13 October 2012

What We Will Fight Over: Religion and Politics?

With the upcoming American election, I thought FWS should write a blogpost about politics and religion, since they are the genesis of most wars past and present. Throughout human history, we have spilled each others blood over our different concepts of god(s)  and how we should run our society. Without a doubt, this is one of the key triggers for war then and now. Religion can also be a trigger for colonization. The United States was basic colonized by those seeking a home for their religion that was not sanctioned by their native government, and its revolution to divorce themselves from the British Imperium was over politics as with our own Civil War. There are even those today that wish for portions of America to be separate, especially in my state of Texas. In the political arena  where it was once blue vs. grey, it is now blue vs. red. So, when mankind pushes out into space for the purposes of colonization, we will fight future wars over politics and/or god? Will there be space crusades over the idea of god? Will there be interstellar invasions between red worlds and blue worlds? Never fear, FWS has the answers!

The Question of Who Goes to these Space Colonies
Given the expense and complexity of deep space exploration and colonization, the people sent out will mostly likely not be the Homer Simpson's of the world. Such wa the case in the magnum opus of dystopia films, BLADE RUNNER, when the character of JF Sebastian was not medically blocked from the off-world colonial passage due to a genetic disorder. One the other side of the coin, in Gattaca, only the top of the genetically engineered could be chosen for space missions. In a previous FWS blogpost, I discussed Spacer vs. Terrans being the genesis for future deep space wars, because these highly selected and screened best-crop-of-the-human-race variety space colonists (sounds like the 3rd Reich if you ask me) would be so radically different from the bulk of humanity. This would only be much worse, if our space colonists wereproducts of embryonic spaceships that have no connection to Terra or her religions/politics structures, further making them more 'alien'.
What this generates is more completely separated human societies, were both are closer to aliens than kin, similar to what was seen Isaac Asimov's and Frank Hebert's works. How does this relate to space wars over politics and/or religion? Everything. If space colonization is not similar to how America was founded where it was relatively possible for an seaborne colonial expedition to be funded by smaller groups rather than corporations and governments. Than it is less likely that off-world colonies will be populated with zealots, heretics, hotheads, and easily controlled people willing to mount armed interstellar campaigns over political structural systems or deities.

Is Distance the Buffer?
The vastness of space is often overlooked in science fiction, and it could be an effective barrier against an interstellar conflict over politics and/or religion. Even in a soft science universe with FTL, space is vast enough for you to hid on isolated worlds far off from the 'core' worlds. That is why the Rebels went to Hoth, Yoda was on Dagobah, Hari Seldon established the Foundation on Terminus, and Adama and company were running from the Cylons to Earth. However, if Vadar or the Cylons want you bad enough, they will hunt for you even if you are on a planet of algae or an ice-ball. Even when the Mormons ran deeper into the unsettled American West, the government still reached out, including today with those whackjob Mormon fundamentalists that try to hid in the empty places of the American southwest.
In the hard science universe, where the speed of light is the apex, it will not be the government back in the Sol system that our space Puritans will have to worry about it...it is themselves. Conflicts over politics and religion will come from the future generations of the founders of these space colonies, not interstellar governments, but intraplanetary rifts. Some two hundred years after the founding of most of the original American colonies, which most were originally for a home to various splinter religions, these places are now quite homogenized, even the Mormons have incorporated themselves into general American culture.
If there is no technologically resolution to the issue of sub-lightspeed travel for traversing the vast gulfs of space, than star-flung human colonies will be separated by multiple lifetimes. That certainly would take the piss out of any attempted crusader armies. The only way that I can envision space crusader armies and politics being key motivations for future wars would if FTL travel is easy and cheap. Or even, if we are confined to our home star system, or one massive solar system, like what was seen in Battlestar Galactica, World War Robot, and Firefly.

