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Monday, January 28, 2008

The Future of Religion (Part 3)

[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.]

In last week's post, I briefly introduced the current conflict between science and religion in the US of A. The topic of this series is, however, science fiction, so let's move forward.

I have asserted that religion is essentially verboten in science fiction (some exceptions were already noted in the comments to my first post). How can that be? Religion, faith, spirituality -- all these are commonplace in literature. Fantasy is, in my mind, a closely-related genre, but fantasy novels feature the supernatural all the time. Science-fiction: essentially never.

So why is religion overlooked in science-fiction? Let me try to work through some of my thoughts on what might be going on.


  • Science fiction authors aren't religious.


    This is an interesting possibility. I don't really know any way to test this theory... it's true that scientists tend to be less religious than the general population, but scientists and science-fiction-authors are very different creatures.

  • The conflict between science and religion has already been won for science in the future.


    This possibility presumes a few things: first, that there is a conflict between science and religion, and second, that it will be won for science in the future. There are indeed many conflicts between science and religion, but not in all things; neither is it necessary that science and religion conflict. Whether this putative conflict will or won't be won in the future is obviously open for debate. Suppose religion "wins" in the future--isn't that going to make for interesting, creative science-fiction? Suppose science "wins"--does that mean future people will hold no spiritual beliefs at all? And what happens when we meet alien races that do hold strong religious beliefs?

  • Religion doesn't sell.


    I think this might be the real reason. Authors are professionals, and their publishers are professionals -- they're all in the business of making money (more charitably: a living). I'm inclined to believe they have a very good idea of what sells. So my guess is that science-fiction novels that feature future religions rarely sell well.

    But why wouldn't religion in sci-fi sell well? Is it that the people who buy sci-fi aren't very religious? What's the biggest audience for sci-fi anyways?

    Could things be more subtle than the sci-fi audience isn't really interested in religion? Suppose the sci-fi audience is reasonably religious. What happens if an author portrays a future for a particular religion? Will the Catholic League condemn books that portray a future that is monolithically Methodist? Jewish? Hindu? Is it possible to envision a science-fiction future in which the human race is as multicultural as it is today?



So what do you think - why is religion avoided in science fiction?

Next week I'll try listing a few science fiction novels that actually deal with religion.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's not actually true that scientists are less religious than the general population. Statistically, there is no difference; moreover, some have argued that scientists, as a group (particularly physicists - I'm not making this up!), demonstrate more religiosity than other groups.
Mrs. Troll

Billy Goat said...

Interesting! Thank you for your contribution to the discussion, Mrs. Troll!

Perhaps sometime we should have you do a guest post. ;)

Mister Troll said...

Well, I made it to the third part of this series before Mrs. Troll objected. Given our respective fields, I'm pretty pleased about that :-)

Still, the data I've seen suggests that scientists are indeed less religious than the general population. For example, the Ecklund study, which is summarized many other places.

What data are you looking at?

Anonymous said...

I'm looking at the data that's carefully stored away in my mind, from 10 years of study in the field!
Journal links to follow if needed (but you don't really need them, you trust me!)
Mrs. Troll

Anonymous said...

and your link doesn't work ;)

Mister Troll said...

Of course I trust you, my darling troll-wife! I trust - but verify. :-)

The new, improved-link Ecklund paper.

Anonymous said...

Add another to the list of those who say that there is no statistical difference in religious beliefs held by the general population versus scientists. I am a physicist.

Also...

I find it wrong to say that religion doesn't sell well in novels. There are plenty of science-fiction stories that feature religions from aliens. These religious beliefs are usually quite creative in their differences from human religions. For instance, if Klingons were perfectly secular, with no ceremony and no beliefs, would they be as interesting a race? I dare say no. Religious expression in sci-fi novels adds to the stories because it is usually completely unhinged in terms of moral construct and hence brings about a radically different paradigm that the fan/reader/viewer is confronted with. This is not a religious example (cultural), but remember the race from ST:TNG that insisted that members of its civilization participate in ritual suicide when they reached 45 years old? It's that kind of extreme belief that "future" religion enables for authors. I simply do not buy that future religion "doesn't sell well" in sci-fi.

I will, however, buy that sci-fi novels that potray humans with the exact same religious beliefs of today would not sell well. The reason is obvious, religious beliefs have changed throughout history, usually through the knowledge gained from exploration/experimentation. People see this as progress. Hence, a future where we have technologically progressed but still believe that dinosaurs are fake, Noah's ark was for a literal world-wide flood, and the earth is only 6000 years old does not at all jive with a future where humanity has progressed.

