I mentioned in the comments section of The Good Robot that I’m not so much writing religious science fiction as writing science fiction with certain religious and spiritual elements. The distinction is important. Except for some noteworthy exceptions, religious science fiction, such as Christian science fiction or Jewish science fiction, will appeal to only a limited audience.
Of course, the same can be said of science fiction in general, but the number of people who will read the latter is probably much larger than those who would read the former.
That said, sources such as Amazon and Wikipedia highlight a great number of science fiction stories that leverage religious themes, but these are sometimes fictional religions rather than ones we are aware of in our world, or very fictionalized versions of religions we’re familiar with in our lives.
I came across an interview with Orson Scott Card at Writing-World.com that reminded me that in most fiction, including science fiction, religious people and religion (specifically Christianity and Judaism) are depicted in unfavorable ways.
In our culture, intellectuals have become so uniformly a-religious or anti-religious that our fiction, with few exceptions, depicts religious people in only two ways: the followers are ignorant and stupid and easily fooled, and the leaders are exploitative and cynical, manipulating others’ faith for their private benefit.
I know some people who fit those descriptions. But they are in a tiny minority. Most religious people I know are smart, well-educated, independent-minded, stubborn, honest, and generous — at least as much so as the average intellectual, and usually more.
The reason to include religious and spiritual themes as normalized in speculative literature is probably the same reason secular fiction writers portray, for example, LGBTQ themes as normalized. Both are part of the world in which we live, and to make our fictional worlds and fictional people seem more “realistic,” it seems prudent to portray those themes as we experience them in our lives as authors.
I’ve experienced many normal religious people in my life, as well as several gay and bi individuals (no less than three men who my sons went to school with as children came out as gay as young adults).
I’ve also experienced more than a few religious “nuts,” so I suppose given a world of religious robots, there might be some humans who would have atypical or dysfunctional responses to them. Religious robots might even have unusual responses to each other, especially if those robots have different religions (such as apparently do George and Grace in my stories).
One of the comments Card made in the aforementioned interview was:
Of course, what usually happens is that writers who don’t consciously think of how the religion works in the society they’re inventing end up using the religion they actually believe in and practice, by default. And since these writers are usually true believers in American Intellectualism, that is the religion that their imaginary societies invariably practice. Where they do show religions, those religions are almost always shown as ridiculous and false, and the heroes are always believers in American Intellectualism. Except, of course, when they are believers in British Intellectualism…
In my case, I study and practice what you might think of as a type of “Christianity” with a heavy Jewish influence. For most of you, it may seem that such a thing couldn’t possibly exist, but I assure you I’m not the only one who has my particular view of God, Messiah, the Bible, and everything.
Hence, that particular view is penetrating the fictional world I’m creating. The character Noah Abramson is an Orthodox Jew. A few other characters will be revealed to be Christians, while others have been and will be revealed to be Atheists. That’s the world we live in.
I don’t know enough about Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other world religions to populate my world with characters representative of those faiths. I also experience few to none of those people in my day-to-day life. Besides, anything I include in a story should be for the purpose of advancing the story as well as representing a realistic environment.
My wife is Jewish, religious, but not Orthodox (although she spends a lot of time with the local Chabad Rabbi and Rabbitzen). Some of my perspectives on Judaism, I get from her, but most I get from online sources, either by direct interaction with others, or by doing a lot of reading at various informational websites.
I’ve also spent some time in different churches over the years, though I don’t attend any sort of congregation currently.
I originally created my “robots” series and this blogspot as a sort of experiment after hearing about the premise of Anthony Marchetta’s anthology God, Robot. I wanted to take a crack at writing one short story about a “religious robot”.
Things sort of took off from there.
As the concept of writing fiction continues to evolve in my thoughts, I can see Card’s point about incorporating the meaning and function of religion in fictional worlds and fictional people. I’m coming up with some ideas for short stories and short story series (potentially novels) other than the one I’m currently involved with.
It remains to be seen how I will incorporate religious themes into those tales, but if I can create a robot who studies Talmud with his creator, then nothing is impossible.