Space Colonization Will Change Religion
In a hard or soft science universe, the mere founding of off-world colonies, especially, exosolar colonies will change the religion of our space settlers. Much was the same of when humans migrated throughout the global hundreds of thousands ago, their old beliefs changed has they entered new environments. In a hard science universe, the descends of the original space colonists will formula new religious beliefs from the foundations of their ancestors. Could early man have predicted the gods that we worship now when they were painting on the walls of their cave-homes? No, and either will we today understand the gods that our future space pioneers will worship or not worship when they push out.
One of the Terran-based religions that could be strongly effected by space colonization is Islam. Most religions have holy sites on Earth, but few have such strong attachments to their holy places as the Islamic faith. Their holy text requires for the fateful to preform the Hajj to Mecca, once in their lifetime and tradition has the faithful to prey towards Mecca. Along with the holy city of Mecca, the Dome of the Rock is also critical symbol of their faith. Would Islam split between the members that colonized space and the ones who stayed behind? Much like the faith split between Sunni and Shia over if and who was successor to the Prophet Muhammad?
Then we go to a more Fox Mulder type question about the future of religion in an age of space colonization. What if our astronauts find evidence of alien civilization out there, like the Face on Mars? Would that not change the Terran perspectives on religion and our place in the grand plan? What if the ruins are religious in nature? Or like what happened in Prometheus, or in BSG, that space exploration locates that our Kobol  or our creators? The knowledge that we found out there, could forever alter our beliefs.

Space Colonization Will Change Humanity
Historian Fredrick Jackson Turner ventured the 'Frontier Thesis' in 1893 that maintained that the frontier forged the American identity and society that varied from its European originals. We will have the same when we push out, leading to a Spacer culture that is fusion of Old Earth cultures that went out and new culture. Thuis was seen effectively in Firefly's fusion of Chinese and American cultures that forged something different. In a previous blogpost, FWS mentioned in Spacers vs. Terrans that if the genetic 1% or even the genetically engineered are the only ones allowed to found deep space colonies than those starflung humans could very different than us that forcibly remain back on Terra.
Those that descent from the original colonies will have not ties to the Earth-That-Was or the old ways of politics and religions. It is likely that new types of governments and religions will be established based on the conditions of the off-world colonies and the people that ventured out, giving rise to the Spacers of Asimov's books.
It is doubtful that these space colonies will even speak standard Terran languages ...so how can we fight over gods, language and politics if we are so different? The answer is that we will not if there is no FTL. It is likely colonies will be much too far apart for another colony with different views to sent crusader armies to punish them. That being said, in a soft sci-fi universe with easy superluminal travel...all bets are off.

The Question of FTL and Space Federations
I say this often on FWS, but needs to be said, a majority of topics all comes down if Faster-Than-Light travel and communication is possible or not. Especially when we are discussing the possibility of a government or empire that extends over vast gulfs of space, similar to the United Federation of Planets or the Galactic Empire. Could there be a interstellar government that operates from Terra, dictating laws and practices through the off-world colonies? According to the Atomic Rockets website, the speed of travel and communication, will determine the size of the space empire. There could be a way to extend the size, via 'sector capital worlds' that could govern over a specific region of space, however, these local sector governing worlds would be still cut-off from Terra by the travel time and no FTL communication.
All of that being said, why would a off-world colony even want to be a part of a imperium or federation? It would not be for military support or protection, any help would be many, many years away. Any governing support, courts, or new laws would be made by a governing body also many, many years away. This would also mean if the colony was naught, than the imperial spanking fleet would take generations to get out there. When and if, it did arrive, the punishment fleet would be acting on the children or grandchildren of the offenders, which is just plain unfair.
This was addressed in the film AVATAR, the RDA mining operation on Pandora, which was about six years in travel time from Terra, was under corporate administrator Parker Selfidge and Colonel Quaritch, has head of security operations. When the shit hit the fan with the Na'vi, Parker and Quaritch could not call RDA headquarters back on Terra for instructions. instead they made the call, and RDA would be informed six years after the fact. That is no way to run an empire.

