In honor of Father's Day, and thinking of my own Dad who passed away last December, I thought I'd repost this diary I originally wrote for Street Prophets a few years ago. It's about my Dad's love of Science Fiction and how it affected my own tastes in fiction and my own beliefs.
The regular SF/F Club will also be appearing this evening. As promised, we're going to start tackling H.G. Wells's classic Invasion from Space novel, The War of the Worlds. See you then.
Exploring the Outer Limits
(originally posted on Street Prophets, July 16, 2006)
There's a story my Mom still likes to tell about when I was in kindergarten. The Sunday school teacher asked my class to define what a pastor was. I proudly held up my hand. My Dad happened to be the pastor of our church, so I felt pretty sure I knew what it was all about. And so I said:
"A pastor is someone who can watch The Outer Limits and not have bad dreams."
My Dad was a science fiction fan, and sometimes he would watch reruns of The Outer Limits. I would try to watch too, but the show just creeped me out. The monsters, the weird music, the creepy intonations of the Control Voice terrified me. So I would stand in the kitchen and cautiously peek around the doorway into the living room and duck back when the TV got too scary. The fact that Dad could watch the show and not be scared impressed me immensely.
Dad's appreciation of science fiction impressed me in another way that I didn't realize until years later. We had a huge bookcase in our basement where he kept his vast collection of science fiction paperbacks. At least it seemed huge and vast to my brother and I when we were growing up. He had Asimov, he had Bradbury, he had lots of Robert Heinlein, he had lot and lots of A.E. van Vogt. He had Frank Herbert; he had E.E. "Doc" Smith; he had a galaxy of science fiction crammed into the plywood shelves of that bookcase.
I'd spend a lot of time in the cool of that basement on hot summer days, reading them. I started with Space Cadet and The Rolling Stones by Robert Heinlein and the Lucky Starr books by Isaac Asimov (writing as Paul French). I tackled the Skylark of Space series by "Doc" Smith; (Dad had loaned out his Lensmen books; it was years before I finally read them); and Dune; The Weapon Shops of Isher and van Vogt's other labyrinthine works.
In these books I often came smack up against ideas that challenged my faith; that flat-out contradicted the things about God that I had always been taught. One book in particular nearly blew my mind: Michael Moorcock's Behold the Man. It's a novel about a time traveler who goes back to witness the Crucifixion of Christ. The man goes back a few years to far and as he travels about Judea trying to find Jesus, he begins to attract followers and in the end becomes Christ. Heavy stuff for a junior high kid still in confirmation class!
But then I remembered whose book I was reading. I knew what my Dad believed and what he taught me from the pulpit, in confirmation class and in daily life. And I knew that his faith hadn't been shattered. If he could face The Outer Limits without flinching, so could I.
So instead of rejecting them outright, I grappled with the books I read, as Jacob grappled with the angel. I weighed and measured them against the things I had been taught and the things I believed to be true. Strangely enough, I found ideas that complimented my faith and enriched my understanding of it. Science fiction allowed me to gain a perspective on my faith which I wouldn't have had otherwise, and I think it deepened it.
But Dad's library of science fiction books taught me something else even more important. Later on when I went to college and met other science fiction fans, I realized that many of them had been taught that God was somehow an enemy of the Imagination. Oh, I'm sure it had never been stated that baldly, but many of the friends I met clearly had that impression. And their reaction was to reject God.
I never had to make that choice because I never learned that heresy. My father taught me the opposite. I don't think he ever consciously intended to do it, but his example taught me that God is not the enemy of Imagination. And my life has been richer for it.