ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION # 6: Christian Science Fiction.

Republibot 3.0
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Republibot is *not* a religious site, however as sites like IO9 and The Friendly Atheist and a zillion others have pointed out, there are several Christian groups trying to crack in to the whole “Science Fiction” thing with books and movies and TV shows and whatnot. Most of these commentators are aghast at the concept, and a few of them are frankly apoplectic about it. That kind of reaction always seems like a fertile ground for discussion. I’m a little afraid that our normal band of commentators may be of too similar a mind on this subject - we’re all basically believers here, and boring white protestants - so I’ve taken the liberty of inviting “Doubting Thomas,“ a conservative Republican atheist to join our circle today. Tom, thanks for being with us.

Doubting Thomas:
Thank you for inviting me to participate. I've always enjoyed science fiction, especially the early short stories that explored how new technologies might be employed and how people's lives would be changed by them. For me science fiction should challenge us and explore possible futures and hopefully allow us to be better prepared for the actual future.

Republibot 3.0:
We’ve I’ve also invited Ovadiah David, who’s Jewish and politically liberal. Thanks for taking part in the discussion today, we really appreciate it!

Ovadiah David:
My pleasure. Thanks for including me

Question number one:
Is Christian Science Fiction even possible? I don’t want to get in to an argument about definitions of what is and isn’t SF here, so just for sake of argument let’s just assume (For once) that we’re talking about what is the normal aliens/spaceships/time travel/nonexistent-but-plausible technology school of SF. We’re not talking about Narnia here. With that in mind: Is Christian SF possible? Why or why not?

Doubting Thomas:
Absolutely and Christianity has been influencing science fiction from the start. I think rather than past examples, what you are looking for is "can a good story be created with a Christian theme and scientific theme simultaneously" and it certainly can. However, it won't come from someone with a strict fundamentalist view that a static world was created 6,000 of Bishop Usher's years ago. Progress is inherent in science fiction and in the good stuff there is a bit of moral dilemma in how the progress is applied. Christianity is very much at home dealing with these dilemmas, even if I personally don't like all of the conclusions that are reached.

Burt Cottage:
My all-time favorite work of fiction is That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis, which I would classify as science fiction. As to whether it’s possible, I can think of no Biblical prohibition against fiction (or parables), and, therefore, no prohibition against science fiction. Sure, a work of science fiction that is written by a Christian may posit some ideas I don’t agree with from a Christian standpoint. So I’ll disagree with them. The great advantage, I have always argued, of any work that disagrees with my worldview is that it will either (A) make me change my worldview or (B) make me give my worldview more thought so I can respond intelligently to whatever it was I disagreed with. Science fiction and fantasy are great formats for proposing ideas—better than westerns or a lot of other fiction which assumes a basis in “the real world” that sci-fi isn’t always bound by.

RB2:
Absolutely. At it's root, S-F is about answering the question "If this goes on...?" In other words, taking a trend and extrapolating it out to some point in the future. This was also (with Divine aid) the function of prophets- they "got it right" a lot more than S-F authors, but the idea of the cautionary message regarding future implications of present trends is VERY Biblical. Let's say for the sake of the roundtable that a Christian wrote a story that said something like "All this abortion may have unexpected consequences in the future" and he had aliens perform some sort of sanction on Earth for making the gene pool shallow. That's Science Fiction (extrapolation, Aliens, global catastrophe), AND it's a parable (because it's a story with a crunchy moral center). Voila- Christian S-F. Anyone know where I can read a story like that?

Republibot 3.0:
[Laughing] Uhm, yeah, that’s pretty much exactly my story, “Dog Days.” (Here: http://republibot.com/content/original-fiction-dog-days ) I don’t think we can call that one Christian SF, though I really really make fun of organized religion in it, and I’ve even got a preacher as a bad guy…and my point with writing it wasn’t to espouse one religious or political view over another. What I was trying to do was show that we tend to lump viewpoints together in ways that are completely random, and then assume that these conglomerations have *always* been that way, and can not be any other. You know, ‘secular humanists are always liberals’ or ‘Conservatives are always religious’ or whatever. So I was trying to show how that doesn’t have to be the case. I don’t think that counts as Christian SF simply because I didn’t have a clear Christian agenda in mind when I wrote it. But in theory, yes, if someone *else* wrote the story you described, yeah, it could be. But getting back to the question…

Ovadiah David:
There can and should be Christian science fiction. Science fiction is basically speculative fiction, stories about possible futures or imagined worlds, and why would a committed Christian have to leave his worldview at the door when exploring his imagination? If there's one genre with no limits or prejudices it's science fiction, so why wouldn't it be open to matters of faith and how they manifest themselves in the way we see the future?

