Is Sci-Fi Anti-Religion? Not Unless a Religion is Portrayed as “True”

by Mike Duran · 12 comments

Publishing-BiasIs there an anti-religious bias in publishing and the art and film industries? The answer often depends upon what side of the question you fall on. According to this breakdown of Democrat vs. Republican Occupations, under the category of Book Publisher, Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats 100 to 0. For those of us who happen to be politically and religiously conservative, this is not a huge surprise. Thankfully, there is beginning to be a bit of pushback against publishers foisting a blatantly progressive agenda.

While I mostly believe that there IS an anti-religious bias in “secular” media — make that an anti CONSERVATIVE religious bias — it’s not nearly as vast as many claim. In fact, many artists of faith use this as an excuse to retreat from, rather than professionally engage culture. Which is a big factor in the maintenance of the “Christian art” industry.

That said, I recently stumbled upon a semi-pro sci-fi mag that is very up front about its bias. Crossed Genre Press is candid about its “progressive bent.” For example, in their Submission Guidelines they solicit stories containing:

  • Queer Main Characters
  • MC’s of Color
  • Women MC’s
  • Disabled MC’s
  • Science saves the day!
  • Far future
  • Stories set outside North America

Equally telling is what CGP is NOT looking for:

  • Stories based off the assumption that any particular religion’s beliefs are real
  • Weak women being rescued by macho guys
  • “Science-as-villain”
  • Vampires, zombies, werewolves, Arthurian retellings, Eurocentric faeries, or ghost stories
  • Time travel

It’s hard to maintain that publishers are indiscriminate and unbiased when their submissions page flat-out says “keep your religion to yourself.” Sure, publishers are free to want what they want. Seeking to expand representation of a multicultural universe and dash steretypes can be admirable.  Besides, religious publishers do the same thing! They are blatant in vetting their stories FOR religious content. Still, I’d expect a bit of frothing if I announced that I was publishing an anti-Science anthology. The guidelines would read,

What we’re NOT seeking:

  • Stories based off the assumption that [Science’s] beliefs are real

In an age where Science has replaced Religion as our creed of choice, I’d be inviting ridicule and disdain from the smart kids. “Another anti-science conservative!” they’d bemoan. Nevertheless, here we have a publisher doing just the opposite. They don’t want stories where Science is portrayed as a “villain.” In other words, Science as Savior is a winning narrative.

Of course, you could argue that science and religion are two different things. Even though both require faith. And pitting science against religion is a narrative that conveniently services the secular POV. By requesting tales where Science is Savior and religion isn’t true, one can safely construct a god of our own design. While denying any religion theirs.

But from a writer’s perspective, seeking stories that are NOT “based off the assumption that any particular religion’s beliefs are real” is problematic. For one thing, shouldn’t our religious characters act like what they believe is real? I have met very few religious folk who believe something while not believing it is true or real. I’m just not sure what kind of religion asks its devotees to believe what is fake. Furthermore, if someone believes that all religions are true, they’re essentially saying that there is no truth. Religions make truth claims. If a person believes that “no religions are real/true,” then they believe that THAT belief is true. So it’s a bit telling when a publisher wants its Science immutable, and its Religion squishy.

So is sci-fi “anti-religion”? Basing the conclusion on one indie mag is unfair. Fact is, there are plenty of religious themes in the genre and religious writers who are writing great stories. But if Cross Genre Press is any example, the only religion worth portraying is the one that no one believes is really worth believing.

Donald S Crankshaw March 15, 2017 at 9:06 AM

To be fair, Mike, you may be misreading the guidelines. They’re not saying that your characters can’t believe and act like any religion is true, they’re saying that the story can’t be based off that assumption. In other words, they don’t want Jesus or Buddha showing up in the story. Which is admittedly limiting for speculative fiction mag. That said, I’m pretty sure they stopped publishing over a year ago, so it looks like the market already judged them, whether it was because of this or their overly limiting themed issues. If you’re looking for a market though, you may want to wait for Mysterion 2.

Mike Duran March 15, 2017 at 9:26 AM

While the magazine has folded, Crossed Genres Publications, its parent company, has not. Honestly, I’m not sure if they’re continuing the inclusive approach. Regarding religion: I’m not sure I read it that way. Especially combined with other factors, namely specificying stories where science can’t be villainous. Seems odd, and not coincidental, that they didn’t want science as villain or religion as real.

Also, do you have a tentative sub date for Mysterion 2?

Donald S Crankshaw March 15, 2017 at 10:24 AM

I’d like to be open in July, but we’re thinking about doing a Kickstarter, and its success or failure may determine whether we do it this year. If we can’t raise the money via Kickstarter, the next Mysterion may need to wait until we save up.

Michael March 15, 2017 at 12:20 PM

Daredevel the movie, the blind superhero at first was not going to have any religious beliefs, or at best anti Catholic beliefs. The folks in charge, according to a show I watched, were previously of the opinion that no religion for their characters was better than some religion.

