Sunday, February 4, 2007

Luke Skywalker or St. Luke: The Challenge of Action-Oriented Christian Science Fiction

[Note: This is the editorial from the inaugural issue of Wayfarers Journal. We welcome comments here]

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)

(2Co 10:3-4)

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
(Eph 6:12)

I've read science fiction almost since I could read. In grade school, I read stories of The Mushroom Planet and Madeline L'engle's Wrinkle in Time multiple times. I spent many happy hours with a "shy stegosaurus" who could talk and the children who discovered him. As I grew older I discovered Bradbury, Heinlein, Asimov, Simak, Silverberg, Clarke, and other classic writers. I watched Lost in Space and Star Trek (the original series when it first aired). I like most science fiction from old fashioned space opera to the think pieces. However, when I discovered Christian or Biblical science fiction, I was disturbed by some of the stories. I wasn't disturbed because they were so different than the secular science fiction, but because they were so similar.

Recently, I've read a number of stories dealing with a future society in which Christians are persecuted. That, by itself, doesn't bother me. A staple of science fiction has often been a persecuted class of beings struggling against an oppressive government. Indeed, today in much of the world, Christianity is suppressed or outlawed so these stories can make real for those of us privileged to live in free societies, the plight of the underground church. Ideological persecution has even formed the basis for a number of secular science fiction novels over the years. The Handmaiden's Tale, for instance, focused on a future society in which the government tried to institute the old Mosaic law as the law of the land, albeit in a distorted way.

What is troubling, though, about some of these stories, is that I can't always tell the difference between these Christian heroes and the secular ones other than by ideology and lack of profanity. (Some, striving for realism, even include the profanity.) One story, in particular, had the hero escape prosecution when he is rescued by a paramilitary force dodging blaster bursts. This stands in stark contrast to the tradition of Christian martyrdom in which the Christian prays for his executioners as the stones are thrown or the fire lit beneath their feet.

Perhaps, what is even more troubling, is that I enjoyed the story. It had action, well drawn characters, and an exciting ending. Only when I realized this was supposed to be a story about Christian' martyr standing strong for their faith did it become disturbing.

Certainly, Christian characters in stories can have their flaws. Indeed, they must have them to be believable. However, they should never be comfortable with them. They should be striving to live the Christian life, even if they fail. Part of that Christian life is loving your enemies, praying for those that persecute you, and turning the other cheek even in the face of persecution. These are not my words, they are the words of Jesus. They disturb us too, but they disturb us in a good way because we want to hate those who hate us, to persecute those who persecute us, and the only reason we can see in turning the other cheek is to reach for the .45 we have on the table beside us.

And this is the challenge of writing engaging, action-packed, science fiction, that has believable Christian characters, who act in Christian ways. Does this mean Christian characters can never be violent, be part of an interplanetary police or military force? While I think one could make the case for that, I don't personally believe so. What I am saying is that within that context, they need to be different not only in belief, but in behavior. Or at least striving to do so. That may mean weeping after defending oneself against a pursuer or forgiving a futuristic inquisitor torturing a member of an underground church.

"But," you say, "That's not realistic." And death rays, six-legged aliens, and faster than light travel is? Science fiction transcends reality. It always has. It shows us not only what we are but what we can become (either for good or evil.) In all literature a character's Christianity should set him or her apart from non-Christian characters. They must not only believe differently, they must also act differently. That means that they cannot use carnal weapons, either figuratively or literally, to win a spiritual war. They cannot confuse the agents of the enemy for the enemy himself. Their virtues must bring about the victory and not their vices.

5 Comments:

Blogger Karina Fabian said...

I love this post--esp the idea of weeping for your enemy and finding love and forgiveness for him. I've worked similar themes into a trilogy I'm market right now. Ironically, it's a secular fantasy with a lot of Catholic and Christian elements.

Folks: read on in the next couple of months: if you like adventures with a true Christian or Catholic setting and not just Luke Skywalker Finds God, check out Light at the Edge of Darkness (mentioned in the next post) and (for a lighter-handed approach) Infinite Space, Infinite God, which Terri will talk about in April.

February 6, 2007 at 10:00 AM  
Blogger Terri said...

I look forward to it.

I like your idea of a secular fantasy with Christian elements. I would love to see more secular stories in all genres which simply has sympathetic Christian characters.

February 6, 2007 at 8:30 PM  
Blogger Brandon said...

A very good article. I know it can be very hard to create a moving story with a peace loving Christian main character.

So much of what you wrote has been rolling around in my subconscious as I write my own fiction.

-Brandon Barr

February 17, 2007 at 11:07 AM  
Blogger riftstone said...

Terri is right. In much Christian sci-fi, the protagonists have very non-heavenly goals and means. As to persecution of Christians, I think it coming to the West. Recently I read in a Voice of the Martyrs that Chinese Christians are PRAYING it will come to our country. They see it as (1) the only way for our churches to be cleansed and (2) the only way for us to relearn utter reliance on God.

-Dan Graves

April 1, 2007 at 12:59 PM  
Blogger David said...

Hi Terri,
I know this blog is old but I just saw it and wanted to leave a comment. I like what you wrote. You might want to check out the Vadelah Chronicles for some Christian science fiction that really fleshes out Christianity. Check it out at www.vadelahchronicles.com.
I think you'll like it.

February 8, 2010 at 7:07 PM  

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