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Although I have some reputation in the academic world, my real glory and fame stem from one simple fact: that I am one of the diminishing band of individuals who remembers watching the first ever episode of Dr. Who on British television in 1963, the same weekend that JFK was assassinated in Dallas. And yes, I remember exactly where I was at that time. (I will sign autographs on request).
My acquaintance with science fiction, broadly defined, goes back a long way. As time goes by, I look back fondly at classic works that did a strikingly good job of predicting later realities — far better, in fact, than policymakers ever did. Although religion has rarely been a strong point in science fiction, one book in particular demands to be remembered for its prophetic treatment of most of the country’s significant trends over the past half-century. To name just a few topics, Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land has much to say about megachurches, cults, televangelists, the prosperity gospel, and the furthest extremes of the Religious Right. (I am adapting what follows from a column I wrote several years ago at RealClearReligion).
Stranger - Strange - Land - Departure - Author
When it appeared in 1961, Stranger in a Strange Land seemed like a real departure for an author often dismissed as militarist and authoritarian. In retrospect, Stranger reads like a manifesto for the yet unborn hippy movement. Mars-born messiah Valentine Michael Smith leads a mystical cult pledged to limitless sexual experimentation, the Church of All Worlds. In more senses than one, the book attracted a devoted cult following: Charles Manson named a son “Valentine Michael.” It is appropriate to recall this as we think of the fiftieth anniversary of the horrendous Manson affair, and of course the whole culture now lavishly commemorated in Once Upon a Time in...
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