Pulling a Picard, by Ben Jeapes

I’m having great fun writing an article for Focus, a magazine for writers published by the British Science Fiction Association, on getting religion into science fiction and fantasy writing. Not Christianity specifically (though that is my obvious bias, being my background) but in general. The title, ‘Pulling a Picard’, comes from a particularly irritating episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, ‘Journey’s End’, in which the noble Captain Jean-Luc Picard is faced with a tribe of Native American descendants who still cling to their old beliefs and very quickly realise that our heroes don’t really do religion. In all sincerity, Picard insists, “We have the deepest respect for your beliefs!”

In fact it is blindingly obvious – in every nuance, subvocalisation and facial tic – that far from having the deepest respect, Picard and his crew regard their beliefs as superstitious hokum. This is simply because the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, was determined that in the future, everyone would be an atheist. He saw this as the best, most logical and most moral outcome of human development.

I don’t mind being disagreed with; I do mind erroneous arguments that simply are not predicated correctly. The history of science fiction is littered with failed attempts to satirise or debunk religion, sometimes by well-known writers who ought to have known better, and sometimes still very successful, in terms of sales, because they are (ahem) preaching to the choir. Religion today has withstood thousands of years of every doubt thrown at it. Every generation is convinced that theirs will see the last of it, and yet it’s still there for the next. A bit like print, really, and for very similar reasons: the doomsayers can’t see inside the heads of the faithful and overlook or disregard the personal, subjective experiences that perpetuate it – experiences that negate the most perfectly crafted, objectively logical killer argument you can devise against it. They simply don’t get religion.

So that is what I try to convey: just just the obvious fallacies of notions like religion and civilisation being incompatible, or religion inevitably leading to bigotry and persecution, but exactly why people continue to believe; how rituals and prayers might not just be so much hocus pocus; how you can still believe in science as well as God. The religious mindset. And it’s a helpful, two-way exercise. Paul in his letters excelled at finding points on which he and his audience could agree, and then leading off from that point of agreement to show them something they hadn’t considered; but to do that, you still need to understand the audience in the first place. I’ve found it’s too easy to do exactly what I accuse other people of doing: in trying to correct their perceived faults, I am so certain of what they stand for, without bothering to find out, that I end up mis-representing them. And that is something everyone should be aware of.

Pray for me. Sadly you will have to join the BSFA to read the finished item …

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of eight novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer. His most recent title is a children’s biography of Ada Lovelace. www.benjeapes.com

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