Science Fiction and Jesus
Science fiction has been defined as story in which the environment is a character. I just watched Avatar the other day, and it fits the definition both technically, and in a deeper sense. The movie Avatar is nothing without the world of Pandora.
I used to say that Star Wars wasn’t really science fiction. Now I don’t draw so hard a line; it’s not that the environment isn’t a character, it’s that the character of the environment isn’t really developed. Sure, the story is set in a location with robots and space ships, but the essentials of the location don’t challenge us in any way. Han Solo is essentially a cowboy with a different set of horses and weapons. For this reason, Star Wars functions more as adventure than science fiction.
In contrast, the environment of Pandora challenges us. It challenges us to imagine a different way of relating to the world itself. It challenges us to imagine human beings as aliens, and aliens as humane. It asks us why our world is not like that.
Good science fiction challenges us because it asks us to imagine alternate realities, either in the future, or in the past, or in the present. And for this reason, Christianity (and the world) needs to start paying attention to science fiction. If we are beings in the image of God, our divine role is to play a part in creating that which is new. It is our identity, what we were created for. And creation starts with imagining.<
In the first century, Jesus’ followers became convinced he had something to do with the creation of the earth. So convinced, in fact, that they rewrote Genesis 1 to involve Jesus (see John 1).
Because what Jesus did in his time and place was creation. He envisioned a new world, not defined by temple or ritual, place or time, or even station of birth. And rest assured, what Jesus envisioned was as outlandish and imaginative as any science fiction has ever been. He imagined a world no one else could have envisioned; and his disciples watched as he brought it into being. If the job of divinity is to create, Jesus must have been divine.
For us, then, we must start envisioning, imagining, and telling stories. Science fiction helps us to imagine, and we need all the help we can get. Our stories are creating the new world, and we need to tell them just as hard as we can.