Gods from Outer Space: Science Fiction as Theology

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lpetrich
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Gods from Outer Space: Science Fiction as Theology

Post by lpetrich » Sat Aug 19, 2017 8:04 am

Transcendent Outsiders, Alien Gods, and Aspiring Humans: Literary Fantasy and Science Fiction as Contemporary Theological Speculation by Ryan Calvey, mainly discussing some notable visual-media science fiction.

Introduction: More/Less Theology is the Problem/Solution. He apparently seeks a middle ground between religious conservatives and the "New Atheists" -- apparently liberal theology and "New Age" beliefs.

Chapter One: Science Fiction on Theology; Science Fiction as Theology. After discussing the issue of the existence of God, he continues with discussing "transcendent outsiders" and how critical of us they can be on account of our numerous misdeeds. Yet they are not necessarily punitive, but disappointed in us as if we were misbehaving children.

Chapter 2: Aliens as Traditional Gods. The authoritarian and judgmental and punitive sort. RC discusses The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) in this connection. Klaatu is clearly a Jesus-Christ figure in it. But Gort is much like like some authoritarian god, even extending to his willingness to use force.
Klaatu: For our policemen, we created a race of robots. Their function is to patrol the planets in spaceships like this one and preserve the peace. In matters of aggression, we have given them absolute power over us. This power cannot be revoked. At the first sign of violence, they act automatically against the aggressor. The penalty for provoking their action is too terrible to risk. […] I came here to give you these facts. It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet, but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.
Then H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds (1898), about Martians trying to conquer Britain. Though some people have criticized him for making the story mostly set in Britain, it was appropriate in some ways. Britain was then the biggest world power, ruling over a larger land area and a much larger population than itself, despite losing thirteen rebellious North American colonies a little over a century earlier. RC argues that the book is an allegory for imperialist and colonialist arrogance, and I think that he's correct about that.

lpetrich
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Re: Gods from Outer Space: Science Fiction as Theology

Post by lpetrich » Sat Aug 19, 2017 8:32 am

Chapter 3: Making Contact with New Age Alien Gods.
Perhaps more explicitly than any other work I’ll discuss, Carl Sagan’s Contact places alien transcendent outsiders in spiritual roles and uses their arrival (even their very nature) to facilitate a deep exploration of broader, Eastern-influenced progressive spirituality which it suggests can satisfy both its scientist protagonist and open-minded religious believers and which it contrasts favorably with the traditional approaches to religion and spirituality it critiques.
Then about Ellie Arroway,
Ellie, Sagan’s protagonist, is an atheist scientist who, from an early age, rejects the literal, conservative bible teaching she receives, and which she appears for much of her life to understand as the whole of religion and spirituality.
RC then describes how SETI was something of a spiritual quest for Ellie, and how mentor David Drummlin's criticisms of SETI closely resembled "New Atheist" criticisms of religion.

Ellie goes on her wormhole trip, but she returns in an instant of Earth time, and the video evidence got erased. Something that I've long thought was very contrived.
Because I can’t… I had an experience. I can’t prove it, I can’t even explain it.
But everything I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real. I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever, a vision of the universe that tells us undeniably that we are not, that none of us, are alone. I wish I could share that. I wish that everyone, if even for one moment, could feel that awe and humility and hope, but… that continues to be my wish.
Sort of like a spiritual awakening.
... the alien “Caretaker” she encounters provides her with a different, more sophisticated model for God. Contrary to her expectations of traditional religion/theology (judgment, intervention, commandments, etc), her encounter, while in surface ways similar to most human/transcendent outsider interactions, is far more in line with progressive and New Age spirituality than those we have discussed earlier.
The Caretaker does criticize us, and Ellie expects him to be very judgmental. Instead, the Caretaker expects us to grow and learn.

lpetrich
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Re: Gods from Outer Space: Science Fiction as Theology

Post by lpetrich » Sat Aug 19, 2017 9:56 am

Earlier, Ryan Calvey discussed what UFO contactee Orfeo Angelucci described in his book The Secret of the Saucers.
In Secret, Angelucci claims to have encountered aliens who, functioning much like the transcendent outsider figures I discussed in the last chapter, deliver a message of criticism and comfort: “The people of your planet have been under observation for centuries,” they tell him, “ but have only recently been re-surveyed. Every point of progress in your society is registered with us. […] With deep compassion and understanding we have watched your world going through its ‘growing pains.’ We ask that you look upon us simply as older brothers”.
UFO-contactee parallels with Contact are very remarkable, especially considering that Contact was written by someone who had disdained contactees all his professional life. It started with his first public appearance, in the trial of contactee "Helmut Winckler" (Reinhold O. Schmidt) for fraud back in 1961. He also stated that contactee George Adamski's ET friends liked to wear white robes, a very odd assertion. He ought to have done his research.

