Religious Zealotry in Science Fiction

There has been a controversy within the SF field over the past few years about how groups called the “sad puppies” and the “rabid puppies”, for various reasons, have mounted campaigns to influence the Hugo Awards nominations. (They succeeded two years ago, had a lesser influence one year ago, and have still had an influence on this year’s ballot.) This isn’t a single campaign; some of these people are sad that all SF is not basic space opera, with obvious good guys and bad guys; others are right-wing racists, who think that any fiction by women or non-white men is somehow depleting the strength of the genre and Western civilization in general; and some of them are fundamentalist Christians, who think that any writers who do not think their way are enemies of the state.

An example of the last came to the attention of many of my Facebook friends this past week: an interview with an SF/fantasy author on a site called National Catholic Register: An Interview with Catholic Sci-Fi Author John C. Wright.

John Crowley, an esteemed author of science fiction and fantasy with literary bona fides, reacted to the interview on a Facebook post on April 3rd,

The most egregious thing about such notions is that the writers do not understand what fiction is. As they see it, it can only be a sort of fanciful representation of notions, thoughts, or programs. The concept of using strands out of intellectual or other history for the purposes of sheer play is inconceivable to them.

Among the many comments to Crowley’s post, author and editor Scott Edelman commented,

As this is the same writer who insisted, “I have never heard of a group of women descended on a lesbian couple and beating them to death with axhandles and tire-irons, but that is the instinctive reaction of men towards fags,” his blather is to be ignored. There are no life lessons of his worth minding.

This author’s interview describes his early ‘atheism’, or indifference toward religion, followed by a growing antipathy toward non-religious thinking.

My faith in faithlessness eroded over a period of years when I slowly realized that my loyal allies, the atheists, were not merely wrong, but brain-meltingly, blindingly, foam-at-the-mouth barking moonbat wrong on all the major political and social issues of the day, from war and peace to abortion to homosex to contraception.

As if these attitudes, which obviously disregard the slightest respect for how others might have different attitudes, are not bad enough — he then has a heart attack, and visions:

I went to the hospital to see what had happened. At the time, I thought it an attack of pleurisy. The doctor said I had five blocked arteries leading to my heart and I should be dead. I said I did not know I had five arteries.

While I was waiting, the Holy Spirit entered my body. The sensation was like a physical sensation, but it was not. It was spiritual. It was like wine being poured into a dirty cup.

And of course this medical incident, which one might suppose involved some kind of brain damage, confirmed his predispositions. And now he is so absolutely certain of his convictions, that he passes judgements on other writers for their lack of similar convictions — who are therefore “enemies of the camp”.

More dangerous are writers of real skill and talent whose spiritual vision is awake, but whose loyalty is in the enemy camp: I put the remarkably talented Ursula K LeGuin in this category, for she can capture the spiritual look, feel, and flavor of Taoism without ever once revealing her own spiritual preferences; and likewise Mr. John Crowley, who is a gnostic, and peppers his work with themes that make the heresy seem quite inviting and new.

Religious zealots are common throughout history, but here is one nesting in the heart of the science fiction field. I don’t dwell on this (to spend half an hour composing this post) except to note this conclusion: the more absolutely certain anyone is of their convictions, especially religious convictions, the more likely they are wrong, that their convictions are derived from psychological issues, and certainly not based on any kind of rational conclusion about empirical evidence from the real world.

(I might note that as editor of Locus Online, I’ve had no trouble reviewing Mr. Wright’s novels — e.g. this review by Paul Di Filippo.)

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