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Posts Tagged ‘Sci-Fi’

Hubble_Ultra_Deep_Field_part_dScience fiction reaches its peak in space travel.  There is no more imaginative or enchanted “room” in the sci-fi household than the one that houses aliens, spacecrafts, and intergalactic quests.

In part one, we talked about the connection between myth and wonder.  In the great space operas of Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, and others, science fiction speaks most poignantly in the language of myth.

The imaginative elements, while marvelous and very important to the genre, are only part of the picture.  The whole consists, I believe, of the unnamed, upward-reaching hunger of the soul…of longing in the form of a journey.

The very idea of technological development as a means of launching ourselves to the stars speaks of man’s boundless ambitions.

DanteDetailSuch ambition did not have to wait for the advent of modern technology to be given a voice.  Dante Alighieri, the great medieval Italian poet, ended each of the three books of his “Divine Comedy” with the same word: Stars.

As he emerges from the depths of hell, he rejoices that he can once again see the stars.

At the end of his long climb to the peak of Mount Purgatory, he is now prepared to journey unto the stars.

Having toured heaven and at last experienced the vision of God, he sings the praises of that Love that “moves the stars” (italics mine).

Incidentally, what was it that led the three Magi to the birthplace of Christ?  That’s right — a star.

Imagine lying on the ground and looking up at the starlit sky on a clear night.  What in the world could more evoke awe, wonder, and even a certain holy fear than this?  Beholding the vast expanse of the universe, who of us would not sympathize with the Psalmist, who says:

When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you set in place —

What is man that you are mindful of him, and a son of man that you care for him?

(Psalms 8: 4-5)

Yet by faith we know that we are created for a destiny greater than worlds, greater than universes…literally.

Because of his transcendence, God cannot be seen as he is, unless he himself opens up his mystery to man’s immediate contemplation and gives him the capacity for it. [T]he Church calls this contemplation of God in his heavenly glory “the beatific vision” (CCC 1028)

…no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him. (1 Cor. 2:9)

And in this sense our hope is transcendent.  We know what our destiny is by name: Eternal relationship with God.  But in a very real sense, we must have faith that this is the fulfillment of our desires without yet knowing what it is.  Because while we know it by name, we cannot describe it the way we would describe anything that is within the scope of our creaturely experience.  That’s probably why the premise of venturing beyond earth to unknown worlds is so intriguing to the human spirit.

Prometheus02PR180512I am reminded of Ridley Scott’s 2012 “Alien” prequel “Prometheus,” in which a team of space explorers venture to a faraway planet in search of the origins of life.  By the end, they are quite disappointed and nearly all killed — but (SPOILER ALERT), one intrepid archeologist escapes and determines to journey even further, carrying hope with her…

…in the form of a crucifix.

Batoni_sacred_heartIndeed, such hopes and aspirations as we have been discussing cannot be considered apart from the Eternal Word, Jesus Christ, Who, being God, deigned to become a human being, like the rest of us in all things except sin.

As God-become-man, Jesus bore our sins, infirmities, and death upon Himself, and then in His Resurrection raised human nature to new and eternal life.  As Pope Francis repeatedly indicates in his encyclical, “Lumen Fidei,” it is He who opens up vast, untold new horizons for humanity.

These horizons are open to everyone…not just people who wear funny suits and fly big ships into space 🙂

“Prometheus” image obtained through a Google image search; other images from Wikipedia.

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I hope John Milton will forgive me for titling my post with a variation on the name of his magnum opus.

What I mean by the phrase is this: When we try to build something lasting and perfect in this world, we are building on what are either the ruins of a toppled paradise or the pieces of an incomplete project (in which case, our construction is premature), with dust and darkness — the “shadows” of part two, if you want — in the in-between spaces.

So it’s obvious why we can’t be successful: We are making our home in a destructive atmosphere with insufficient defenses.

Adam_Eve

Unfortunately, we have been doing it on and off ever since our First Parents.  They thought they could have their freedom and happiness apart from God, which is intrinsically impossible.

