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March 13, 2009 7:27 AM   Subscribe

How Science Fiction Found Religion
posted by shoesfullofdust (72 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Bryan Singer’s underrated Superman Returns"

This is where I stopped reading. I'm sorry.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:30 AM on March 13, 2009 [14 favorites]


Looks like toward the end, he finally stops talking about fantasy and mentions some actual science fiction.
posted by interrobang at 7:33 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Apparently science fiction only exists in movie form, and religion only exists in Judeo-Christian form. No Dune, no "And Seven Times Never Kill Man," not even the crappy Memory of Earth.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:38 AM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Tell it to a science-fiction and fantasy fan, and he’ll ask why you’re making minor alterations to the plot of The Matrix or Superman Returns.

That's funny, Optimus...I didn't even make it past the first mention.
posted by JaredSeth at 7:39 AM on March 13, 2009


This is pretty old news, and not really that in-depth to make a decent article.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:50 AM on March 13, 2009


How Science Fiction Found Religion, as illustrated by three promising franchises blemished by shitty sequels.
posted by es_de_bah at 7:51 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


And now onto the lightning round of tonight's Science Fiction or Religion! You have thirty seconds to decide which of these are science fiction, which are religion, and which are both! Start the timer!

Walking On Water
Dinosaurs Alive Today
Dinosaurs and Man Living at the Same Time
Time Travel
Putting Two of Millions of Species onto a Boat
Talking Snakes
Talking Apes
Talking Bushes
Talking Vegetables
Magic Fruit That Makes People Sin
Magic Beans That Grow Giant Stalks
Rising from the Dead
Something Powerful Enough to Destroy a Planet in a Second
Something Powerful Enough to Create a Planet in a Second
People Living to be 800 Years Old
Living Inside of a Whale
Parting a Sea
Sinking Part of a Continent into the Ocean
Sticks That Can Turn Into Snakes
People That Can Turn Into Werewolves
People Flying Up Into the Sky
Raining Frogs
Virgins Giving Birth
Men Giving Birth
posted by flarbuse at 7:51 AM on March 13, 2009 [40 favorites]


ps, didn't Douglas Adams take the piss out of this sort of thing way back with Deep Thought, et al. I believe the exact line was, "This is all becoming needlessly messianic."
posted by es_de_bah at 7:52 AM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Let your favorite hero take the Lord Raglan Challenge!
posted by shoesfullofdust at 8:15 AM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is where I stopped reading. I'm sorry.

Hey, I only got as far as "Once overtly political, the genre increasingly employs Christian allegory." before I died laughing.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:16 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Once a rotten burger lived. ...
Or the satisfied crow spoke the hung tongue.
posted by Mblue at 8:17 AM on March 13, 2009


Did he mention Logan's Run? That was all about religion. And hot '70s chicks in stretchy costumes. And that "Box" robot. Oh, and domes. And wheels. And Michael whatsisname.

Mostly religion though. Did he mention Logan's Run?
posted by Mister_A at 8:17 AM on March 13, 2009


Isn't Optimus Prime a Jesus-like figure?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:18 AM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yep, ass-kicking heavily-armed Republican Jesus though. No foot-washing pussy of a Jesus, he.
posted by Mister_A at 8:20 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I mean, He.

Sorry Jesus! Don't with the smiting!
posted by Mister_A at 8:20 AM on March 13, 2009


Nah, you're thinking of The Island.
posted by P.o.B. at 8:24 AM on March 13, 2009


An interesting Thing with no name once appeared, then left.
posted by Mblue at 8:28 AM on March 13, 2009


If this article -- which sounds like the ripest sort of stenching bullshit -- does not mention A Case of Conscience, it will be like tits on a bull. Someone, please let me know so that I don't have to slog through it.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:28 AM on March 13, 2009


Or Behold the Man. I mean, please.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:29 AM on March 13, 2009


This is pop culture for dummies, no? I mean, all pop culture is for dummies, but this is for the really dumb dummies that need it explained. So, for you dummies, let me state the central thesis of the article for you:

Pervasive cultural themes are reflected in cultural objects.