Republibot 3.0:
As for me, I think Christian SF is entirely possible. My kid’s Sunday school class is going through a set of lessons based around some modern kids time traveling and hanging out with the apostles after the Resurrection. If that ain’t SF, what is it? The first half of “The Lost Takes of Babylon 5” was arguably Christian SF, too. That said, *most* of the Christian SF I’ve read is pretty dreadful, and most of it is pretty old - dating from the 1950s, and based on that kind of stuff as the only example I’d say a lot of the websites making fun of the concept are right to do so. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I think Christian SF can be done, and it can be done wonderfully, but I don’t think it’s happened yet.

Question Number Two:
Why do you think these other sites have such a negative reaction to the concept of Christian SF? Obviously a lot of it comes from them simply being kneejerk liberal sites with a built-in antipathy towards anything traditional, but more than that some of them seem really angry, offended, and insulted that anyone would dare do such a thing. Why?

Doubting Thomas:
From the days of Galileo to George Bush shutting down stem cell research, Christians have a reputation of slamming the brakes on ideas and progress. This is certainly deserved. Honestly, if I saw a science fiction book displayed in the window of a religious book store I would be suspicious that it contained a sermon disguised as a story about an earth centered universe and thin arguments against evolution. The anger comes from the expectation that we're about to see yet more interference with the added twist of populist appeal, but let's not forget that the greatest scientist of all time, Isaac Newton, was a devout Christian. It's not fair, but that's the problem with anything that lasts a long time, you become responsible for defending all of it's history.

Burt Cottage:
I think it’s because sci-fi prides itself on an “anything’s possible” ideal. Christian sci-fi holds mostly to that with one exception: a Creator behind it all and, therefore, a moral code. We may disagree with what that code is. We may—as authors or artists—find ways to depict or approach that moral code in ways that anger or annoy our fellow Christians. But we still start or end with the idea: God is.

RB2:
Simple. They fear judgment, despite the fact that they tend to be more judgmental than most Christians. If such a thing were successful, that would imply validation of beliefs that they hate.

Tessa Dick:
People who believe in a mechanistic world of cause and effect reflexively reject the idea of what they see as magical nonsense. Religion, whether it presents itself as wicca, Christianity or any other form, is only so much hocus pocus in their minds. The universe ultimately makes sense, and is predictable, so if something unexpected happens, then it must be due to an error or omission in their equations It cannot be the result of divine intervention.. Besides, propaganda has blamed the Church for the errors of science, beginning with the model of an Earth-centered universe, which was developed by scientists before Christ was born. Yes, the Popes did accuse Copernicus, Galileo and others of heresy, but those were political acts having little to do with religion.

Ovadiah David:
Well, there is, among a certain group of intellectuals an antipathy toward matters of faith and religion. It's a prejudice. And to a certain extent it's founded in experience; there's a reason for the phrase "religious intolerance". But academia and the wider intellectual world need to understand that there can't be a double standard. If they want to enjoy freedom of thought they need to tolerate other perspectives, and religious belief has informed and influenced art far longer than rationalism and probably with more spectacular results. The Sistine Chapel doesn't depict the noble worker plowing a field.
I think they also suspect that religious fiction is propagandistic. But anything that advocates a philosophy is propagandistic and certainly most science fiction has a pretty clear moral and intellectual world view.

