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Science Fiction and Racial Justice: Olaf Stapledon's Secular Christology

“By simply ignoring the failures of his prophetic imagination, Clarke reminds me irresistibly of those Christians who have been convinced that the apocalypse was just around the corner (just as the gospels claim that Jesus promised some two millennia ago), despite the fact that this prophecy has been failing over and over again for centuries. The fact that technology has failed time and again to live up to its promises, like so many religious prophecies, that it has failed to bring about greater social and economic equity, something we were promised would happen with the arrival of the printing press, the steam engine, the railroad, electricity, the telegraph, photography, the cinema radio, television, the personal computer, and, most recently, the Internet (or Web 2.0, which was to save us – again – from the inequities of the earlier technologies), is in itself interesting.

What is more interesting, at least in the context of religious prophecy, is how immune this belief in technological salvation is to historical realities and the complexity of human culture.”
from Alan Smithee: The Failure of Scientific Prophecy

Science Fiction And Racial Justice Series so far:

Science Fiction and Racial Justice: An Introduction

Racial Justice and Science Fiction: Joss Whedon As Prison Abolitionist

Racial Justice and Science Fiction: C.S. Lewis As AntiColonial Subversive

C.S. Lewis wrote his science fiction novels in response to Wellstianity, or the religious philosophy of H.G. Wells, which was the deification of humanity through scientific progress; specifically the achievement of space travel would mean that humanity had attained ascendency into the realm of transcendence (Lewis’s interpretation). The author whose works infuriated Lewis so much that he felt like he needed to do science fiction was writer and philosopher Olaf Stapledon and his text, Last and First Men. By trade Stapledon was an ethicist and philosopher, even publishing a textbook on the subject. He was a committed pacifist, and we all know that C.S. Lewis despised pacifism, and even made lengthy (and severely flawed) cases against it [linked here]. So, the Irishman Lewis was already biased against Britishman Stapledon to begin with. Stapledon did serve with Quakers during the first World War, manning military hospitals, but Olaf did not have any religious commitments, really. He considered himself spiritual, and an agnostic.

The text I will be looking at from Stapledon is his profoundly prophetic, Last And First Men, a discourse on race, empire, and technological progress disguised as a science fiction novel. Lewis considered LAFM to be the Devil’s handiwork. If that were only so true, I would be wasting my time here, but Stapledon has a rather interesting Christology, born out of the particularity of his white British experience (which he is very open about). The premise from the first pages is that all of the world’s nations fail when they start to sin against Socrates and Christ (page 17). Socrates is the embodiment of dispassionate intelligence/intellectual integrity while Jesus of Nazareth personfies the integrity of the will, will-power, i.e., self-control. The Jews’ gift of the Decalogue provides humanity with the model of Hebrew worship, one that is self-oblivious and passionate, enabling human beings to “delight in actual human persons,” and living in unselfish love.

Stapledon goes on to satirize the European situation before World War I; replacing the historical German with Italy, and the real Britain with France (the party of peacemakers). The Germans Italians found a new national pride, but things erupted worldwide when a “French African soldier” had sexual relations with an Englishwoman (20). France, out of fear, becomes more and more militarize, with their citizens being unable to love their country dispassionately (sinning against Socrates). Britain responds with its own gathering of weapons, but cannot control itself (sinning against Christ). Stapledon in a not so subtle way is arguing that the racist empire building that lead up to World War One  were violations of Socrates’ aim of unbiased thinking and honesty of mind and speech, as well as Jesus’ aim of self-control (a New Testament theological virtue).

America in LAFM is the cult of the powerful individual, “increasingly hostile to critical intelligence” and whose very identity is shaped by the Civil War (41). The American business titan was a member of the Elect, and the ‘Parable of the Talents’ was made the cornerstone of education.  The Daughter of Man, a New Eve for a mechanized New Creation, consummates her relationship with the American dream, as the cross is refashioned into an aeroplane, a symbol of the new faith. The new American empire’s favorite ritual involves a dance, with a Negro athlete trying to out run a lynch mob. If he wins, he gets to live (66-67). How different is that from black males’ options of choosing either professional sports or prison today?

What Olaf Stapledon recognized was that Europeans’ blind faith in technological and human progress meant them remaining blind to histories of racial and economic oppression, as Smithee put it, an immunity to historical realities and the complexity of human cultures.  Would a contemporary Christology advocate obsessing over everything that Apple Computers showcases? Perhaps an adaptation of Stapledon’s Secular Christology would mean a prophetic criticism of all computer companies that abuse the rights of child-labor in the 2/3rd’s World, or a proposal for a dispassionate appropriation of SmartPhones and E-Readers may seem subversive in confronting neo-colonial economic empire, no?

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Self-Critique and Me: Rod

An exercise of admitting my blind spots

This is my response to commenter who wanted us to engage in critical self-reflection.

Once upon a time in a far away place, there was this one person who nagged and nagged me, accusing me of having blind spots because this person judged me by my facebook profile rather than actually having a conversation with me. I guess that is the blind spot of social media. We can where as many masks as we want, and try to be as open as possible, and still people will misinterpret your motives.

