Tesseracts 17 has authors from across Canada. Today’s interview is with BC writer Lisa Smedman, a long time writer and game designer. Her story “2020 Vision” examines the logical side of religion.
CA: Lisa, your story “2020 Vision” looks at cultlike behavior, politics, and the use of social media. It’s a very strong and disturbing, even ironic, social commentary. Religious topics can always be a very sensitive hotbed of opinion, or even rabid denunciations. What fascinated you enough to write such a story?
The story started from an anecdote a friend told, about being asked whether she believed in God. She said, “No, but I believe in Santa Claus.” That got me thinking about the nature of belief, and blind “faith” being the basis of so many religions. One could just as easily assert that Santa Claus really does exist, utilizing the same “prove he doesn’t” arguments used to assert that God exists.
The story also sprang from the idea that any religion that doesn’t allow one to question its practices and teachings, that doesn’t allow (or even punishes) its followers to laugh at the religion’s foibles, is setting a dangerous precedent, since it sets up the possibility of religious leaders twisting the religion to their own ends — ends that go unquestioned and are blindly obeyed.
To paraphrase the Emma Goldman quote about dancing and revolution: “A religion without laughter is not a religion worth having.”
Another big influence was the movie Life of Brian. In it, an ordinary, bumbling man is mistaken for Christ, and people begin to blindly follow him, hanging upon his every word and finding deep religious significance in his every action. My favorite scene is when a mob of religious fanatics is following him, and he discards a drinking gourd and loses one sandal. Half of the mob cries “We must follow the gourd!” and the other half cries, “No, we must follow the shoe!” and a fight breaks out over these two “sacred” objects as each half of the mob turns on the other. Religions are constantly dividing into smaller and smaller factions, every single one of them convinced that they are the “true” faith.
I’ve often reflected upon why so many religions start out with the message “be nice to each other” and wind up teaching their followers to hurt, with words or deeds, or even to kill.
Life of Brian was boycotted by some Christians when it first hit movie theaters. Ironically, it portrays Christ and his message quite faithfully. When Christ says in his Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the meek,” a listener too far away to hear clearly interprets it as, “Blessed are the cheesemakers.” That so eloquently sums up how the original message of a religion can be mangled, by accident, due to translation errors (or be willfully skewed) and yet still regarded as gospel.
Another influence was a talk by the Dalai Lama I attended back in 1981. When asked about religions other than Buddhism, he compared the world’s religions to a smorgasbord, and encouraged people to “eat” whatever dishes most nourished them. Instead of saying “my religion is the only true one” he embraced all faiths that led one to become a better person. That, in my opinion, is what a religion should be: a practice one follows, “eating” only those portions of it that ring true, and rejecting (or perhaps politely declining) the rest.
CA: Do you think fanaticism is ever likely to have logic?
There is a “logic” to fanaticism, but it is a twisted logic. If you ask no questions, pull no threads, the fabric of belief hangs together. But pull one thread and it all unravels. Of course, the fanatics are wearing the “emperor’s clothes,” and never notice the holes.
CA: Have you explored this theme in other work?
I’ve explored many themes in my science fiction and fantasy writing. One I keep coming back to is the nature of identity. As an anthropology major, cultures fascinate me, especially the question of who “belongs” to a social construct and who doesn’t. How groups overlap, how boundaries mutate. Points of commonality that allow us to see other people as “one of us” and the myriad of ways we can divide “us” and “them.” We tend to see things in polarities: A or Z, ignoring all of the letters of the alphabet in between. This theme can be found in 2020 Vision, in the notion of who belongs to a religious group… and who does not, who is “in” and who is “out.”
A native Vancouverite, Lisa Smedman is the author of 17 science fiction and fantasy novels, numerous short stories, two best-selling books on Vancouver’s history, and dozens of roleplaying adventures, primarily for Dungeons & Dragons. She also writes plays and screenplays. Her fiction explores both Canada’s past (the steampunk Apparition Trail, set in the 1800s) and its possible futures. A journalist for many years, she currently teaches game design at the Art Institute of Vancouver. She hosts a biweekly writers group that grew out of the B.C. Science Fiction Association 30 years ago. She is also a mom to two humans, three cats and a pug.