There! Now you don't have to read the article. If you're a dummy, you really shouldn't read the article, because it will make you substantially dumber. My IQ dropped to 163 just from skimming the damn thing. Approach with caution.
posted by Mister_A at 8:34 AM on March 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


I watched the Sci Fi channel's "Monster Ark" yesterday and am still recovering. My favourite part was where the atheist scientist turned into God's Anointed Weapon in less than 24 hours. Quite possibly the worst film I have seen in at least a decade. I had to close my eyes at certain points to stop from melting like a wax figure (which incidentally is one of the few Raiders of the Lost Ark moments not shamelessly stolen during the film).

I heartily recommend it to all people who are fans of big grey shale pits masquerading as Iraq and a realistic depiction of current US Army disposition out in the sandbox. Particularly the Russian APC they drive around in and the shouty E-9 Sergeant Major erroneously referred to as "Major" for the entire film. The only way I can ensure that this film doesn't drive me insane is to share it with you. It's. Just. So. Fucking. Bad.

"Git that sucker!" as the black Shouty (Sergeant) Major says.


***SPOILER WARNING***

And don't forget - when attacked by the stone beast that EVEN GOD COULD NOT KILL/CONTAIN - a man of faith must poke it with an golden acorn on a stick that conducts green electricity until it gets back inside it's wooden cage. Which is apparently more powerful than God since it can at least contain the beast.

I will now begin my new religion of Wooden Cageism and have written to Nicholas Cage as I figure he has much experience in that area.

***SPOILERS OVER***
posted by longbaugh at 8:40 AM on March 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


Fuck that sucked.

Next week's column: We Are All Carpenters: How a trip to Lowe's puts us all in His shoes.
posted by sourwookie at 8:42 AM on March 13, 2009 [7 favorites]


The christian narrative is a subset of the Monomyth described by Joseph Campbell. Here is a video showing how the movie The Matrix follows the pattern of the Monomyth. This is why this article is trivial.
posted by JohnR at 8:44 AM on March 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


"Bryan Singer’s underrated Superman Returns"

From that you don't come back. But he does call Enterprise "the best Trek since the original" a little later on, just to hammer things home.

After that I scanned through to see if anything was mentioned that was earlier than Star Wars, or maybe a book or something. Right at the bottom The Day The Earth Stood Still gets a brief mention, taking up all of a sentence. So basically as a history of religous, or even Christian, themes in science fiction it's utterly useless.
posted by Artw at 8:47 AM on March 13, 2009


Dune and Stranger in a Strange Land are both mentioned as being "overtly messianic." You don't say.

But talking about the new Battlestar as being politics and not religion? It's like he got all of his research from talking to his friends and not even watching the shows (much less reading a book).
posted by khaibit at 8:48 AM on March 13, 2009


I blame Quantum Leap. Or Highway to Heaven. Same show, really.
posted by ook at 8:49 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


To be fair, the pretty-good BSG seems to delve into politics in the same way it uses religion: as a throwaway idea one week to be forgotten or ignored by next week's New Big Idea. Conveniently, nobody remembers last week anyway. Good show, some great acting, but would a little continuity kill them?
posted by rokusan at 8:54 AM on March 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


"Bryan Singer’s underrated Superman Returns"

Yeah, that. My summary opinion of Superman Returns is the same as my experience.... I honestly cannot remember whether I saw the movie or not. I think I did.
posted by rokusan at 8:55 AM on March 13, 2009


That article is stupid. Really, really stupid. Any article that purports to be about religion and science fiction and then spends virtually the whole time discussing various movies isn't worth the paper it was printed on. Which, given this article wasn't actually printed on paper, makes it worth very little indeed.

It's still far better than David Itzkoff's loathsome column in the New York Times.
posted by Justinian at 8:57 AM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Paint pealing door, Jekyll finds Hyde agree. Amen is voice.
posted by Mblue at 9:00 AM on March 13, 2009


Neo's very name isn't just an anagram of "One" but also a prefix meaning "new,"

Oh. My. God. I just realized that when rearranged, it also can spell "Eon" which the dictionary defines as "an indefinitely long period of time" and that is exactly how long the sequels seemed to last.