Republibot 3.0:
Yeah, most of what I’ve read is terribly propagandistic, with one noteworthy exception that I’ll get to later. But as you point out, pretty much all SF has some propaganda value, whether it’s carrying the Cross or the Light of Reason. I mean, is there an episode of the original Trek that doesn’t have some kind of central moral theme?
But here’s what I think it is: If you look at Trek as an example, you’re looking at an idealized future with no real religion, no money, an almost-invisible utopian government, no real families, no nations, no regional pride, no regional culture, no sports, no drug addiction, no crime, not even any clutter or messy people. To most people this Maoist absence of any culture looks cheesy and stupid, but there is a set of fans out there who actually like this utter minimalism: they love the idea of a future devoid of things that annoy them, like their mom telling ‘em to get dressed for church, and never having enough money for comics, and looking like a spazz in gym class. They are, by their nature, extremely rationalistic and much of their attraction to SF stems from the appeal of a future in which everything that annoys them in absent. They escape in to it - I’m not ragging on them, I’ve done this myself a lot - and when some aspect of mundane life comes creeping in, it annoys the hell out of them and they go livid. I use Trek as the most obvious example of this, but there’s lots of others. The irony is that essentially it’s human culture itself that they’re annoyed by, and, as usual, religion is the standard-bearer of culture.
I also suspect that in some cases, in some people, SF has sort of taken the place of religion in their lives. Meaning and social interaction and a sense of cultural superiority that they’d get from membership in a church or synagogue or mosque has been replaced by that same stuff from the fan community. I mean, hey, we’re called “Fans” for a reason: we’re “Fanatical.” I know I personally have been more interested and moved on occasion by what Captain John Sheridan is doing than hearing about Jobab, King of Madon again.

Question number three:
Can you think of any examples of Christian SF writers who you admire and who don’t suck out loud?

RB2:
Stephen Lawhead (The Fierra series), C.S. Lewis (duh), and Orson Scott Card, more or less.

Tessa Dick:
Philip K. Dick openly stated that he drew upon his Christian background for his novels. He admired Walter M. Miller's science fiction novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, which is set in a Catholic monastery. My own work, especially my Origins trilogy, is religious. Origins presents an alternate view of Genesis, based partly on the work of Velikovsky and Richard Hoagland.

Ovadiah David:
I can't answer that! But let's just say some writer's Bible scholarship is appallingly weak.

Burt Cottage:
To paraphrase coaching great Bum Philips, “Lewis and Tolkein may not be alone in their class, but it don’t take long to call the roll.” I can’t think of any other Christian SF writers whose SF efforts have always (or even mostly) been successful. But I’ll give some praise to …
Kathryn Mackel – Honestly, she’s way over on the fantasy side of the scale, but she is an excellent story teller. Too often, I find her books in the “Christian Romance” section when they need to be in “Fantasy” or even “Horror”. I guess ‘cause she’s a woman they automatically think her stuff is romance.
Gilbert Morris – Known mostly for his historical fiction, he has written a series of books for early-teens that are pretty much a Christian “Star Trek”. If you go in knowing the intended audience, they’re pretty fun and some of the speculation about what “earth culture” could be like in a thousand years is pretty interesting.
I can think of other good Christian authors, but none I would classify as even close to SF.

Republibot 3.0:
Phillip K. Dick. True, he’s not what people think of when they say “Christian SF,” but think about it: Virtually *all* of his books had religious themes, frequently very overt ones. His default mode of religious metaphor was Christianity, generally Gnosticism, but it’s still Christianity, particularly in his last three books. In particular, “Valis” and “The Divine Invasion” are expressly about a recognizably Christian version of God going to great lengths to try and redeem the world. Though the theology involved is entirely heretical, and sometimes he’s just as likely to be disturbingly anti-God as he is to be pro-God. The point is that Phil used a basically Christian framework to ask a lot of really hard questions about God, and about humanity, and he never flinched from the answers, even when they very obviously scared the hell out of him. It’s unquestionably Christian - albeit obviously a pretty weird-ass version of Christianity that would send most fundamentalists scrambling for their pitchforks and torches - and I’m going to say he’s the best Christian SF writer ever, though I suspect he’d bristle at that and be pretty uncomfortable with it. Hey, Tessa, how would Phil have reacted to being called a "Christian SF Writer?"

