Faith in the Fantastic
by Maurice Broaddus, editor, Dark Faith: Invocations
Speculative fiction has a bit of an uneasy relationship with religion. On the one hand, Stephen King has considered horror writers as little more than moralists as they explore the nature of evil. On the other, some people of faith are concerned that books like Harry Potter might lead children down the path to witchcraft. Still, faith plays an important role not only in the lives of people, but also in the stories we create.
I have a broader definition of faith than some folks. I’ve always contended that “everyone believes in something, we all possess a worldview which helps us navigate life, even if it looks a lot like stumbling around trying to find meaning in a seemingly meaningless existence. All developing worldviews, what we choose to put our belief in, as we interpret the universe around us, begin with a leap of faith. For some, that central belief is in ourselves (the individual or humanity). For some, it is science (the determination of our senses and what we can prove). For some, it is the spiritual (with the conceit that there is more to this life than presented, both in terms of the unseen world as well as the possibility of a life after this one; possibly entering into a treatise with the supernatural).”*
Combining issues of faith with fantasy has been a vital part of many writers’ works, from G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis to J.K. Rowling. Such treatments don’t have to be positive, as a critical examination of faith can be found in Philip Pullman’s work. Turning to science fiction, there’s the classic, A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, with monks in a Catholic monastery who take up the mission of preserving the surviving remnants of man’s scientific knowledge after a nuclear war. Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow follows a Jesuit missionary trip to an alien planet which goes horribly wrong.
Horror, as a genre, embraces the world of the supernatural. Horror not only acknowledges a spiritual dimension to life, but that transcendent reality often intrudes into our own. We grapple with the idea of the existence of this reality and nothing terrifies like the unknown. H.P. Lovecraft said this about the fear of the unknown: “uncertainty and danger are always closely allied; thus making any kind of an unknown world a world of peril and evil possibilities.”
All of which leads me to the Dark Faith anthology series. The exploration of speculative fiction and faith has always been close to my heart. It’s in my work (Orgy of Souls and the Knights of Breton Court trilogy) and is what led to Mo*Con. Mo*Con is a continuing dialogue exploring the intersection of art, faith, and social issues and out of that sprang the Dark Faith series. In Dark Faith: Invocations we authors like Max Allen Collins, Nisi Shawl, Mike Resnick, Jennifer Pelland, Tom Piccirilli, and Jay Lake spinning stories that touch on various aspects of faith. Stories that terrify, stories that stir wonder, and stories that make you think.
Writing is the closest we get to playing God. Starting with an idea, we create a world and breathe life into characters to populate it. We allow them to take a measure (or the illusion) of free will even as we create scenarios to challenge and mold them. We grapple with what we see in the world around us and dealing with the implications of the eternal philosophical question “why?” Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there evil? Why do we do the things we do to one another? Speculative fiction is one of the best arenas to wrestle with the big questions.
It is very human to have a continuing need for wonder, meaning, love, while acknowledging and learning to live with life’s many mysteries. It’s part of who we are. Faith is part of the human experience so wrestling with it, no matter what we chose to believe (or not believe) in our speculative fiction is vital.
*From my article on World-Building Religions in The Eighth Day Genesis: A Worldbuilding Codex.