I’m not particularly religious. As with 97% of Brits, I only go to church for weddings and funerals. I do believe in a God but I don’t picture Him as the ancients did. So, in writing ARMY of SOULS–which is based on the unexpected proof of souls in a hard-scifi setting–I spent some time doing the research. And, given that I’m researching the afterlife, that meant reading up on what other people might think on the matter.
At one end of the spectrum are the religious fundamentalists who (at the extreme) either excuse their inaction over global warming (because there will soon be the Second Coming, after which we’ll no longer need our precious Earth), hold to Creationism or (sadder still) promote the killing of anyone who does not believe in their strand of faith. I also found that even within the religious houses there are opposing forces at work, each of them slicing and dicing their House’s beliefs their way. Whether it be to excuse or condemn a Jihad, argue the composition of the Four Horsemen or to define or deny Purgatory, their views differ–so much so that it is hard to see how they can co-exist.
At the other end of the ideological chasm (the very far side), the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science consigns religion to history. In this view, religion has enslaved Man, caused misery for billions and has promoted nothing but ignorance. Man has no soul. When dead, he is dead. Science offers a better way forward they say, and many millions would agree with this. Unlike within the religious houses, there are very few dissenting or deviant views within this group.
It is clear that the chasm between those who have faith in religion and those who put their faith in science is wide. On the face of it there wasn’t much hope for common ground. I was wondering how I’d ever get science and religion to work together in my fictitious universe.
It then occurred to me that both groups work to faith. The religious ask that we take the existence of God on faith. And scientists ask tax-payers to have faith: your money’s being well spent; we will find the cure for cancer. It just needs a little more funding.
So was faith the common ground?
I’m fairly sure a scientist would argue that science doesn’t rely on faith. As it should, good science believes in the evidence. (IE as there is no empirical evidence for the existence of a God, He doesn’t exist). But for us to spend billions on a particle collider that aims to find something we have never seen before (and has only a theoretical chance of existence), we must have some faith in the theory.
OK. You can dispute all of the above. But remember I was looking for potential story lines, not facts. But if science isn’t open to the possibility of souls how might it then fit souls into the theory of evolution if the evidence was handed to them? Would their research then switch to the evolutionary purpose of souls? And the intransigence of some religious houses allows me to raise some awkward questions about what the religious houses might think of this proof, and to question whether the religious Houses would join together in celebration, or fall apart in competition? Is any religion truly ready for the proof? Might they be surprised (or even threatened) by it? After all, if you have proof, the congregation does’t need faith. Where does that then leave their leadership?
Which brings me to the Magis Centre for Reason and Faith, a religious institute that (in short) argues against Creationism, accepts evolution and focuses on what existed before the Big Bang. I thought this rather daring of them, given that the founder is a Catholic priest. I then learned that the centre’s line of thinking isn’t so controversial after all. Digging a little deeper, I found that the Catholic church (of which I’m not a member) has issued two encyclical letters clarifying its position on the Bible and evolution. The first says the Bible is not a scientific document, rather it is a theological one (Divino Afflante Spiritu – 1943). I did not know this. Secondly, that the church believes evolution and the Bible are compatible (Humani Generis – 1950)–in other words, they do not deny evolution, but embrace it.
Their point is that the Old Testament taught theology, not science, and it was taught in a manner that could be accepted at the time (for the sake of argument, let’s assume that these ancient stories were the word of God). It argues that if the messages that found their way into the Bible had been conveyed to Man in terms of astrophysics, ancient man would have scratched its head and put down its pens. Atoms? String theory? Light years? Pre-Big Bang entities? Dimensions? It then occurred to me that pitching the bible in a manner that could be understood at the time was a smart move; one that Trekkies would recognise as being responsible. Let’s face it, would a Federation Starship commander hint at, or give, advanced technology to a developing species before it is socially or institutionally able to cope with it?
The centre does however believe that were we to meet an alien species (let’s assume of equal standing to ourselves), we ought to convert it to Christianity. But, knowing what we do about God’s word being delivered in manner that can be understood at the time, just how would we pitch it? And knowing what we do of the many variations of each faith, wouldn’t our old religious beliefs confuse them? Might the alien species already have religious texts of its own that were equally as confusing, or as misleading, as ours? Would they want to convert us? One could have fun with this. At least the confusion might add depth to a Man-meets-alien storyline.
None of this research has changed my views on religion or clarified for me what God might look like, where He (or She) might be now, or why He allows bad men to prevail (although in ARMY of SOULS there is a reason why Man’s character allows bad men to prevail) but I do feel just a little less heretical for opting out of the church’s millennia-old rituals. And the continuing battle of ideas has shown me that we don’t know all there is to know, which has left me with plenty of room to add an interesting conflict or two that I hope will make Army of Souls an interesting read (as well as being a grand adventure).
Rest assured, science will prove Army of Souls to be a fiction. But not for a while.