TESSA DICK:
he probably would have agreed with your assessment

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
Well, there you go.

Question Number Three: This story is probably not true, but it’s something I’ve heard a lot and it illustrates a very real problem. Once upon a time, there was a heavy metal band who sucked, and nobody liked them. “We suck,” they said, “We need to find an audience who will feel compelled to support us no matter what we do, people who will feel it’s their duty to buy our crap, no matter how much it sucks.” And so they started writing Christian songs, and suddenly became very successful because Christians felt compelled to support “A Christian Artist” who was “Spreading God’s Message” to “The Kids,” when in fact they were just a bunch of drunken stoners with a clever niche marketing scheme to get out-of-touch grandmothers to buy CDs that no one wanted for their grandsons who would never listen to them. The name of the band changes depending on who’s telling the story, so I won’t bother listing the possibilities here, but my point is this: I’ve heard some very very strong suggestions that some of the people who are trying to start this genre are doing it for just the same mercenary reason as our hypothetical metal band - Christians are a cash cow, and frequently not a very discerning one when it comes to art and literature. What are your thoughts on this?

Doubting Thomas:
Yes, they are cash cows, but so are sports fans who'll pay 3+ times what a hat or shirt is worth because it has their team's name on it. Pious feelings can be exploited and people will treat something shallow as profound if it contains a little bit of religion. If a sincere person creates a story with both a scientific and religious mind, there will be those who praise it simply because it furthers their religious cause. There are those who will calm that they were pandering to the cash cows and not sincere.

Burt Cottage:
I think this kind of thing will always go on. There have been and probably always will be (in this life) people who do what they do for profit. Because some do that does it immediately discount those who do what they do for more “pure” reasons? Not at all.

RB2:
There will always be wolves in the fold, fleecing all the poor sheep. HOWEVER- if they are in the fold, there's a chance that even their mercenary efforts may produce something worthwhile. So I'm cynically hopeful for their efforts....

Ovadiah David:
Unfortunately it rings true whether it is or not. But artists who sell-out to cash in on a trend is nothing new. Poseurs, whether fake-Christians or fake punk rockers (see Johnny Rotten) are what the are and certainly anytime there's money or power involved, the crass and shaddy will pretend to be anything you want them to be. I think this goes for almost ALL politicians.
I think the problem with Christian "rock", and this is not just Christians--other religious groups have this phenomena--is that things that can be morally degenerate or corrupt can still be sold if they have the stamp of religion on them, the veneer of acceptability. "Don't worry. I may be dressed like over-sexed sadist, but I'm one of you! So buy my albums."
Religious leadership has created followers who are paranoid about having their brains washed by secular society and who lack the courage to discern for themselves what is just and right and good. What we all need to do as people of faith is to do what we do to our children. Teach them well and by example, then set them loose in the world.

Tessa Dick:
Everything that I had to say has already been said by the others.

Republibot 3.0:
Wow, I’m surprised everyone but me sees this as a non-issue. Ok, well, moving on…

Question Number Four: In order for Christian SF to be worth the trip, it has to be able to do something that more normal SF can’t. I’m not talking about the obvious ‘spreading the Christian message’ angle of it. What I mean is that it has to be able to do something artistically unique that allows it to stand on its own two feet as a legitimate genre, and not just propaganda. So what is that thing, in your eyes?

Burt Cottage:
I’m not sure that it does need to do something more or unique. Tolkein was an ardent Christian. His faith comes through in his books. They sell really well with Christians, Buddhists, Jews and atheists because they’re great stories written by an engaging writer. The converse is true. Many Christians read fiction that was written by an atheist. They may disagree on one or many of the points the writer makes, but they continue to read because the writing has captured their imagination.
This begs a question of whether we want “Christian Science Fiction” to be a genre separate from “Science Fiction”. As an author, I’d prefer my stuff just be found at B&N in the “Sci-Fi/Fantasy” section or the “Romance” section or whatever ‘cause if B&N ever starts a section labeled “Christian Sci-Fi” we’ve probably chopped our potential audience down to just those people who are Christians. This might be good from a sales point, but—personally—I’d love to make it in the free-for-all section and let my writing and ideas stand up against a wide variety of competition.

