[Edited to add: This is turning into a modestly popular series of posts, with comments continuing to trickle in (the Long Tail!). Please be sure to peruse the comments to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. And, err, Part 5.]
One topic that has been puzzling me lately has been the lack of any serious portrayal of religion in science-fiction. Science-fiction -- real science-fiction -- is in my opinion about people, about the interaction of science, technology, and human culture. Science-fiction is speculative anthropology (see Ursula K. Le Guin, for example). So what does science-fiction have to say about religion? Apparently, nothing.
Religion is seen frequently in science fiction, but almost always religion is associated with alien species. (Star Trek might be a very accessible example here.)
Recently I've been wondering about this while watching Babylon 5. Like much science-fiction (television or otherwise), there are several significant alien species. The Narns revere G'Quan and his writings; spirituality among Narns in general is frequently shown on the show. The Minbari on the show are highly religious. In contrast, the Centauri show little or no spirituality (other than, arguably, the potential civil religion focused on the old Republic). The Vorlons are too cryptic to make sense of, so we can draw no conclusions from them. The only remaining major species on Babylon 5 is the human species, and none of the major characters show any inclination towards religion while on the station, other than partaking in some of the Minbari rituals. True, there are a few episodes that deal with religious humans, such as an episode in which Roman Catholic monks arrive on the station, but overwhelmingly it appears that humans aren't religious.
(In one episode, a major spiritual visitation occurs on the space station. Representatives of each species each see their own main religious figure. The Narns see G'Quan; the Drazi - a minor species - see their ancient prophet; the Minbari see Valen. And what do humans see? Some sort of angel that looks like Mister Clean. I can't begin to guess what that was supposed to represent. Intriguingly, one automatically assumes a monolithic religion for the alien species, but that is simply not possible for humans.)
I won't claim that religion is a universal trait among humans, but it's pretty close to universal... so doesn't it seem odd that science-fiction overlooks the possibility that humans in the future might be religious?
This post is the first in a multi-part series. Please come back next Monday - I'll take a quick detour to blog about the alleged conflict between science and religion. After that, it's back to the science fiction, and hopefully I can present some ideas as to why science fiction typically ignores human religion.
In the meantime, comments are invited; what do you think might be going on? Any favourite science-fiction novels that do portray future religion?
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