Christian fundamentalists, militant atheists, and some of the more irresponsible corners of the media like to paint Religion and Science as two discrete forces in a binary opposition. To scientists, this narrative asserts, faith is a mendacious force wilfully blinding people to the truths of scientific endeavor and the methods of rationality; while religious believers bury their hands in the sand of the like-minded community or seek to discredit the facts that would falsify their faith or at least render it unnecessary.
Needless to say, I despise binary oppositions with the white-hot hatred of a thousand suns, and this one is an especial desk-denter. I'll not insult my readers' critical thinking skills by explaining how you can totes believe in God and evolution at the same time!!eleventy (though if you've stumbled upon this blog, say in a Google search for “rob bell gay” [spoiler: he's not!], consider fine-tuning your reading comprehension skills before commenting, ta very much).
Christian writer Alister McGrath observes that university Christian groups are often populated primarily by science students, and my own experience bears this out. I think there's an argument to be made for the intellectual humility of scientists, as opposed to liberal arts students like myself who arrive at university convinced that, if we don't already know everything worth knowing, we certainly will after three/four/ten years of studying Latin/gender studies/ancient Sumerian. McGrath's explanation, though, is that “scientists are used to talking and thinking about reality in terms of models, in terms of partial and conceivable representations of reality, and thus have little difficulty in handling the same tools when speaking and thinking about God”.
The same, I believe, applies to speculative fiction fans. Whereas the practice of scientific inquiry endows a way of conceiving reality that can be transferred to thinking about meta-reality, sci-fi and fantasy provide images that we fanpeople can use as our models for conceiving God. (And, before you ask, I have indeed uttered the sentence, “Dammit, Jim, I'm a speculative fiction fan, not a scientist!”)
It's not just that fantasy's Big Three – the writers whose worlds even haters of fantasy are familiar with: Tolkien, Lewis, and Rowling – are all Christians whose culturally-ubiquitous works incorporate and recreate aspects of Christian mythology. It's that speculative fiction has a unique power to tap into our deepest longings, magic wands and talking animals and interstellar travel and time travel and epic quests and all the things that are OMG SO FREAKING AWESOME and I WANT TO GO TO THERE: things that transcend our everyday reality and echo back to our little earth-bound time-bound physics-bound lives some small taste of eternity. If you believe in the Christian story, with its great cosmic happy-ever-after, then it makes sense that you'll experience some profound yearnings for better, cooler, more miraculous worlds than our own.
Talking about God the Holy Spirit is difficult. This is the aspect of God that lives inside every believer. (If you thought the concept of the Trinity was a head-scratcher, consider that one of the persons of the Trinity is also a zillion persons. HEAD ASPLODE.) People just don't talk about the Holy Spirit as much as they talk about God the Creator and Jesus Christ, because it is one baffling concept. Here are some of the models I use for thinking about the Holy Spirit:
All images taken from nerddom; each one something every geek has longed desperately to have; each one partial and inadequate as a model, but taken together representing something of the power and awesomeness of literally having God living inside of you.
I think the parallels between fandom and Christianity are striking. How do we respond to Middle-Earth? Some with indifference; some with hostility; some with passionate love and longing. Some people are cautiously interested in the story itself, but grow to despise it on account of the intense nerditry of the fanbase. Some people are introduced to it by their friends, while others find it on their own. Some people are switched off by the story as presented in one medium, but love it in another. Some people think it is a load of crap and can't believe grown humans are wasting their time on a pointless fantasy world.
To those on the outside, the intensity is often alienating. But to those within the fold, all things are given through the connection that we share based on our deepest longings and the magical world that, for brief moments at a time, promises to meet and surpass them.
(Have I ever ended a prayer to God, you ask, with the words “I leave it entirely in your hands”? I HEREBY INVOKE WHATEVER IS YOUR COUNTRY'S EQUIVALENT OF THE FIFTH AMENDMENT.)