Updated: Aug 31, 2022
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Growing up I was fortunate to watch a lot of science fiction movies and read some great novels. Fascinated with the context of the movies and books that had a retro ascetic ambience about them. The graphics, imagery and colour palette intrigued me just as much as the content I was reading and watching..
The book cover of the Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham intrigued me. Post-war science fiction of a meteor shower blinding people. And a plant species attacking people. I sat in the school library and consumed the pages. Fascinated and disturbed at the same time. Some years later I saw the movie version of the novel based on a 1950s film. It was the first among many movies that made me fall in love with science fiction.
Following the Day of the Triffids other movies stood out for me. And I was fascinated and spellbound by it all.
The Day The Earth Stood Still-Farewell to the Master and Journey to the World. (1951 film)
The Time Machine is based on the book by H.G. Wells (1960 film)
The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 and 1978 film)
War of the Worlds by H.G Wells (1953 film)
Godzilla (the 1954 Japanese film production)
Dune (1984 - David Lynch film).
The Matrix (1999 film)
Prometheus (2012 film)
Of course, I was always intrigued with H.G Wells's novel War Of the Worlds, first written as a series of stories broadcasted on radio as a play in 1897. In the mid-80s I remember watching the movie inspired by the book in a 1953 film. I was fascinated by the movie and books opening:
No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by an intelligence greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own... Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.
— H. G. Wells (1898), The War of the Worlds
There was something in this opening that alluded to not being an extraterrestrial invasion. But rather something home-based, organic, growing and brooding beneath our very human existence. Waiting for its moment to be realised. And yet there was something happening to devise a plan as destructive and sinister as destroying ourselves in the process. I was perplexed, agitated and full of questions. Is there something right on our doorstep waiting to consume us? I was obsessed and it sat in the crevices of my mind for a long time.
Years later my science fiction obsession fueled the desire to figure out my faith journey and theological perceptions of God and the Universe. I felt anxious about the one-dimensional pockets of faith that made us subservient to a mainframe of thought and theology. It was as if we were but sheep following the shepherd blindly. And not given the chance to question the Sheperd. Of course, coming from the East Coast who am I to challenge a shepherd and the heard? We had and still have some formidable leaders and priests in the Anglican Church in Ngati Porou. And I have great respect for them all. But those underlying questions still sit within me, pondering, reflecting and imagining the concept of God. Outside of the Church's theology challenging our sense of identity at the same time.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
- John 10:11-18 (NIV)
Over time I started questioning that Shepherd. Am I someone who ticks a box and follows tradition? Are we expected to fit in with the rest of the followers? As a theology student, I wrestled with my faith and excelled in my passion for science fiction. It helped me explore and ask existential questions. Is God real? Who am I in this universe? Is there a reason or coincidence I'm alive? As my spiritual life grew so did my faith and became richer and more nuanced in my Maori worldview. I now realise how this is rooted in my Ngati Poroutanga. The following link illustrates that context a little more. It may explain where my grandparents were influenced in their theology too alongside our tipuna of their time. Taumatakura and Ngati Porou Spirituality gives an indication of that theology and context.
Now that things have changed, although I am somewhat fluid with my theological beliefs and spirituality, I still wrestle and try to figure it out. Looking at that innate sense of being Maori, Christian and Gay all at the same time. And I'm happy to say that science fiction gives me another dimension to this aspect of my identity. It influences the inquisitive mind I have to be able to suggest the impossible at the same time. And to be able to write creatively and freely without apology.
Yet as much as these values resonate and have some sense of meaning for me nostalgically. I'm not sure that I agree with many things theologically and that sense of myself. Nonetheless, I love exploring and imagining new ideas, thoughts and perspectives at the same time. There is a distinctive voice in me that pushes for the need to depart and challenge this part of myself. To help people decolonise themselves and ask those existential questions about life and God. Querying that faith and spirituality while tinkering with science fiction and the possibility of the impossible. Keep asking and querying in that space I say :)
I don't believe in a God that is colonial, conservative and boxes us into a system. Where we need to adhere and follow as we did as children. Yet out of this deconstruction of ourselves, more questions arise. Have we but lost our sense of independence as people of faith as Maori following the Sheperd blindly?