In Space, All Politics are Local
Space colonization will be a difficult endeavor in a hard science universe, but there still be the need for a governments, even if it is on a space colonial vessel, or a battlestar. With the gulf of space separating these colonies from the Sol system, they would have to govern themselves, considering that in a hard science universe candidates for public office could not make stump speeches on every colony! Instead of politics and laws from Terra, the off-world colony would have to form their own government that would make laws befitting the population and conditions of the colonial society (Mayflower Compact anyone?). These colonial worlds could have a number of different styles of governments, similar to the early American colonies that formed different styles of government from their native nations, like Britain for example. Most were not formulated with the intention of democracy, where all members of the colony had a say in the government.
These early American colonial governments had a system where only the white male church-going landowners had a say in the laws of the land. That being said, off-world colonies and their governments would represent their population. There could be worlds were owning Replicant pleasure model that cost more than a Ferrari is perfectly legal, or marijuana cupcakes are openly sold at every Starbuck's, or that the Church of Flying Spaghetti Monster is supported with federal tax dollars.


Earth vs. Mars in World War Robot
In the the dark and harsh alternate history world of Ashley Wood's World War Robot. The Great War is fought in the 1980's and 90's between Earth and Mars using combat robots supplied by Darwin Rothchild. Religion is given has the primary motivation for this devastating conflict that has nearly emptied both worlds. It seems Mars was founded by Atheists refugees seeking escape from the Earth Coalition's militant belief system. During peace talks in 1986, Earth arrested the Martian ambassador for 'crimes against Earth and God', touching off the Great War that also sucked other groups and powers, making this interstellar war involving millions.    

Jedi vs. Sith in the Star Wars Universe
In the background of the original Star Wars films and the primary story-line of new (crappy) films is the religious war between the Jedi and the Sith. According to the history, some time around 7,000 BBY, the Sith and the Jedi split and remind at war until even in the current time of the Star Wars expended Universe. The religious different between these two groups is philosophic paths and use of the Force, much like the division between certain Martial Arts, Buddhism, Islam, and of course, Christianity. It is interesting when you step back and examine the role of this religious schism in the wider conflicts that engulf the galaxy in the SW films. The genesis between both major conflicts in the SW films are due to the plotting of the Sith and the revenge of the Jedi Order.This probably one of the most well known religious conflict in all of science fiction.

The Cylons vs. the 12 Colonies of Kobol in BSG

Here is another science fiction series that features religious and political conflict at the heart of plot. Throughout the legendary series, there is religious conflict between the monotheistic Cylons and the polytheistic 12 Colonies society. The Colonial religion is based on a array of 12 gods and goddess that lived with man on the world of Kobol before man fell from grace about 2,000 prior to the destruction of the colonies. Each of the colonial worlds was named after a certain zodiac deity, and colonial religious varied from world to world.  
The Cylons believe that their one true god has favored them over the humanity and blessed their jihad against their fleshy creators. The Cylons saw that their own creators were flawed, and seemed to look past humans to what may have created them to seek some sort answers. Religion worked differently in the ragtag fleet, some believed, some did not, and others, like Gaius Baltar began to believe in a monotheistic model after years of godlessness. It is through this character that BSG explores the Atheistic side of humanity, then some casual believe in the gods of old, and then finally, the Cylon god.
One of the central mysteries for me about BSG, is why the Cylons would believe in a god? During the short run of Capria, it was seen that some Cylons models were introduced to the single-god theory to the models prior to the revolt via Claire Williow...but still...why would a toaster believe in god(s)? Later in the series, The Cavil Number One series of Cylons begin to question if there is a god...which could have been one of the difference between Cylons and humans, instead of the number of gods. Then there is the question of what the hell was the reborn Kara Thrace...angel, demon, Cylon....?
Then we come to the politics of BSG, and they are not limited themselves to the 12 colonies, even the Cylons human models fight among themselves. Even after the destruction of the 12 colonies and the death of billions, the ragtag fleet needed more than martial law from the Galactica. A good deal of the BSG series deals with the uneasy relationship between the Galactica and the civilian government in a harsh, realistic manner unseen in sci-fi before. Most of the time, the real conflict in the series did not come from the Cylons, but from the friction between civilian government and the Galactica.

