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Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2009-08-11 05:06
Subject: [personal] A stray thought about religion and SF
Security: Public
Tags:fiction, personal, religion, writing
Was thinking this morning about my anecdotal observation that genre fandom and writerdom skew heavily to the irreligious, far more so than the general population so far as I can tell. (I have no data on this, but if someone does, please do post in comments.) I wonder if this is because of our fascination with the classic "sense of wonder."

Does sensawunda scratch the same itch that spiritual experiences scratch, at least in some of us? Am I full of it?

What do you think?

Originally published at jlake.com.

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Laura Anne Gilman
User: suricattus
Date: 2009-08-11 13:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
well, I know that there is a large (relatively speaking) segment of observant Jewish fandom that could not be called 'irreligious' at all. That could either skew your observation or (considering that Judaism is generally encouraging of wonder) enhance it.
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JoSelle
User: upstart_crow
Date: 2009-08-11 13:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't know, it seems like I know a lot of pagans of various paths. I've also noticed the Jewish fans and writers as other commenters have pointed out.

I do sometimes wonder, though, if I'm the only Catholic out there ;p (I'm sure I've met others, but none come to mind immediately).

ETA: Then again, Catholics tend to like the theatrical, the dramatic, and the wonderous (even the Novus Ordo mass that we do today doesn't lack for this, though a lot of traditional Catholics would disagree, and tell you that the Old Rite was a lot more dynamic and awe-inspiring) so maybe I'm just looking in the wrong places...

Edited at 2009-08-11 01:48 pm (UTC)
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lordofallfools
User: lordofallfools
Date: 2009-08-11 13:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I believe Tim Powers is Catholic; not sure though.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
lordofallfools
User: lordofallfools
Date: 2009-08-11 13:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Does sensawunda scratch the same itch that spiritual experiences scratch, at least in some of us?

Apparently, it may for you. :-) I'm hesitant to proclaim for anyone but myself.

How do you go about gauging someone else's sense of wonder?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-08-11 15:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, I don't go about gauging someone else's send of wonder. That's why I asked the question. :p
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roseaponi
User: roseaponi
Date: 2009-08-11 14:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm a Christian as well as a fan and writer of SF - true, I've met people who proclaim to be Christian who are very disturbed by this and can't seem to align fantasy and horror in the same world with religion, but those guys also get carried away preaching against any secular entertainment. That's their prerogative, I guess.
But there's nothing in the Bible against stretching one's imagination, and there's a whole lot in the Bible about good vs. evil, miracles, and yes, even horror. It's an excellent read, especially when you think it over. Like poetry, the Bible expands in the mind.
I wouldn't call speculative fiction as good as spiritual experience, because my faith is real even after I come home from church or close my Bible. But there's no conflict between my faith and my reading, either. Fiction is only fiction, after all.
Short answer: No, it's not the same, and no, you're not full of it either. Both my faith and SF appeal to me for some of the same reasons, but one is real and the other is not.
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martyn44
User: martyn44
Date: 2009-08-11 14:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Of course you're full of it. Absolutely. And the world would be a better place if more of us were similarly full of it.
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2009-08-11 14:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think that most of us fans/writers who skew toward the religious tend to keep our mouths closed about it except in comfortable settings. There was one particular panelist/writer at Anticipation who annoyed the crap out of me with his anti-religious stance; well, there were other things about him that annoyed me anyway in that panel (and no, it didn't put me off of reading him because he was already on my Not Interested list based on his subject matter and snippets I've read of his work. But he did lose the chance to get off of that list based on his commentary). But his comments and the type of things he was saying about the illogic of faith are comments I find common frequently enough in genre settings that I just don't care to get into it with people.

As a Catholic, though, I don't feel the same pressure from co-religionists to evangelize that I got back in my fundamentalist Protestant days (and hey, those folks don't think I'm Christian, anyway). I do get annoyed by non-Catholics, either of the Protestant ilk or of the non-believing ilk, who feel free to tell me what I'm supposed to be believing.

Anyway, back to the topic--if anything, I find that my Catholic faith enhances my SF/Fantasy experiences, and vice versa. One reason I'm having problems placing a particular story is that it really is a very Catholic story, and it throws people because Jesus is Acting Like A Real Person, and they don't think it should be happening (but the theology behind it is correct).

I find that sensawunda and religious faith, while related, are not one and the same, at least for me.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
scarlettina: Jewish: Dreidels
User: scarlettina
Date: 2009-08-11 15:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Jewish: Dreidels
The statement that spiritual urges or experiences are useless is exactly the reason that so many more religious fans don't talk about their faith. The SF community is open and accepting, right up until it isn't. Not only do many secular fans not believe in a spiritual path, they have to make sure everyone knows that they think a spiritual path or urge is without value--not without value for them, but without value in general. It's condescending and it's divisive.

