On Sci-Fi: The Question of Religion
by Dr. George H. Elder
I know few Sci-Fi devotees who like the idea of shoving religious beliefs down the throats of readers, either covertly or overtly. Indeed, Sci-Fi is often used as an escape from such travails. Yet there are several examples of stories that have strong religious overtones, such as Dune and For I am a Joyous People. Even in Sci-Fi comedy cartoons we find the Robot Devil character in Futurama. The 50s are replete with numerous Sci-Fi morality tales with religious themes (e.g., The Nine Billion Names of God, The Last Question, The Reformers, Childhood’s End, Immortality, Inc., etc.). In contemporary times we have The Accidental Time Machine, Escape from Hell, Nothing Sacred, and many more. Religion and Sci-Fi are often conjoined for better or worse, and have been for many generations.
When writing Genesis, I thought religion a worthy area to explore—although not dwell on. For example, Kara is from a religious society with a strong idea of what God is and fairly advanced metaphysical concepts considering their stone-age technology. She is a Labateen, a tribe which views itself as God’s only chosen people. They are a rule-bound people who adhere to a religion that views physical and intellectual perfection as the ideal and the rule of the strong as only natural. Thus beating or killing someone who slights you is perfectly acceptable and being born with a birth defect warrants instant death. As for Kara, she firmly believes God has destined her to do great things, despite being an outcast.
Kara learns and experiences much during her adventures. Eventually she discovers her people are a manufactured species and her personal history is nothing more than a plaything of an advanced species. She is left adrift—without any guiding purpose or reason for being. She hates herself and the concept of God—whom she wishes to kill. It was a fascinating exercise to develop this descent into hopelessness, for being so reduced allowed a subsequent elevation that makes us care for Kara all the more.
As for the crew members who have taken Kara aboard their time/space craft, Anita has a strong belief in the “Great Maker,” but her guiding principles are a set of rigid moral values that go beyond religion. For example, she would rather die than harm another, and believes she has no right to live if her deeds or misdeeds cause the direct or indirect death of another. These beliefs are incompatible with Kara’s, and the two have a profound impact on each other’s views.
Ezra believes in his family above all else, and yearns to be back with his wife and children. They are his moral and ethical center, and function as a belief system in their own right. Ezra’s physical condition declines as the story progresses and his yearning to return to kith and kin increases. However, his inherent fear and reluctance to act wanes. He becomes a leader of sorts, and puts Anita, Ral, and Kara in their places when the need arises.
Ral is an artificial intelligence that finds religions interesting, but he does not subscribe to them. He finds the beliefs and views of most biological beings defective in one way or another, but in the end he falls in love. He even sacrifices himself to achieve an altruistic end, albeit an act that will come back to haunt the entire crew.
In a greater sense, the entire story revolves around the issue of being versus non-being, which allows us to examine the themes fundamental of all beliefs: is there life after death and what is the purpose of our existence? I will not claim to provide any definitive answers, but I believe the reader may come up with some ideas that go well beyond those stated in the texts. For example, it is implied throughout the text that adhering to strong beliefs and ideals in the face of circumstances that vitiate them is dubious. Conversely, beliefs form a large part of what we are, and when we lose them—we also lose part of ourselves.
Indeed, Genesis is based on a creation legend; although it certainly differs from the Biblical account in many respects. The ideas concerning God, destiny, free will, and many other issues stray from standard conceptualizations, and I hope they invite exploration on many levels.