Things are as they are because as a species, we tried to build on the wrong foundation to begin with.  Ever subsequent attempt to build the perfect society by our own powers — starting with the Tower of Babel and going all the way up to the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century — ends in disaster.

Such attempts not only echo the Original Sin, they build on an even worse foundation, since death entered into human existence and the world over which we were meant to be stewards became subject to futility and decay.

A.I.Still from “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” (DreamWorks/Warner Brothers, 2001)

The dystopian future as a science fiction sub-genre warns us about our technological dream, our temptation to build a perfect world through technology.  Any “Babel” project will divide, not unite; confuse, not uplift; dehumanize, not perfect humanity.

As much as we may (indeed, should) appreciate the healing, innovation, and other gains afforded by technological progress, we all have a sense that it has to be approached with humility, not hubris.  Otherwise, what happens?

I look forward to finding out in August, when the movie “Elysium” comes out.

Top image from Wikipedia; “A.I.” image obtained through a Google image search.

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Alien_(1979)_-_The_AlienMyths and fairy tales are two separate, though deeply related, genres; but the concerns of both tie in with the concerns of science fiction. For our purposes, these concerns pertain to suffering.

In his book “Making Sense Out of Suffering” (if you haven’t read it, do so — it’s a real gem), Peter Kreeft designates myths as dealing with suffering in terms of “paradise lost” and fairy tales as dealing with the need for shadows against the light to make for an engaging story.

Sci-fi has both of these elements.  In some ways, they feed off of each other.

And by the way, by “shadow” we mean monsters, witches, dragons…and yes, Ridley Scott’s “Alien” creature.  And in dystopic stories like the upcoming film “Elysium,” it comes in the form of totalitarian oppression.

The why of shadows is obvious: Without danger and conflict, the story gets boring.  But we can’t forget that science fiction is the lore of a technological age, the summum bonum of which is the pursuit of convenience, pleasure, ease, and the cure of all ills.

While this might sound good in everyday life, no narrative can sustain itself along such lines.  And so we have “shadows” that are specific to premises based on dreams of technological and scientific progress.

But I don’t think storytelling is the only issue here.  Storytelling, after all, comes from a deep, basic, and primordial understanding of reality.  As much as we might wish for a perfect society in which science and technology solve all of life’s problems and end all its evils, I think somewhere in our souls we get the sense that it can never be quite that simple — not, at any rate, on this plane of existence.

BraveNewWorld_FirstEdition

Even utopian societies such as the one portrayed in Alduous Huxley’s “Brave New World” show us the dark side of our technological dreams.  In the future Huxley envisions, everyone is perfectly content, because they are genetically engineered to like and fit into whatever roles the governing body wants them to fill.

The problem, however, is that mankind has lost one of its chiefest and most valuable treasures: Freedom.  All people are pawns in a great machine that conditions them as it wishes, so that they cannot think, reason, wonder, want, pursue, or hope for themselves.

So there are dark shadows even in utopia.  And in all of its varieties, science fiction is at its most compelling when it pits darkness and light against one another.  And it most speaks to the soul when it acknowledges the ultimate victory of the latter.

That’s the shadows side.  We’ll get to the “paradise lost” side next time.

Images from Wikipedia

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Elysium_PosterThe slew of recent, current, and upcoming science fiction films and TV shows intrigue me; and of course, they inspired this post.

But I don’t think I’m so much dealing with a current trend as with a deep fascination that won’t go away.  Science fiction, many have said, is the mythology of the modern world.

The word “mythology” has at best an academic connotation, and at worst the air of the naivete of pre-modern man.

But as famed Middle-Earth creator J.R.R. Tolkien said, a myth is in fact “the very opposite of a lie.”*  Myths tell us, in a sense, who we are — not as societies, or as cultures, or as people of this or that time or place, but as human beings.

Our most primal longings, desires, and fears are expressed not in words or on paper, but in the images and motifs of the myth.

