Tag Archives: science fiction

Buddhism in Nexus: Wired Religiously, Wired Perfectly

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https://tesseracts18.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/e992a-nexus.jpgFuturist Ramez Naam’s first science fiction novel, Nexus, garnered a review last year that spoke to the Buddhism intertwined into the plot.  The novel ostensibly is about future human enhancement:

A few decades into the future, a drug/biotechnology called Nexus is making its way through the underground. When ingested, it creates a temporary computer network in your brain — which allows you to be “programmed” with anything from emotions to information about what songs are playing at the club where you’re dancing. The government has outlawed Nexus, just as it outlaws any form of “emerging” technology for human enhancement that could be a threat.

But what intrigues the reviewer is the Buddhist aspects.

What I found most interesting about the novel, however, wasn’t the post-human technology or the neurocomputing interfaces. It was Naam’s use of Buddhism as a form of biotechnology. When Kaden gets to Thailand, he discovers that Buddhist leaders and monks have been secretly hacking Nexus themselves — not with computers, but using the power of meditation. Because of their spiritual training, they’ve figured out how to use the technology to rewire their own minds and generate incredible collective meditation experiences. There is actually a scientific basis for this idea, as neuroscientists have discovered that meditation actually does affect the neuroanatomy of people’s brains.

The addition of Buddhism as a kind of socio-scientific force makes Nexus more than your average futuristic techno-thriller. It’s a smart thought experiment about how a single technology might be used by different cultures and political groups in radically different ways. Ultimately, the book is about why no single group — whether national or scientific — should be allowed to control a technology that could ultimately change humanity for the better. We can never predict exactly how a life-altering technology will be used, and erasing it before people have a chance to tinker with it is more destructive than any of the possible ill effects it might generate.

What we here at Tesseracts enjoy is the interplay of religion and science fiction, of course, but also that human brains wired for religion could actually be an asset, and not a drawback to human existence.  That Buddhists might have a leg up on this technology makes me wonder what other religions might have to offer when it comes to future human enhancement.  Buddhists may offer meditative strengths.  In what science fiction future could Pentecostals or Muslims have a future edge in human society?  Pantheists?  Wiccans?

For the original article on the Buddhist aspects of Nexus, follow this link.

Was Arjun of the Mahabharata gay, and would that matter?

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Found this great, thoughtful post on The Hindu’s Scrapbook about the notion that Arjun, a main character of the Mahabharata, might have been gay.  I thought it was appropriate to share on this blog because a) it shows how people of a faith might struggle with concepts that change that faith, b) that the speaker him/herself doesn’t believe that the changing of a character’s sexual identity has any change on the message of the faith itself, and that c) sexual identity within any religion is a touchy subject.  Concepts of Jesus being gay have aroused a lot of negativity, so why not concepts of Arjun being gay as well?  We are jarred by identity issues in deeply held beliefs or histories.

As writers we often find the flashpoints, the struggles within today’s faith, make some of the best places to write from.  While the post below–and it’s only an excerpt–does not touch on science fiction or fantasy, we can still empathize with the writer as s/he regards someone else suggesting a “re-interpretation” that has modern impacts, and modern opportunities for believers, and this struggle, perhaps, with being inclusive.

Science fiction and fantasy is going through its own bout of inclusiveness and gender identity struggles.  More and more characters, thank you, are being introduced that are not necessarily just the binary of male/female, or straight.  In comics, in games, in science fiction and fantasy, characters are becoming more representative of the full spectrum of identity–and as they do, we are uncovering more and more PAST characters, authors, historical figures who may also fall differently on this spectrum.  This may feel jarring, but for those who are finally finding representatives through history, or through literature, it can be so welcoming and encouraging.  To Northstar, Dumbledore, Batwoman, Alexander the Great, Willa Cather, Uncle Walt, James Baldwin, David and Jonathan, the Roman Centurion and his servant, and more and more, I’ll say that a few representatives are enough for me.  I don’t need the world to become gay.  I just need to be able to see them out there in the world.  Thank you for those interpretations which leave things more open and fluid in religion as well. I never want to take away someone’s true identity and give them mine, but thinking about possibilities when the door is already open allows for empathy for those who might not share the identity, and modeling for those who do.