In his part of Flying Saucers Have Landed (1953), George Adamski described meeting a human(oid) flying-saucer pilot named Orthon in the southern California desert. In part of their conversation, Orthon described how devastating nuclear bombs can be.
To this, too, he nodded his head in the affirmative, but on his face there was no trace of resentment or judgment. His expression was one of understanding, and great compassion; as one would have toward a much loved child who had erred through ignorance and lack of understanding. This feeling appeared to remain with him during the rest of my questions on this subject.
In a later book, Inside the Spaceships (1955), Orthon takes GA to his flying saucer's mothership, and he meets some of that ship's crewpeople. A human(oid) crewwoman explains:
It is a great pity that we must talk of such sorrowful things—and still sadder that such woe exists anywhere in the Universe. In ourselves, we of other planets are not sad people. We are very gay. We laugh a great deal.

lpetrich
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Re: Gods from Outer Space: Science Fiction as Theology

Post by lpetrich » Sat Aug 19, 2017 10:11 am

RC then turned to Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). That movie is curiously disjointed. In the first part of it, the ET's do what seem like nasty pranks, while in the second part, all the people blissfully watch the ET's' flying chandeliers with their light shows. Film critic Matt Zoller Seitz:
In the first act, the film’s hero, Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), a suburban electrician and family man, crisscrosses the Indiana countryside in his battered pickup, attempting to restore order (light) to a state plunged into chaos (darkness) by UFO visitations. At a crossroads, his truck is nuked by otherworldly light so intense it sunburns half his face. (Seitz 70)

...
Throughout the finale, Spielberg cloaks the aliens in ethereal light and presents them in suggestive flashes. Like characters in a dream, their motives and actions are never explained—yet the director’s beatific images and increasingly sweet music tell us they mean no harm and that humanity is elevated by their presence. (Seitz 71)
Isaac Asimov, however, hated it as pretentious and illogical.

Then Starman (1984) and Cocoon (1985) and ET's working miracles of healing, and in Starman, a sort of virgin birth. Jenny was infertile, but her "Starman" ET companion successfully made her pregnant. That companion, originally a ball of light, took the form of her late husband.

The titular character of ET the Extraterrestrial is another friendly ET, and like Klaatu, a Jesus Christ figure.

lpetrich
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Re: Gods from Outer Space: Science Fiction as Theology

Post by lpetrich » Sat Aug 19, 2017 10:23 am

Chapter 4: Voices from Below: Aspiring Humans and “Hierarchies of Beings” in Gene Wolfe’s Short Sun and Wizard Knight. RC has a big list of characters that want to become human. Characters like robots and holograms and magically-animated toys and statues and assembled and otherwise aberrant human beings. RC thus has this hierarchy:
  • Transcendent outsiders
  • Human beings
  • Aspiring human beings
I think that wanting to be considered an honorary human being is a rather limited sort of ambition. Why not be accepted with one's nonhuman features while being the social equals of human beings?

Using and Valuing Our Spiritual/Theological Playgrounds: A Brief Conclusion.
It is clear not simply that we should have and encourage more respect for the best works of science fiction and fantasy for their literary merits, though we should (in part, as I have argued, by reevaluating the dated, but still prominent, concept many critics have of genre), but that, in valuing both genres, we should stress what I have argued throughout—that one of their most useful functions is to provide testing grounds for theological/spiritual/moral ideas and possibilities in ways that realistic narratives typically cannot and our mainstream discourse often does not. What could (or should) such a recognition change about how we speak about or teach either genre or literature in general? What effects could or should accepting science fiction and fantasy as spiritual/theological playgrounds have on how we think of religion and theology, spirituality and transcendence? These are questions for us to consider.

lpetrich
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Re: Gods from Outer Space: Science Fiction as Theology

Post by lpetrich » Sat Aug 19, 2017 11:03 am

To Ryan Calvert's categories of authoritarian/punitive and friendly superior ET's, I add some additional ones.

Aloof, though still involved with humanity in some ways. Sort of like a deist god.

2001: A Space Odyssey is a classic of that one. The ET's genetically engineer humanity into existence, and then leave one of their enigmatic black slabs on the Moon. We find it, and it makes a signal aimed at planet Jupiter. One of our spaceships goes there, and the surviving crewman gets taken on a wormhole ride to the ET's' worlds. After spending the rest of his "normal" life there, he becomes the Star Child, and the movie ends there.

UFO abductions also fall into this category. They must be distinguished from UFO contactees' close encounters of the friendly kind. The abductors act much like clumsy wildlife biologists, taking their subjects, poking them and prodding them, and then returning them. They usually look only vaguely human -- at best -- and they seldom say anything.