Mister Troll said...

Anonymous -

Thanks for stopping by!

I am happy to be corrected on my assertion that scientists are less religious than the general population (I unconsciously am referring to the USA; other countries may be different of course). I still would like to see the data, however. (Hopefully Mrs. Troll will post a link to the data.)

I think perhaps I was unclear in this post. I certainly concede that aliens are often portrayed as religious - Star Trek is a great example. But I find it odd that humans are not often portrayed as religious. (More on my first post.)

In your final paragraph, I'm afraid I disagree with you on several points:

- that religious beliefs have changed due to exploration or experimentation. Experimentation is quite a recent development. Exploration is similarly not compelling as an explanation of cultural/religious change (although perhaps it might depend on what you mean by "exploration"). Even if it were true, why don't we see science fiction novels exploring this very exploration? Couldn't humans pick up religion from extraterrestrial societies?

- you seem to equate technological advancement with cultural progress (shades of Tylor and Morgan?). Focusing only on religion, I don't see why scientific advancement should lead to less religious sentiment.

- Finally, you've picked Christianity as your example. There are plenty of interpretations of Christianity that are comfortably compatible with scientific investigation - and science fiction could easily explore humanity's future in the context of other religions. Indeed, I don't even see why we necessarily must erase the Christian fundamentalists from our view of the future. Can't we see a future in which people claim the earth is in fact 7000 years old, and that the Rapture is imminent?

Thanks for commenting!

Billy Goat said...

Thanks for the comment, Anonymous!

I find that I agree with your comment. I've been considering writing a post that disagrees with Mister Troll's series. Not only do we see strange alien religions in Sci-Fi, but we see religious themes. I think this second thing is slightly different than what Mister Troll is saying, but I think it's still on-topic.

For instance, we see stories containing messiah figures, explorations into the afterlife, reincarnation, etc. You can read more about this on a Wikipedia page devoted to the subject.

Anonymous said...

A quick reply:

1) I would say that I find exploration and experimentation are not so new. The scientific method as an explicit method is relatively new, but experimentation is as old as the ancient Greeks. Probably older if you include China. Exploration is even older.

Exploration is definitely something that compels cultural and/or religious changes. I base this on the changes that were wrought on European cultural and religious norms by the opening of the American frontier. A frontier changes everything because it demands pragmatism of everyone who would live there. The imperative of survival becomes more important than old dogma, and mother to new dogma.

I don't find it as simple as humans picking up religions from extraterrestrials. Aliens and humans are almost never completely integrated in future scenarios. If they were I would expect a mix/and/match of religious belief. However, most times humans and aliens live on separate planets/colonies, meaning they share no experiences. Shared experience is what allows religion to spread.

2) I wasn't really trying to equate the two (technological progress with cultural). What I was trying to say (really) was that with more knowledge, old religious explanations are revised. Back when people thought the earth was flat, and the sun revolved around it, these ideas were integrated with religion. When observational record proved otherwise, the religions that birthed the dogma of how the earth was remained, but their explanations were revised. In short, not less religion, just an ever-changing flavor of it.

3) Christianity is just easy because I know it. And yes, believe me I am well aware of how compatible Christianity is with science. However, this was not always the case. And there are still christian stories that do not jive with the geologic record, etc..

I would argue that such stories of a future where people believe the rapture is about to come do exist, but people do not call them science fiction. In the movie "Return to the Planet of the Apes" (correct title?), there is a religion that worships a nuclear weapon. The people worshiping it are somewhat super-human. People don't really call that story science fiction (though I guess it is). They just say it's a story that is, "set in a future where..." etc.etc..

John Wright said...

"So what do you think - why is religion avoided in science fiction?"

I am a real honest-to-goodness science fiction author with eight novels out on the market, short stories, and so on. I also have no more qualification to speak on this topic than anyone else (one does not need to be an economist to be a businessman) unless I confine my comments merely to my own experience.

I am a convert. I wrote my books when I was an atheist. I am now a Christian, and I answered a question to that effect in an interview I gave. I did not volunteer the information.

I can serve as almost a perfect test case. We have books that are written by an atheist to reflect an atheist world view, but an author who has publicly announced a preference for a certain religion.

The public reaction was negative and shocking. Strangers wrote me hate mail. Persons who had never read my books vowed to never read them. Persons who had read my books, and enjoyed them, vowed to burn them and never buy another.

