Elizabeth Anderson is a stay-at-home mother and independent writer. A graduate of Christendom College, she also worked for several years at Population Research Institute. She resides in Michigan with her husband, Matthew, and their four small children.
(Beware of spoilers for Doctor Who, Fringe, Stranger Things, Agents of Shield. Just go catch up already and then read this.)
At cursory glance, science fiction ideas seem absurd, wild and crazy imaginings from someone with too much time on their hands. Things such as superpowers, time travel, fringe science, alternate dimensions, parallel universes, alternate timelines, time travel. All right, all right, you might as well know my favorites include Stranger Things, Fringe, Doctor Who, and even Agents of Shield. However, although many science fictions, including these, frequently present world views decidedly without God, many themes common to science fiction express longings of the human heart which have a grain of truth, and find real fulfillment in God.
Take time travel, for example, and let's just embrace the fact that Doctor Who provides the best scenarios. (Spoiler warning). Is there anything more fantastical than time travel — or the combination of time and space travel? The Doctor never ceases to amaze, save the world, and even in the final two episodes of Season 5, bring the world back from having been sucked out of existence. The manner in which he does this is by orchestrating an explosion caused by combining his own TARDIS, the blue time and space traveling police box, with another strange contraption, a small, intricate prison called The Pandorica, which contains a little bit of the whole universe in it. The explosion causes the healing of the world, or rather it's being brought back into existence, with a little bit of the Tardis in every piece — like a little bit of eternity attached to the matter that makes up the universe. Boom, time and space restored. Of course, it's much more exciting than it sounds. And in fact, more true than it sounds.
In a certain sense, nothing should be more ordinary and true to the Catholic than time travel, the mastery of space, and the restoration of the universe. Our world was devastated by sin, overrun by the evil one, and time brought nothing but death. Until the Eternal Word entered time. The explosion of this union reaches far beyond that date, to the past, to the present and to the future. Mary, Mother of God was preserved, at the moment of her conception — a point in time — from all stain of original sin, through the merits of her Son's future death and resurrection. Pope Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”
In every Mass we experience a sort of time transportation as we witness the same Christ Who offered himself upon Calvary once, earning infinite grace for our salvation. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church clarifies: “As often as the sacrifice of the Cross by which ‘Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed’ is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out.”Nor is the Sacrifice of the Eucharist a repetition, or merely a memorial. It is the one same sacrifice, though an un-bloody re-presentation of it, for us: “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice” (CCC 1367). Furthermore, in every tabernacle, we have eternity, omnipotence, and all the other attributes of God, in a small golden house, for God Himself has chosen to reside there. Hence, while Doctor Who lead writer and producer Steven Moffat happily declared the Season 5 finale“mad” and “amazing,”the fact is, the truth is even beyond these mad and amazing notions. Is not Christ truly present in our tabernacles, He who is beyond the limits of time and space as we know it? Indeed, you seekers of adventure, find your treasure here: in every Catholic Church where burns a small red flame.
Moving on, though I hate to leave the good Doctor, to other common notions in science fiction. One of my favorites: the alternate or parallel universe, or the parallel time line. (Spoilers ahead) You'll find variations of this theme in Fringe, Stranger Things, and Agents of Shield. Let's go with Stranger Things for an example. When Will Byers disappears, he disappears into another dimension, one that the children call “the upside down.” He is still in the same town, even sometimes in his own house, but no one can see him or hear him, and his view is decidedly shadowy. The two dimensions are so closely intertwined, that Will finds ways to interact with his loved ones on the other side. This phenomenon should also be familiar to those who recognize that we are but pilgrims made for life eternal, and that all things spiritual are more real than the material world.
We are surrounded, in reality, by spiritual beings-by demons, carrying hell wherever they are, and by saints and our angels, who exist only in heaven, but can be also near and around us, as well the real omnipresence of God. Each of these spiritual beings and realities literally have more "being" than we ourselves do. These spiritual beings occupy our space but in a different way than we can know. It is good to remind ourselves of this closeness we have, and increase our awareness of it. We should imitate, if not Sci Fi stories, then our brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone before us. As Rod Dreher explains in The Benedict Option: “Medievals experienced the divine as far more present in their daily lives. As it has been for most people, Christian and otherwise, throughout history, religion was everywhere, and — this is crucial — as a matter not merely of belief but of experience. In the mind of medieval Christendom, the spirit world and the material world penetrated each other. The division between them was thin and porous. Another way to put this is that the medievals experienced everything in the world sacramentally.” In a way, sci fi notions of parallel worlds and alternate dimensions give an example of how things might actually be, if only we recall the sacramental nature of our world, and it's inherent connection to the next, which truly already is.
Lastly, one can hardly have a discussion on the merits of science fiction without including superpowers. Who wouldn't love to fly, control weather, have super strength, super speed, the ability to go between worlds, move things with the mind, control electricity, or whatever your favorite super power is. The good news is, all you have to do is get to heaven. Remember, this world is not our home, nor is the human body perfect here. After the end of the world and the Resurrection of the Body, when souls in heaven will be reunited with their bodies, those human bodies will be glorified. The powers of the glorified body may not match exactly with Superman, Storm, or other specific superheroes, but they will share in the nature of Christ's own resurrected body. “Christ is raised with his own body: ‘See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself’ (Luke 24:39) but he did not return to an earthly life. So, in him, ‘all of them will rise again with their own bodies which they now bear,’ but Christ ‘will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body,’ into a ‘spiritual body.’” (CCC 999, quoting the Fourth Lateran Council). For the specific powers of the glorified body, turn to St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Contra Gentiles in which he writes: “thus also will his body be raised to the characteristics of heavenly bodies : it will be lightsome, incapable of suffering, without difficulty and labor in movement, and most perfectly perfected by its form . For this reason, the Apostle speaks of the bodies of the risen as heavenly, referring not to their nature, but to their glory.”In other words, the body will have 1) clarity: radiate with heavenly light, as well as being perfect within and without, 2) impassibility: never suffer sickness or pain of any kind, 3) agility: move with the speed of thought or bilocate, and 4) subtlety: the body will have a spiritual nature allowing it to walk through walls (as Christ did on more than one occasion), and the ability to do who knows what else.
Hence, while many notions within Science Fiction may seem atrociously fantastic, the reality we live in actually surpasses our wildest imaginations. As Tolkien instructed C.S. Lewis, and Lewis relates: ‘the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.’Science fictions may not be the equal of classic myths or fairy tales.However, the fact that these fantastic ideas often spring out of stories carrying an atheistic perspective seems to convey a very interesting truth.The longings of the human heart, whether claiming atheism or no, reveal an attraction to the unsurpassed beauty of the truth.And that beauty and truth are found only in God.