Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Theology of Space

The Book of Strange New Things
By Michel Faber

The idea of sending a missionary into space is not new. Mary Doria Russell explored the idea of a Jesuit mission to another planet thoughtfully in The Sparrow, which is a book that everyone should read. But while that book includes the thrill of discovery and the subsequent race to be the first to visit the planet, Michel Faber starts his book with a colony firmly established. Our missionary, Peter, simply applies for the job to be the pastor to an alien population.

The decision to leave his wife, Bea, is not easy. First, she is the one who brought him to religion. Second, they've founded a church on Earth that needs minding. But they decide that this opportunity is too good to pass up. How often does a person get chosen to spread his faith to people who have genuinely never heard of Christianity? And so Peter boards a ship and flies off to a community created by USIC, a gigantic corporation who is trying to make a profit off the new planet.

When Peter arrives he discovers that his job is much easier than he'd imagined. The alien race have not only heard of Jesus, but are hungry for a pastor to tell them more. Peter is thrilled at this, but also discomforted at the strange reception of the rest of the staff at the USIC base. They are largely nonreligious, but also uninterested in anything having to do with home. As Peter gets updates from Bea about constant tragedies happening back on Earth, Peter can't get anyone at USIC to care. He's torn between a hugely successful ministry and a feeling that the distance between his wife and himself is growing too great to cross.

This book is about distance, both physical and mental, and what sort of people are best suited to leave everything behind. It's also about the way our environment can shape our faith. What would the belief system on another planet look like? How would the residents react to a new one? For armchair theologians and science fiction enthusiasts, this is an excellent read.

Review by Danny Hanbery

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