Hyperpat\’s HyperDay

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Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

Religion and Science Fiction

Posted by hyperpat on November 10, 2009

Religion seems to be endemic to the human condition. Every culture around the world and throughout recorded history (and probably much further back than that) seems to have some belief in a higher power, even though, to date, there has been zero directly observable and possible to confirm evidence for such. So it is no surprise that science fiction has occasionally delved into this area of the human condition. What is surprising is just how few sf works have really looked deeply at it, and even more surprising that of those that have done so, almost all are excellent works.

There are many, many sf works that paint very detailed pictures of future societies, but in most of these religion, if mentioned at all, is relegated to the side-bar, not front and center. Perhaps this has been due to a reluctance by some of the authors to tackle such a deeply controversial subject, while others may have felt that it was not germane to the story they were telling, and still others may have felt that religion would eventually end up in the dust-bin of history as a failed concept, or antithetical to the basic rules of science that science fiction has as its base. But as science fiction uses precisely this ability to depict future, different societies as mirrors for our current society and its problems, books that ignore the great influence that religion has on the great majority of people are, to some extent, missing the boat.

Happily, those books that do tackle religion head-on almost invariably seem to have something very cogent to say about it. There are those books that look closely at the disturbance to established religious dogma that meeting up with other intelligent species would cause, both from a personal and societal viewpoint. In this category would be things like James Blish’s A Case of Conscience, Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow and Children of God, Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead, Grass by Sherri S. Tepper, and Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke.

Then there are those that look at religion as a force that helps shape a society and its rules for living, morality and ethics. Here we have the great A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr., Dune by Frank Herbert (Maub’dib and the Fremen Jihad have much to say about just how powerful a force religion can be), Soldier, Ask Not by Gordon Dickson, The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny (a very unusual look at a non-Christian belief system), and Anathem by Neal Stephenson.

But perhaps the most important category are those books that are sharp satires on established religions. Here we have Davy by Edgar Pangborn (the Holy Murcan Church is the lynch-pin of this imagined future world, and comes in for some heavy satirical commentary), Towing Jehovah by James Morrow, Job: A Comedy of Justice by Robert Heinlein (so sharp an attack on Christianity, using the exact words of the Bible, that this book was denounced by several religious groups), To Reign in Hell by Stephen Brust, and of course the elephant in the room, the book that not only tore gaping holes in some practices by certain established religions but invented a new religion so believable it led to the establishment of a new church based on it, Heinlein’s Stranger in Strange Land. Whether this book really did grow out of a bet between Heinlein and L. Ron Hubbard over who could create the best ‘invented’ religion (I don’t include Hubbard’s writings on and the establishment of Dianetics and Scientology as science fiction, but more as a deliberate attempt to con the connable, and which has unfortunately, to my mind, been all too successful), or was merely the outgrowth of things Heinlein wanted to say for many years and only slowly found his way to crafting this work, it still reigns supreme as one of the best books science fiction has ever produced.

Regardless of your own religious beliefs, reading the books I’ve listed here should be a journey of exploration. While many of these books are scathing in their attacks on certain aspects of religion, at the same time I think they can reinforce a person’s confidence in his own belief systems, by forcing the reader to examine exactly why he believes as he does, and thereby giving him a better foundation for that belief. And it should be a great journey as every book I’ve listed has either been nominated for or received the Hugo Award, a marker of just how well these books are written.

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Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Hugo Awards, religion, science fiction, SF | 3 Comments »

Sticking Their Noses In

Posted by hyperpat on July 6, 2007

Why do people get so upset by the actions of others that don’t affect them? That man down the street has (gasp!) women coming to his door at all hours of the day! Sheila across the way is wearing a mini-skirt! Tommy in next block must be up to no good – he’s always taking flights to countries with unpronounceable names! Maybe he works for the (whisper) CIA?!

And it doesn’t stop at just the local level, as a quick perusal of nanny-ish state of our government can attest. The entire flap over same-sex marriage is a prime example – whatever others do in this regard, it doesn’t affect your marriage or your sense of what is right for you.

Laws should be the controlling rules for the interactions between people. You can’t rob or beat up others. You can’t pollute everything around you because that does affect the quality of life of others. You shouldn’t be able to cook the corporate books, because that does affect everyone who has invested in the company. These kinds of laws make sense. What doesn’t are those laws that attempt to regulate what are purely private actions. What you do in your bedroom is not the province of either law or busy-bodies. Who you live with, be it someone of different ethnicity,  color, or the same gender, is not the proper provenance of law.  If you wish to gamble away all your money, that’s your problem. The government should not be able to say that all gambling is illegal. If you wish to smoke marijuana, that should be your business (however, if, while under its influence, you go out and crash your car into someone else, that is the provenance of law).

There is a concept of the ‘public good’ that is often invoked when such laws are considered or passed. But this is a false attribution. The ‘public good’ applies to all people; only those things that actually (or at least potentially) affect all the people fall under its umbrella.  Private actions do not.

