David and I started playing Lightning Returns the other day and the story has major religious overtones. I knew you had 13 days until the end of the world, what I did not know is that Lightning has become the savior of souls trying to save as many people before time runs out and God remakes the world. Part of the reason you are saving the souls is because what good is the world without souls, which is an idea you could see a religion being built around. You are working for God trying to save the world, how much more connection do you need to religion? This is not the first time that religion has come up in Science Fiction. It is used in a variety of ways in various science fiction stories. One thing that I found interesting is religion in science fiction is presented in two different ways.
One is the simplest because there is a deity that people believe in and sometimes even get to see. The other option is a bit more nebulous because it is more about self improvement or self control. The different ways these religions are manifested can be an interesting.
Religion With a Deity
Now the Final Fantasy XIII is very much about a God and belief in that God. We see them and experience them multiple times. They commit miracles through the series. Another great example is Battlestar Galactica. In the show we actually have two religions at odds with each other. One is the human religion worshipping the Lords of Kobols that seemed to be based on the Greek Gods. This seems to be the general religion of the twelve colonies. The big religious breakthrough in the show is the concept of a thirteenth tribe. The Gods are talked about and referenced, but there are few who seem to have a strong belief besides the religious leaders. Then you have the Cylons who believe in the one true God and that there are no other Gods before this God. They are often trying to convert the humans they meet to their religious belief. It is an interesting dynamic to have in a science fiction story, and at the same time speaks to many of our personal experiences with religion.
For these sorts of stories, the God can be something that is experienced on a personal level or something that just takes faith. The important thing is that there is a belief in a higher power that controls some part of the universe. The interesting thing is that often if there is a God there are not aliens present, but that is another discussion.
Religion Without a Deity
This is a little bit harder to pinpoint or describe because there are so many ways that you can create this sort of religion. One example is the Bene Gesserit from Dune. They do not have a God that they worship, but they have a strong belief in self improvement and self control. They believe that they can use genetics to create the ultimate being who is still human. They have built an entire system around this belief as well as a set of rituals based on it.
Another example is from The Speaker for the Dead. It is honestly a great idea and while not a strict religion it still has a very distinctive ritual that is about betterment of a sort. The concept of wanting someone to come in a speak for the dead, to tell the story as an outsider instead of someone close to the deceased is so interesting. It is an extremely telling experience.
Both of these stories have a lot going on in them and these religions actually make a hug impact on the story in general. There is a level of trying to better the human existence when you do not have a God which is interesting in science fiction where supposedly we have also advanced technology to take care of our needs.
So I know that this is just an overview of the general concept of science fiction in religion. I wanted to write this because it is where the thought process started after playing the beginning of Lightning Returns. Religion in science fiction is by no mean an easy topic. We are dealing either with a future where technological advancements have changed the way we live in the world or we are not living in the world anymore. There are so many aspects of science fiction, but the important point about science fiction is that it usually reflects the human condition and religion is a huge part of that.