Everyone has their own path, one way or another. I may have spiritual leanings, but it would never occur to me to tell someone else that their faith--or lack of same--was useless. It's a matter of respect.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
scarlettina: Wonder
User: scarlettina
Date: 2009-08-11 15:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Wonder
My own experience has been that when I'm somewhere of unparalleled beauty or with friends who just fill me with love, there's a kinship of experience for me between that and my rare, truly religious moments. I've never had that experience reading a science fiction novel. Sure, there have been some very satisfying "A-ha!" moments. But the sensation is very specifically a different one, not as deep, not as personally significant for me. No, SF sensawunda doesn't scratch the same itch for me. A genuine, human experience, however, really does.

I think that many science fiction fans see themselves as rationalists; many are scientists or scientifically inclined. In our society, it seems that science and religion have somehow ended up on opposite ends of the rationality spectrum despite many scientists asserting that science has enforced or enhanced their religious beliefs (in terms of sense of wonder--it must be an awesome God who could put together such a complex, beautiful universe).

And while I'm expressing my opinions, I'll also say that I agree with suricattus: There is a relatively large community of observant Jews interested in SF (see mabfan and gnomi for two examples). I think that has to do with several factors: 1) the overriding emphasis on study and learning in the Jewish community, 2) the Jewish tradition of Talmudic argument, 3) an emphasis on wonder (why else would there be a blessing for everything? It's all wonder-full) and, 4) see above re: awesome God and complex universe.

Full of it? Sure, but we love you anyway. :-)
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Bibbit
User: bridget_coila
Date: 2009-08-11 16:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I actually find this response really cool and interesting- from a different perspective. I completely agree that the SF sense of wonder and the religious/spiritual overwhelming awe feeling are separate things.

I'm someone who doesn't get that spiritual/religious moment. I have actually experienced (twice in particular) the odd sensation of being in a church with a friend (her church, where I accompanied her because I know how important it is to her and can support that even if I dont believe the same things) and noticing that everyone else around me was feeling something I was not. Not just feeling.... experiencing...don't even know if that is the right word. But there was *something* going on there that I was completely unable to tap into.

I spent years growing up trying to find that religious/spiritual feeling that people described that I was "supposed" to be feeling in church or when viewing particular beautiful scenes and just never was able to "get" it in some sense.

However, I have never felt the lack of something like that while reading SF/F. Never felt like other readers are experiencing something that I do not and probably will never comprehend/feel. And I don't think my sense of wonder is impaired in any way. I often get the "oh wow thats sooo cool and awesome!" reaction to SF. But it is obviously not the same as what those people around me in that church were feeling.

B
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Clint Harris: hellbo y
User: wendigomountain
Date: 2009-08-11 15:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:hellbo y
Maybe it's because a lot of writers are openly cynical and skeptical of religion and their fans, in the spirit of true fanaticism, glom onto that. I remember when my friends were reading Douglas Adams, they got a kick out of mocking religion. They then tended to stick to writers in that vein, if not openly antagonistic of religion. Hey, it's their choice, but a lot of these folks I saw as little more than rebellious nerds who were letting escapist SF books make up their decisions when it came to personal beliefs. That's the same sort of person that winds up joining a cult just because someone told them to and it gave them something to do on the weekend.

Choosing your beliefs in life ought to be a little bit more work than "the Babelfish tells us God doesn't exist" or "I'm getting my theta waves checked this weekend. Can I borrow some money?" I've met a lot of people who simply didn't get the sensawunda out of SF simply because they had no faith in anything outside of their perceptions. So much of SF is lost on them at a visceral level.

I wonder too if people that love going to church/temple are actually feeding into their own sensawunda. Miracles. Higher beings. Heroes. Monsters. Epic conquests. Divine intervention. It lights up your sense of wonder. Personally, I don't do church because I can't stand the awful singing and pews full of hypocrites. That and in Sunday school, they told me dinosaurs didn't exist. You don't mess with a seven year old like that.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-08-11 15:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Total comment win, for your closing lines!
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mevennen
User: mevennen
Date: 2009-08-11 15:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
There are certainly a lot of pagans among fantasy readers and many say they are drawn to that particular spiritual path because of early reading. They want what they read to be real, basically.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2009-08-11 15:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My first question, which was fueled by reading the comments, is how you defin irreligous?

I know many people who claim a religon that I would not define as religous.

Also, I wonder how being on the west coast vs mid west/south/east coast skews your view.

Finally, I have noted that many religous people in fandom keep quiet about it either through courtesy to others or realization that fandom attracks some people who can be very rude to faiths they don't agree with (well actually that is true in the general population as well, fans just seem to feel they can get away with being rude more often).