Republibot 3.0:
I totally agree with that last statement - I don't want to be segregated to an even smaller literary ghetto because of my beliefs - but I differ with the first one a bit. Tolkein *did* do something more or less unique - he essentially created what we think of today as the 'Fantasy Genre.' No one else was doing what he was doing when he wrote Hobbit. CS Lewis did something no one before him did nearly so well, too: Taking Christian
Apologetics and weaving it in to rollicking, occasionally thought-provoking adventures, including his Space Trilogy.

Burt Cottage:
I agree with your assessment of what Tolkein and Lewis did as far as expanding the genre. I think I was answering the question assuming it was more of a, “Do we have to expand the genre to be effective?” To which I answer “No.”
My all-time favorite author is Louis L’Amour. I’m not sure that he burst or expanded the western genre at all. In fact, he may have just moved Sir Walter Scott to the American West. What he did well (and, for me, did better than anyone else in history) is tell a great story. When his character’s in the desert, I have to go get a drink of water. When it’s raining on his character, I’m surprised to look up and see a sunny day outside (even if I’m sitting outside while reading).
He captured the harsh realities of the west, but he didn’t necessarily revel in them. Too many current western writers want the reader to feel the impact of the bullet or suffer through each horrifying detail of a gang rape and call it authenticity. I think Christian writers—of all genres—can learn from L’Amour. He realized the depravity that could so easily corrupt a person but he aspired—and his protagonists aspired—to be something more than their circumstances would seem to generate.
This, to me, is one of the central themes of Christianity and something that I think Christian sci-fi writers should be uniquely qualified to deal with: a world that is plagued by sin but forgiven people who strive to stem that tide. Granted, it could very easily become preachy, but isn’t that where the skill of the author/storyteller comes in? If Michael Crichton can make nihilism both an interesting read and a virtue, surely we can similarly lift up our values and entertain audiences.

Tessa Dick:
Christian SF does not need to be a separate genre. Look at the niche market for the "Left Behind" series, and you will see the literary ghetto out of which SF had to climb several decades ago. Why consign some of the most brilliant literature of our time to the dusty shelf in the back of the library or book store?

RB2:
Someone has recently said: "The smallest minority is the individual". As a writer, I am going to bring my own 'something special' into the mix. The fact that I'm a Christian is certainly part of that, but I don't think... and wouldn't know HOW, honestly... that we need some extra macho sauce, or whatever, to make Christian s-f distinct.

Ovadiah David:
If I may be so bold as a Jew, but certainly this goes for Judaism too, is that it needs to emphasize the ideas over the authoritarianism. History has demonstrated again and again how religious leadership will circumvent and distort the true message of religion in order to consolidate power. Let Christ's words speak for themselves.
Christianity is free of something that burdens Jewish thought a bit. Jewish thought is not just based on the literal words of the Torah or the rest of the Hebrew Bible, but also a couple thousand years of commentary that is canonical and binding. Every imaginable angle has been thought of. The gospels stand on their own. So Christianity can better avoid (you'd think) extraneous dogma like "the Earth is the center of the universe."
Why couldn't a work of Science Fiction be based on Lev 19:18 (the essence of both Christianity and Judaism)?

Doubting Thomas:
We have made great advances in science and technology. I am sometimes left in awe of the progress and improved understanding that I have witnessed in my lifetime. The moral, ethical, and legal aspects of our culture have simply not kept pace. Sure there are night and day improvements in civil rights, but i don't think as a society we've quite figured out how people are supposed to act and to treat each other yet. Traditionally religion has been at the center of the debate and addressing things like the new medical ethics is a great place for religious science fiction. Personally I'd like to see something deeper that "what gives you the right to play God" or "Maybe there are some things man wasn't meant to do" with an air of profound gravity.
Let's take a problem that is hotly contested and instead of fighting and bickering about it lets try creative technical answers to the problem. No middle ground will never-ever be found between the two sides of the abortion issue. My argument would be to explore a story with a solution through technology. I think the real problem isn't the abortion, but the unwanted pregnancy in the first place. No unwanted pregnancies, no abortions, not even due to rape or incest. Period. Problem solved. Sure maybe, the ethical behavior vs. freedom to behave as one chooses argument would be side stepped, but a good story, with a science fiction component could easily be written to explore all of that.

