Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J., the director of the Vatican Observatory, and Fordham University professor Dr. Charles Camosy led a panel discussion, “Jesuits and Jedi: Science and Spirituality in the Age of Star Wars,” which brought together religion and science fiction at the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture in lower Manhattan.
“A lot of people think that science fiction is written by a bunch of atheists,” Brother Consolmagno, a planetary scientist who is also president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation, told assembled media before the April 10 event.
“When you actually look at who the writers are, especially once you get past the golden age, you discover so many of them are people of faith, lots of faiths, faiths that wouldn’t believe in some cases, every faith you could imagine,” he explained.
“But it really is natural, because stories that have to deal with absolutes of right and wrong, with big ideas, only work if there is a moral compass someplace in the author that’s guiding where the author is going with the story. And that ultimately means they have some kind of faith, some kind of religious structure of how they view the universe.”
Dr. Camosy, the author of four books, is an associate professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University.
“The Church has always been on the forefront of science, that’s the first thing to mention, but then also in the forefront of exploring new questions, ” said Camosy, who holds a doctorate in theology from the University of Notre Dame.
“God created our universe. It’s here for us to explore, for us to evangelize, for us to learn about. When we learn more about the universe, we learn more about God. Science fiction helps us explore that in ways my students eat up.”
David DiCerto, director of program administration at the Sheen Center, moderated the discussion, which included the evaluation of books, as well as film clips from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and the Star Wars movies “Return of the Jedi” and “Revenge of the Sith.”
“One of the things about science fiction is people always think it’s about the future. It’s never. It’s always about the moment it was written,” said Brother Consolmagno, who used the early Star Wars movies as an example for the science fiction fans in the theater.
Matthew Flood, an English teacher at Energy Tech High School in Queens, received an email about the event and quickly reached out to his friend Jose Chavarry, a graduate student at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan.
“The Jesuit and Jedi kind of title is quite catchy,” Flood said. “I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school. It’s lapsed now, but I still will read some religious theories, some theology, and I like sci-fi quite a bit.
He said that he would be more aware of “the connection between religion and science fiction” as he reads science fiction in the future.
Chavarry said, “I like the idea everything is a narrative and that everything almost relies on the narrative for us to create some sense of meaning. I study Latin American literature, and there also are some Latin American writers who deal with some similar topics between science and faith.”
Joe DiBari, a parishioner of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Queens who is the sports information director at Fordham University, where he has worked for 21 years, attended the discussion with his wife Edith Kealey, a science fiction fan.
“Even though I work in athletics, I was a science major throughout college. So a lot of things made sense that probably didn’t make sense 25, 30 years ago, when I was studying,” DiBari said.
“I think sometimes you have to ask the question. That was really the main focus tonight. The answer is not important. It’s the question, and how to ask the question, that means a lot more than the answer, which we probably will never get the answer. If we’re asking the right questions, we’ll be on our way.”