That is some prophetic shit right there!
posted by quin at 9:06 AM on March 13, 2009 [9 favorites]


Hallelujah!” cries a minor character early in The Matrix, the 1999 cyberpunk flick, directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski, that took the nation by storm and, together with its two sequels, raked in about $600 million domestically.

Benny Plotinsky's syntaxhas made me an atheist.
posted by ford and the prefects at 9:08 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


quin - It's Gnostic and shit!
posted by Artw at 9:09 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Like the Invisibles
posted by Artw at 9:09 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


OK, I'm sorry -- just finished the article -- and this Plotinsky character is a managing fucking editor?? REALLY? "Mebbe now sci-fi gots politics we wonthabbareligionnomore..." Good Lord. Asinine.
posted by ford and the prefects at 9:13 AM on March 13, 2009


Conveniently, nobody remembers last week anyway. Good show, some great acting, but would a little continuity kill them?

BSG is done in continuing series of arcs as opposed to a straight episode to episode manner. Sometimes it works better than others.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:16 AM on March 13, 2009


The article reads like an undergrad humanities paper. He desperatly wants to prove a point, but he hasn't done the readings, hasn't paid attention in class and scrambled at the end for things that he knew about.
posted by khaibit at 9:16 AM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


He also has the Terminator franchise producing three fine films.
posted by Artw at 9:19 AM on March 13, 2009


How Science Fiction Found Religion, as illustrated by three promising franchises blemished by shitty sequels.

...which thus become brilliant allegories for Judaism.
posted by darksasami at 9:23 AM on March 13, 2009 [15 favorites]


When someone invents a premise and then goes looking for evidence to support it, I like them to look a little bit harder than that.
posted by nanojath at 9:49 AM on March 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


Not to mention that Superman, when he’s not busy being a messiah figure, spends his time representing the Jewish immigrant experience.
posted by Artw at 10:07 AM on March 13, 2009


O no you d'i'ihn.
posted by Mister_A at 10:07 AM on March 13, 2009


The stupid, it burns!
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 10:17 AM on March 13, 2009


Sophomore college essay, to which all should say, why should we give a fuck about a narrow interpretation, based primarily on recent movies and comic books and Christianity?
At minimum the fellow could have acknowledged the pre-Christian origins of things like re-birth, messianic entities, etc...

Some of the best Sci Fi/religion books I've ever read where George Alec Effinger's (how I miss him) Marîd Audran series, the interplay of Islam and cyberpunk.
posted by edgeways at 10:36 AM on March 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


hell there have been very overt Christian Sci-Fi, Lewis' Ransom Trilogy started in 1938, for example.
posted by edgeways at 10:43 AM on March 13, 2009


...must put that George Alec Effinger FPP together...
posted by Artw at 10:56 AM on March 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Do so Artw and I'll favor it as many times as it is legal to do so in the state of Minnesota.
posted by edgeways at 11:01 AM on March 13, 2009


It's odd that he would fail to even mention ACanticle for Leibowitz, which, while more of a takedown of religion than a paean to it, is steeped in religious tradition.
posted by Mister_A at 11:31 AM on March 13, 2009


No mention of the temptation/guilt/atonemment/redemption cycles that also have played in in heroic literature for centuries and more recently in superhero storylines. I've always found that old trope more interesting than the chosen from birth idea, perhaps because predestination sort of squicks me out.
posted by thivaia at 11:51 AM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


...must put that George Alec Effinger FPP together...

Do it. *poke* Doo eet. *poke*
posted by Amanojaku at 12:02 PM on March 13, 2009


Does Science Fiction have it's roots in Religion? Or does Religion have it's roots in Science Fiction?
posted by tkchrist at 12:40 PM on March 13, 2009


BSG is done in continuing series of arcs as opposed to a straight episode to episode manner.

