If you were a modern, my love….

I spent six or seven hours in a masters level course on evangelism today. This is nothing new; my seminary has this neat little arrangement where some classes only meet once a month. Upside? Lot of free nights you wouldn’t have otherwise. Downside? Eleven hours of class in a space of about 20 hours once a month.

Anyways, one of our topics that we keep coming back to is worldview. Some time relatively recently– the last few decades, I’d guess– the worldview of our culture began to change.  We aren’t so much a modern society as a postmodern one. In terms of evangelism, this is a huge thing. You can’t reach a postmodern person with logic and rationality; you reach them by appealing to their feelings. (Appalling, I know.) You tell a postmodern person that X proves Y, and they say, “So what? I don’t care about your proof.”

Now, I’m sure you’re asking why this crazy guy is on your scifi site yakking about the nuts and bolts of spreading Jesus. And I can’t say that I blame you. But here me out.

Modernism is the product of the Enlightenment, which is a four-letter word in a lot of emergent church circles. Modernism sees the world in a scientific manner and seeks answers in logic and reason. Modernism draws authority from what is provable and observable. Unmitigated modernism doesn’t work terribly well for theological folks, because we tend to believe that an ultratranscendent being created everything by fiat, but that’s another subject altogether.


Man’s inhumanity to space bugs.

Postmodernism, on the other hand, first really begins to come to the fore after the world wars. Logic and rationality failed us, and instead of making human beings better, it made human beings better at killing each other. So the postmodern mindset rejects logic, rationality and reason. The postmodern doesn’t care about what you can prove; they care about experiences. About how they feel. About what’s in it for them.  If you’re saying this sounds like an awful lot of people you know, you’re probably right. If you’re saying you’d cheerfully feed those people to acid bleeding space bugs…. I’d probably agree with you. Yes, yes. I’m in seminary, and the Imago Dei, and yes, Jesus loves them as much as he loves me. But I can’t seem to shake the feeling that postmodernism is something of a memetic disease that’s been been spread around.

Or maybe that’s just my modernism talking.

So here’s where science fiction comes into play. I have this theory about Sad Puppies and the state of the field. Old school scifi, that scifi that most of Sad Puppy folks love and want to see return, is the product of a modern mindset. Even our whackiest stories tend to follow a modernist structure and narrative ethos: the inverted check mark that we’re all taught to work from comes into being because of a logical chain of events. House Atreides is given control of Arrakis as part of a conspiracy. The conspiracy nearly wipes out the House. Paul survives, goes native, and leads the natives in revolt. The Padishah Emperor is overthrown and the galaxy is now ruled by the kid who would’ve lived his life fairly uneventfully if it weren’t for the conspiracy.

Compare that to every Puppy’s favorite target, “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love.” There’s logic, yes, and a structure of sorts. It’s not incomprehensible. But it looks at things like plot and asks, “So what? What does that have to do with me?” It’s about feelings, and about what’s in it for me. And I think that’s the thing about a lot of this stuff that the puppy-kicking crowd crow about. They’re operating on a fundamentally different worldview. Experiences matter more than reason. Emotion and feeling matter more than logic. Ancillary Justice, a mildly competent revenge story dressed as a space opera, gets worshiped because it ignores plot in favor of character experience and a glimpse of a gender neutral society.

If you look at the things these people love, it’s all about experiences. Microaggression is a laughable concern, but it’s an experience, so it’s paramount. Identity politics? Poisonous tripe, but again, it’s all about an individual’s experience. Safe spaces? Come on now, really? But again, it’s about experience and feelings, not about what’s real.

So what does this mean for science fiction? For Sad Puppies, for the future of the Hugos? I don’t know. I can’t tell you. I can understand postmodernism on an academic level, but I can’t even seem to approach a writing assignment with it in mind, much to my professor’s concern. (None of us in the class can, apparently.) I’m really just throwing this out there for people to chew on. Maybe someone else can take this and run with it.

  • Joe Katzman

    “I can understand postmodernism on an academic level, but I can’t even seem to approach a writing assignment with it in mind, much to my professor’s concern. (None of us in the class can, apparently.) I’m really just throwing this out there for people to chew on. Maybe someone else can take this and run with it.”

    Well, why not go back to Christianity’s pre-modern origins for inspiration? The first people who preached the gospel did so in an environment that wasn’t quite post-modern, but it was polytheistic and pre-modern. They seemed to manage. How? Part of it was that their contrasting lives were their preaching. In a story, you’d show people communities that have what theirs are missing. Stuff they may not even have realized they were missing, until they see it. Superversive, and can be very subtle if done well.

    Or, you could look through a more Dark Ages lens at the roles of monasteries and missionaries. Sci-fi can act as a distributed monastery system, which produces books as missionaries. They point to the comparative efficacy and importance of rationality/ science, within a framework that can still hook people with emotions (as all good stories must), all pointing to A Better Way. In a sense, every sci-fi story is a salvation story.

    Or, go with simple literary technique. You want to undermine post-modernism? Create really well done post-modern bad guys, and show their appalling emotional resonance. Which shouldn’t even be hard. You know who did a great novelist job of that? Ayn Rand. People go crazy because her books have deep flaws, but are still popular. Why? Part of it is that she crated villains you could quote any day today and they’d be relevant.