The Ori and the Goa'uld from the Stargate Universe
The use of religion is the core reason behind the conflicts in the Stargate saga goes back to the original 1994 film, where the ancient Egyptian religion was based on an overlord alien race that came to Earth to enslave the native population. The alien overlord-god Ra moved some human slaves to a distant world from Earth to continue the mining operation, but left a stargate on Earth. In the series, the story is expanded, and the Goa'uld become the source of Ra's power, and the domination of their empire over most of the Milky Way. Given their ability to create nearly-supernatural hosts via their joining, the snake-like Goa'uld enslaved many races, the Jaffa mostly, under the believe that the Goa'uld were gods. Due to involevment of the SG-1 team, the Jaffa soon liberate themselves from the rein of the snake. Just has the galaxy was recovering from the end of the Goa'uld Empire, the Ori show up to play the role of 'worship me or die' aliens in the Stargate universe.The Ori are much like the Ancients, humanoid that ascended from their physical bodies to become the next evolution, more energyabout one million years ago. However, unlike, the Ancients, the Ori, turned to the dark side, forcing mere mortal to worship them as gods and bend to their will. The Ori could be thought of has the Sith to the Ancients Jedi, and where one of the most terrifying enemies in the SG-1 Universe.

The DUNE Universe
The DUNE novels are complex with webs of politics, war, sex, and religion all mixed into a far-future setting. Frank Herbert expertly designed a universe where space feudal politics dominated the lives of the great houses, and where power is controlled in those that control Arrkakis and its spice-drug. Unlike a number of other complex space opera novels, the power of space travel is in the hands of one group, who solely depend on the flow of Spice from Arrkakis. The Spice domination of the known universe and its politics continues until the invention of the No-Ships thousands of years after the war over Arrkakis.
 Also complex is the involvement of religion in the DUNE universe, especially when it comes to the books after God Emperor of Dune (my favorite DUNE novel!) All the major Terran religions were combined in a single doctrine and book, the Orange Catholic Bible after the liberation of the Butlerian Jihad, and set down that no machine must mimic the human mind. Other religions existed in the Imperium, most were fusions of older Terran religions mixed with elements of eastern spirituality. Two of the surviving mental training schools, the Spacing Guild and the Bene Gesserit use the Spice in their religions practices. The sisterhood uses it to see beyond, connecting things unseen, while the Guild navigators use a fusion of the pure math and Spice to travel without moving.
Then we have to throw in the Fremen and their relationship to the desert and the semi-worship of the Shai-Hulud (sandworms), along with the weirdness of the Tleilax and their facedancers. Herbert was the same way, he was raised a Catholic then converted to a Buddhist, and with his research of desert tribes led him to understand Islam.    All of this adds up to making the DUNE novels one of the best sci-fi works on how the future and space travel will alter human religion and politics. Once again proving that DUNE is the best work of science fiction.

The Horsy Heresy and Adeptus Ministorum of the Warhammer 40K Universe
Without a doubt, WH40K is one of the darkest military science fiction universes, were demons, gods, psykers, terrifying aliens, and super-soldiers battle for control of the Milky Way. Politics matter little in 40K, often most government in this time are dominating over their hoi polloi via the use of absolute religious authority, the Imperium of Man is a prime example. However religion is the key element in war for the 40K Milky Way. Dark greedy demons and the Chaos gods wrestle for control, and in the case of the Horsey Hersey in the 31st Millennium, they almost won (blood for the blood god!).
Given the massive threat to the survival of the Imperium and humanity, the Adeptus Ministorum used the God Emperor to be a focus point for the new unifying religion of the citizens of the Imperium and a powerful state-funded church organization, the Adeptus Ministorum to hold power over the Imperium.
However, this is not fluffy loving religion, but dark, bloody, and dedicatory with monks armed with Boltguns. I guess everyone tithes their 10% in the Imperium! The protectors of the Imperium, the Space Marines have their own special relationship with the Lord God-Emperor, they aspire to be more like the warrior that the Emperor was and their genetic material to be transformed into Space Marines originates for the Emperor himself. This was not only to give the Space Marines an edge, but could to be tie the military to the Imperium to avoid a repeat of the Horsy Heresy. Given that most of the factions in 40K have a religious core to their motivation, the case could be made that all wars in 40K are jihads and crusades. Lovely.  

