This is part of a series where guest authors will share their views on how their belief systems affect the fictional worlds they create. Not all of these people will be religious. If you’re interested in participating, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matthew Wayne Selznick is an author and creator living in Long Beach, California.
It’s an honor to be part of this exploration of the effect of faith on fiction, and I’m pleased Scott agreed I might have something interesting to share. My faith is an integral part of my fiction. To explain how and why, I think it will help to take a little look back.
Growth and Perspective
Growing up, when asked my religion, I would answer, “Roman Catholic” because that’s what I was told we were.
However, beyond baptism, which happened when I was too young to protest or embrace, I never took any of the sacraments. While my mother had been raised more traditionally, our family’s brand of Catholicism was pretty relaxed, but enhanced with what I recall as a good dose of practicality and a considerable amount of metaphysics and, most valuable to me, active encouragement of curiosity.
A belief in the highly symbolized God of the Catholic church, being raised in a house where belief in ghosts and psychic phenomenon was accepted in hand with the virgin birth and the resurrection, and a strong inquisitive streak created a child ready to know everything… and believe anything. Where most kids of my generation wanted to grow up and be firemen, cops, or the President… I wanted to be a paleontologist.
Later, the hormone-fueled hyper-drama that comes with being a teen-ager fit very well with a theatrical mix of occult complexity and a shift to a more evangelical brand of Christianity that, back in the eighties, we called “born-again.” Stir in a moral compass in which “true north” was defined by a life-long diet of comicbook superhero stories, and I was primed for an intense, romanticized period of spiritual warfare.
It was exciting to live in such a black and white world where invisible dangers lurked… and it was exhausting, too, trying to maintain a belief that things could really be so white-hot and simple. Eventually, I saw too much hypocrisy in the behavior of my “saved” friends (and displayed my share, to be sure) to remain in that social circle. At the same time, deeper research in comparative mythology eroded my confidence in the internal consistency of the Christian mythos.
Perhaps most importantly, I was gradually learning that attributing the influence of Satan (or the hand of God) to people’s actions served, in a way, to put a layer of distance between myself and other humans.
Meanwhile, the pagan friends I met in my early twenties were, nearly without exception, more relaxed, kind, reliable and moral than the Christians I had known. So I dug that for a bit, and even if the rituals involved with many pagan belief systems were usually too much of a bother for me, I understood that they pre-dated the Christian rituals co-opting them, and that most of the people performing them understood they were symbolic. The whole approach felt more spiritually legitimate.
For a while.
See, through all those years of my childhood and young adulthood, I was mainlining science, thanks to the gateway drugs of Ray Bradbury, Larry Niven, Robert Heinlein, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Carl Sagan. I read voraciously, following the rabbit of critical thinking deep into its branching, limitless warren of discovery.
And also, concurrently, I was learning how to write.
Eventually, examining the mishmash that influenced my formative years — Christian metaphysics, esoteric occultism, the paranormal, and above all else a fascination with science and history and learning of all sorts — led me to become a skeptic and, finally, settle on the only label I feel comfortable with these days: secular humanist.
What Is Secular Humanism?
I like pointing to the Council for Secular Humanism‘s list of elements and principles for a definition:
- Need to test beliefs – A conviction that dogmas, ideologies and traditions, whether religious, political or social, must be weighed and tested by each individual and not simply accepted by faith.
- Reason, evidence, scientific method – A commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence and scientific method of inquiry in seeking solutions to human problems and answers to important human questions.
- Fulfillment, growth, creativity – A primary concern with fulfillment, growth and creativity for both the individual and humankind in general.
- Search for truth – A constant search for objective truth, with the understanding that new knowledge and experience constantly alter our imperfect perception of it.
- This life – A concern for this life (as opposed to an afterlife) and a commitment to making it meaningful through better understanding of ourselves, our history, our intellectual and artistic achievements, and the outlooks of those who differ from us.
- Ethics – A search for viable individual, social and political principles of ethical conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility.
- Justice and fairness – an interest in securing justice and fairness in society and in eliminating discrimination and intolerance.
- Building a better world – A conviction that with reason, an open exchange of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made in building a better world for ourselves and our children.
All of the above sounds to me like a grand mission statement for the human race. When I discovered it, I felt like saying, “That’s all the stuff I want, all the ways I want to be, all the things I think!”
My Faith Is In Humanity; My Observance Is Through Story
When it comes to the potential of the last extant species of the genus Homo, I have a tremendous optimism for which I am utterly unashamed. I am fascinated by humans; I love us; I have great confidence in us.
My fiction is a deliberate declaration of that confidence. I write to explore what it means to be human… and to speculate on what it could mean to be human. Granted, it could be argued that all literature works toward these goals.
To be more specific:
Every story I tell falls into one of my several storyworlds. I define a storyworld as a milieu, including settings, characters, throughlines, background and other elements, shared by a variety of stories told in a variety of media.
As of this writing, three of my storyworlds have published works (The Sovereign Era, including The Charters Duology and other works; Daikaiju Universe, represented by the short story “Reggie vs. Kaiju Storm Chimera Wolf;” Protector, with the short story “Cloak”) and one has a work soon to debut (The Shaper’s World, with the serial fiction-by-subscription project Walk Like a Stranger: Passing Through Home).
All of my storyworlds are part of a larger megaverse… and the entire mosaic of storyworlds will, ultimately, display the adventure of humanity across a multitude of realities and supereons of time.
Despite that grand scale, the stories I chose to tell are intimate ones…
- I care less about the struggle between cthonic adversaries and generational protectors than I do about the emotionally repressed slacker dude with the haunted past who just wants to figure out why his girlfriend left him.
- While the world might be torn apart by tensions between super-powered isolationists and nations with their fingers on the nuclear buttons, I’m more interested in the kid with the funny eyes figuring out how to live in his own skin.
- A giant monster might tear apart that pretty coastal town, but I really want to examine what’s bugging that dude about his old lover in the middle of it all.
- The religio-politial order up in the hills might or might not win control of a war-torn, Balkanized region, but I want to know if the young priest will sacrifice his relationship with god to fulfill an unwanted obligation.
See what I mean? People.
People are amazing.
Yeah, sure, individually and in groups, they can sometimes be a disappointing mess… but collectively… taking in all we’ve done so far and all we could do…
People are amazing.
I have faith in humanity… to keep asking, learning, and doing.
And that’s why I tell our stories.