In the last few years, the science fiction genre has lost a few good authors, Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury at the top of the list. It’s got me thinking about my own love of science fiction.
Among Catholics, Sci-Fi has to be one of the most popular genres. Of course, it’s one of the most popular in the world, but it has been, traditionally, very Catholic in nature. Think about the themes it takes on. Everything has a philosophical angle that demonstrates well the Catholic perspective. Book-burning in Fahrenheit 451? Despite the occasional book-burning by some Catholics, the Church has played a huge role in the preservation of literature over the centuries, including vast stores of literature she sharply disagreed with. The equal sharing of misery by way of pseudo-equality? The unsettling tale of Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron rings true with the Church’s teaching on the special gifts and contributions of each man. How about conflicts and serious questions about the morality of sophisticated technology on the battlefield? The Church has dealt with those quandaries, too. Human cloning? Yep, the Church has dealt with that topic, too. Science vs. Religion? Yep. Eternal life? You betcha!
Sci-fi shares with the Church an uncanny ability to ask the right questions of the culture at large.
One of the best television series of all time, The Twilight Zone, dished out one serving after another of intensely gratifying science fiction. My favorite episode, The Obsolete Man (on Neflix if you’re interested – season 2, episode 29), is nothing short of eerie in its portrayal of the perfect dystopia, a sort of satire on utopia specific to the sci-fi world (sorry, St. Thomas More). Its striking questions on faith and fear, human dignity, and man’s need for God, are what awoke in me a great love of Sci-Fi that went beyond an appreciation for cool special effects or intriguing quantum theories.Who hijacked my sci-fi?
For the last couple weeks, I’ve been happily plugging away at another recent sci-fi series. It’s very entertaining, visually clean, and asks the right sort of questions for me to ponder away at full speed. Unfortunately, it also involves assumptions about the future that paint a very materialistic and immoral view of human nature. Gay marriage is accepted. Inter-species marriage, too. Elements of transhumanism, a dangerous up and coming philosophy in our own time, are present and accounted for as well. I feel like the best genre in the world has been hijacked by people who want to dictate instead of questioning.
Dr. Who remains a decent expression of science fiction, but almost accidentally. Rather than challenging the impact of the modern world on the human experience, as science fiction once challenged communism, the series accepts, assumes, and gives full weight to the growing philosophical belief that we must transcend our human nature. Instead of gaining insight through an episode’s critique of modern ideas, I’ve learned to gain insight by my critique of the show itself.
Beginning with Dr. Who, it’s possible to look back and see this problem in other sci-fi shows, if in seminal form. In much of modern science fiction, it is assumed that humanity is heading toward an idealized society that looks an awful lot like what Euro-American socialism is trying to accomplish: free healthcare (at the cost of goodness knows who), “liberated” sexuality, government-as-surrogate-parents, science triumphant against religion, and the peculiar absence of families. It leads me to wonder if the sci-fi community is just as dangerous as the news media in pushing the progressive agenda. Get out the nerd vote, perhaps? Then again, if the fans of modern science fiction delved deep enough into their favorite genre, they would see the danger inherent in trusting an image on a screen. Wouldn’t it be an ultimate irony if the very totalitarian government Vonnegut tried to warn us about* managed to assert its dominance through his own medium?
As a Catholic, I’m begging the science fiction community to open its eyes and start questioning again. Sci-fi has always been an instrument for the betterment of the same humanity the Church exists to serve. The enemy isn’t the family or traditional society or faithful Christians, nor is the ideal society something as lame and existentially empty as free healthcare and an iPod in every pocket. Your genre was all about questioning the trends of your day, all about being counter-cultural. There is nothing on this earth more counter-cultural than the Church.
Here’s a call to all you fiction writers out there: why not develop a sci-fi series in the tradition of your forebears? Critique the modern view of society. Ask what could possibly go wrong, and let all the world see the results. Show it with the macabre twists that make the pit of your stomach writhe and twist in a sort of horrified compassion for the characters who have no choice but to suffer the unforeseen consequences of their own decisions. Let’s hijack sci-fi back for the Catholic worldview.
Check out this video trailer for 2081, a short adaptation of Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron (the full movie used to be available for free, sorry, but I hope you’ll find a way to see it):
*Yes, I know Vonnegut was a liberal, but he wasn’t a totalitarian.