Sadly and realistically the Maori Anglican Church and its institutional frameworks are rooted in both a culture of colonialism and Maori Tikanga gatekeeping. And it is this gatekeeping that either continues to box us in a set of values devoid of any sense of freedom of thought. Tikanga rather entraps than giving us a sense of free will. With this, how do we challenge systems? How do we talk about Tikanga when we can't see and explore what it all means for ourselves? What is the moral compass in this context?
Do we use the Te Tiriti o Waitangi as a framework to talk about Tikanga? Or have we used it as an excuse? And not a way to live in a healthier partnership. In the structure of the Anglican Church, that very framework came about to help us be our authentic Maori selves. But are we really our authentic selves? Or are we still colonial effigies of our pasts just repackaged? Church resources say otherwise with land, assets, and an institution that is modelled on pakeha patriarchal leadership structures. Using critical race theory and theology as examples. Or does it continue to fuel our fire for new powered structured paradigms too? Are we Maori because new structures tick boxes for funding projects cashing off of our indigeneity? Sadly the word indigenous becomes a political tool rather than an actual social change and personal consciousness.
My favourite figure in Polynesian mythology is Maui. He wasn't afraid to challenge and turn Tikanga upside down. Yet he didn't do it randomly. There was a point he was making so that he could achieve life-giving results. While exploring the possibilities of the impossible. Even when he failed at trying to conquer death. The lesson to me in this story is that death and life are intrinsically linked and exist because of each other. Not even Maui could change and defeat that. But he gave Tikanga a good run for its money. In reflection on Maui and death, I'd imagine life without death. What would that look like? In a spin-off show from Dr Who, Torchwood season 4 Miracle Day explores this idea and concept. I'd encourage you to watch all the seasons of this show. Children of the Earth is a must.
Science fiction became that process for me in my need to ask pertinent and deeper theological questions. To challenge systems, institutions and the way we live our lives and belief systems. Striping ourselves away from the mainframe we became so accustomed to living in as lifeless beings. As if we are plugged in like the Matrix controlled by a mainframe of the other. Merely existing rather than living.
Is God an Alien? I think God is an excuse for us to remain plugged into a central system of beliefs and traditions. God is layered in many ways on what is real and specific to us in our values. And it is not my place to put my perceptions of this on to you. But rather it is to make you think outside of the box that we were raised in.
The lens of science fiction in whatever medium we see or read inspires us to think beyond the one-dimensional perspective. In the Dune Chronicles by Frank Herbert, his famous quote depicts Paul Atreides thoughts on fear.
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
- Frank Herbert, Dune.
It is that fear that is important and significant to many of us who ask existential questions about God. Why is it that we are afraid to ask and think that God could be anything other? What if God is an Alien? Some figure beyond human, extraterrestrial, a Martian or an organism plotting human destruction under our feet?
What is it that makes us fear God and become afraid to ask these questions? To imagine a God that exists beyond the institutional Church, the Marae and any other place or space. Rather, let us not follow the Shepherd blindly anymore. And not be afraid to ask questions of our faith and institutions. Or are we comfortable living our faith one-dimensionally? Or, are we afraid to look beyond the million other dimensions out there in the Universe? I'm going to keep exploring the universe and find out for myself. Or are we the sheep blindly led following the Shepherd.
Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit Chronicles (2001, 2003, 2012, 2014)
The Chronicles of Narnia (2005, 2008, 2010)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The Little Shop Of Horrors (1986 musical)
Doctor Who Franchise
Torchwood series (2005, 2006, 2011)
Star Trek (all series)
Sense 8 (Netflix Series)
The problem with academia on top of the church's expectations of our studies at St John's Theological College. It was around conformity and lack of individuality when I was a student. Around obligations expected of us in the following ways:
Maintain our responsibilities to College, and seminary life. We were expected as sponsored students to live in a community with each other. Of course, that wasn't always going to work among diverse cultures and perspectives.