We have (thankfully) very few evangelicals.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-08-11 15:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Hmm, "irreligious" is a pretty elastic term. I was trying to cast a broader net than atheism and agnosticism, to include those who are indifferent, for example, without trying to characterize (or lump together) disparate religious and spiritual traditions.

And I first began my time in writerdom and fandom in Texas, btw, just for a data point. I'm not a native Oregonian.
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gvdub
User: gvdub
Date: 2009-08-11 15:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The particular flavor of Friends (Quakerism) with which I was raised encourages questioning of all kinds (Friends maintain a set of 'queries' which are intended to be constantly re-evaluated and are revised as regularly as a body which relies entirely on consensus to get anything done can do so). Growing up in that atmosphere certainly contributed to my sensawunda and my love for speculative work (since what is speculation but questioning).

I don't talk much about belief with fans strictly because there are so many of them who decided that anybody who believes is deserving of mockery and derision, but are just as unquestioning of their own beliefs, convinced of their own rightness, and unwilling to open their minds outside of a very narrow spectrum as the very worst of the conservative religious fundamentalists I have known.

For me, part of that sensawunda is in keeping horizons open for exploration, if for no other reason than to have something to wonder about. Closing your mind to religious thought seems somehow anti-thetical to that idea.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2009-08-11 15:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
As I think you know of me, I don't close my mind to religious thought. I'm just highly allergic to having any particular strain of religious thought mandated within the legal system, the educational system or the general run of social intercourse. The fact that I'm a Low Church atheist myself is a personal decision, not my own view of a social mandate for others.

And you've seen me rattle on about "mythic truth" versus "empirical truth", I think.
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bookwormlady
User: bookwormlady
Date: 2009-08-11 15:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My two cents as a writer and a Christian (and boy, what a great discussion here!)...

I don't have a problem with questions - I believe that a faith that is unchallenged is a weak faith. I also believe that God has given all of us a free will, to choose to believe and follow or not.

I like to read science fiction, because I like the peek it gives me into something new and interesting. I try to write science fiction because sometimes I can say things in the genre that people will not listen to if I say them outright.

I think more religious people like sci-fi and fantasy then you might think - a number of Christians I know liked the Harry Potter series (we don't get as much press as those who didn't, but oh well...)

I'm almost certain that someone has written a Christian science fiction story...and if not, maybe I should look into that...
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lordofallfools
User: lordofallfools
Date: 2009-08-11 15:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Depends on what you're looking for-- try the Perelandra series by CS Lewis.

I seem to recall that Harry Turtledove did a retelling of the Moses story set in the far future...
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long_shot1986
User: long_shot1986
Date: 2009-08-11 15:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm a PK (preacher's kid) of non-denominational preachers. My folks ran a ministry that helped other ministries. In the regard, you'd think that I would have grown up in an overly strict household, like so many other PKs I've met. Not so. My parents would occasional question me about about what I was reading/watching/listening to, but they never restricted it. They stood behind my imagination, even now that I'm an author. I wish everyone had the same level of open-ness they do.

I'm a geek, a nerd, a dork! I lust after cat-gurls in animes, fight demons in my dreams! I also believe in science AND creationism. I believe God is powerful enough to have made the universe with a big bang and man through evolution, if that's how he wanted to. Or if he just popped them into existence, then that's fine, too. I believe the bible is living text that means different things to different people depending on their needs. I'm a Christian dweeb who keeps "The Purpose Driven Life" on the same shelf as "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy." I've slept with vampires and used Monty Python references in church. God is too powerful to be contained.
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madrobins
User: madrobins
Date: 2009-08-11 16:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You are my hero. Actually, your parents are my heroes, too.
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User: darkerblogistan
Date: 2009-08-11 16:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Let's just say that I think fans into F/SF are looking for something a little different. If you were born again in Jesus at age 5, you're probably pretty content with reality as it exists and feel no need to imagine alternate realities. In fact, to do so may be sacrilegious, like those crazies who label D&D and witchcraft as witchcraft and the occult. They're probably better with Kirk Cameron videos or, if they read, Tim LaHaye books.

I have a feeling those who stray into alternate realities are more along the lines of those who seek out alternate theologies, like those who tinker with Buddhism, rather than those who accept doctrine spoon-fed to them.
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long_shot1986
User: long_shot1986
Date: 2009-08-11 16:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm not sure I understand your statement, Darker. I was "saved" at 5 years old. I watched my first anime (Starblazers) at age 7. A member of my church gave me the Narnia boxset at age 8. Star Wars came out at age 9. By then, alternate realities were a part of my life. In my teens, my parents encouraged exploration of my faith, to look at it from all angles and seek answers to the questions I had about it. I do feel luckier than most, but even today, alternate views of faith and reality play a big part of my life as a writer. I just chose my path early and nothing else has sounded like a greater truth than the one I already found.
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