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Homosexuality and Hinduism from A Hindu’s Scrapbook.

I haven’t really talked about many Hindu Concepts on this blog, but I was very upset after hearing this. Now just to be clear, I am a college student, and I just read up on Hinduism on my spare time. I am not an expert by any means, but that does not mean I am not knowlegable.

So yesterday, my boyfriend was telling me about a guest speaker he heard at HSC (Hindu Student Council) camp. He mentioned that the speaker talked about some people interpreting some characters in the Mahabharata as gay. He then told me that many people at the camp thought that it was very disrespectful that this idea was even being thought of and talked about. I could not find the thesis online (although I am sure it available somewhere, if someone can direct m I would love to read it), I have a feeling the character whose sexuality is in question is Arjun. (My boyfriend could not recall the name of the character.)

I just sat there and wondered, why? Why would this interpretation be disrespectful?

Again, I could not find the thesis, but being an academic thesis I would assume this person did extensive research (I am told psychoanalysis and reading in-between the lines…). I am also assuming that they do not say that Arjun (or who ever this character is) did not complete all the actions mentioned in the Mahabharata. So the question is, do these people find it disrespectful just because this person (as well as others) believes he was homosexual?

Now this is the part where I get confused. How is a homosexual character disrespectful? Even though there are many different sects in Hinduism, the one uniting principle, I thought, was Dharma. Duty. There are many different duties a person may have, one to him or herself, to their family, society, etc. Some of these duties are more important than others. Did Arjun not complete his duties in the Mahabharata to his best ability? Does a homosexual man or women not complete their duties? They have jobs and families. It is not like their homosexuality gets in the way of that….

For the rest of the post, please follow this link. 

 

For a discussion of Arjun/Arjuna as the first Transgendered Warrior, follow this link.

Bajorans and the Evolving Trek View of Faith

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Kai WinnI have to admire Star Trek for the way they evolved on matters of faith, by showing the complexity and the cultural aspects of faith, and how religion impacted society, at least in one series.

Star Trek hasn’t always been like this. Faith and Religion seem to be the target of early Gene Roddenberry design. In TOS and STNG, faith and spirituality were often shown to be merely a way to manipulate the masses (hello, Karl Marx). Both Kirk and Picard showed the natives that their gods were machines (“The Return of the Archons”) and (“The World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”), usually, or fickle higher powers prone to jealousy (“Who Mourns for Adonis”, and “The Apple” come to mind from TOS), or merely keeping people young and stupid for the whim of the gods (STNG “Who Watches the Watchers?” ) or (VOY: “The Caretaker”). Worse was when a believer realized that his/her faith was empty (VOY: “This Mortal Coil”, or VOY: “Emanations”).

In STNG, Q also represented the gods at their most amoral and irresponsible. A whole slew of gods that were bored but fascinated with humans (HUMANS are the object of everyone’s curiosity… what, no god wanted to explore Betazoid culture? ) What a scary concept for a higher power.

But Deep Space Nine seemed to want to explore religion and faith a bit more deeply. True, the requisite aliens were present in the Wormhole next to Bajor, but Roddenberry wasn’t beyond saying that gods could be higher forms of life that we don’t understand. Certainly I agree.  My concept of God is that he is a much higher form of life—which would be classified as an “alien”, yes, but still God. But unlike Q, the gods of Bajor, the Prophets, care for the people of Bajor. They are higher life inside the wormhole and emotionally attached to a humanoid species.

Bajorans themselves are almost all religious, having to deal with the reality of gods who live in the wormhole. The gods intervene in history; they send little Orbs that light up and give you prophecies, and Bajoran faith has completely mixed with politics in a way that is eerily similar and yet very different than American culture today. The US may not have preachers as politicians, but they have politicians who think they are preachers, and who create laws as if God himself were speaking to them. At least Bajor is up front: it’s the Pope in charge of the world, thank you very much.

