One of the tenants of science fiction is the what-if aspect of things. We tinker and experiment and try out ideas. Some of the ideas have to do with a projected humanist intent: What if mankind really did evolve, what would he evolve into? What if we could have John Lennon’s religionless world?
Some writers have gone down that road, and projected that the sensible post-religious people managed to colonize the stars and stopped believing in that religious nonsense and hoey. See Phillip Athans’ excellent review of Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars. Notably, Phillip points out in his Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction that “Researching religions both contemporary and historical is a worthy pursuit for any author, though if you’re writing the farthest of far-future science fiction you may imagine a post-religious society.”
But those post-religious populations and characters are sterile.
They do have religious beliefs, it’s just that it’s a one note wonder. Everyone is in accord (“there is no religion” is the religion) and this of course means you have no religious conflict. Because, you see, everyone believes the same about religion, which is the lack of religion (which is a religion itself).
What happens when you have no conflict? You get a nice book where there’s no conflict, at least nothing over what we really get worked up about. Where’s the passion, the joy, the intensity? No religious conflict? What’s the matter with you!? Why would you eschew that in favor of your cold, scientific Christopher Hutchinism? Think about it. Some of the most rational people you know are religious. Some of the most irrational, too. The elements of their beliefs make them interesting and put them in conflict. Why, just yesterday I was reading a on-line magazine where the religion of choice was worshiping “diversity,” which for these adherents was a narrow definition of accepting certain people and excluding others because, well, because the certain people had been excluded before so now it was only fair to exclude the other people. Hum. It is this sort of thinking that has produced feuds lasting hundreds of years.
It doesn’t have to make sense, it just has to be a belief system that people can adhere to. People worship cars, money, sex, rocks, the universe, themselves, politicians, entertainers, their family members, their children. Some of it is disguised or in place of organized religion.
They do religious things all the time. Knock on wood (naturalism). Think good thoughts (pantheism). Karma (hinduism). People are like religious packrats, collecting any old idea that comes along and cobbling it to their ideas of How the World Works.
The flavor of the future worlds is often dystopian, which reflects, I think, the writer’s ability to see the seeds of our own dystopia in the society we’ve created. Community is destroyed by relentless, selfish individualism, and then people living their empty lives wonder what’s the meaning of it all (all of that is a value statement)? I visit these future cities where no one connects, everyone lives in little tiny sterile cubes and they have no religion, no hope, they have nothing to sustain them, and no real reason to OBEY.
Without underpinings of morality, people tend to become mass murdering jerks. For reference, Joseph Fouché and Collot d’Herbois in France (1790), Hitler (1938-1945), Mao Ze-Dong (1949-1969), Leopold II (1886-1908), Stalin (1930s-1950s), Tito (1945-1980), Pol Pot (1975-1979), Darth Vader (fictional), Ted Bundy (1990s), Domitian (81-96), Nero (53-68), though you could probably argue the last two thought they were Gods. What keeps you from pulling the trigger if you don’t have any controlling morality other than whatever you feel in your heart is right? Apparently, nada.
This isn’t to say that you couldn’t take the stark excesses of the above and put them in your future universe; you could, but don’t George Lucas the moment. The deaths of a couple billion people shouldn’t just be a statistic and “a great disturbance in the force.” You want to get a national sense of mourning? Look at 9/11 in the U.S. There. That. The Howard Lutnick, the CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, gave an awesome speech after that event which resonates deeply with the listener/reader, which I can’t find at the moment but someone else probably can. Edit: Note that the speech apparently was decried as mere propaganda, but I liked it anyway.
To conclude: People are messy. Sometimes they incorporate that into their daily beliefs. Your future humans are going to believe stuff. To take that away is to take away an essential of their humanness.
Go ahead, comment. It won’t kill you. And, um, it’s not because I’m desperate. Because I’m not. I’m NOT! Just comment. If you comment, I’ll be your best friend! C’mon. I’ll give you a cookie! Yeah, I love the “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” books, too.