Galactic Christendom: A Short History

Post by Carlos Carrasco

There is a prejudice in modern SF so nearly ubiquitous that it can be considered a trope. I’m talking about the assumption that the more technologically advanced a civilization becomes, the less religious it will be. While this prejudice is normally implicit in a lot of science fiction, the assumption was stated explicitly not too long ago in the sixth episode of The Orville’s first season, The Krill.

The episode’s titular species were described as an anomaly in the galaxy precisely because they clung to their religion despite their advanced technical state. An optimist might have hoped that this description of the Krill would serve as a setup for a positive depiction of religion in Science Fiction. Alas, the subsequent portrayal of the Krill in general and of their liturgy, which involved the repeated stabbing of the severed head of an enemy of the race and faith, dashed that naive hope to pieces.

Meanwhile, a parallel universe away, the use of the word GOD itself became an Issue of Contention for a short spell on the set of the latest iteration of the Star Trek franchise. (A show so dreadful we do not speak its name!)

What in the forbidden Name of the non-contingent Being is going on here?

That science fiction has a secular bent would seem only natural for a genre that favors stories of man subduing nature and yarns of his conquest of the cosmos. At the center of these tales, thrilling and cautionary, of the wonders and monsters which might spring from his ingenuity to deal weal and/or woe on world after world is Man and, quite often, Man alone. Man’s relation to the cosmos was regularly explored by the genre; his relation to the creator of said cosmos, not so much.

But while the sci-fi of yesteryear may have touched upon religion only sparingly, modern sci-fi’s almost sneering disregard for religion is most assuredly an aberration in the genre.

A casual glance no further back than my own lifetime will demonstrate that once upon a time science fiction writers of even the atheist and agnostic persuasions could envision religion playing vital and positive roles in futuristic, technologically advanced civilizations. Even Christianity! Well, especially Christianity, since I’ll be limiting myself to its portrayal in sci-fi. (You Zoroastrians can write your own darn post.) And I will be further limiting myself with those portrayals of Christianity which are favorable or, at the very least, neutral.

Our truncated history of Galactic Christendom begins in 1959 with Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. While the protagonist, Rico does not display any signs of faith himself, his schoolmates Isabella and Carl both seal their oaths to the Federation with the sign of the cross. Halfway through the novel, Rico and his fellow Roughnecks are treated to some R&R in the city of Espiritu Santo on the Planet Sanctuary.

Christianity can similarly be found in the background of classics like Larry Niven’s and Jerry Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye, as well as in Dan Simmons’ Hyperion.

In 1964, with A Canticle for Leibowitz, winner of that year’s Hugo Award for best novel, Christianity comes to the foreground so much so that the Church is the novel’s protagonist. If you are one of the few souls who have not read this classic, you should really remedy that condition as soon as possible. But for the purpose of this post suffice it to say that the novel is about a small remnant of the Catholic Church surviving a nuclear holocaust, reorganizing herself and birthing a new civilization which goes on to develop along the same lines as its predecessor. That is to say that civilization 2.0 grows full of itself, dismisses Mother Church, disregards her teachings and ultimately self-destructs. The novel ends with a handful of monks hightailing it off the planet right before it begins raining ICBMs so that they might minister to the remnant of humanity spread thinly across some unnamed colonized worlds.

The runner up for the Hugo Award for best novel that very same year was Poul Anderson’s The High Crusade. I don’t believe that one can lavish enough praise on this utterly delightful classic wherein fourteenth century crusaders unexpectedly turn the table on alien invaders, commandeer their spaceship and, through a series of hijinx and brazen derring-do, found a galactic Christian empire.

(Two Catholic-themed novels nominated for the Hugo in one year! What are the odds of that happening again any time soon?)

1983 brought us Cestus Dei by John Maddox Roberts. In this novel, a brash and raffish warrior Jesuit and a meek and punctilious friar are sent by Mother Church to re-convert a recently rediscovered world which has fallen into Pagan excess since the collapse of the first galactic empire of man.

In 1985, Fred Saberhagen took a break from sword-swinging epics to give us Love Conquers All, a tale of a future dystopia where priests run an underground railroad for women who want to bear children free of the state’s Family Planners and their Zero Population Growth Mandate.

This batch of novels demonstrates that sci-fi writers of the past had no trouble seeing Christianity operating alive and well in the future. (If there are other such works, please let me know.) And now with the rise of indie publishing, sci-fi writers of today have a way around the Christophobic gatekeepers who would see Christianity banished from all visions of our future.

My own novel, ONE LAST FLIGHT: Book One of The Holy Terran Empire, not only envisions the Church surviving into the future, but sees her thriving in it. A Catholic blend of Star Wars and Star Trek, the book probably wouldn’t have made it past the gatekeepers, but will hopefully find its way onto your shelves and Kindles. The e-book is available for the low, Howdy Y’all! Introductory Price of .99 cents through Easter.

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Carlos Carrasco is a Cuban-born writer living off of five acres of paradise in the South Carolina Lowlands. When he is not farming, writing or reading, Carlos can be found Shag dancing the night away. carloscarrascowrites.com is his wigwam on the world-wide web.