I can give DS9 a lot of stones for making this faith and religion complex.

What I think is useful for our purposes here at Tess 18: Wrestling with Gods are the following ideas, I humbly submit to you for your thoughts:

Read the rest of this entry

Jefferson’s Creative Approach to the Bible: Crafting His Own Sacred Text

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Thomas Jefferson, considered one of the major “Founding Fathers” of the United States of America, created for himself a Bible, cut and pasted from the scriptures of his own Bible.  He threw out what he considered repetition and hearsay–and stuck with just the moral teachings of Jesus Christ.  He worked on this in private mostly, in his seventies.  It’s a remarkable artifact of literature, a composed text created from another text.  A personally sacred text crafted from a publicly sacred text.

This little video was created by the University of Virginia and features the Smithsonian.

 

Not every believer takes everything their sacred texts or churches tell them—and visually Jefferson captured what metaphorically many believers craft–their own version of their faith.  They cut and paste what’s important.

Can you think of a character who might be more eclectic in their approach to their faith, taking what they find important and extricating it from the stuff they find unimportant?  Not every representation of Faith has to be an all or nothing approach—a perfect Buddhist, a perfect Christian.  In reality, believers are all seekers, crafters, negotiators.

 

 

 

Dancing on the Head of a Pen: the Pope as Character Struggling with Faith

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We’d like to start posting a variety of faith-themed articles that we find in the news–not for their theological superiority, but because of their on-the-ground rethinking of faith and its impact on folks around them.  See them as characters struggling with their faith—even if it’s the POPE.

Yep, first up is Pope Francis’ radical announcement Friday that the Catholic Church needs to stop obsessing with gay marriage and abortion—that there is a more inclusive message of their faith that is being crowded out by all the negativity.  Francis, in this article and in others, seems genuinely concerned that there are people who have turned away from the faith because of the dogmatic approach of the Catholic Church.  No longer is it a “scripture over people” paradigm. Francis seems to be suggesting a reversal: a “people over scripture”– without sacrificing the Truth, as he sees it.  Catch his “loyal son of the church” throw-away clause, and you may suspect that what he is advocating might be a more pragmatic marketing of the Faith.  But, to his favour, his paradigm shift also seems to call attention to HOW folks talk about faith–and whether or not a message of Love and Acceptance can breathe in a room of toxic rules.  He seems validly concerned that a faith can be killed by too much of its own toxicity.  Faith, maybe, should have bite–a corrective correlative, else why follow it–but it shouldn’t devour its faithful like a zombie.  (No Zombie Jesus jokes–i know you almost can’t help it!)

I’m going to include the beginning of the CBC article below.  After that, I’ve included a link to the Pope’s full interview, and then a link to a cool Debate in the NYT this morning about the Pope’s comments and their impact on the church and the everyday person.

Again, this is not meant as a promotion of Catholic values, a veneration of the Pope, but to look at a) the Pope as character (finely, and humorously, done in the film We Have a Pope as well); b) the turning of doctrine or practice in a Faith–how that happens; and c) the impact of a large denomination on millions of followers–and how differently they might react to a new decree.

Enjoy your Pope Tart for the morning.  You may find it sweet inspiration for a story.

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imagePOPE FRANCIS SAYS CHURCH TOO OBSESSED WITH GAYS AND ABORTION

Pope Francis is warning that the Catholic Church’s moral edifice might “fall like a house of cards” if it doesn’t balance its divisive rules about abortion, gays and contraception with the greater need to make the church a merciful, more welcoming place for all.

Six months into his papacy, Francis set out his vision for the church and his priorities as Pope in a remarkably candid and lengthy interview with La Civilta Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit magazine. It was published simultaneously Thursday in other Jesuit journals, including America magazine in the U.S.

In the 12,000-word article, Francis expands on his ground-breaking comments over the summer about gays and acknowledges some of his own faults. He sheds light on his favourite composers, artists, authors and films (Mozart, Caravaggio, Dostoevsky and Fellini’s La Strada) and says he prays even while at the dentist’s office.

