Here are my notes from a panel given by Terry Bisson and my beloved Mike Resnick at the late, lamented Rivercon sf convention in 1997.
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Religion in Fantasy and Science Fiction
Panelists: Terry Bisson and Mike Resnick
Q Does religion have a valid role in science fiction literature?
A Bisson: Yes
Resnick: As much or more so than politics.
Q What is your denomination? How does it affect your work?
A Resnick: I’m an atheist. Because I’m an atheist, I don’t have to worry about being sacrilegious when I write about God, so I do it a lot. I’ve probably given God more speaking lines than most writers.
Bisson: I’m also an atheist
Q Is science fiction in recent years too apocalyptic?
A Bisson: No, it’s become less apocalyptic since the ’50’s.
Resnick: I agree. Now, TV and movies may be more apocalyptic, but I think that’s because Hollywood saw how much people like to see things get blown up. It’s a matter of special effects, not philosophy.
Q Mike, do you prefer religion as ambiance or environment in your work? How central is it?
A It depends on the piece. In some, it’s what the whole story is about. In others, it doesn’t show up at all.
Q Terry, are the morés and ethics in science fiction related more to religion or to the human condition?
A Religion doesn’t have much of a role in my books. In mine, the morés and ethics are related to the human condition.
Q Is there a set of precepts that hasn’t been done and needs to be done?
A A set of precepts should be used only if the author feels a need to use it. If it isn’t meaningful to the writer, or if the writer doesn’t make it meaningful to the characters, it’s just a gimmick. And the reader knows it’s just a gimmick.
Q Would you say that science fiction and religion are alike, in that each involves “suspending disbelief to gaze at the impossible”?
A Resnick and Bisson in agreement: There’s a fundamental antagonism between SF and religion, because religion is about immutable truths and SF is about breaking through accepted “truths.” Anything that accepts any religion as true is, by definition, fantasy and not sf, because it posits a being whose existence cannot possibly be proved.
Q What is the role of religion in sf and fantasy?
A Resnick: It has a valid role, but it isn’t all-encompassing. It’s a tool for the writer.
Bisson: It’s rarely the subject in sf. Usually a device.
Resnick: “Religion says, ‘The truth shall make you free.’ Science fiction says, ‘Doubt sets people free.'”
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Me, again. If you’ve read much of my writing, you know that I think religion has a large part to play in science fiction as well as fantasy. Religion and science are each about immutable truths; the truths are just different. They’re both about understanding the world and our place in it. And, although many followers of religions hold that religion’s truths to be beyond doubt, I don’t consider a religion that claims to have a lock on the immensity of an Ultimate Being worth its salt. And people’s uses and abuses of religion are certainly fact.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Invent a religion. Not one that’s supposed to be silly.