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Art Imitates Life 1: Science Fiction, Fantasy & Faith

After I’d written several Star Wars novels and a short story with the late, wonderful Michael Reaves, I was asked to give a number of interviews. These included radio shows and online interviews on the official Star Wars site and fan sites, as well. Several of the interviewers were interested in the way I treated issues of faith in my work, up to and including the Star Wars novels.

As a Bahá’í, it’s natural for my worldview to inform my writing and my treatment of faith and religion in my work is intentional. I’ve given a lot of thought to it, so when these questions arose, I didn’t want to give trivial answers.  Frankly, faith is part of the environment in which I live.

Over the next several postings, I’m going to share my interviewers questions and my answers.

Q: What are some of the religious themes you use in your science fiction novels? 

I write both SF and fantasy and, as you might suppose, fantasy, with its appeal to our interest in the supernatural is more friendly to religious themes. In my first fantasy trilogy, I explored the dynamics at the beginning of a renewal of religion—the appearance of the Prophet in an unexpected form (a young woman, in this case), the reactions of disbelief and mockery, amazement, fear and outrage on one side, and growing belief on the other.

In my science fiction stories I am often using futuristic and alien settings to look at some very central elements of human identity—chiefly, what does it mean to say we are human? Does the mere fact of being born on this planet make us human, or is it something that has nothing to do with the physical world one is born on? Is it, as religion tells us, the rational soul—the divine spark within each sentient being—that makes it human?

Shaman by Maya Kaathryn BohnhoffI have a series character (Rhys Llewellyn, xeno-archaeologist) who appears in about half a dozen of my stories published in Analog magazine. Rhys’s stories deal primarily with questions of “Human” nature. He is sometimes called upon to recognize the human creatures on alien worlds and to find means of communicating with them. I can use this scenario to propose, in all seriousness, that human beings will be found on other worlds. They may not look like us, but they are us.

I’ve also used my fiction to look at our fear of death, at the nature of miracles and true beauty, at the importance and difficulty of spiritually aware parenting, at how easy it is to mistake a blessing for a calamity. I’ve looked at gender equality, the nature of prejudice, the application of spiritual principles to homelessness, and proposed a new take on the old deal-with-the-devil scenario that offers a different idea of what a Devil might really want human beings to do … or not do.

One of my published collections of short fiction deals with religious themes (some specifically Bahá’í) and/or Bahá’í characters. It’s common wisdom that science fiction is not “religion friendly.” In fact, another SF writer I was on a panel with some years back assumed that all other SF writers are atheists. Turned out all three of the other writers on the panel with him were from different faith traditions—a Catholic priest, a Russian Orthodox woman, and a Bahá’í (me). A collection of my short fiction in a book entitled I Loved Thy Creation (from Juxta Media) contains stories that explore situations with spiritual ramifications—all were first published in commercial SF and fantasy magazines here and in the UK. The book title was taken from this passage from Bahá’í scripture:

“Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty.” (Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words, vs. 3)

Next time, I answer this interviewer’s question about what these religious themes added to my stories.


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