Now, as a matter of experiment, no one could possibly read my books and tell which was written when I was an atheist and which I wrote when a Christian. The information is not in the books. My atheist characters talk like atheists; and my theist characters talk like theists.

But if I were a wise businessman (I am not; I am mad poet who chases the muse) I would not introduce any matter of religion in my books, no matter how delicately, for fear of giving offense. (Since I do not give a tinker's damn who I offend, I doubt this will change my writing style, but a vast antichristian prejudice does indeed exist in the market.)

Now, you will have to ask Philip Pullman and J.K. Rowling about their hate mail as well. I happened to stumble across one set of bad guys; I will not comment on how many bad guys there are on one side or the other.

I will, however, make a general comment about religion and science fiction. Science fiction, at least the brand I write, is like Traveler's Tales. We are writing not about the wonders over the horizon, undiscovered islands, like Johnathon Swift; we are writing about wonders over the horizons of time, in the future, or on undiscovered planets. The readers are interested primarily in the strangeness of the wonder: if the Green Men of Barsoom were all Episcopalians rather than worshipers of the Dread River of Iss, it would seem flat and unexciting.
The main concern in Space Opera is adventure, and weird cults performing human sacrifice are more thrilling than meditating monks--(unless the monks have mind-powers or something). In adventure SF, the cults are always evil or wrong, even if the godlike being exists, it is going to be an energy-ball or something, so adventure SF has not much to say.
If the science fiction writer is engaged in satire, he puts on his undiscovered island some idea reflecting on the modern world: contemplate the islands of Laputa or Utopia. Satire is concerned with satirizing: so any religion from the Satire Planet is going to be a comical take-off criticizing the shortcomings of real religion (see, for example, Fosterism in Heinlein's STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND). Because main concern in a satire is satire, nothing complimentary is going to be said about religion (or about much else).
Space Opera is concerned with drama. The most dramatic religions in our history are Puritans and Roman Catholics. That is why Space Puritans show up in the DORSAI books and Space Catholics show up in everything from CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ to GATHER DARKNESS to ENDYMION. Sorry, Protestants, but there is more intrigue and color when you have Cardinals and Jesuits or black-garbed killjoys like Solomon Kane. But the main concern here is story-telling, not religion per se.

What about a serious SF book that is not concerned with adventure or satire? Good question. Let us look at some SF books from the Golden Age:
DUNE-- religion is a central concern of this book, which is critical of the messiah complex. Messiah set in motion events they cannot control.
CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ-- religion is portrayed as a preserver of scientific knowledge.
STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND-- religion is portrayed as a con game, even though at least one member of the Fosterite religion is portrayed sympathetically.
NIGHTSIDE THE LONG SUN-- religion plays the same role in this complex book as it does in the "Father Brown" mystery stories. The old Space Opera trope of cultic gods turning out to be computers is flipped on its head: one cultist, Father Silk is a remarkably moral and honest man.
LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS-- the religion of the Gethenians is certainly portrayed here, with as much sympathy and insight as an anthropologist might bring. The Foretellers actually can foretell the future. File this Monks with Mind Powers.
FOUNDATION-- "The Great Galactic Spirit" is a con game, and, as such, makes an appearance in only one chapter of the first book.
PLAYERS OF NULL A -- An evil cult, and one whose god actually wakes up . . . or does he?

My conclusion is that the needs of drama tend to favor evil cults or at least strange cults, Space Puritans, Space Catholics, computers pretending to be gods, and Monks with Mind Powers.

Religion is not a central part of the genre, any more than it is a central part of detective stories or pirate stories. I can think of detective stories where the detective is a priest (FATHER BROWN), or a pirate story where the main character has a religious experience (PIRATE FREEDOM) but I don't know if the Whodunnit or Sea-Tale genres are missing anything by not making comments about religion. Is SF missing anything?

Mister Troll said...

@ Billy Goat -

Agreed - many alien religions in science-fiction. Because of that, I find it all the more remarkable that humans are rarely portrayed as religious. My point is about humans having religion in science fiction. You make a good point about sci-fi (as Western literature) portraying religious themes. I hadn't given that any thought, and it's certainly interesting in its own right. But a character may be a Messianic figure (for example) without having a religion; it's the writing that has the religious themes, not the concept of (future) humanity.

@ Anonymous -

Thanks for offering a rebuttal! I think I still largely disagree with you, but I'll try to run with your thoughts anyways. You're suggesting exploration/experimentation as historically profound (re: religious beliefs). I think there could be many very interesting science fiction stories that deal with the same theme. For example, how would humans (and I regard them as religious) deal with a "first contact" situation, for example? What kind of changes would that effect in society and religion? What if aliens tried to convert humans?

