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Today's Mind Meld Discussion: Science Fiction and Religion

Once again, the kind folks over at SF Signal asked me to participate in their Mind Meld discussion. This time, the question was, "Is Science Fiction Antithetical to Religion?"

I'm not going to restate here what I said there; if you'd like to read it, you can click on the following link: Mind Meld: Is Science Fiction Antithetical to Religion? They got a lot of fascinating people to respond to the question, including Mike Resnick, Lou Anders, Ben Bova, Gabriel Mckee, Jay Lake, James Wallace Harris, Carl Vincent, Adam Roberts, Larry Niven, Andrew Wheeler, D.G.D. Davidson, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., John C. Wright, and James Morrow.

I'm amused to note that Mike Resnick "outed" me in his own response to the question, listing me as one of the Orthodox Jews in science fiction (along with Avram Davidson). He also notes that Gene Wolfe is a devout Catholic and that Ray Lafferty was a devout Catholic. What he doesn't note, however, is that there's a big difference between being observant Jewish and being observant something else in science fiction circles.

Basically, the question is: why do people in the science fiction community know that I'm religiously observant? Certain parts of American society tend to play religious observance and feeling close to the vest. We consider it something personal, and tend not to discuss it in depth with others unless invited to.

But when you're trying to observe Judaism at an Orthodox level, especially at a science fiction convention, you're faced with a lot of issues that push your observance to the forefront. Most of that has to do with the restrictions you place on your activities during the Jewish sabbath, which means not participating in certain convention events. Some of it also has to do with keeping the laws of kashrut, requiring you to bring your own food to the convention and to avoid the hotel restaurants. So you find yourself missing out on some of the social networking that takes place at a convention.

And of course there's the kippah (or yarmulke) that I wear. For conventions, I have a special kippah that shows a rocket ship flying through the universe. It was a birthday present given to me years back by vettecat, and as soon as I saw it, I knew I would always wear it at conventions. It gets a lot of attention; many fans have approached me at cons to compliment me on it – come to think of it, that's how I became friends with Farah Mendelson – and at the Nebulas last year, I even overheard Norman Spinrad commenting on it.

Anyway, that has nothing to do with the Mind Meld topic. Do I think science fiction is antithetical to religion? You can probably guess my answer at this point, but you might as well go over to Mind Meld and see for yourself.


I enjoyed reading your response at Mind Meld.
Thank you. I enjoyed seeing how others had responded to the question as well.
Interesting non-debate, since everyone raised good points but didn't really disagree on much.

I assume you read Edward Rothstein's essay on Arthur C. Clarke in the Times last week?
I missed that essay, although I saw the one by Dennis Overbye. What did Rothstein say?
He said that Clarke addressed matters of faith more than any other writer of his generation, even though Clarke was not at all religious. You can see it here.
Two things:

1. Please don't be disappointed in me. I didn't phrase the question, I didn't put together the list of responders, and I even made a point of referring to "early writers of science fiction" in my answer to be as gender-neutral as possible.

2. I hate to say this, because I want to keep your point, but your icon is violating my personal journal policy against obscenities, as noted at http://mabfan.livejournal.com/profile: "...please refrain from using obscenities." If I load my page at work with obscene words or images, I can get into real trouble, so I'd appreciate it if you could repost your comment with a different icon. (My policy is similar to what gnomi explains in http://gnomi.livejournal.com/277549.html and for similar reasons.)
Ack! Sorry--will later
I also thought how wonderful it was for you and Nomi that there were so many religious jews at Boskone. Richie and I were impressed with the amount of kippot we saw, and the fact that you had a shabbat dinner and davening certainly speaks to Sci Fi and Judaism being simpatico.
Were you at Boskone? I recall you came to the party we held for Nomi at Arisia, but I don't recall seeing you at Boskone.

Arisia had a shabbat dinner, preceded by an egalitarian minyan.
Of course, those convention-going problems you mention don't usually arise in an Israeli convention.

(Though in fairness the majority of Israeli con-goers would most likely be secular. You can pick off the observant minority by their yarmulkes).
One of these days, I will get to Israel.

I would imagine that there would be one big difference at an Israeli convention. The vast majority of attendees might be secular, but at least as soon as they saw my kippah they would understand that I wasn't going to flip a light switch on during the sabbath.... :-)
In the realm of randomly related questions:

Is a summer conference easier or harder than a winter conference?

I can imagine it's easier on Friday evening, because you don't have to race the sun to get everything set up, but harder on Saturday evening, because you might have to miss some events you'd want.

As you note, there are tradeoff between a winter and summer convention. In January, we find ourselves rushing to get checked into the hotel for Arisia before the sabbath begins; in July, we're able to get to Readercon's hotel at a much more leisurely pace, but then we can't buy anything in the bookshop until Sunday.

Of the two, I think I prefer the summer convention schedule. I'd rather not have to rush to get there before sundown. (But of course, I have no choice.)
I'm delighted that it's been such a successful gift!
I would have put up a photograph if I had one.

Religion and Science Fiction Panels?

Do you know of any panels addressing the religious themes in recent sci-fi at any conventions or similar events? If so, please do let me know. Thanks!


Re: Religion and Science Fiction Panels?

Many SF conventions have panels on religion and religious themes in science fiction, but I don't know of any specific upcoming ones. I've occasionally been on panels about the subject.

December 2016

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