Absent or nonexistent. The all-human galaxy of Isaac Asimov's Foundation series is a good example of that. It also seems to be the case for the parts of the Universe accessible to us in real life.

Emergent, where we create not just little gods, but also a big god. Isaac Asimov's The Last Question is a good example of that.

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DCHindley
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Re: Gods from Outer Space: Science Fiction as Theology

Post by DCHindley » Sat Aug 19, 2017 11:45 am

I looked at these folks back on this thread:

http://www.earlywritings.com/forum/view ... =UFO#p8507

The 1950's and 60's were full of anxiety over the inauguration of the nuclear age, as the very first application of the technology was to create bombs so powerful in destructive power that the thought of them ever being used again in the art of war was terrifying to most all who thought of it. Conventional warfare had already destroyed a good portion of the material assets, not to mention the social fabric itself, of many nations of Europe. Nuclear weapons could finish the job completely, even in far-off places like the Americas.

The fact that fear of nuclear bombs was used in the propaganda literature of international politics, communism vs. capitalism, probably didn't help. This political football could kill hundreds of thousands and later millions if mishandled by the players, and that was something everyone knew from following sports teams could happen *many times* in the course of a single game! Gulp!!

The prospect of eventual nuclear war that might touch everyone on the planet was only a matter of time. How could any reasonable person feel safe? In psychological language, it seems that folks had projected outward that anxiety about the inevitability of nuclear war or other horrible consequences not as yet come to light. They needed a savior, somebody who could tame the nuclear beast and perhaps even use it for good, such as for cheaper electric power in the 1970s and 80s.

Since human politicians had throughout recorded history made really bad decisions that affected large numbers of people, perhaps the UFO sightings also popular in this same period (40's-60's) were appearing to save us. UFOs were popularly thought of as flying craft. Perhaps the aliens who piloted these craft had already tamed the atomic beast, and perhaps even solved many health and economic issues that plague us sorely, and were extending to us their right hands of friendship to help us in our time of troubles?

But those in the political power-nexus, the politicians and generals, who had become callous, would certainly not trust them unless forced by necessity. A world run by the people and for the people was not their top concern. There were rational heads among the powerful, but hot-headedness was more the norm. To be effective, it was reasoned, the aliens would feel it was necessary to come down hard on all attempts at aggression or injustice, using means that were just as unthinkably harsh, but targeted to reduce the threat to the common personage.

As Leon Festinger demonstrated in his case study of a flying saucer contact cult, who were *true believers* in what they thought was so plain as day that anyone who denied the truth of their belief were fools, but they still needed to stack one rationalization on top of another dozens, even hundreds of times, to make sense of repeated failures of that first contact with the world governments to take place, or the new rule to be established. If this doesn't sound like messianism, I just don't know what should.

In the USA, Trump is playing the role of a messiah. He's going to force things back to "normalcy" (well, at least for Caucasians, meaning, they get to run things and making sure they got most of the profits of every one else's labor). Obviously, this is not a universally held position. There is a lot of anxiety about where things are going with the last 8+ years of racial divisiveness over the election of an African-American President. Even American businessmen, large and small, who I deal with on a professional level every day, have many times expressed the wish that we could just get past that kind of stuff and deal with economic competitiveness and improving the national infrastructure.

What fun!! :whistling:

DCH

Edited to improve clarity. ( ... but just about any change would do that!) :goodmorning:

andrewcriddle
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Re: Gods from Outer Space: Science Fiction as Theology

Post by andrewcriddle » Mon Aug 21, 2017 12:24 am

lpetrich wrote:
Sat Aug 19, 2017 10:23 am
Chapter 4: Voices from Below: Aspiring Humans and “Hierarchies of Beings” in Gene Wolfe’s Short Sun and Wizard Knight. RC has a big list of characters that want to become human. Characters like robots and holograms and magically-animated toys and statues and assembled and otherwise aberrant human beings. RC thus has this hierarchy:
  • Transcendent outsiders
  • Human beings
  • Aspiring human beings
I think that wanting to be considered an honorary human being is a rather limited sort of ambition. Why not be accepted with one's nonhuman features while being the social equals of human beings?

One should note that Gene Wolfe is both an extremely clever and subtle writer and a devout Roman Catholic. One is certainly correct to feel that there are religious messages present in his work, but they may not be the religious messages you think they are.

In the Wizard Knight books not only are there creatures aspiring to human status, we also have the attempts of humans to aspire to a yet higher status, roughly that of the Norse Gods. (The books are possibly the delirium of a teenage boy dying from a head injury.)

Andrew Criddle

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