I don't really recall the "Planet of the Apes" series very well, other than Charlton Heston's overacting. But that may be a good example of science fiction with human religion. (unless you're referring to the apes? As I said, I don't really remember the movies.)

@ John -

Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm very sorry you experienced such anger and hate.

Returning to the post, your experience does suggest an anti-religious view in the readers of sci-fi. On the other hand, a sci-fi author who became known for experiencing a deconversion might also have received similar hate mail. Do you have anything to say about sci-fi editors, publishers, etc in regards to religion?

I had to laugh at your comment about Baroom and Episcopalians. :-) I take your point.

Space Opera is an interesting sub-genre. (I would dispute that it's actually science fiction but that's a topic for another post...) Most of what I have read, however, still doesn't have humans as religious. I can certainly envision the evil cults you refer to, but I can't recall having come across them in my own reading. (H. Rider Haggard updated for the 24th century?) Canticle I know, but the other series I don't; I'll put them on my list!

@ Billy Goat (& John Wright) - Of course! Gene Wolfe! I had completely overlooked him. Did you avoid bringing him up because you were saving it for a later gotcha, or did I just not read your comments carefully? ;-) (For those who don't know B.G. - which would be all of you - he's a notorious Wolfe apologist.)

@ John Wright - To answer your final question, "Is sci-fi missing anything by not portraying religion?" I would certainly argue yes. Religion doesn't need to be central to sci-fi, but it's such a fundamentally human experience, that I think it should be acknowledged and celebrated. My conception of what sci-fi should be is guided by Ursula K. Le Guin's novels, which are exercises in anthropology as you pointed out. The novels which leave out human religion altogether strike me as bland.

Mister Troll said...

@ Billy Goat -

Oh, right, you had already mentioned Gene Wolfe in the comments to the original post. How quickly I forget! :-)

John Wright said...

I apologize for the length of this reply, but the topic merits a bit of discussion.

"Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm very sorry you experienced such anger and hate."

Oh, phooey. My earlier comment is misleading. Don't take me too seriously. I was talking about a few loudmouths, not the whole science fiction field: no editor and only one reviewer has noticed my religion.
As a group, SF folks are the most tolerant and openminded on issues—any issues—I have ever had the good fortune to encounter. Even fans of the most escapist Space Opera, simply assume that life can change, and things are strange. They are willing to play "What If?"
But even so, there is some ugly prejudice out there, bigots on both sides (just ask JK Rowling); and some writers may steer clear of putting religion in their books because they don't want the grief.

" Religion doesn't need to be central to sci-fi, but it's such a fundamentally human experience, that I think it should be acknowledged and celebrated."

I humbly disagree. First, I think there is just plenty of religion in science fiction, second, I think there is too much religion in science fiction, and third, I think the needs of the drama of science fiction discourages dwelling on religion in a serious way.
First:
There is Christian sentiment in Cordwainer Smith and C.S. Lewis and Dan Simmons and Gene Wolfe and Jules Verne. There is strong Taoist sentiment in Ursula Le Guin, and soft hints of Mormonism in Orson Scott Card. There is openly anti-religious sentiment in Robert Heinlein and Phillip Pullman and H.G. Wells and subtler anti-religion in Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven and Frank Herbert.
Now you ask: why is the religion of the humans not portrayed in the future? The simple answer is that you will pointlessly alienate half your readership if you stupidly predict tell a man his church will be extinct by AD 3001. The complex answer is that scientific speculation--- the thing we SF readers like--- has nothing to say about deep religious questions.

To be continued.

John Wright said...

