Say you’ve begun a new religion. Congratulations! Now you need followers. You could stand on a street corner and shout at people. You could serve the poor and provide for those in need, attracting people with your kindness and generosity. If you’re powerful, you could compel them by law to convert. But those aren’t very effective ways of getting your religion to spread far and wide and really stick. I know what you need: a religious text! Yes, a holy book is exactly what you need to reach people out of shouting range and to make sure people don’t garble your message in our great divine game of telephone.
Most actual, real-world religions have some kind of holy text, but it’d be a mistake to think that they all treat their text the same way, or that members of the same faith treat their same book the same way. Scholars call the way people interpret a text a “hermeneutic” (her-man-OO-tic). If you’re going to understand a religion that has a text, you’ve got to understand the different kinds of hermeneutics you might run into. To do that, I’m going to show you how similar hermeneutics pop up in our geeky fiction.
The conflict between science and religion is one of the more popular themes in science fiction today. Most of the time, religion gets the short end of the stick, so naturally religious writers write their own fiction. Most of the fiction is fairly terrible, because they try to meet their critics on their own terms. Today I’m going to look at a few examples from both sides, and explore why religious authors are more likely to be “doing it wrong.” Be warned, spoilers for His Dark Materials, Avatar (the blue alien movie, not the most excellent animated TV show), Firefly, and Doctor Who follow.