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"The World is Charged with the Grandeur of God"

Ursula K. LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness Concept Art
Ursula K. LeGuin

Or so the 19th century poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins said. In the era of high-tech gadgetry and super-string theory, what room is there for the religious mind? Some say none. They say that religion is on its way out. But Charlie Jane Anders, and many theologians around the world, are unconvinced. In fact, they're some of the biggest fans of science fiction.

"Theologians love science fiction," Charlie Jane writes, "they're writing books about SF and theology, they're doing conferences on the topic, and they're seeing SF as a great vehicle for looking at the big questions in their field."(See Big Theological Questions that Science Fiction Should Answer).

Recently, Jane Anders wrote "Why Smug Atheists Should Read More Science Fiction," and smugness aside, I loved her point. Science fiction has a precedent for exploring the awe-inspiring possibilities of our universe. SF induces religious awe.

Jane Ander's comparison between SF imagery and religious paintings hits the mark:

A lot of the best science fiction is intensely "cosmic," conveying just how huge and unknowable the universe is, and how little we still understand it. In a sense, the huge cosmic imagery of science fiction resembles some of the best religious paintings — like the artworks of William Turner, who depicts light bursting out of the frame in a way that's often almost too dazzling to take in. Or Pieter Bruegel the Elder, whose angels are like explosions of light and energy.

So, does science fiction effectively take the place of religion in our age?

In films like Star Wars, or series like Star Trek, we are taken on cosmic initiations of intergalactic proportions. Our religious mind gets scaled up as our world expands; we leap straight into the numinous imagery of Hubble's nebula and the cosmic terror of black holes.

Catholic novelist Flannery O'Connor said that "the artist's role... proper role.. was that of a prophet... a person called to speak... the fiction writer is concerned with mystery that is lived." Art is incarnation. The artist, like prophet, draws us nearer to the sublime.

That is, fiction proper is meant to connect the reader with the transcendent, the living mystery of our existence. There is no denying religious feeling in the greatest SF stories of our time.

And on that note, I'll be off reading Neil Gaiman's American Gods.


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