Here is my second point.. Since natural science is unrelated to supernatural religion, the only way to shoehorn religion into a science fiction story is to deal with religion in a naturalistic way. This leaves out the core of religion. Whether you believe in religion or not, I think anyone can see that leaving out the core of any topic leads to naivety. There is too much religion in science fiction, because science fiction writers who put it in should have left it out, since they treat a complex phenomenon simplistically.
I cannot emphasize strongly enough how jaw-droppingly naive books get once they venture into this dangerous area. Instead I will use a single example: Spider Robinson, when he wrote his bold but clumsy Heinlein sequel VARIABLE STAR confidently predicted that call Christian denominations would be illegal and despised by the enlightened elite of the future, and then calmly, with no explanation, announces that the only way to operate a starship engine was by being a Zen Buddhist. Got that? Zen Buddhism is simply The Right Answer in his background in much the same way Martian Sexual-Libertarianism was simply The Right Answer in Heinlein's STRANGER. Good or bad as theology or fantasy, the idea that Buddhism flies starships, as an SF speculation, simply stinks. It might fall into the category of Monks With Way Cool Mind Powers, but as serious scientifictional speculation, it stinks.
Drama requires conflict. If the conflict is over the truth of religion, the conflict is not one where, if the religion is true, science has any bearing. Science does not deal with supernatural. In order for science to have a bearing, the religion has to be false, such as a high-tech fraud (as in GATHER, DARKNESS by Fritz Leiber.) If science does not have a bearing, it is not science fiction.
On the other hand, if the conflict is not over the religion, the element is a distraction from the plot. Why tell the reader what the faith of Louis Wu is, unless Wu's faith is tested?
We might be curious, from an anthropological point of view, about the religion of the Mr. Spock on STAR TREK. What would a perfectly logical religion be like? But we are not rightfully curious about the religion of Dr. McCoy. We know he believes in God, because he talks that way. It might be useful, for character development, to make him a Baptist, but only because that lends itself to the image of McCoy as an old-fashioned country doctor. But should we see him arguing Calvinism with Scotty? Is Chekov a Russian Orthodox? I think the characters in this case would be diminished by embroiling them in religious questions. Their five year mission is to phaser Vaal and Landru out of existence, and shoot Apollo when they meet him. Their own human religion is not a source of drama.

To be Continued.

John Wright said...

Third and final point. I humbly submit that the needs of drama in science fiction make the portrayal of religion difficult, unless you are writing satire.
Look at it this way: What are we reading science fiction for? Simply put, we seek that sense of wonder and strangeness.
When does religion seem wonderful and strange?
My list: when it is an evil cult; when the natives are worshipping a computer as god; when the meditating jedi-monks have way cool mind-powers; when the space-Puritans are burning Our Innocent Heroine as a witch; when the Space-Jesuits are conspiring against the futuristic version of Joan of Arc
Now, all these examples are anti-clerical even antireligious. (I have never read a book where the Space Puritans were right and the witch was actually a malign enemy of human life.) But I don't think that the writer's purpose is to preach irreligion in these cases. The needs of drama require a wonderful and strange religion to be portrayed as an evil cult or an evil fraud, or an evil inquisition. That is where the drama and conflict are.
Religion cannot seem wonderful and strange when it is exactly like what we have here and now on Earth, unless you are a religious writer yourself and your audience will not be offended with your portrayal of the wonder and strangeness of sacred things: I will point at C.S. Lewis's planetary trilogy as a good example of this. Ransom on Venus sees things as wonderful and strange as a vision from Isaiah. Nevertheless, the main appeal to a nonreligious reader of PERELENDRA is not Lewis's message, but his depiction of a foreign world. Even in a book with a nakedly religious purpose, the science fictional appeal of the book had nothing to do with religion, but with the strangeness and wonder of floating islands and fantastical beasts beneath an unearthly sky.
Lewis could have made his religious point as easily without the science fictional elements: if you are familiar with his work, compare his nonfiction ABOLITION OF MAN with his fiction THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH.
The upshot of this is that science fiction is an awkward vehicle to use for pro-religious apologetics, but a perfect vehicle to use for anti-religious satire (e.g. STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND). But for the readers who are concerned with your story rather than your message, a faithful Christian can read Heinlein's STRANGER, and nod and agree about the excesses of Fosterism, but he is really reading for the science fictional elements, that is, the adventures of the Innocent Martian Boy with Way Cool Mind Powers running from the Big Brother Police State.
Now, I suppose, someone could write about a Space Chaplin in the military dealing with the issues Chaplins have to deal with--- I do not see why that would be more or less dramatic than a Space JAG corps officer (see John Hemry) or a Space Doctor (see James White).
The bottom line is that, in real life, no matter what H.G. Wells might think, religious ideas are not open to scientific proof or disproof. As a matter of historical fact, churches flourish or fail according to factors unrelated to technological progress. Religion plays no big part in science fiction reading for the same reason as religion plays no big part in detective story reading. Faith might be interesting as character development, and you can make your detective into a priest (see G.K. Chesterton and see Umberto Eco) but faith will not tell you who committed the murder.

John Wright said...

POSTSCRIPT:
In my list of religious science fiction, I forgot to mention STARMAKER by Olaf Stabledon. This book consists of nothing less than the entire history of the cosmos from creation to final eschaton, plus the investigation of countless other creations. It does not suffer from the naivety of lesser writers, but the final apocalypse of the Star-Maker to His creation is very different from a Christian or Buddhist conception. Truly an awe-inspiring work, and one of great influence in the history of SF.