Republibot 3.0:
Yeah, Tom is right - we frequently confuse the effect with the cause. I also agree with the atheist that SF could be used to explore morality in a somewhat more theoretical sense, sort of like Niven did in “The Ethics of Madness,” or Varley’s never-quite-articulated-but-obviously-there belief that technology changes our concepts of right and wrong. I don’t want endless retreads of the Prometheus myth, though. Lord, those are boring. Ok, we get it already, the gods are gonna’ kick your ass for forgetting your place. Next. And speaking as a Christian, I flat out *do not* want to see Christian SF as a propagandistic tool. It should be about making people think, not about telling them what to think, about planting the seed perhaps, but not about telling them how to live. I think if Christian SF has anything to offer, it might simply be the benefit of a markedly different outlook that, combined with technology, might theoretically make life better for everyone. Take the abortion issue: There’s never going to be a moral compromise on it, nor can their be. But what if someone wrote a story exploring the option of transplanting a fetus from someone who doesn’t want it in to someone who does? That’s clearly an SF story in that it’s based on plausible-yet-nonexistent technology that solves the problem of the mother, the child, and the person who actually wants a kid. And it preserves the sanctity of life, albeit in the weird sort of way that would probably be an uncomfortable thought to most. I think that’s what Christian SF has to offer, if it can ever get it’s crap together: the ability to think its way around corners to solutions that might not be apparent to more rational folk. I’m not sure if that makes any sense, though.

Question Number Five: Many Christians (And indeed many Conservatives) take a fairly dim view of science. I’ve had people tell me time and time again that Science Fiction is inherently sinful because it talks about things that could never be and are not in God’s Plan, as revealed in the Bible. I like to point out that Narnia involves talking mice, and pagan Fawns which are clearly also things that could never be and are not in God’s Bible Plan, but that they’re used as plot devices and metaphors to get across the author’s moral. Many people simply roll their eyes at me and say I don’t “Get” it, then start yammering about evolution not being real and how colonies on other planets can’t happen because the Bible never mentions them, and it would contradict Revelation if they did. There’s a lot of people who can’t seem to accept flights of fancy as simply fiction and nothing more, and they won’t accept SF unless it takes place within the very narrow confines of what they consider “Lawful” IE: No extramarital sex, no cursing, no evolution, no aliens, no time travel, no lust, no artificial intelligences, no Gnosticism or esoteric theology, no SF religions unless they‘re portrayed as evil, no questions about God, no nothing you wouldn’t find in a boring ol’ Michael Crichton potboiler. It’s pointlessly limiting and a hard sell. Do you guys have any thoughts on how a Christian SF Author might get around this, and still manage to engage his audience?