But I doubt if we’ll ever get rid of those who are so into ‘we’re just doing this for your own good’. Who think their morals are the only correct ones, and everyone needs to adhere to them. Or the religious fanatics who insist that everyone convert to their faith. Just how much of the world’s misery is caused by such attitudes? Far too much.

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, religion | Leave a Comment »

Creationism and the Scalzi Challenge

Posted by hyperpat on June 11, 2007

Haven’t posted for a while due to another bout of 12 hour/7days a week workitus. I’m getting too old for this kind of schedule…

But reading over on John Scalzi’s Whatever blog, I discover that the Creation Museum has just opened. John, in his typical Scalzi snarky way, has managed to stir up his readership to get him to go visit said museum, if they will just contribute enough to make it worth his while (see here). Contributions towards this educational trip will go to the Americans United for Separation of Church and State organization. For another look at what this museum offers, the folks at Ars Technica have this.

Now, if those who believe in Creationism wish to educate their children in the privacy of their homes in the tenets of this ideology, that’s their business. If they wish to advertise it via this museum, which people can go and visit based strictly on their own personal wishes to do so, that’s their business. If they wish to get this stuff put into science textbooks that will be used at public schools, that’ s not their business, it’s yours and mine. Americans already have a tough time keeping up with the rest of world in terms of scientific knowledge and investigation, and confusing students with faith-based material certainly will not help in this regard. Separation of church and state (and in this case, ‘state’ very definitely includes public schools) is a very good idea, not the least of which is that when ‘faith’ takes control of a government, there can be no opposition, as obviously those of the faith will reject (in sometimes very bloody ways) any dissension as not coming from their deity, and they have the absolutely correct answers.

How science works is not perfect. It doesn’t always look objectively at new data and theories, and sometimes advocates of new ideas are ignored or pilloried. But it does eventually get around to looking at that new data, and old ideas will get tossed out to be replaced by better ideas that fit all the known facts a bit more closely. The closer the theories match how the world really works, the better for all of us, as these theories form the basis for all the fancy technological goodies that make our lives richer and more rewarding, with less of our time spent on the mundane problems of surviving. Science is basically about asking questions, and the mindset that asks and allows for questions helps to not only keep our government healthy, but allows all of us to live our lives in the way we wish.

So go visit Scalzi’s site, and contribute to his trip if you feel so inspired. If nothing else, the end result should be some entertaining reading.

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, religion, Science & Engineering | Leave a Comment »

Home, Sweet Home for Dinosaurs

Posted by hyperpat on March 21, 2007

Scientists have now discovered den-digging, burrowing dinosaurs. This news alone is not earth-shattering, and probably is of direct interest only to a very few. However, it adds one more point in what is known about dinosaurs and the environment they lived in, and with each such point that is added, it becomes clearer that during their heyday the dinosaurs occupied just about every possible ecological animal niche. To my mind, at least, this is strong evidence in support of the theory of evolution, as it is possible to track the spread of dinosaurs throughout these ecological niches over the course of time, and also shows just how competition for resources favors those new animal variants that can best take advantage of some particular feature, eventually resulting in completely new species.

This view of the world does not eliminate the possibility of the world/universe being created by some omniscient being, but it does put a severe crimp into any literal interpretation of how the world was created as presented in any of the major religious works.  As evidence keeps piling up for the basic veracity of the theory, it seems to me that the debate on whether to teach things like ‘Intelligent Design’ right alongside evolutionary theory should be ended – while such concepts may have a place in philosophy or literature classes, they do not deserve to be handed up in the same texts that cover biology. These ideas simply do not have the same evidentiary basis as evolution, and placing them on the same footing will do nothing but confuse the students about just what science is and how it is practiced.

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, religion, Science & Engineering | 2 Comments »

Commercials, Commercials

Posted by hyperpat on December 22, 2006

It’s almost Christmas time again. A season that has now become a celebration of commercialism, with darn little reference to its supposed roots. In some ways, perhaps this is not a bad thing, given the track record of just about every major organized religion. Unfortunately, every religion requires its adherents to trust in faith, to accept without any provable physical evidence a concept of a supreme being. And of course, once you allow such a thing, logic disappears, replaced by emotion. All too often, that emotion is distrust and hate for those who are not adherents to your own particular concept of god, which leads, again and again, to strife and wars.

Religion may not be the only cause of wars, but it’s certainly a major player.

Still, there are times when I wish that this season would be more like it was when I was kid, when church, carols, apple cider, and small, heartfelt gifts were more the rule, and I was watching It’s a Wonderful Life for the first time. The sentiments that Christmas is supposed to have are admirable ones,  and it seems they’ve been shoved under the pile of sell, sell, sell.

Posted in Daily Happenings, General, religion | 2 Comments »