Their logic is/was that everyone would read or watch stories about superhero’s without religion included, but to some potential fans, religion of any type did not belong in this genre. With the release of Daredevel, they stepped away from this thinking and gave Daredevel a positive Catholic religious stance, albeit it added to the conflicts in the plot.

In light of hearing the thinking from the horses mouth so to speak, it seems a choice of garnering the most readers, not a bias against religion or belief?

Misti / Carradee March 15, 2017 at 1:58 PM

In light of hearing the thinking from the horses mouth so to speak, it seems a choice of garnering the most readers, not a bias against religion or belief?

I’ve certainly seen that assumption, too, as a reader, writer, and editor of the genre. It tends to be the same folks who insist on genericisms rather than brand names or generational slang. They want their stories applicable even when read decades later, which strikes me as missing the point that, decades later, even a story that’s set solidly in the year it was written can end up being historical fiction, and readers of that genre tend to like details.

Even if you are religious and want to apply your religion to your writing, it doesn’t always fit in a particular story. Sometimes including religion can distract from the point of the story, or maybe the vehicle of your story is starting from a premise that is incompatible with your faith or that you believe is impossible. Sometimes a specific explicit religion is irrelevant to a story. (In my own writing, a few stories are such that the characters wouldn’t have had any opportunity to be religious in the “belief in a supernatural deity” sense, rather than in the “organized system of belief” sense (which a number of people don’t even realize is one of the definitions of the word, btw, which is part of where the miscommunications come from).

Some folks have a bias, sure, and they can be loud. More folks seem to be misrepresented as having bias when they’re just protesting blanket idolization or demonization of something that lacks (or seems to lack) in-story reason.

Kerry Nietz March 15, 2017 at 1:23 PM

They’ve ruled out everything I’ve ever written. And I’m okay with that.

There is a certain irony in them embracing science, the purpose of which is a search for truth, while discarding the idea that any belief system could be true.

Mike Duran March 16, 2017 at 4:41 AM

Right? Now I might have to re-think my story about “Eurocentric faeries.”

Travis Perry March 15, 2017 at 3:36 PM

One example does not necessarily represent all of sci fi. And frankly, I think you are concerned with the wrong issue–I’m more concerned about sci fi being anti-Christian than it being anti-religious.

What sci fi as a whole has done to be anti-Christian is 1) portray religion that is clearly intended to be connected to Christianity as dangerously intolerant (a common Heinlein take on faith, as seen in Stranger in a Strange Land). OR 2) portray religion as incredibly rare, or only for extraterrestrials (Star Trek series, ALL Asimov books I’ve read), which sets the expectation that religion is just a passing fad and we should expect it to disappear in the future. This second approach is enormously common in sci fi. The human race is very, very often portrayed (falsely) as having no religious nature, no longing for God, and no real need to be forgiven for sin. Which is of course BOTH anti-religion and also anti-Christian. OR 3) Set up a religious system which is either subtly or radically different than Christianity, recognizing human beings are religious, but eliminating Christianity by replacing it with something else. The most famous example of this is Star Wars and how it shows belief in the Force as a quasi religion. Of course this latter approach is not anti-religion at all. Merely anti-Christian.

Of course if you go hunting for stories with Christian themes or characters in sci fi you can easily find some. But in the whole scope of all science fiction such positive Christian portrayals are highly uncommon. Overall, sci fi IS somewhat anti-religious. And more strongly against portraying Christianity in a positive way, generally speaking. And yes, as you noted, also in general more interested in religion portrayed as highly subjective than as objectively true.

Mike Duran March 16, 2017 at 4:39 AM

I think you’re right, Travis, about Christianity being far more negatively caricatured than religion in general. Although, I think Catholicism gets slammed fairly often, too. Good points.

David Anderson March 15, 2017 at 8:00 PM

As a writer, I don’t want to be told I can’t write with religious characters and themes or that I have to write with religious characters and themes, which tends to put me at odds with both Christian and secular publishers. I have religious beliefs, but I don’t compare that with science. I once asked someone if he believed in science, and he said no. “Science is based on observable evidence, not belief.” I think he had a point.

Mike Duran March 16, 2017 at 4:46 AM

Thing is, David, “observable evidence” still requires “faith.” We must have faith that our senses are accurately assessing what we are observing (as well as the instruments we’re using), that we have accumulated sufficient data, and that our minds have reached the correct conclusions. And even then, this assumes that reliance upon Science can be scientifically proven, which is circular logic.

Jay DiNitto March 16, 2017 at 6:16 AM

I’m okay with publishers and their guidelines, though it gets annoying with their “diversity” word games. There’s no such thing as “diversity” as progressives posit the word; there’s only diversity certain kinds, meaning that someone/thing is always excluded. It’s not a bad thing at all. It’s been around since humans were invented a few hundred years ago, and is morally neutral.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: