Thursday, May 27, 2010

A faith for space travelers

My interest in science fiction has lead me to wonder what our descendants will believe. Some authors seem to believe (or hope, I'm not sure which) that in the future, religion will disappear. Anne McCaffrey, whose fictional world of Pern has no religion, comes to mind. I think that while a colony group with no religious members is entirely possible, eventually someone would invent a religion. I think that religion will be with us for a long time yet, although it may lose influence or change dramatically. And in a society that started out with no religions, it might be harder for a religion to take hold.

So with that in mind, what kind of religions would flourish in a society of space travelers?

Religions reflect the society that gave them birth. I think we can agree, for instance, that the gender roles espoused by various religious groups not only affect the broader cultures they are part of, but spring out of that background. So an egalitarian society would likely have clerics of all genders and backgrounds in any homegrown religion, whereas one with strong social barriers such as ours would reject some people (women, homosexuals…) from participating fully. Of course in our society this is changing, but I don't think we can take it as a given that the people of the future will be more open-minded.

People also have a tendency to worship natural forces (or the supposed controllers of natural forces) that affect them. So I think some people, especially on generation ships might worship a god of the void, for example. Or say that their god lived in the nearest black hole or quasar. What if they stayed on their ship so long that they forgot what a planet was like? Can you imagine their surprise upon landing? Or upon meeting planet-bound societies?

Aliens might very well not produce religions as we recognize them. Even if they did, they would probably worship beings that looked like them and the creatures they knew. Would any humans join their sects? Would they join ours?

It's also important to note that aside from very new colonies, it's unlikely that any planet would have a single homogeneous culture. Even if there was a world government, there would probably be pockets of resistance and non conformity, and this would go for any intelligent aliens (except for hive minds) just as much as for humans.

We've also seen science fiction in which one race worships another, one with vastly better technology, that passes itself off as a race of gods. I think that one Star Trek episode even had the characters become objects of worship when they interfered with another society. And some people even think that ancient religions on our own planet can be explained by alien intervention, which just goes to show that people refashion old beliefs to fit new needs and trends.

Anyone read any good books that address this?

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