I was in Vancouver last month and had a chance to hear Robert J. Sawyer speak at Simon Fraser University. My friends who had invited me had read a few of his books, but not me, so I had some catching up to do. I managed to read seven of his books in the weeks leading up to his talk! Sawyer’s characters deal with the existential questions of why are we are here, does God exist, and if so what does he want from us? Sawyer creates worlds where we are contacted by aliens or by creatures in parallel universes, and we engage with them in these kinds of discussions.
In Hybrids, Mary and Ponter wonder whether there is really any good use for the God part of the human brain, that spiritual part which connects us to something more than our individual selves. Wouldn’t we be better without it? Without that God part would we work to create more harmony and not for everlasting glory? In Calculating God, Hollus, a “spider” alien scientist, lands at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, and wants Tom, a local paleontologist, to teach him about Earth’s periods of extinction. Will they line up with those on his planet, and if so, Hollus wants to know what God is up to. Tom can’t understand why Hollus, a scientist, even considers there is a God. Yet they become the best of friends.
Sawyer’s books mirror how discussions of different religious beliefs can be of value. We can’t expect people to change their views, but we can learn about others, and ourselves, by just listening. The books are refreshing because these discussions seem almost non-existent in public and even private life today. People blast out their viewpoints on social media or on the street often without considering any other views. We don’t discuss religion with friends in church since we assume they believe the same as we do; and if they don’t, well, it’s easier not to talk about it. Yet we don’t talk about religion outside church because we aren’t comfortable defending our views.
So, what about our religion? Do we get too attached to dogma and convention? Jesus’ teachings remind us to rethink common convention and understanding, and to turn it upside down like he did. Sawyer does this too, giving us a chance to find new insights as we look at the world through new eyes. If I can see the point of view of an alien whose culture is so foreign to me, or if I can listen to a non-believer’s rationale, isn’t it even easier to reach out to those of different cultures and beliefs here in my multi-cultural city and listen to points of view other than my own?
I’ve got quite a few more of Sawyer’s books to read, and a whole city in which to be more open to existential discussions! (And of course, I have my EfM class!)
Nancy Greene-Grégoire is member of Montreal Dio’s Corporation. She is also the Education for Ministry (EfM) Coordinator for the Diocese of Montreal, and mentors the EfM class that gathers at Montreal Dio every Wednesday evening.