Maintain a sound religious life by attending chapel and college Eucharists. As well as support for local churches around Auckland.
Strive academically to maintain the best grades and pass rates in accordance with the Auckland University Consortium of Theology at the time.
Although, not everything was to be expected in these three aspects of College life. We were a diverse mix of people, Maori, Pakeha and Pacific Island. Each comes under its own leadership within the college. Of course, as an institutional system dynamics and management processes required careful navigation that was at times highly political.
Situations among the students and leadership were often characterised and manipulated, swayed to a particular narrative. It was easy for me to see who played these games when they wanted resources, especially the leaders of the college and the church. I observed it frequently formulating my own opinion and learning not to let it pull me down.
Nonetheless, on the other side of this, St Johns Theological College did give us some sense of freedom to explore theology and not be afraid to question our faith and the system we found ourselves in. We did have some progressive lecturers, feminist, queer, Maori, Pacific theological studies and a wide range of denominations and religions. But the pressure to perform and conform stripped us of our sense of self. As sponsored students under the all-seeing eye of the Church. We were always under some type of scrutiny. Forunately the best theology I found was out in the city of Auckland. At the movies, bars, clubs, and parties, with the weird and wacky people, I hung out with on the weekends.
In a bout of self-discovery, I started exploring theology and my faith alongside an eclectic group of friends. We were part of a science fiction club exploring faith and theology. We would have great discussions and watch science fiction movies and eat out together at food stalls on Queen Street Auckland. We were nerds discussing science fiction, theology and our perceptions of God. It was my favourite time of the week. There was a bar on the side street, and they would have science fiction theme nights. People dressed up as Captain Spock, Stavros, The Darleks and the Cybermen. My friends dressed as characters from X-men and I dressed as Flash Gordon although my costume was nothing near like the actual Flash. I had silver gloves and a red shirt with a cape. I thought it looked good.
I wasn't the perfect A-grade student at St John's College, in fact, I failed a subject (Johannine Writings New Testament Studies) by writing an essay claiming Jesus was a Space Man. I correlated Jesus' divine personhood to that of an extraterrestrial seed. From his Mother Mary who had the right molecular structure to hold God's Alien sperm.
And, I made no reference to the required textbooks for the subject and deviated from the question and essay objective. Instead, I referenced scenes from Star Trek episodes of beaming people and Alien life forms across the universe.
As I laugh about it now. I was foolish to think I'd get a good mark for the essay, for at least having a great imagination. But as expected, I received a fail grade and a remark stating how disturbed our lecturer felt reading my essay.
I also knew my essay would be some out-of-the-gate stuff and didn't expect to be rewarded with an astounding A+ grade. But I had fun conceptualising my essay with my nerdy friends by watching SciFi movies and eating out. We would discuss Jesus and God in the most outlandish ways and theories. It was freeing to think out of the box!
Unfortunately, as a prerequisite of my course program, I had to wait another year to redo the subject again in my Johannine Writings New Testament Class. If I failed this subject again I'd set myself back with my Theology degree program. I had to pull my bootstraps up and not deviate.
During my second attempt, I wrote an essay looking at a feminist approach to Johannine Writings in the New Testament. Further analysing that it was the most unlikely characters who understood who Jesus was. It was the women, the evil spirits, the sick and ordinary people. And not the disciples who always questioned and seemed unsure about Jesus' ministry of the time. And yet they, the disciples were Jesus's constant companions. So I settled for the most unlikely characters that understood Jesus. I gravitated to the unlikely characters. Because growing up I was always considered unlikely to achieve and be anything. I knew what it meant to be an unlikely character.
Maybe God is. We will never know. And it is the not knowing that leaves a void and space to be filled with speculation, assumptions, and imagination. And to not be afraid to ask these pertinent questions of our faith and ourselves. Never feel ashamed and afraid to ask I've come to realise. If we don't ask we'll never know. And that is why I love science fiction to imagine and unimaginable.