Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Biblical Perspective of Science Fiction: Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8 NIV)

This verse contains eight qualities which should define our thoughts. Whatever we choose to think about, whatever we linger over, should, for the most part, conform to these attributes. (For more on this verse and its application to fiction, see my blog posts on the topic here.)

So is science-fiction worth dwelling on? 

True (conforming to historical/scientific facts or moral truth): 

While science fiction is fiction, much of the genre’s appeal comes from its plausibility rooted in scientific facts and laws, as well as current theories and technology. Some science-fiction more closely aligns to known science than other stories, depending on the breadth of knowledge of the author, but many of the stories leap logically from current knowledge.  

On the other hand, unlike its fantasy counterpart, science fiction’s focus on science lends itself to a humanistic worldview. So it frequently ignores or even outright defies the moral laws written into the world.

Noble (serious topics handled with respect/characters acting with dignity):

Again, the focus on science and logic often devalues humanity and many of the greater attributes which defy what’s “logical”: unmerited grace, redemption, sacrifice, forgiveness. So it’s more common to see gray-shaded characters than heroes and bittersweet ends with questions than triumphant victories.

This same devaluing can cause topics to be broached coldly and without respect to anything. Concepts such as the sacred and accountability to a higher power are dismissed. This may explain why the genre seems given to more promiscuity and the like.

However, none of this has to be with this genre, and as a result, the nobility of a story largely depends on the author and his worldview.

Right (conforming to the will, standard, and character of God):

Certain attributes of God are highly prized in science fiction, whether it acknowledges Him or not: logic, orderliness, structure, balance. But whether the story conforms to the standard and will of God seems to largely depend on whether a higher power is recognized. When man or the technology he has created reigns supreme, morality tends to fly out the window.

Pure (actions and attitudes will not contaminate if applied to real life):

Some things will be worth emulating from science fiction: curiosity about the world around us, the value of asking questions, the need to wrestle with gray areas instead of rendering a quick judgment without hearing all sides. But like with the conformity to God’s will and standards, the worthiness of imitation will depend on the story’s view of God, the nature of man, and therefore our moral boundaries/obligations.

Lovely (pleasing to the senses; moves the heart toward love):

Because of its scientific viewpoint, this genre leans toward starker lines, both in setting and in style.  Yet just as a black-and-white photograph has a beauty all its own, so science fiction can be attractive. As for moving the heart toward love, much will depend on how the story deals with the harsh realities of science fiction: does it provoke cynicism or dare us to be larger than this harshness?

Admirable (a good reputation):

This genre is well-respected for its logic, roots in scientific reality, and warnings about the problems of science, real and ethical. However, it is also known for not only pushing boundaries, but outright crossing them.

In addition, its reluctance toward the supernatural has historically made this a genre rarely trodden well by Christians. Lewis’s Space Trilogy and L’Engle’s Wrinkle In Time come to mind, and even these are not perceived as great science fiction, but are classic for other reasons.

Overall, science-fiction is a very mixed bag. Hard science fiction, with its denial of anything supernatural, will meet these standards only at the barest minimum. Beyond that, whether a story is truly excellent (skillful presentation of a story) or praiseworthy (honoring to God) will depend often on an author’s view of man’s nature and God’s existence.

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