The Covenant/Human War from the HALO Universe
Speaking of jihads, religion is the core reason for the genocidal campaign against the human race by the Covenant. When humanity and the Covenant met in 2525 at the planet Harvest it became a matter of religion due to the Forerunner relics on-planet. The prophets of the Covenant covered up evidence of the Forerunners choice of humanity being the Reclaimers, not them, via the genocidal campaign. Things only became worse after the destruction of the first Forerunner HALO ring by the Master Chief in 2552. This event, caused a political/military shift from the traditional Elites to the Brutes, implanting the seeds of revolt later. HALO is really an example of blind stupid faith in your religion's domination being threatened by someone else, and fueling a terrible conflict that often ledas to your own undoing.


The Federation society from Star Trek
Growing up in the buckle of the Bible Belt, Oklahoma, I was bombarded with a Christian society, however, when I turned by TV to watch another weekly adventure of Picard and Company, I got a different picture. In the visions of Terran society in the 22nd/23rd/24th centuries, there is no mention of church, god of really kind, and most Terrans live under a futuristic socialist society where money no longer exists and work is to better yourself. The wars that the Federation fought were not about god(s) or even politics to a degree, but about power and choice. In fact, one of the greatest enemies to the Federation was the Dominion, a society that worship shape-shifting gods, but their former nemesis, the Klingons, killed their gods because they were too much trouble.
Here is what Brannon Braga said: "No, there was no consideration in giving humans, talking about god or talking about those types of things. We wanted to avoid it to be quite frank. But we did very often explore theology through alien characters. Which frankly is much more interesting anyway. Whether it was the Bajorans and their religion or the Borg and their religion. They (the Borg) had the religion of prefection. That, I think, was more interesting. We want to keep Star Trek secular. The human facet of Star Trek secular."


A Guide to the WH40K religion

A Guide to the Religon of DUNE

A Guide to the Religion of BSG


  1. Interesting post, William!! Differences in religious belief and political disagreements (which are entangled in societies with no separation between church and state) are often the reason for violence and wars. This is the societal aspect of building a SF 'verse- if you haven't figured out the geographical and political situation of your SF setting, you haven't figured out the reasons to have a war in the first place. William Frisbee made an important point on his "Tips on Writing Military SF" website- wars are not about guns or bomb, they are about people who cannot (or will not) settle their disagreements through discussion or other peaceful means. In SF, of course "people" would also include alien species and synthetic intelligences, if such beings exist in your 'verse.

    When it comes to interstellar empires- this depends both on the difficulty of and time required for interstellar travel, how far dispersed are colonized systems, and how long an attention span the would-be galactic rulers have. As speeds approach or even surpass light-speed, interstellar space shrinks. It isn't even impossible to imagine a small stellar empire based on relatively affordable (for them) sub-light interstellar travel.

    Part of this depends on your definition of "empire". The Incas had an entirely different sort of "empire" from the Romans. An autocracy of interstellar conquerers in FTL warships will not look anything like a spacefaring Hanseatic League. A society whose individuals live for centuries, and which engages in widespread social engineering, may be capable of maintaing a sub-C interstellar empire unimaginable to us today. Just something to think about...

    Speaking of ST, TOS actually portrayed religious characters. In "Balance of Terror" Robert Tomlinson was about to marry Angeline Martine- who is a Catholic, and genuflects before the alter during her wedding (just before it is cut short by a Romulan attack...) Apparently, TNG decided it was easier to just play lip service to the idea of diversity and tolerance than to actually SHOW it among Picard's crew.

    By the way, have you seen Joseph Shoer's discussion of space combat? It appeared some time ago on Gizmodo, but he's made some further speculations on his blog, Quantum Rocketry. Apparently, his research includes various space-related topics and next-gen tech, including using magnetic flux pinning to hold together modular spaceships, so he his field of study has some bearing on space combat.

    I thought the Mr. Shoer's discussions are very interesting- he mentions the construction of combat spaceships, how they would maneuver, weapons, and orbital dynamics. He disagrees with Atomic Rockets on several key points- space stealth, radar revealing your position, and the ease of building sensors to locate enemy ships. He also makes the the important point that a space war, when it is ever fought, will doubtlessly involve an entirely different set of principles than those set down in stone at hard SF blogs- no matter how much speculation we engage in over what may, might, should, could, will, and won't happen in a space war.