Burt Cottage:
As an author (with almost no success so what do I know?) and as a Christian, I have several responses to this paragraph (so pardon me if my answer is long). I have grown up in a tradition where one of the catch-phrases was, “Where the Bible speaks we speak and where the Bible is silent we are silent.” There was an old Jewish concept—from before the time of Jesus—that was very similar except that it held that anything not mentioned in Scripture is sinful. “Scripture doesn’t mention zebras? Sinful!” I believe the Bible says absolutely nothing about whether anyone lives on other planets. My thought is because whether they do or don’t is immaterial to my salvation. I believe if they’re out there, God put them there. If they’re not, same reason. Therefore, I take the silence of Scripture as a license to suppose what life might be out there if there is life out there. As in Perelandra, where Lewis explored how God might have
interacted with the planet Venus if there were life there.
As to the list you provided: “No extramarital sex, no cursing, no evolution, no aliens, no time travel, no lust, no artificial intelligences, no Gnosticism or esoteric theology, no whacky SF religions unless they‘re portrayed as evil, no positive portrayals of sexually deviant characters, no questions about God, no nothing you wouldn’t find in a boring ol’ Michael Crichton potboiler”, that’s a pretty whacky pot to me. Whereas I could find Biblical prohibitions against some of those things, I see some of the things as being from that silent “list” I just mentioned. However, as both a writer and a Christian I might be tempted to put any or all of these things in a story and try to deal with their consequences from a Biblical standpoint (and my own conviction—not shared by all, granted—that God is ultimately consistent so what he prohibited here is prohibited everywhere and what he promoted here is promoted everywhere). Also, I like
Michael Crichton’s works. ;-)
I have actually run into this with one of my novels, though it wasn’t sci-fi. The novel was about a man who was addicted to a substance and divorced (his addiction was what had caused the divorce). In many ways it was a romance. I shopped it around to many of the Christian publishers and got some positive feedback except that they wouldn’t publish anything where the character was divorced. I tried to tell them I wasn’t promoting divorce but trying to show the consequences of the addiction and God’s forgiveness, but no go.
Which also brings up the question of who we’re writing for. If we’re writing for Christians who will only be reading Christian-Publisher-Books, then we better keep to the Publisher guide lines. If, however, we’re trying to spark some discussion among a broader base—or just telling a good ol’ yarn that happens to consist of characters who are Christians—I think we tell the story the best way we can, even if that means including some stuff Thomas Nelson’s not going to allow.
Another of my novels—the only one (so far!) to have met with anything like success (having sold a few hundred copies and not gotten me in the red)—was turned down by some Christian publishers because no one in it became a Christian. Everyone in it either started as a Christian and stayed one or started as a non-believer and stayed that way. I argued that that was because the story wasn’t about conversion it was about time travel (which happened to involve some Christians) but they wanted the story to cause some sort of spiritual epiphany for the principles.
On final note (from me): Publishers are certainly free to print what they want. I think some of their rules (in both secular and Christian publishing) are stifling, but that’s what they way. On the other hand, I’m also of the believe that a good enough artist can create a masterpiece with nothing but a piece of charcoal on a rock; so a good enough artist (which I probably am not) could create a masterpiece—or at least a work of art that meets the artist’s approval—even with the constrictions of these picky publishers. As with my comic strip, I have told people before that I’m not trying to push envelopes; I’m trying to see just how far I can withdraw into the envelope and still be funny.
Thanks for including me!

Republibot 3.0:
Happy to do it. Anyone else got any insights?

RB2:
One can get around those limitations by writing the best story he can with the talent God has given him. "All books are lawful, but not all books are profitable"... or something like that....

Ovadiah David:
I'm baffled by the conflicts between science and religion, and for me, as a religious Jew and a serious student of the Hebrew Bible as well as a lover of science, I honestly cannot see a conflict. First of all, science is a process, not a dogma. I think that science is a way of examining the language of God, and that with every discovery of the miracles of creation, the arguments for faith are strengthened. When I study Torah or when I examine nature, I am humbled and awed; this world view in which you think you know exactly how God did it, case closed, makes for a very small and unimpressive God. What I see in DNA and black holes is Ha Gadol, Ha Gibor, v Ha Norah--the Great, the Mighty, the Awesome God! Incomprehensible but intensely personal! I simple do not understand the Greek model of God as an impulsive, predictable limited Titan.
So, I think, since all things are possible to the God of the Hebrew scriptures, no speculation can be outside the realm of possibility and no thought can threaten God's sovereignty.
The sin lies in the commandment against taking God's name in vain, which does not mean just colorful language, but is a prohibition against speaking FOR God. "God says you are damned!" That's a no-no.
But as long as the work is consistent with the values at the heart of Christianity or any other faith for that matter, the life affirming values that God has given as a gift to the world--justice, compassion, humility---then there is nothing objectionable about it, no more than there is in a Renaissance painting on an imagined Biblical scene.
No bad piece of fiction will shake my faith and I'm concerned for those for whom it would.

