Monday, December 28, 2015

The Victory

"What's happened to science fiction?" My wife asked me that question the other day, after hearing about the various on-line rants against Finn, one of the main characters in the new Star Wars movie. In case you missed it, there were a number of people up in arms over the idea that one of the main characters would be... uhm... well... not pale in skin tone. (I guess they figured Chewie was ok, since he wasn't human.)

And this was following the absolutely stupid movement earlier this year called "Sad Puppies", in which some yahoos were starting a movement in the Hugo awards, the fan elected science fiction awards, to get the awards to go back to "white guys". They were upset that so many Black people and women were winning these awards, and they said that science fiction was more properly written by White guys.

For a genre that has always been so forward thinking, producing such works as the early Star Trek, in which one of the leads was a Black woman, in which they had an inter-racial kiss at a time when that was practically unthinkable on public television, and in which inter-species kisses were the norm, this current movement within science fiction seems way out of line.

Science fiction has always been something of a barometer, showing where the current trends seem to be leading us, highlighting the promise of a good future, reminding us of the shackles from the past that are holding us back, and encouraging us to always push our boundaries.

So, what happened?

Simple: It became popular.

Up until the 80's, you were basically ostracized if you were a science fiction fan. It was the realm of nerdy geeks who were phenomenally hormonally challenged, generally wore extra-thick glasses, dressed abysmally for the time, were socially inept, and a large portion of them were of a large portion, especially if they were female. While they may have had brains, that was about all they had. At least, that was the general perception.

It wasn't until Star Wars paved the way for massive blockbusters that science fiction began to be accepted as a respectable genre.

Then we began to get writers who were both excellent story-tellers and good writers at the same time. Before that, they were generally one or the other. When you re-read a lot of the "classic" works from before that time, they really are either poorly written, or unbelievable in their characters.

But now, it is socially acceptable to be a fan.

It reminds me of early Christianity, in a way. At the time of the Apostles, it wasn't easy to be Christian. Whereas today, many Christians expect to get into heaven, at that time, they expected to get crucified. Some talk about this so-called "war" on Christianity, but fail to remember when there really was a war on that noble faith. If you wanted to be Christian at that time, you were in serious danger. Just declaring your faith required a phenomenal amount of courage.

Today? Well, today, Christianity as we see it in practice reflects the norm of our society because it is the norm of our society. You see the extremes within it, because there are the extremes without it.

The same is now true with science fiction fandom. Previously, it was not socially accepted, and to be a fan, you really were outside the norm. But as it has become accepted, it has also grown to include the fringes of our society. And so, since we see this racist sexism gaining momentum in the general public, we expect to see it with the realm of fandom.

But I am sure you are asking what does this have to do with the Baha'i Faith. I'm glad you asked, dear Reader.

There is a quote I have long heard, read many times, and still wonder about. It is from Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah (CL, if you are wondering, which is found on page 319):
When the victory arriveth, every man shall profess himself as believer and shall hasten to the shelter of God’s Faith. Happy are they who in the days of world-encompassing trials have stood fast in the Cause and refused to swerve from its truth.
This has often been quoted to me as a statement of how the Faith will grow until every person on the planet is Baha'i. "Isn't it wonderful?" And yet, I wonder.

Baha'u'llah doesn't seem to be saying, as I read it, that everyone shall be a believer. He says that they will profess to be one. And when I look that word up in the dictionary, it is the second and third definitions that say this word means to "openly declare" or "affirm". The first definition is "to lay claim to, often insincerely; to pretend to". Now I know that there are times when the Guardian, who translated the original word here as "profess", used the second or third definition for his translation work. Ruhiyyih Khanum says this, and I believe her. But what was the intention here? I don't know.

But I do know that since it became easy to be a Christian, the sincerity of some believers has often been called into question. And when it became easy to be a science fiction fan, some of the basic precepts of science fiction have been called into question.

When the victory arrives, when we no longer have to face those earth-shattering tests that the early Baha'is and Babis faced, it will be easy to declare oneself. I am certain that everyone will profess their faith in it. I have no doubt about that.

But, as Muhammad said, "Think because you say you believe you will not be tested?"

Sure, all will profess. But happy are those who will have stood firm during those promised "days of world-encompassing trials".

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