Without further ado.
First my beliefs:

1) As someone who was born on the margins as an African American male, I have developed quite a hermeneutic of suspicion. So suspicious in fact that I have major trust issues. I try not to let that affect my relationship with God, but with other people, I have a really difficult time, viewing friendships as mostly risks (which, they are, let’s be honest).

2) I, like Chad, uncritically believe in the existence of God, and have never really been bothered by the bourgeousie problem of God’s existence, and it is a class issue really. Who needs God when you have all the material things you need, right? Uh humm. Yeah, I went there. I have not been convinced by other religious arguments even though I have encountered them, so I remain a follower of Christ. Okay, I’ll be honest, I even have a large suspicion of “interfaith” and ‘interreligious” events. I cannot help it. I was raise in a Black Southern Baptist church. No, really, I was. But also, I see major issues that are unresolved, such as racial reconciliation and notions of power differentiation (ah, that trust thing again). I use this blog to randomly bash universalism because there are those persons out there accusing me of being “liberal” and “pluralist” or whatever. Just plain ignorance.. I don’t believe in religious violence or Christian takeovers of culture, whether by force or by “outnarration.” I don’t believe in bashing other religions or pretending that we all have the same beliefs. Those are just different forms of violence under different codes of conduct. So yeah, religious pluralism, I think about it a lot. I tend to come on the side of the story of Israel/Judah and Jesus. The logic of religious pluralism and universal notions of religion just do not cut it for me.

3) I have two warring factions inside. One, it is the iconoclast [the post-colonial ideologue], who sees a tradition passed down from generation to generation or a doctrine or a person who has been idolized for too long (eh, Karl Barth?), and I get this crazy like desire to find a weakness in this person’s or the logic behind that idea. And then when I find that weakness, that blind spot, I push and push, until I find another one, and then another one. I can veg on the couch in self-satisfaction because I just discovered a weapon almost to destroy, well, an idol of sorts. I celebrate my own radical worldview, glorifying in a self-righteousness I so quickly accuse others of.  And then on the other side, there is the outspoken traditionalist, the side that surprises a lot of people. There are a few people in this world who think they have me down pat, like they really know me, as a liberal, or as a conservative, whatever the labels are. I see myself this way. There is a tradition in Christianity, that usually goes unacknowledged but at the same time, is placed into racial stereotypes (oh, blacks are more religious than whites, therefore the men are always more conservative) and I think that is just not true. But I do have a progressive streak in terms of politics and religion, but also a conservative streak in both. I just don’t fit any categories constructed  by the majority. So when I articulate my views, some people will say, well, that’s inconsistent, how can you be pro-life politically, and be pro-womanist/feminist theologically? I think the key issue is my commitment to nonviolence.  While Chad has articulated an interesting position on the GLBTQ equality v. traditionalism debate, I still side on the side of tradition in this case. I however, as I have posted in past blogs, I detest plain and simple, essentialist arguments against the GLBTQ community and consider it a form of violence to call persons who are different names, to denigrate their humanity, as the imago Dei in the Creator.  My views, I believe, calls for nonviolence on all sides, protesting the violence done to the humanity of those who lived in the past (the Jewish authors of the Christian canon) and those who we call the outcasts, who we see in churches, but would not welcome them, as if there is some hierarchy of sin. Another pet peeve of mine. So yes, unlike those who have accused me of otherwise, I do affirm traditional marriage, so quit making fabrications. They know who they are.

4) As far as my racial biases go, I used to see things in “black” and “white” racially; that there was this binary of a “purely” black and “purely” white. I think that was an essentially racist position, in the end. It led to tribalism and a desire to want persons to conform to one standard or the other culturally, while ignoring the idea that culture varies and is not absolute. I still get angry when people accuse me of being “white” because I read a lot or because I have libertarian political leanings. That is just intellectually lazy. I am growing in this area, as everyone should.

Second my words:

1) I make really sexist jokes while claiming to be “anti-sexist.” Yeah, just think of the T.V. show, “The Office.” Okay, enough said.

2) I find myself, more often than not, being more willing to say judgmental things out of my desire for justice rather than encouraging things out of love first. Going back to the iconoclast thing, I love saying things that get me in trouble. Like making fun of cr-Appl and Crac Mac addicts. I don’t know anything about technology. I just love aggravating people, and pretending I do. There, I admit it. Hahahahahhaaha. In yo’ face! You know who you are.

Third, My actions:

1) I have a mean streak. I can be cold sometimes because I get frustrated with life, and it’s not okay. It feels as if I am almost unloving, even towards family members. It’s awful. It’s random, and it does not happen all the time, but on the occasion that it does, there are usually hurt feelings involved. Probably need a lot of prayer in this area.

2). Okay okay, im a procrastinator. I shouldn’t be, and I do get things done, but I get them done on my own time. So sue me. Okay? 🙂

Truth and Peace,

Rod