The Church of the Future

What will happen to the church in one hundred years? Two hundred? Five hundred? Take a look at some of the ways in which science fiction has portrayed (or not portrayed) the Church of THE FUTURE:

Star Trek: 2150s – 2370s CE

Title for “Star Trek.” Photo credit: Memory-Alpha.

Six series that combined for a total of 726 episodes and ran for a combined 23 years (not including overlapping series), 12 movies, video games, and hundreds of spin-off works make up one of the most enduring and foundational science fiction series ever created. Star Trek‘s creator, Gene Roddenberry, envisioned a future set (mostly) in the 23rd and 24th centuries in which humanity had evolved past the evils that have plagued it for thousands of years, eagerly exploring space in their starships as one of the founding members of the United Federation of Planets. War, poverty, hunger, and money would be no more in this almost-utopian future.

The Church: Christianity makes few appearances (if any, depending on who you ask) in this future. Some holidays and traditions are still present, and it is implied that the religion still exists, but there are no details given to create an accurate picture. Though it is rarely seen, since every other species still has its religions, it is reasonable to assume that the church is still around. Nevertheless, it has very little influence over humanity and is seen, at best, as equal to any other religion, because humanity has moved past the need for the church.

Babylon 5: 2250s – 2270s CE

Babylon 5 logo. Photo credit: The Babylon Project

The show that popularized the multi-year story arc and also set in the 23rd century, Babylon 5 depicts five years in the history of Earth’s most important space station. It spawned 5 movies and a spin-off series (which died a slow death due to Executive Meddling) as well as a number of books. Without Babylon 5, there would be no re-envisioned Battlestar Galactica. Striving to create a more believable future for humanity, creator J. Michael Straczynski created a universe in which humanity had certainly grown, but was still the same humanity it always has been, with the same strengths and shortcomings.

The Church: Again, Christianity makes few appearances. It most definitely exists–its clergy appear in a number of episodes alongside other religious authority figures, and the rituals and traditions have remained relatively identical to our present-day ceremonies. Christianity doesn’t seem to be “left behind” as it was in Star Trek, but it hasn’t changed much, either. The most notable difference in Babylon 5’s Christianity is that, by the 23rd century, the Roman Catholic Church is led by Pope Bernadette II!

Firefly: 2517 – 2518 CE

The short-lived Joss Whedon creation that ran for less than one season and still managed to spawn a successful movie sequel, Firefly takes place in the 26th century after humanity is forced to abandon and evacuate Earth. Now living in a new solar system, “Earth-That-Was” is little more than a legend to the human population. The new life of humanity resembles the American Old West, but in space! The wealthy inner planets have all the newest technology while the outer rim planets are populated by tiny pockets of settlers who struggle to survive on the frontier, often literally living like pioneers in the 1700s.

Shepherd Book. Photo credit: The Firefly and Serenity Database.

The Church: Though Earth-That-Was is lost, humanity brought with it as much as it could when it moved to a new system. Buddhism is the dominant religion in the core planets, but Christianity still exists further out, mostly a descendant of Protestantism changed and shaped by the realities of the last 500 years. A respected example of Christianity in the Firefly universe is the Order of Shepherds, represented by Shepherd Book. While very little is shown of Book’s order, it is monastic, and its sacred text is the Bible. Book acts as a moral compass and conscience, though he is not without a dark and bloody past before his conversion. It is also said that Roman Catholicism still exists, but has lost its original structure.

Doctor Who: 5000s – 5100s CE

Launched 50 years ago by the British Broadcasting Corporation, actively airing for 35 of those 50, and about to inaugurate the twelfth incarnation of the main character, Doctor Who follows the adventures of the Doctor and his companions as they travel throughout all of time and space in the TARDIS, a time machine that stubbornly appears as a 1960’s British police box. They can go anywhere, any time, which means that there are literally endless possibilities for mischief and adventure.

Father Octavian, Bishop Second Class. Photo credit: Tardis Data Core.

The Church: My favorite depiction of Christianity in the series comes from a visit to the 51st century. By this time, the Church (or part of it) is run by a super-computer called the Papal Mainframe and is actually a military organization that protects human planets and populations. Also included in “the Church” is the Order of the Headless, an order of monks who believe so strongly in thinking with the heart instead of the mind that they literally cut off their own heads.

Andromeda: 5100s CE (probably)

Based on a few of Gene Roddenberry’s ideas, but developed by Robert Hewitt Wolfe, Andromeda  is set around 5000 years in the future, after the fall of the Systems Commonwealth, of which Earth was a member. Space is once again wild and dangerous, with a deadly species returning to terrorize the known worlds and old enemies lurking behind every moon. Though humans are ubiquitous in the universe and retain some of their culture and traditions, they were but one member of an intergalactic Commonwealth of over one million planets.

A Wayist. Photo credit: The Andromeda Wiki.

The Church: This far into the future, Christianity either does not exist or it is no longer prominent. It is neither seen nor mentioned. Its closest on-screen cousin is “The Way”, a religion founded by the a member of the antagonist species after being converted by a human “holy man” (who died when the species’ eggs planted in him hatched, as they always do). The religion worships the Divine, and draws much of its influence from Buddhism.

Dune: 21,000s CE

Dune cover. Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Considered the best-selling science fiction book in history, Dune won the 1966 Hugo award and the very first Nebula Award for Beset Novel. Frank Herbert created a universe set sometime near 21,000 CE, long after most other science fiction stories take place. The society is very different from our own, a feudal society dominated by political and religious intrigue. Unlike other futuristic series, advanced computers and artificial life are absent from Dune because of a massive war, and some humans have trained their minds to be just as good. The main story focuses on Paul Atreides and the planet Arrakis, the only source of melange “spice” in the universe.

The Church: Christianity no longer exists by the time of Dune, though snippets of its legacy remain. It and all other Earth religions (except for Judaism, which survived intact) have merged into one Earth religion. The Orange Catholic Bible, an amalgamation and harmonization of all Earth sacred texts, has been compiled to be the last sacred text humanity will ever need, though many different belief systems still exist. While some of the teachings of the church can be found, any resemblance to the Church or Christianity as we know it is gone.

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Author: Pastor Ken

Ken Ranos serves as the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Three Lakes, WI, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

6 thoughts on “The Church of the Future”

  1. You *must* include “A Canticle for Leibowitz” in any discussion of sci-fi’s take on the future of Christianity: A post-apocalyptic monastic form of Roman Catholicism that takes as a significant holy text the surviving scrap of a pre-holocaust shopping (or was it laundry–I can’t remember right now) list written by some guy named Leibowitz. Yet it is the church that manages to keep human civilization going, just as it did after the collapse of the western Roman empire.

    Then there’s “Battlestar Galactica,” which I am led to understand is heavily informed by Mormon influences, but I’m not prepared to credit that as a treatment of orthodox Christianity and I don’t know how much actual treatment of religion went on in either version of the series.

    Many sci-fi authors seem to be atheists–Asimov certainly was–and don’t care to have much place for religion in the future at all.

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    1. Unfortunately, I could only comment on sci fi series I’ve read or seen–I will definitely make a note to read “A Canticle for Leibowitz.

      And, without giving away spoilers, there are very specific reasons why I could not include “Battlestart Galactica” in this list–I am a big fan of the RDM series.

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  2. No comment. The church of today has problems enough that need our attention and the time taken on this church of the future “stuff” is better spent visiting the sick and caring for others with needs.

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    1. This was just a fun look at what the church looks like in some popular science fiction universes. It is in no way intended to be a study on what the church needs to do or be.

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