Thursday, August 26, 2010

Science, Fiction, and the Catholic Church

I'm a sci-fi geek. I love Star Trek, Star Wars and pretty much anything having to do with space and military ship battles. It's escapist fantasy of the highest unlikelihood, but it's interesting all the same.

It also gets my mind going - what haven't they said? What is missing here? What exactly did that person mean with that off-the-cuff comment? Filling in the pieces of the puzzle is, I think, one of the best parts of a good sci-fi story. It's good to tie up loose ends, but it's absolutely inspiring to wonder what happened to bring about certain details or what happens after the credits roll.

It helps to get your details right in the first place, though, because sometimes you look at a story and you wonder if the person did even the slightest bit of research into the topic at hand. Anyone who watched Lost had to sit there and wonder how Hurley never lost a pound of weight despite being stuck on an island for many years (as a recently released deleted scene explained, he was there past the four years of the rest of the cast - much longer, it seems). It's a deserted island in the south Pacific near the equator - at least the guy would've taken off a good fifty to one hundred pounds in the first month or two, even with the airdrops from the Dharma people - and nary a heat stroke case to boot! One can see very easily that a hint of research would go a long way towards bumps in the storyline.

I recently came upon an article by a liberal sci-fi author, Michael Burstein, who wondered where the limit existed on political labels in sci-fi stories - how they affect the story, how much they reflect the beliefs of the author. His query came from a story a friend had passed his way about twin boys and the life they lead, literally from conception to death, and how details the author had given indicated that the evil twin (because it's not sci-fi if there's not a goatee-wearin' evil twin running around) was a strong American pro-life conservative. There wasn't much in the way of details of the "good" twin but there doesn't have to be - simply the implication that the evil one is conservative is enough for most readers to jump to the conclusion that the good twin is liberal. The author only had a scant few details about the political ideology of the evil twin brother and nothing about the good twin. In his criticism, Burstein indicated that, while he was a liberal, he might have given more detail and weight to both of the brothers, and not simply sketched haphazardly one of them in such a manner. His criticism reminded him of a short story he'd written previously about an alien debating the Galileo controversy with a priest, and how he himself had faced criticism for comments that appeared to take the Church's side. He goes on to basically say he was writing a character, and that there's a difference between the narrator and the character and their points of view, which I agree with and embrace, but which is not the point I'm trying to get at. I read over parts of Sanctuary out of sheer curiosity - a sci-fi author paints the Church in a good light? Fascinating! - and found myself rather disappointed at the lack of research.


"Sanctuary" is a story about an alien who interrupts Mass on a space station during Communion to request assistance from a human priest - specifically sanctuary from her people's laws on pregnancy and childbirth (her culture restricts childbirth among twins to only one twin - and her sister had already given birth). Sounds like a great story already! I'm loving this!

Oh, but wait, this person only knows scant details about how the Church works. *insert cursing here*

The priest refuses to make this alien a Catholic based on a previous Pope's ruling during the Vatican V council (it's the future, of course) that it would be inappropriate to proselytize to non-humans and that he can't say for certain whether her child or children would have souls. On top of that, after disrupting Communion in such a manner, the priest calls an end to Mass before actually distributing Communion to the faithful in attendance, and then discusses putting the "wafers and wine" away with another character. Wrapping up near the end of what is apparently the first part of the story, the priest mentions going to a higher authority for resolution of their predicament - supposedly a female priest.

I know about fifty people who can see the problems here, but let me spell it out, sentence by sentence.

-- The question of aliens and whether they have souls like ours has not, of course, officially been discussed by the Vatican (there are more pressing matters at the moment). The general rule of thumb, though, has been to assume that intelligent beings have souls. Basically, if you're able to build a ship and fly it over to Earth, yeah, you've got a soul, unless God opens up the skies and definitively says "NOPE, NO SOULS HERE!" Also, one of the Church's core missions has always been to bring the Light of Christ to the world - and one would assume that extends past Earth's atmosphere. For any priest to ever refuse baptism or even the likelihood of baptism to any intelligent being who clearly understands the grave responsibility they are taking upon themselves would be scandalous at best, and mortally sinful at worst.

-- No priest would ever halt a Mass because someone is being arrested or taken away. A) Communion is five minutes long. Sit down and be respectful of what's going on, and wait until it's done. Period. B) Priests have said Mass through much worse things - like bombings during wartime - so for this to happen you'd have to be literally dragging the priest himself away.

-- PRIME EXAMPLE THAT DESERVES ITS OWN PARAGRAPH (It's that important!): Post-consecration, the wafers and wine on the altar are THE REAL AND TRULY PRESENT BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST (FOR REALS) and DO NOT GET PUT AWAY IN THE SACRISTY. They get served to the people - or put away in the Tabernacle - BUT THEY ARE NOT PUT IN A CLOSET IN THE SACRISTY.

-- There will NEVER be female priests. The Church has been crystal clear on this time and time and time again.

Great concept ruined by poor delivery and even poorer research. F--

*edited 1:36 PM EST - added links*

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