I started teaching a course that looks at the character of Jesus when he shows up in Science Fiction. Currently the course is only 6 weeks long and only taught at the UDLLI, the University of Dayton’s Lifelong Learning Centre for Senior Adults. We are using the following short stories and novels in the course, and I will be placing the blogposts of the course over on Wrestling With Gods website because it’s become a great place to talk about religion and faith as it appears in science fiction and fantasy.
What happens to Biblical Jesus when the narrative is continued into the future? Is it subverted? Are writers appropriating Christianity to rewrite it and rob the narrative of its miracle, or do they instead seek to expand the notion of Jesus to its infinite possibility? How does Jesus fare in science fiction and what can we learn about faith when science fiction writers write about him? We look first at the life of Jesus in the Gospels to ground us in the ur-text, try to gather the importance of him as a character and iconic figure in history, culture and religion. How is Jesus relevant in the future? Then we look at how authors extrapolate the future of faith, or seek to tweak history, just a bit, to get the savior they want, and perhaps we can better see what kind of culture we are in the face of our chosen Saviour.
Come follow along over on the Wrestling with Gods site. Already the class has been exciting as these students know a lot about religion, specifically Judaism and Christianity (UD is a Catholic institution) and many retired professors attend these classes for fun (they also can be quite mischievous).
The works we’re going to explore, and I will detail in blogposts are these:
To get us oriented on Jesus the character in the Bible:
Jesus: the Face of God Jay Parini
“The Man” Ray Bradbury from The Illustrated Man
“Mecha-Jesus” Derwin Mak from Wrestling With Gods
“So Loved” Matt Hughes from Wrestling With Gods
“The Rescuer” Arthur Porges
“The Traveler” Richard Matheson
“The Real Thing” Carolyn Ives Gilman
“Let’s Go to Golgotha!” Garry Kilworth
“The Gospel According to Gamaliel Crucis” Michael Bishop (a longer work I may not use)
“Jesus Christ in Texas” W.E.B Dubois (which isn’t exactly Science Fiction, but may prove useful in this study)
Then two novels:
Behold the Man, Michael Moorcock,
Jesus on Mars Philip Jose Farmer
If we have time, “Farewell to the Master,” Harry Bates—Which becomes The Day the Earth Stood Still. This would be delightful to show to students in a longer class. To read the short story and then watch both films.
I can also see adding these works to the syllabus for a longer class:
The Man Who Died DH Lawrence
Jesus Christ, Animator Ken MacLeod
All Star Superman Grant Morrison
Jesus Christs AJ Langguth
Only Begotten Daughter James Morrow
If you have suggestions on stories, poems, or novels to add to this list, let me know. Specifically we are NOT covering characters who merely have a “savior-esque” quality to them, or those that have a martyr motif. I want to look at places where characters are for all intents and purposes supposed to BE Jesus.
When I was a kid, I read a fascinating sci-fi book (probably from the 1960s) that was about the very far future earth dominated by machines (“synthesized” food, etc). It was a bleak world and there was a chapter where Jesus was in jail, la to rot until he simply vanishes -giving up on the world. There is a group of scientists who inadvetently start a runaway destruction of the planet by somehow “splitting a donut-shaped magnetic field.
I cannot remember the name of the book. I thought it might be Asimov’s “Against the Fall of Night”, but wish I could read it again…
That sounds COOL. If you ever find it, I would love to know!!
I would love to take this course the next time it is offered.
Oh I would love to teach it again! I will try to let folks know next time it is offered!
That would be great! I came across that post while doing some other research, and a class like that is certainly in my wheelhouse of interests.
I have been reading science fiction tales since the late 1950s. I once read a story about a space ship captain from Earth who, in traveling from one newly-discovered planet to another in the galaxy, discovers that stories are told on each planet about a Christ character who had been killed. He searches for Christ on planet after planet, finding that the story of a past Jesus is told on each inhabited planet, until he discovers a planet where a Christ character is currently teaching the message of God. The story ends as he hopes to meet this person. I have always wanted to read the story again, but I can’t recall the title…..