Over the past three weeks, I have been invited to speak at two separate science fiction conventions. As I take these requests to prayer, I have been mulling over potential topics. Now, to be clear, I am not someone whose major passion is science fiction. I like science fiction movies, I’ve read a few books, but I am by no means an expert on the genre. Let’s just say, I know what I like and I know what I don’t like.
Of the movies that I have seen, I find an interesting and troubling theme that emerges on the future ahead: Dark, mechanical, animalistic, nihilistic, and godless. Dare I say, some of the motion picture “think tanks” that have reflected on our future have tended toward a de-evolution of the human condition versus an evolution into something far more meaningful and beautiful.
Case in point, I was trying to find a good, objective list of the best science fiction movies of all time. Whether it’s objective or not, I tend to visit the website, Rotten Tomatoes, since it seems the movies they give high ratings to are usually the movies I end up enjoying the most. When I learned that the top rated science fiction movie was Mad Max: Fury Road, I felt that my hypothesis on the presumption of a dark future might have some merit.
Before I share some of my thoughts on the movie, I find it interesting that the top rated science fiction movie didn’t have a script. As odd as it might sound, the only attempt at something resembling a script was the stitching together of many story boards to fuel the intense, raw adrenaline feel of the action scenes, which make up the vast majority of the film. (For an interesting analysis of how Mad Max: Fury Road was written, click here for a writer’s analysis of the movie – WARNING: This does contain clips with a good deal of violence in them.)*
As I dug around online, I found that the writing of Mad Max: Fury Road was done more like a graphic novel instead of your classic movie script. This led to my first thought – Is our future moving to more of a visual understanding of reality instead of a written understanding of reality? This resonates with me as I am starting to get into graphic novels that are more than just a bound collection of comic books. One of my favorite graphic novels is titles Here. It’s a graphic novel that presents a visual history of the room of a house going back before the room existed, everything that happened in the room after the house was built, and things that happened after the house burned down. It’s a fascinating work! (Click here for a review of the book, “Here.”)
Though there are many positives I can think of with the rise of visual based story telling, there is also something that concerns me: Mistaking emotionalism for well thought out logic. A movie like Mad Max: Fury Road definitely points to a growing cultural mindset of emotionalism and adrenaline addiction. As I have written and spoken more on matters of faith and science, I can see that there is more of an emotional response to my ideas than rational responses. There is much that can be said of this cultural shift, but I fear that we are becoming a culture of “They who yell loudest are correct.” Perhaps it’s because I grew up in the rural midwest where there is an implicit introversion to how people approach life, but I was raised more with the mentality, “Those who yell loudest should be trusted the least!” It’s an unwritten rural ethic that implies that the best approaches to life are those that are patient, reflected upon, and not done rashly. Are the prophetic voices of science fiction seeing an end to rational discourse and a measured approach to life?
In terms of the movie itself, I will reflect upon two themes that emerge: The disintegration of human dignity and the destruction of our environment. The Mad Max genre is set in a Post-Nuclear War world. Therefore, the “think tank” of the world view is, “What would happen to society after a nuclear war – presuming that some people survive?” As shocking as this might sound, I think that the creators of Mad Max are correct to presume it would lead to cultural chaos and a survivalist mentality. Now, are the particulars of the movie such as turning people into living “blood bags” going to come true? I’d like to think that was more for dramatic flare. However, do the dangers of a culture of barbarism and literal wars over natural resources have merit? Unfortunately, those themes are not futuristic and have already occurred in the world we live. Whether it be disputes over the fertile crescent in the Holy Land or the ongoing chaos between North and South Sudan, we can see concrete foundations for this frightening worldview.
So what does a reflection on Mad Max: Fury Road have to do with a faith and astronomy blog? When I think of how I approach astronomy, it’s definitely more of a “visual novel” approach. What I mean is that my first approach is to understand heavenly bodies from my experience of the visual and then develop a story around that experience. As I have grown in my love of astronomy, I have gotten into more of the rational, mechanical, and mathematical aspects of astronomy.
Notice, I did not use the word “scientific” in the previous sentence. I once was someone who thought that science was devoid of an approach to beauty. As I have deepened my understanding of faith and science, I have come to appreciate how beauty does impact a scientist. At the same time, the fact that I can look at the Orion Nebula and be taken by its stunning, eerie, and wispy beauty that reminds me of nonrepresentational art and appreciate the study of chemical composition, star formation, and temperature levels that allow this emission nebula to illuminate itself point to two very different kinds of understanding. I find that it is when both approaches are appreciated, embraced, and respected, we can get a clearer, richer, and more meaningful understanding of the universe we live in. Put another way, we need both the rational and the emotional to be healthy people, healthy scientists, healthy Christians, and a healthy society. To live in a world of pure emotionalism or a world of pure rationalism opens up the door for some very unhealthy developments in our personal lives and society.
Lastly, when I saw Mad Max: Fury Road, I was reminded of a statement made by a brother priest while watching a Shakespearian tragedy: This story needs a Savior! As a priest, one would rightly presume that I bristle at the idea of a Godless, nihilistic future. It further saddens me when many of the insertions of faith I do see in science fiction movies these days gravitate toward the controlling, abusive, and oppressive views of religion. In defense of those who are pessimistic about the role of faith in our world, I can understand how people not only think of faith as oppressive, but also undesirable amid devastating revelations of crimes against children by clergy that are abhorrent, disgusting, sinful, and criminal.
I, too, feel sickened when I hear of reports of child sex abuse in the Church. My experience of faith was positive, freeing, life giving, and the priests in my childhood were good men who were my heroes, inspiring me to embrace the priesthood. Different priests showed me how faith was both rational and emotive, thinking and feeling, heady, but still had a heart. They were not perfect men, but their bad days never approached the sickening tales that have been presented to us in the media. And it is the example of these wonderful priests from my youth that I try to emulate in my ministry, though imperfectly, to try and instill hope that not only will faith be a part of our future, but instrumental in allowing for a renaissance of authentic faith, hope, and love, rooted in the love Jesus Christ.
There is much more I could write, but I want to hear from you. Am I on the right path or am I off base? Leave your thoughts below. Who knows, you might spark a great idea that will turn up at a science fiction convention the future! Or, even better, you might continue the long tradition in Christian thought of a sacred conversation about God and the world we live in that helps renew us personally and communally. It is a necessary conversation that can contribute toward a future of optimism, beauty, and peace, versus a world of darkness, despair, and hopelessness.
- *Disclaimer: the creator of the video cited has a commercial at the end to support his channel. My use of his video is in no way an endorsement of his work or an encouragement to subscribe to his page. I simply use his video because it provides great insight into how Mad Max: Fury Road was written.)