Yeah, sure... that and the fact that Moore and the writers happily admit they have no real plan and just make shit up as they go along, then try to "fit it in creatively."

Actually, mostly the latter.
posted by rokusan at 12:41 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


"There is a young man, different from other young men. Ancient prophecies foretell his coming, and he performs miraculous feats. Eventually, confronted by his enemies, he must sacrifice his own life—an act that saves mankind from calamity—but in a mystery as great as that of his origin, he is reborn, to preside in glory over a world redeemed."

Is this science-fiction following religion or religion and science fiction both picking up the story?

Cause I was taught (in Catholic school, no less) that it's Christianity's story that follows the hero archetype (also followed in any number of other genres). The Christian story is no less derivative than any other stories that follow this trope. For our grade 10 English class, every person in the class had to find and present on a story (book, movie, tv show, whatever) that followed this storyline and we had no trouble at each finding our own version.

While some works may be drawing on religion (e.g. Narnia), I think often these just look like (one) religion because they're pulling from the same collective unconscious not because science fiction discovered religion.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:43 PM on March 13, 2009


He fails badly at not recognizing the countless religious allegories in Star Trek. Harlan Ellison once said that Gene Roddenberry had one story that he repeated numerous times: the Enterprise goes out into space and finds God, and God is either insane, a child, or both. And, of course, Deep Space Nine's lead protagonist, Benjamin Sisko, is the (very reluctant) Emissary of the Prophets, something that figures hugely in the series from the very first episode to the very last.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:45 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hell, how about Buffy the Goddamn Vampire Slayer, Angel, Supernatural, or BSG (which this guy apparently stopped watching after season one) if you want to talk about recent mainstream examples for people who don't know who Blish or Effinger or Miller (or Lessing or Sagan or le Guin or Farmer or CS Lewis or etc or etc or etc) are.

The sad thing is there's surely an essay to be written on this topic -- I think there is a trend towards mainstream speculative fiction openly embracing explicitly christian (especially apocalyptic christian) theology. (And vice-versa: the Left Behind series reads like, and looks like, the pulpier end of the SF/Fantasy spectrum.) This sure isn't that essay, though.
posted by ook at 12:51 PM on March 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


It was under the couch the whole time!
posted by klangklangston at 1:41 PM on March 13, 2009


I thought Philip K. Dick had something to do with it.
posted by ikalliom at 1:55 PM on March 13, 2009




Hell, how about Buffy the Goddamn Vampire Slayer, Angel, Supernatural, or BSG (which this guy apparently stopped watching after season one) if you want to talk about recent mainstream examples for people who don't know who Blish or Effinger or Miller (or Lessing or Sagan or le Guin or Farmer or CS Lewis or etc or etc or etc) are.


Seems to me author of the article is only interested in highlighting the most obvious, boilerplate Messiah storylines. As I lamented above, this essay leaves discussing the some of the more interesting tropes, archetypes or philosophical questions raised by heroic literature vis-a-vis Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Not that it would have much of a stretch--the redemption cycle is pretty obvious (see, as a Whedonverse example, all five seasons of "Angel")--and almost anytime you start dealing with artificial/non-human life, the question of the soul is going to emerge (and whether said soul can be created or destroyed), likewise the question of free will, and of, ultimately, the nature of of good and evil. Is it a moral universe? And if not, whose (if anyone's) responsibility is it to institute morality--by rote example or by supernatural powers?

Of course, most of these are not explicitly Christian issues. Pandora didn't open her box at the behest of a talking snake. Oedipus Rex was not a chapter in the Old Testament. And it certainly wasn't Jesus Christ that gave Arjuna his battlefield mojo back. I mean, the even chosen hero predates the New Testament by quite a bit. It'd be easy enough to argue that even his sorry excuse for a central premise is flawed.

All of this is my long--winded attempt to agree with you that yes, there is certainly a readable essay to be written about this and no, you are right, this is not it.
posted by thivaia at 2:07 PM on March 13, 2009


That was all about religion. And hot '70s chicks in stretchy costumes.