TechnologyBut the meaning of “myth” in a technological society is a little ambiguous.

To be sure, our technology and scientific progress have been remarkable assets to us.  They even express the creative aspect of our being made in the Divine image.

But slowly, surely, and to some extent unconsciously, we have hereby come to see the world and even ourselves as objects for use rather than for reverence and awe, as problems (in the mathematical sense) to be solved rather than as mysteries to be known (in the existential, rather than experimental, sense).

We have made objective reality a matter of cold, impersonal measurements, having nothing to do with values, meaning, or purpose — all of which are now considered “subjective.”

If sci-fi tells us anything, I think it’s that the technological boom cannot and will not dispose of our deeper humanity…our sense of wonder, the searching of our hearts.  The “dream” of science fiction is that even a technological society is not immune to the wonders and dangers of a universe like ours.

* Quoted from a dramatization, which can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzBT39gx-TE&feature=player_embedded

Photos from Wikipedia

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This was one of the previews I saw just before “Man of Steel,” and it has taken me awhile to find an “angle” for some short reflection.

I’ve chosen to focus on that haunting line at the beginning of the trailer:

We always thought alien life would come from the stars.  But it came from deep beneath the Pacific.

Interestingly, this is not the first sci-fi adventure featuring the deep sea as a place of contact with extra-terrestrials.  One thinks, for example, of Ron Howard’s 1985 classic “Cocoon,” in which alien visitors retrieve cocoon-like objects containing the carefully preserved bodies of members of their species amid the ruins of a millennia-old outpost at the bottom of the sea.

One also thinks of James Cameron’s “The Abyss,” in which the sea is the place of encounter between the crew of an American nuclear submarine and a strange life form that is clearly from another world (the deeper they go, the closer they get to the life form itself).

As I got thinking about this, eventually something from the Bible came to mind:

Exodus

So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea flowed back to its normal depth. The Egyptians were fleeing head on toward the sea, when the LORD hurled them into its midst. As the water flowed back, it covered the chariots and the charioteers of Pharaoh’s whole army which had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not a single one of them escaped. (Exodus 14: 27-28)

This passage of Scripture gets its importance first and foremost from its prefiguration of Baptism, by which the Christian is incorporated into the Body of Christ, Who by His Cross and Resurrection defeated mankind’s true enemies — sin, death, and the devil.

devilYes, the devil.  Though defeated enemies, the devil and his subordinate demons are still around and constantly trying, in various ways, to seduce human beings away from God.

But it appears that the waters of Baptism are not all that the devil and his minions have been buried under in this day and age.  In our materialistic age, demons have become regarded as little more than memories of old wives’ tales used to scare naughty children.

As C.S. Lewis suggested in his great book “The Screwtape Letters,” the devil has power over us when we believe that he doesn’t exist.  When we — as individuals and as a society — let our guard down, he and his “peeps” can slip through unnoticed.

Those of us who are Christians must remember that even though we have been redeemed in Baptism, God still allows us free will; and while the devil has no power to force us to do anything as long as we cling to Christ, he can continue to play on our wounded nature in order to make evil look attractive to us.

I think there is something in all people that recognizes something of this reality intuitively.  After all, the great dysfunction we often notice in our world in some way speaks to us of something bigger and more sinister going on behind the scenes, as it were.

St. Michael

But it’s not just demons.  Angels also have been largely abandoned and pushed to the margins in our culture.  But we need to know about them as well, for they are our supernatural defenders against the demonic forces that oppose God and us.

Given our innate fascination with larger-than-life figures from early childhood (think of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, etc.), I think we can say there is some intuitive awareness of angelic reality as well.

So it’s not surprising that our popular cinematic narratives feature the prospect of meeting otherworldly creatures deep beneath the sea.  Can I establish with absolute certainty that there is a connection between this and what I’ve been talking about here?  No…but one can wonder, can’t one?

Images from Wikipedia

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