Tuesday, June 20, 2006

To Boldly Go...

Catholic blogger and journalist Domenico Bettinelli points out an article over at Chuck Colson's website which discusses the ability of science fiction (specifically the new Battle Star Galactica) to address poignant issues and to make interesting social commentary. As the new professor at a school which has a focus in Media, one of my goals will be to show my students how theological and moral issues can be dealt with in fictional narrative. One of the most successful means used in the past to tackle these subjects has been science fiction.

Many Christian writers, such as C. S. Lewis, have used science fiction to communicate profound truths. But non-Christians have frequently stumbled into some interesting questions as well. The genre truly opens up all kinds of fascinating avenues for discussion.

In the 1960's Gene Roddenberry used Star Trek to make some very strong statements regarding social issues like racism. In the episode, "Bread and Circuses" (1968) there are also some specific things said related to Christianity's influence in world history.

Starting in the 1970's, George Lucas' epic trilogy Star Wars also had religious connotations. An evil emperor seeks to destroy a religion that has been forced to go underground after an imperial persecution. At the center of the story is a broken family which had been torn apart by hatred and wickedness. The climactic end of the trilogy involves a battle that is fought on three fronts: one on the ground, one in space (in the heavens) and one in which a son shows himself willing to die before being delivered by his father. It is certainly no exact parallel to the New Testament, but much of it sounds familiar. And, if you really think about, the differences are as noteworthy as the parallels.

In the 1982, Disney released a science fiction movie that also had theological implications. Tron follows a computer programmer (Jeff Bridges) who gets taken into his own created computer programmed world. This, of course, was years before The Matrix. You ought to check Tron out if you already haven't. It was a major technical breakthrough for its time--like Star Wars, I think it has an amazingly original look and feel.

The article written at Colson's site by Alex Wainer looks at how Battle Star Galatica tackles the abortion issue. It reminded me of the 1991, Star Trek: The Next Generation episode called "The Masterpiece Society." The Enterprise comes to the aid of a planet in which every child born is genetically perfect. The planet is facing utter extinction due to some space phenomenon. The answer to their problem is discovered by Geordi LaForge, a blind character who uses a space-age "VISOR" to enable him to see. The way out of the impending doom lies in the technology of the VISOR. The irony is quite bitter. The scientists are genetically engineered geniuses, but since they never had to faced certain limitations or challenges they also never developed certain technologies or learned to think creatively.

The most poignant part of the episode is when LaForge looks at one of the scientists and says, "On your planet, I never would have been born." To underscore the point the story is making, the episode opens with one of the characters playing a simulated game of poker with Steven Hawkings (who plays himself). (Yes, yes, I know all about Hawkings recent cheap shot at JP II). The point is that in a genetically engineered society, Hawkings would never have been born.

I'd love to hear anybody else's thoughts on this. What movies and tv shows (give the name of the episode, not simply "the one about") can you think of that deal with these types of issues?

By the way, speaking of sci-fi, did you know that as part of their rigorous seminary training priests must now learn how to handle a lightsaber? Neither did I--but from this video of two seminarians engaged in a duel it is apparently true that they do. I wonder if those seminary investigations will shed any light on this aspect of the priestly formation. (By the way, I always thought Luke Skywalker's Jedi clothes looked rather like priestly clerics.) Hat tip to American Papist for the video.

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