    Whatever way you slice it, the future is NOT as clear cut as some "hard SF" blogs would have us believe- especially as we have no one to play out these scenarios with, and thus no way to know how space war tactics will develop.

    PS Is it just me, or are the spam bot filter words getting harder and harder??

    Christopher Phoenix

  2. I added Shoer's blog to my reading list! Thanks Mr. Phoenix! Those are some damn good articles! I still have better pictures though! That article on space carriers is going to come in handy when FWS embarks on the posts about combat space types. It is good to have a different voice than the imperial Atomic Rockets site!
    I have to admit, this was not my best work, the topic was interesting, but looking at everything here through Hard Science eyes sometimes takes away from developing a deeper post. At times, I feel like I am harping on the lack of FTL travel and communication too much. I may have to bump up the blogpost on starship propulsion!
    When I read your comment on empire, I realized that I had been limiting my own POV on the concept of empire, despite my degree in history. So, in the near future, FWS will discuss different types of governments.
    I've noticed lately, that I have to keep up on the spam folder for the blog or else some good comments go to waste. I wish people that want to say something here on FWS, would do just that, and not advert their own site. I always love comments...

  3. I like Mr. Shoer's blog too- he does focus mainly on space combat with near-future tech, not far out stuff like a standard space opera society often posses, though! For instance, he assumes that launch costs remain high, while this is often not true in speculative fiction scenarios, and not even in the real world- you can put thousands of tons in space if you don't mind using dirty nuclear pulse propulsion in the atmosphere. His thoughts on stealth are interesting- it did seem to me that Atomic Rockets and co. didn't discuss the limitations of sensor technology in any depth. Still, rocket exhaust are so hot and bright an oncoming space dreadnought couldn't fail to give itself away...

    The FTL harping bumps up against the hard vs soft SF thing, which can get in the way of storytelling. My opinion is that SF is simply a setting for human stories, an interesting and often inspirational setting to be sure, but a setting none the less. Take Robotech- it isn't just about space fighters or aliens, the story is ultimately a human one about the traumas of war, love, etc. The ultimate worth of any story is just that- the human story that it tells. If all this hard SF harping starts getting in the way, there's a problem. If your story ends up being a badly written engineering manual, there's a really big problem. You need a story. Find a STORY, and interesting one, and you are well on your way. Worry about story first and foremost. As Dr. Mccoy would say, "You're a writer, not a rocket engineer!!" (unless you actually are an engineer who builds rockets, in which case you still need to worry about writing a STORY...)

    "Science fiction writers, I am sorry to say, really do not know anything. We can’t talk about science, because our knowledge of it is limited and unofficial, and usually our fiction is dreadful.”- Philip K. Dick

    I like my SF to have its rivets, but having engaging plots and vivid characters is what counts in the end. Proper world building is important too, since characters (and whatever happens to them) are the product of their world. My grandfather said that the difficulty with SF and fantasy is that you need to build the setting and explain it to your readers, unlike contemporary fiction.

    A discussion of different kinds of governments will be interesting!! You need to know the structure of the SF governments in your story, and you can't discuss an interstellar empire if you don't know what kind of empire it is. I bet I could write a story with a sub-light interstellar empire, if I could figure out the right kind of social structure for such a far-flung society. Keep up the good work at FWS!!

    Christopher Phoenix

  4. Let me start by saying that I am Roman Catholic. Also I am “Baptized in The Spirit,” I.E. born again, met Christ, yada-yada-yada.

    That said, let me state that, once the rhetoric has been removed, there is no difference between religion and politics. Both are groups of people who are trying to influence society. You have the same types of people, engaged in the same kinds of activities, all in the name of supremacy.
    By classifying to two as different groups it allows one side to devalue the other side. This also allows each side to blame evil on the other, and claim abilities that the other side lacks.

  5. I think you hit the nail on the head! I do believe that religion and politics are two sides of the same coin, especially more recently here in America.

  6. Initially, I had no problem with religion in BSG. It was an interesting part of the show's worldbuilding. But somewhere from season 3 onwards the atmosphere of the series and its events became too much influenced by the "supernatural" (or hyper-advanced alien) forces to my taste.

    I think "Caprica" handled the religious issues much better in the context of tensions existing within Colonial society.