I’m sure you’ve heard someone say that there’s not much religion in science fiction’s visions of our future. Generally, it’s a lament, but as an atheist who was raised entirely without religion and lost an entire quadrant of her family in concentrations camps, I’m okay with that. To me, religion is the root of quite a lot of evil done by people to other people and to the world around us. Also, why would anyone want to belong to a group that tells you what to believe and how to behave? Here’s to a future where we just try to be kind, compassionate, helpful, and just to each other while aiming to tread lightly upon the Earth, and to a future where we find awe in the amazing world around us.
Wouldn’t this also be the solarpunk way? It is a fairly anarchistic endeavor, not much for following papal edicts or any other orders from the higher ranks of organized religions. Yet, I bet for a lot of people, including solarpunks, life outside of an organized religion would feel rudderless or lacking. I may be allergic to religion, but I can see that many people need and even enjoy the spiritual, supportive, social, and/or communal aspects of religion.
So maybe it is solarpunk to explore religion in our visions of a good future. Being so community-oriented, I bet solarpunks could come up with satisfying alternatives to organized religion. And yet, what would this be but reinventing organized religions? Because what are organized religions but bunch of beliefs and practices a group of people invented and codified and figured out a way to perpetuate over distance and time? I’m admittedly no expert, but I bet community-organized spiritual/social groups are how we ended up with religions in the first place. At any rate, it sounds like fertile ground for solarpunk storytelling.
As a scientist, I have also always wondered how any scientists could be religious. Indeed, I’m totally guilty of assuming that all scientists are atheists. Aren’t scientists exactly the sort of people who don’t just believe what someone else tells them to believe? (Well, that’s a whole other complex topic.) For me, at least, the more I study science, the more I realize that the way things work is so much more fantastic than anything any person even made up and passed down in a story that made its way into the core of a religion. That makes me feel like not only are all religions just made up, they’re blinding us to the true wonders all around us. So how can any scientists be religious?! Surely all other scientists have been having such thoughts as well!
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of the conflict between science and, say, a religion like Christianity. Never mind the Spanish Inquisition and the bit of a pickle that Galileo got into, I’ve picked this religion to pick on because it was the religion practiced by the vast majority of the people I grew up with. This was also during the heat of the 1980’s culture war that not just fundamental strains of Christianity were waging against evolution and abortion and, indeed, learning. That “you must believe this because I am telling you that this is the word of God” experience has made it hard for me to see how anyone could be a devout Christian and a scientist who comes to their own conclusions via—at least ideally—making observations and listening to arguments in order to improve and disprove models, hypotheses, ideas, and theories.
And yet, as I eventually realized, there are tons of religious scientists out there. It took a lot of sticking my foot in my mouth, but I discovered I have lots colleagues who fall somewhere between being quietly and unabashedly Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu.
There more I got to know them, the more that I grasped that religion isn’t just a habit that people go through the motions of, but something that means a lot to them, that they actively practice, and that they think a lot about. That may be a no-brainer to you, but that was not an easy thing for the totally irreligious me to see. But it helped that not only are some of these people my scientific colleagues, some of them are my good friends and neighbors and—GASP!—solarpunks.
When someone recently brought up, in passing, science vs Christianity, I decided I would like to do a podcast with someone about what it’s like to be a religious scientist. I have no interest in becoming religious, myself, but I wanted to hear how they grapple with some of the issues that are deal-breakers for me. What has someone I respect found in Christianity that’s worthwhile given all the tricky bits… the patriarchy, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, rejection of science, hypocrisy, racism, and anti-refugee/immigrant sentiments, and the Gods, guns, and guts, my way or the highway attitude that seems to be the public face of a lot Christianity today.
I decided a good place to start with was by asking my happily church-going colleague, Norm, whether he feels there is a conflict between Christianity and science. And if so, how does he deal with it? I really wanted to hear how, given that his chosen profession involves discovering the way the universe works, he can stand to belong to a religion that expects you to buy its very manmade, man-centric version of The Way Things Are.
Unsurprisingly, Norm has a lot of thoughts about all of this! I won’t say they’re all in our podcast episode 2.7, but quite a chewable chunk of them are. And they’re interesting! Thanks to Norm, I have a much better idea of what people want from an organized religion and how they deal with the bad sides of their organized religion without twisting themselves into pretzels. Bonus: it seemed to me that my colleague’s approach to Christianity is compatible with solarpunk and a good foundation from which solarpunk dreamers can imagine a good future that also contains major, organized religions. And not necessarily even ones other than the ones the people of Earth already have.
Please have a listen, if you haven’t already on our Patreon! The episode goes live on Monday April 10, 2023. You’ll be able to have a listen here or at https://shows.acast.com/63d680c8ac7bb60011899189 .
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