Doubting Thomas:
Science creates change, change changes things, like cherished traditions, that people don't to have changed. All forms of fiction could be called a lie since it really didn't happen and sure you could brand that all as bad and sinful. I'd even agree that fiction is sinful when it becomes a time waster. Don't plop down and for endless hours to watch reruns or warehouse kids in front of the TV as a babysitter, there are more meaning full ways to spend time. However, to enjoy and consider a new work of fiction that speaks to you and enlightens your mind is a fantastic experience that we've all had. Consider the different statues of David, the ones many of us studied in our college humanities courses. Not all of them look exactly alike but each sends a message, is a work of interpretive fiction. There is moment frozen in the marble or metal resulting from a reasonable interpretation of the biblical story. Even a non-believer can relish the story about the faithful underdog and appreciate the beauty of the art work.
As far as those unwilling to suspend their disbelief long enough to enjoy a story that isn't religiously correct, aren't they the same people who expect non-believers to listen to their conversions attempts? If one of the tenants of your belief system is to be closed mined, what happens if your new potential convert mimics you and accepts that *one* tenant of your belief system first, prior to accepting Christ??? There must be a better example to lead by.
how do you deal with the religious treatment of traditional science fiction themes as somewhat blasphemous? First: who said you have to stay traditional with those concepts if that is your audience. There's plenty of new ground to cover. Second: a writer can work with those issues, but in a way that appeals to the stronger desires, such as that all this annoying trending towards secularism will get reversed in the future. Third: debate the ethics of their use or even debate their impossibility. Let the fundamentalist viewpoint win; that almost worked for Galileo!

Republibot 3.0:
I think there’s two fundamental problems involved here: Number one is a degree of technophobia. I personally knew a lot of Baptists who believed this in to the late 1970s, maybe longer. I’ve met more than one person who feels the space program is inherently sinful because we’re treading on God’s domain, whatever that means. While these kinds of people are by no means the majority in Christianity, I do think many of us have wrestled with it at times. People have a tendency just to assume anything they don’t understand is supernatural or divine, when, in fact, most of it is just stuff they haven’t figured out *yet* like electricity and nuclear physics. However, since we’ve misidentified so much stuff as being supernatural, when it turns out to be just another part of the EM spectrum or what have you, that makes the supernatural - and hence God - seem that much smaller and by extension it makes them seem smaller, too. This is not an expressly Christian problem - I’ve had Daoist engineers tell me in no uncertain terms that Nuclear power is evil - But I think this gut instinct to cringe whenever science discovers some new wonder when we really should be praising God for it as Ovadiah said is probably the reason the small Christian SF genre of the 50s ultimately dried up, because people who are morally frightened of televisions just aren‘t going to dig stories about spaceships.
The other problem is that such Christian SF as has been produced recently is all about proving the bible to be true. “We found an abandoned nephilim moonbase, and in it we found video footage of Noahs’ flood” and so on. As well-meaning as this kind of stuff may be, it’s sort of like that guy in Texas who went out and carved human footprints next to real dinosaur footprints in the rocks near his home: it’s just fundamentally wrongheaded. We are told repeatedly in the bible that we must have faith, and that ‘faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.’ Some or all of the stuff in the bible may be literally true, or it may all be a colossal metaphor, but none of us are ever going to know for sure, nor are we meant to. It is inherent in the design of the bible that your acceptance or denial of these things is based on your own personal faith, and not some lunkheaded attempt to prove the age of the earth. Because if you could *prove* it, you don’t need faith to believe in facts, they’re obviously still there even when you’re not looking at them. I don’t pretend to understand why faith is so important to God, and why He doesn’t just come out and tell us stuff, but obviously it’s pretty important to Him, and so any attempt to *prove* things He wants us to merely believe in, to *know* what He only wants us to feel strikes me as, well, sinful.
Both of these problems are simply matters of outlook, however. They’re not inherent in the Bible or Christianity, or even Christians ourselves. They can easily be solved with a bit of philosophical education from the churches themselves, just explain things to them “More adequately,” as St. Luke says in Acts. But until that happens, I dunno….I don’t think there’s too grand a future for it. As we saw in the 1950s.

Ok, that’s it. I’d like to thank everyone for taking part, and you for reading. Please tune in again next time when our topic will be “Why are the parking lots in donut shops always so small?”

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