Art and Religion–in Space!

Vacation Bible School starts at my church tomorrow (June 13, 2016), and runs through Thursday. This year, they’ve chosen a Star Wars theme, and titled it “Journey of the Jedi.” 

My initial reaction, based on the general fannish idea that “The Force” is a religion of its own, and the background understanding that Star Wars was based on the Hero’s Journey as outlined by the vehemently non-Christian Joseph Campbell, was, “Say what??” 

George Lucas based the first Star Wars movie on “the Hero’s Journey” archetype, as described by Joseph Campbell in his 1949 book.

And I suspect I wasn’t the only one in the congregation who didn’t immediately put it together. But our Senior Pastor Dr. Michael Gardener addressed any such concerns head-on, in his sermon today. 

He pointed out, quite correctly, that the basic themes of the underlying storygood versus evil, the existence of  an all-pervasive force in the universe that exists beyond human (and nonhuman) comprehension, the “pull toward the light,” the value of self-sacrifice for the greater good, and the potential for redemption for even the lowliest and most unlikely, are highly compatible with the Christian message. 

He also discussed the role of the arts—literature, cinema, music, etc., in translating those concepts into something we can relate to. “So if this is a way that kids can connect” with these deep-level ideas, he told us, it is an appropriate tool for the teacher’s workbench of techniques. I heartily endorse this approach.

Science fiction is an art form that helps us stretch our imagination so we can take in new ideas.

I would add that this function of artistic expression to make ideas meaningful in new ways works the same for humans of all ages, not only kids. 

The arts—and that includes science fiction—are the bridge of meaning-making that we build between the unknown (perhaps the un-knowable) and our own understandings. It can work that way with the great truths of philosophy, faith, and all aspects of human existence, just as it can create bridges between different cultures

I’d like to turn my focus to the value of science fiction as a bridge of meaning-making that is compatible with religious thought

I just do not buy the idea that religion won’t travel with us into space (if you wish to be strictly literal, it already has). 

Anyone who believes that confronting the universe will not inspire spiritual thought hasn’t considered either the universe or humans.

I say this, because there is a persistent school of thought in science fiction that says once humans have become rational, scientifically sophisticated creatures and evolved beyond the need to create “self-comforting myths” about a force greater than themselves in the universe, they’ll leave “superstition and religion” behind. 

I call bullsh*t. 

There IS one part of that idea with which I can agree: the only way humans will lose their innate need for spiritual expression is for them to evolve into something else. Whether that’s a higher or a lower life-form, I’ll leave you to decide. 

Here’s a little perspective on our importance in the universe.

But there’s no way in hell (and I use that term advisedly) that we’re going to venture forth into the vastness of the universe, traveling in fragile little metal tubes that are the only shield between ourselves and certain death, and NOT say frequent and fervent prayers to some power greater than our puny selves. 

As John Young put it, “Anyone who sits on top of the largest hydrogen-oxygen fueled system in the world, knowing they’re going to light the bottom, and doesn’t get a little worried, does not fully understand the situation.”

The old adage, “there are no atheists in foxholes” applies fully. The very best way to realize you aren’t quite as powerful and self-sufficient as you thought you were, is to meet a force of nature in one of its more dangerous and powerful aspects. 

Meanwhile, if anyone greets me with the words, “May the Force be with you,” I plan to smile and reply: “And also with you.”

* * *

A footnote may be needed: There are people in the science fiction community, and also in the wider public, who make certain false assumptions about me, when I tell them I am a practicing Christian. So, for the record: 

NO, I do not believe everyone who does not believe exactly the way I do (or is LGBT, or divorced, etc.) will automatically go to Hell. (I also do not personally believe that the God of love whom I follow hates or destroys earnest, thinking people who struggle to live honest, ethical lives but were reared in, or chose, other-than-Christian expressions of spirituality or belief). 

NO, I do not believe that the Earth was created 4,000 years ago, or that a study of science requires one to be an atheist.

Along with my artist friend Lucy A. Synk, I believe that evolution is “a means God uses in the ongoing creation of the universe.”

NO, I do not believe that God created women and persons of color as second-class citizens.

NO, I do not believe that I have any right deny someone the legal right to have an abortion (or use birth control, or get a tattoo, or . . . your body is YOURS to control, okay?)

NO, I am not a social conservative. I am, in fact, a liberal whose focus is social justice, because of my Christian faith.

NO, I am not the only Christian who feels as if my religion has been hijacked in the public discourse by loud, often crazy, terrorists. 

Disagree with me in the comments if you feel the need to do so, but please keep the discourse succinct and civil.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Old Mission United Methodist Church, for the “Journey of the Jedi” banner, to Wikipedia, for the first-edition cover photo for Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, to Wall 321 for the sfnal beach image (artist unattributed), to Science Fiction Quotes, for the Ray Bradbury quote (again–artist unattributed!), to Getty Images via HNGN for the image of Earth, the Moon and the universe beyond, to Space Answers for the image of the astronaut in the EVA suit, (and also for the John Young quote), and special thanks to Lucy A. Synk, for the use of her image Evolution.

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jansgephardt

Kansas City-based Jan S. Gephardt is a writer, artist, and teacher. She makes nationally-recognized paper sculpture and writes sf mystery novels about a sapient police dog.

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