‘The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.’– Pope Francis

But his vision of what the church should be stands out, primarily because it contrasts so sharply with many of the priorities of his immediate predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI. They were both intellectuals for whom doctrine was paramount, an orientation that guided the selection of generations of bishops and cardinals around the globe.

Francis said the dogmatic and the moral teachings of the church were not all equivalent.

“The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently,” Francis said. “We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

Rather, he said, the Catholic Church must be like a “field hospital after battle,” healing the wounds of its faithful and going out to find those who have been hurt, excluded or have fallen away.

“It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars!” Francis said. “You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.”

For more of the CBC article, click here. 

For the Pope’s FULL INTERVIEW in America Magazine, “A Big Heart Open to God” (full of other shockers!) click here.

For the NYT Room for Debate of the impact of the Pope’s new direction/directives, click here. 

The Room For Debate has five short responses that include: Praise for a Pope who is putting the poor over a war on abortion; one who condemns the Pope for causing irrevocable damage with his words; the impact on Hispanic Catholics and more….

(And now a few more articles, and then Liana and I will start discussing and debating our own thoughts on faith–and hoping you’ll chime in)

As always, you may feel free to comment.  We’d appreciate it–since we are talking about religion and faith–that we stay civil, attacking no one’s religion or faith.  Noting the character arc of the Pope or the character arc of a denomination might be fun though.  🙂

Tesseracts 18: Open for Submissions!

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Zeus and Io CorreggioWrestling With Gods — Faith in Science Fiction & Fantasy

Well this is an all new topic for Tesseracts!  And possibly a completely new topic for an anthology: a multi-faith, creative faith anthology of science fiction and fantasy.  Who would have thought?

Here’s our thoughts on that kind of anthology:

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Jacob wrestled with an angel in the night, earning him the name “Israel”, which means “struggles with god.”  Buddha wrestled, and the hero of the Mahabarata wrestled too.   Wrestling is a part of faith.  Having a faith can help immensely with struggles in our lives, but we also must struggle against the rules, the boundaries, and the very doctrine at times.  We all wrestle with our cultures and our gods, whether we believe in them or not.  Faith is not passive.  Human progress has relied on brave souls willing to challenge convention through their beliefs.  And faith is not separate from Fantasy and Science Fiction.  Fantastic elements are integral to all major faiths–they have their gods, fantastic creatures, miracles, blessings, power and magic.  We continue that journey into space, possibly encountering worlds with their faiths.  Since our cultures all began with fantasy and struggling with faith, Tesseracts 18 will continue the Science Fiction and Fantasy tradition of wrestling with Faith, without declaring all-out war.

This anthology will include as diverse a representation of both real-world religions and faiths of fictional cultures as possible. Stories should not be looking to pass historical or cultural judgment, instead they should feature character-driven plots that include faith, doubt, miracles, spiritual journeys, and diversity of opinion within a faith.  Please avoid blanket stereotypes of faith-based cultures.  We’d love to see faith surprise us, and surprise science fiction and fantasy readers.

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Some questions we think naturally come from this:

How does Faith inform a culture, change a culture?  What does it mean to really believe?  What kinds of religions and faiths are out there in the universe?  How does faith play out already through established fantasy cultures?  How can people keep believing, sometimes with very little evidence?  Or is there evidence that is so personal, it is never shown to others?  How does faith effect an individual, a family, a city, a society, a race, a conflict, love?  What is the role of doubt and skepticism?  Those on the fringe of belief are powerful characters.  Characters who have doubts, struggles, disbelief enrich the conversation.

Starting soon, we’ll start posting conversations about how science fiction and fantasy has dealt with faith and religion in the past—just to be able to talk about where we’ve come from, how those representations challenge the genre or challenge readers and writers.

Mostly we just want to create a conversation about faith in fantasy and science fiction–in all its diversity!  PLEASE join us.  We’ll talk a blue streak with ourselves, but we’d just as soon have as many voices as possible in this conversation.

*Image is Jupiter and Io by Antonio Allegri da Correggio (c. 1530)