The “Religion in SF and Fantasy” panel in the SFLIT track packed in SF&F literati as moderator John Ringo with fellow authors Glenda Finklestein and Van Plexico discussed the fixation of speculative genres on religion. Laurel Lawson, a priestess and mythological and theological synthesist, added a distinctive perspective as well as scholarly and spiritual dimensions to the panel.
Lawson explained that religion, whether you follow a creed or are an agnostic or aetheist, is the fundamental focus of our existence. Ringo said that it was hard to imagine an alien without any religion. He also noted that recent studies indicate that certain parts of the brain are hyper-stimulated during religious experiences giving rise to the question of whether people who claim to talk to God are crazy or have a genuine connection with the divine. During his jumping days, he recalled chanting a prayer to St. Michael, the avatar of the warrior gods and the patron saint of paratroopers. He also repeated the adage that “there are no atheists in foxholes.”
Ringo asked the audience whether there was anything in religion that had not been touched on by science fiction. The barrage of answers listed Roger Zelasny’s Lord of Light series (Hindu), Steven Barnes (African religions), David Brin’s Uplift series (dolphins worshipping the food chain), Neil Gaiman (American Gods), and Orson Scott Card (fictionalized biographies of Biblical women and the Homecoming series, Mormon). Plexico added Vernor Vinge to the list noting that the gods in his universe lived outside the galaxy with no restraints. He also noted that Robert Howard’s Conan maintained that it pissed off his god, Krom, if Conan prayed to him.
Finklestein asserted that SF and religion seek answers to the same questions: “Who am I?” “What am I?” and “How did I get here?” She maintains that religion is an essential part of characters in SF.
The panel ended with a brief, but charged, discussion about whether SF ever sets out to debunk religion. Ringo ended with the observation that if God should ever appear, he (she) would no longer be the subject of religion, but of science.