JCW

Billy Goat said...

I have to say: Mister Troll, I think you have been article-jacked. :)

John - Thanks for the great posts! They add a lot to the discussion, and you have listed off a number of books that I will have to investigate.

I think you make some strong arguments. However, I'd like to add a few thoughts of my own:

1 - I'm not sure I agree about your statement in point 2, "the only way to shoehorn religion into a science fiction story is to deal with religion in a naturalistic way." Wolfe's Long Sun series doesn't deal with it in a naturalistic way.

2 - A sci-fi story can have multiple themes or ideas, and a religious idea can be one of them. Again, let's take the Long Sun series. A big part of it is Silk wrestling with his conflicting faiths, but there are lots of other sci-fi ideas in there.

(Turns Wolfe apologist/fan/minion mode off)

Mister Troll said...

Dear John Wright -

I think Billy Goat is right - I have been article hijacked! :-) Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Perhaps you'd care to combine your comments into a kind of counter-point? I'd be happy to link to it.

There's too much in there for me to respond to right now, but I may pick a few things for my next (hopefully final) post on the topic. Hopefully up by Monday.

Mrs. Gruff said...

I see your three hypotheses as to why religion is not as wholly-represented in sci-fi literature as it is in actual human culture (Religion doesn't sell; sci-fi authors aren't religious; science prevails over religion in the future). It seems to me that a hypothesis is missing, without necessarily ascribing to its being right, either.

Another possibility is that some sci-fi authors just don't flesh out their world enough and/or their characters enough to consider whether their characters subscribe to a religion, or to consider their characters' inner motivations. By no means do I include all authors here! But it could be a possibility that some authors are so focused on telling the swashbuckling story that they want to tell, and relaying the characters' actions that they just don't invest themselves into (all of?) the characters' motivations. Maybe they've thought about what the character is going to do in the novel, but haven't developed him enough to know whether he is Christian, or Muslim, or Taoist, or athiest, or whatever.

I suppose a follow-up question here is: Why not? Mr. Gruff would probably poke the bear with a stick and say that they are lazy ;-) Another possibility here is that they may be uninformed about the diversity of human religions; alternately, that they find religion to be "too" sacred to alter in a fictitious piece.

I'm not sure, either, why religion in sci-fi may be underrepresented when compared with human culture. However, I thought there are more hypotheses to consider than the three you mention in the article.

Mister Troll said...

Mrs. G -

Intellectual laziness is a possibility. I think that's very likely for pulpy space-opera-kind of sci-fi. Perhaps a kind of collective blindspot might be a better way of putting it? (See comments to Part 4.)

Yet, what I find really weird is that sci-fi has lost of religion -- it's the aliens that have it. Religion is Not Us. That blows my mind.

So it doesn't seem to be a case of authors not fleshing out their conception of humanity. To me it feels like a deliberate point. (I don't think it is collectively deliberate, but it feels that way to me.)

Another point I've been thinking about lately is comparing religion in sci-fi to religion in "regular" literature. Pick a mystery novel off the shelf. Is there an idea that humans are religious? I'll bet you yes. It won't be a major part of the novel (well, depends on the mystery), but somebody is going to go to church, or used to go to church, or something like that. It's in the background, but it's acknowledged that people are religious. Plenty of examples in sci-fi where it is never acknowledged.

(I realize my commenters are doing their best -- and I appreciate it, really! -- to list tons of counter-examples, but I too could make lists of zero-religion sci-fi novels. For example, the Damned series, about which I will actually post some day.)

The point you bring up makes me think of something else (not related to religion). Humans are often, not always, conceived of as multi-cultural. Humans who live on different planets have different customs, beliefs, enmities, languages, etc etc. Aliens: monolithic cultures. (Irrelevant exceptions: gender roles or castes, or iconoclastic individuals. Perhaps I'm thinking mostly about geographic ethno-uniformity.)

To be fair, I think sci-fi authors underestimate that multiculturalism of future humans, but for aliens, hoo-boy, even worse.

Mister Troll said...

Uh, first of all: "lots." Not "lost."

Second, I think I lost my train of thought. I'd find the "laziness" possibility more convincing if sci-fi authors were lazy about aliens having religion. If no one had religion in some sci-fi novel, I would be confused and suspect the author of not thinking things through.

But thanks for your suggestion!