Theological Science Fiction

Why The Matrix matters

(Page 2 of 2)

The persistent science fictional posture of confronting categories of Godhood, and of revelation, is typical of the culture that made modern science fiction. The genre is, more than anything else, about change. Religions change, too, the writers remind us. We incorporate into our mind's eye of God our current knowledge. This is inevitable, and fundamentally positive.

Today science fiction has many currents. Popular writers like Orson Scott Card depict future societies much like Mormon ones, but suffused in a utopian glow. Other writers excoriate fundamentalist faiths, and satirize Theocracy. The genre is a useful antidote to certainty. It promotes a more experimental, and historically sophisticated, view of the whole range of theological thought. It especially is unafraid of spiritual insights and methods like Zen Buddhism, and often contrasts nature-centered Asian faiths with the more axiomatic and rigid Western ones.

The point of speculative ideas and science fictional treatments is not to foster propaganda (though many do so, usually obviously and unsuccessfully), but to make us think. As a literature of change driven by technology, science fiction presents religion to a part of the reading public that probably seldom goes to church.

Movies are another matter; The Matrix Reloaded sometimes seems like the New Testament on steroids. It also suffers from the bind of superhero epics—if Neo is unstoppable, how can there be real constraint, and so suspense?

Beyond the cool violence, vinyl cat suits and dazzling bullet-time effects, the Matrix world points both toward our future and to basic theological mythologies, to spiritual meta-narratives that can appear backlit by modern science.

In this sense science fiction is an ambassador between the two most widely separated tribes of modern thought, the scientific and the religious. Negotiations should prove profitable, but only if they are imaginative.

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