Cultural Sensitivity in SF
Sounding institutional, the word `religious` connects with ritual, or `established` in the sense of `establishment`, whereas `spirit` is a relational attitude corresponding to inner belief, or mental outlook, definable in terms of distrust of, or disregard for, materiality, wherein the individual discerns that which entraps or deceives the mind, so as to involve the body in activities likely to result in decay or degeneration. Religious activities, in the form of ritualized observance of rules and modes of behavior, are designed to ensure the safety of the body and/or mind in relation to what has been called, `the world, the flesh, and the devil`1, that is, religion observes God`s laws as helpful in maintaining the body/mind duality, while the spiritual individual is someone who has accepted that the world of the spirit is a source of aid when encountering the possible pitfalls and entrapments posed by wholeheartedly agreeing to engage with the external physical reality without reflection and unaided by religious ritual or spiritual attitude.
Science fiction writing poses a dilemma. How to satisfy readers` interest in other religious beliefs, while remaining culturally sensitive to the local religion`s hegemony. Defining `spiritual` is more often than not simply a matter of equating it with `good` and steering well clear of descriptions of religious ritual and observance. However, there are some aspects to religion which are non-contentious. Religion presupposes a supreme divinity, called `God` in the West, and `Allah` more often than not in the Middle East, which is about as far as an SF writer is advisable to go when discussing the differences.
Judeo-Christianity arose in Palestine, through the teachings of the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, and became the New Testament of the Bible, after the history and law of the Jews, that is, the Torah and Talmud, called by Christians the Old Testament of the Bible, which was historically followed by the Koran (610-30 C.E.) of Mohamed`s Moslems in Islam. The Koran is a history and law of the descendants of Ishmael, the second son of Abraham, whose first son, Isaac, founded Judaism, which called God variously; `Jehovah`, `Eloah`, `Yahweh` (there are no written vowels in the Hebrew word, YHWH, so the pronunciation of the tetragrammaton is traditional), etc. `Allah` and `Eloah` are homonyms suggestive of synonymity, although it`s testing the bounds of cultural sensitivity to suggest identity. Textual analysis of the Koran and the Old Testament is revelatory of more similarity than difference, which would be expected if the naming of the supreme deity was equivalent to an understanding of that being`s actual nature.
Traditionally understood as given to him by angels, that is, beings assisting the supreme deity, the Koran of the Prophet Mohamed ibn Abdullah is seen in human terms as legitimizing Ishmael`s birth from a woman not Abraham`s wife, Sara, that is, her maid Hajer, given to Abraham by Sara after the birth of Isaac, her son, because the birth had made her womb barren. Judaism espoused monogamy, while Islam embraced a maximum four-wife polygamy, and although Christianity favors monogamy it accepts Jesus` simple teaching on the nature of promoting peaceful relations: `Love your neighbor as you love yourself.` (Mk: 12. 31). Sometimes erroneously used to mean `religious` in SF and/or usage, because `spiritual` could be applied to Jews, Moslems, and Christians, spirituality isnt related to belief, and believers aren`t religiously identical. Consequently, the word `spiritual` isn`t as contentious as `religion` when communicating with readers of different religious backgrounds, so it`s use is more advisable in open discussion, because less likely to provoke accusations of cultural insensitivity.
Jesus was crucified by agents of the Roman Empire of Tiberius and experienced Resurrection and Ascension to heaven, according to what are called the Gospels of the four Evangelist disciples (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) of the Jewish Messiah, that is, Jesus `Christ`, `the chosen`, which are corroborative narratives of the extraordinary life of the miracle working healer and proselytizer, Jesus, but in the Koran Jesus isn`t crucified, and rather enters into paradise as an Islamic teacher. In Judaism, Jesus` name doesn`t figure at all, and the narrative of the Patriarch Abraham, his son Isaac, and descendant Moses, `the law giver`, who according to the Old Testament received the Ten Commandments of God from a mountain top on tablets of stone during the Jews` exodus from their period of captivity as slaves in Egypt in the reign of Pharaoh Thutmoses III, which are the prohibitions by which Jews live against the taking of life in different ways, figures more highly. Research can provide a more satisfying and culturally acceptable framework for discussion amongst Jews, Moslems, Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists, etc., in which none of them find objections, and that suffices an SF approach posed with the problems of living and entering into new cultures, or welcoming those from other backgrounds with the minimum discomfort affordable to the welcomed and the welcomers in social terms.
1 Bernal, J.D. The World, The Flesh And The Devil: An Enquiry into the Future of the Three Enemies of the Rational Soul, 1929.