What if hot '70s chicks in stretchy costumes IS your religion?

...must put that George Alec Effinger FPP together...

HOLY SHIT! Just the other day I was thinking I'd like to do exactly that! But I'm a lazy bastard, and I'd much prefer to see what someone else can do with it. If you do it be sure and give me a heads up, Artw!
posted by brundlefly at 2:09 PM on March 13, 2009


Take, eat; IT'S MADE OF PEOPLE!
posted by Bernt Pancreas at 2:12 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Man, somebody needs to introduce this guy to Joseph Campbell and blow his fucking mind.
posted by pts at 2:27 PM on March 13, 2009


pts, the writer mentions him.
posted by brundlefly at 2:38 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


How Science Fiction Found Religion

They switched on Multivac and asked whether there was a God, and Multivac said:

"There is now."
posted by Phanx at 2:41 PM on March 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Multivac had to think about it for a bit.
posted by Artw at 2:43 PM on March 13, 2009


ZARDOZ IS DISPLEASED
posted by naju at 2:52 PM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Whoops, joke's on me for not finishing the article.

Still, he doesn't seem to have a very thorough grasp of science fiction beyond the blockbuster film level.
posted by pts at 4:27 PM on March 13, 2009


This is a very populist-driven article and adds little, if any, reasoning to the debate over the merits of countercultural transformation through religious means.
posted by parmanparman at 7:51 PM on March 13, 2009


Whoops, joke's on me for not finishing the article.

No, the joke's on me for reading as far as I did.
posted by brundlefly at 12:00 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Did someone get paid for writing this? Because in a just world, someone would get fired for writing this.
posted by the bricabrac man at 9:47 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just for laughs, here's all the titles he mentions in this article, every time he mentions them.

The Matrix
Superman Returns
The Matrix
Superman Returns
Superman
Superman
Spider-Man
The Dark Knight
Heroes
The Gospel According to Science Fiction
The Matrix
Superman Returns
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone [the book]
[Harry Potter and] the Sorcerer’s Stone
Harry Potter and the Interminable Sequels Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows [the book]
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe [the book, in the context of the film existing]
Lord of the Rings ["Peter Jackson's brilliant film adaptations of..."]
Star Wars
Star Wars
The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Star Wars
Star Wars
The Empire Strikes Back
The Return of the Jedi
The Phantom Menace
Star Wars
The Phantom Menace
Star Wars
The Phantom Menace
The Phantom Menace
The Phantom Menace
The Phantom Menace
Star Wars
Star Wars
Star Trek
Star Trek
Star Wars
Star Trek
Star Trek
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Deep Space Nine
Voyager
Star Trek
Star Trek
Dune [The book!]
Stranger in a Strange Land
Terminator
I Am Legend [A book! Which inspired three movies, namely...]
The Omega Man
The Last Man on Earth
I Am Legend [the movie]
The Day the Earth Stood Still
E.T.
Star Trek: Enterprise
Star Trek
Enterprise
Enterprise
Battlestar Galactica

"Benjamin A. Plotinsky is the managing editor of City Journal." says the author slug. And evidently thinks that actually reading science fiction is beneath him, as books pretty much only get mentioned in the context of having inspired movies.

Me, I think there's another reason for the patterns he finds: lazy storytelling. When the main reason for your story's existence is all the awesome effects work you want to hang on it, you reach for the simplest, bluntest narrative tools at your disposal.

Also I found the Matrix to be more Gnostic than Christian, but then again I never saw the third one because I found the second one to be utterly empty.

I think I'm gonna go re-read Use of Weapons for a good solid dose of anti-Messiahness now.
posted by egypturnash at 2:28 PM on March 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


If there was never another SF film or show which had characters with special, secret magical destinies I would not be particularly upset.
posted by Artw at 3:40 PM on March 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


"I've had it up to here with destiny, prophecy, with God or the Gods. Look where it's left us. The ass end of nowhere."

Admiral William Adama, Battlestar Galactica
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:15 PM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


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