci-fi is typically
more fiction than science, religion claims to be more fact that
fantasy; so playfulness in the one case contrasts with deadly
seriousness in the other - all too often literally.
Using a range of authors to
ensure an interdisciplinary approach, this symposium invites
readers to explore some of the many diverse points of intersection
between religion and science fiction. The book serves as an
introduction to academic perspectives on this subject, suitable as
a textbook, but of interest and accessible to any reader, even one
who may not have read or seen all of the novels, stories, or films
The most substantial
contribution is by the editor, James F. McGrath, who focuses, first
of all, on the ethical issues raised if we are ever successful in
creating fully fledged artificial intelligence. He then asks what
such artificial intelligences might make of some of our human
religious traditions. Christianity, Buddhism, and atheism are
explored in turn as options for androids.
As so often with sci-fi,
this apparently frivolous exploration of mechanised morality and
robotic religion prompts serious questions about what it means to
be a person - and, particularly, a person made in the image of God.
McGrath asks what artificial-machine persons might make of our
religions, and concludes that they would soon leave them behind,
and might themselves become sources of revelation for human
The other essays include a
study by Joyce Janca-Aji of films by Jean Pierre Jeunet and Marc
Caro which feature "a postmodern return to a premodern sense of
humanity being intimately intertwined with the sacredness of life
itself". Panentheism rules.
C. K. Robertson explores the
part played by the mythic hero from cave-paintings to comic books.
Apparently, St Paul in Athens has a great deal to teach us about
how to relate to baby-boomers nurtured on Batman and Robin.
Eriberto P. Lozada shows how
sci-fi filled the vacuum left by religion in communist China.
Alison Bright MacWilliams offers thoughtful reflections on the
light thrown by sci-fi on claims that scientists "play God".
Elizabeth Danna homes in on
Star Trek, directed by a secular humanist, and The
Prisoner, directed by a Roman Catholic, to show how both
conclude that evil can be overcome only with the help of an outside
Finally, Teresa Blythe
describes a method for uncovering the theology embedded in sci-fi
films. Many churches use film as a way into theological discussion,
and this practical guide will be welcomed by them, but also by
those who want to get into sci-fi as a religious resource, but
don't know where to start.
McGrath insists that the aim
of the book is to be representative rather than comprehensive. But,
given the many genres of sci-fi, and the sheer audacity of its
conceptual reach, a symposium of just eight brief essays hardly
does justice to the subject-matter. For example, a key issue only
hinted at by McGrath in his introduction is whether sci-fi is an
alternative to religion, and whether religion is itself just an
unacknowledged form of science fiction. But that would be "to
boldly go . . .".
The Rt Revd Dr John Saxbee is a former Bishop of