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Pentecostals in Science Fiction


The Reformation opened the door a little wider. But Pentecostalism didn't really take off until the year 1900, when a small group of Bible-college students in Kansas began to speak in tongues. They spread the practice to Texas. There it became known as the revival movement. It spread like wildfire, all across the United States, and then the world, reaching China and India in 1906. The twentieth century's mass media, high literacy rates, and high-speed transportation all served as superb vectors for infection. In a packed revival hall or a Third World refugee encampment, glossolalia spread from one person to the next as fast as panic. By the eighties, the numbers of Pentecostals worldwide numbered in the tens of millions.

-- From Snow Crash
by Neal Stephenson
This annotated bibliography list, a subset derived from the Adherents.com Religion in Literature database, is intended as a resource for literary research. This page lists mainstream science fiction and fantasy novels, or short stories (speculative fiction) which contain references to Pentecostalism. These sources are not intended as a source of information about Pentecostalism, but about how Pentecostalism has been portrayed in science fiction. This list is not comprehensive, but it does list all Hugo- and Nebula-winning novels with explicit Pentecostal references.

The Pentecostal movement is under-represented in mainstream science fiction relative to its size. The number of Penteocostals in the world is estimated at between 200 and 400 million, depending on different definitions and methods of calculation. One point of difficulty in measuring the size of the movement is that the number of people who belong to Pentecostal denominations, such as the Assemblies of God or the United Pentecostal Church, is smaller than the total number who belong to churches which incorporate some Pentecostal or Charismatic elements. Since the 1950s the Pentecostal movement has gained widespread acceptance among older denominations, and many other Protestant and even Catholic congregations have adopted certain Pentecostal practices.

Despite its large size, Pentecostalism is far less likely to be mentioned in science fiction and fantasy than many smaller religious groups. The choice of religious groups depicted in popular or genre fiction is usually very conservative, with authors favoring older movements. Teutonic mythology and Orthodox Judaism are considered more acceptable "literary" subject matter, even though these religions have far fewer adherents, than Pentecostalism, which is only 100 year old.

Nevertheless, science fiction and fantasy authors do observe their religious environment, and they have certainly witnessed Pentecostal preaching in their communities and on television. Many authors have written about fictional churches similar to Pentecostal churches. Because Pentecostal preachers and churches often do not use the word "Pentecostal", but use name such as "Church of God" or simply identify the preacher's name, science fiction and fantasy authors have likely been unaware of their Pentecostal classification.

Often the fictional churches depicted in science fiction are simply identified as conservative Protestant (or "Christian") churches, and may represent a mishmash of churches from the author's own background and what the author has seen while flipping through television or radio stations and scanning newspaper headlines. Because authors perceive there to be myriad different denominations of this sort, they feel free to adopt the basic patterns they have seen to the needs of their own fictional plots. An author-created church serves as a convenient foil which can embody those elements of religion which the author wishes to criticize or play the hero against. The secretly evil televangelist who gains power through the media and has a hidden agenda is a common stereotype found in at least fifty science fiction novels. Modern expressions of this character type may be based in part on news-making figure such as Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Baker or Rev. Schuller, who are not Pentecostal preachers.

Even when these fictional churches are based in part on Pentecostal preachers and churches, they are usually not identified explicitly as Pentecostal. Only explicit references to Pentecostalism by name, or by slang terms such as "holy rollers" have been included in the database under "Pentecostal" heading. Many other references to fictional religious groups which may exhibit Pentecostal characteristics are likely to be found in the general "Christianity" section.

Pentecostal authors have also only rarely written science fiction or fantasy. In fact, the only Pentecostal author we are aware of is Lelia Rose Foreman, author of the young adult novel Shatterworld (which is about Puritans, not Pentecostals).

These are some of the probably reasons why it is rare to find explicit references to Pentecostalism in science fiction and fantasy, although Pentecostal preachers and churches are often depicted in contemporary (non-sf/f) film and literature (such as in Robert Duvall's "The Apostle"; Chevy Chase's "Fletch" and Steve Martin's "Leap of Faith").

Current number of novels, movies and stories in list: 10.

Author Title Approx.
year
Sample Quote and/or Description
Michael BishopNo Enemy But Time. New York: Timescape (1982) 2030Pg. 133:
The Minids gaped at me. They seemed to regard my rare verbal outbursts as staunch Anglicans might view the babblings of a Pentecostal ecstatic. That is, as unseemly lapses.
Michael BishopCatacomb Years. New York: Berkley (1979) 2047Pg. 209:
Ortho-Urbanism itself combined the ritual, the contemporary scholasticism, and the hierarchical designations of the Roman Church with a good many of the holy-roller appurtenances of pre-Evacuation primitivism. In the midst of elaborate holiday masses, for instances, you would hear members of the congregation, when irresistibly moved by the Holy Spirit, talking in tongues or crying "Amen!" or "Tell it, Preacher!" Moreover, post-ceremony "witnessing" was as popular, and as obligatory, as the orpianoogla-accompanied Te Deum during the celebration of communion. No one found these supposedly contradictory approaches to worship incompatible or jarring, and, a regular churchgoer, Saganella Lesser delighted in each one of them.
Thomas M. DischOn Wings of Song. New York: St. Martin's Press (1978) 2030Pg. 114:
She took out a plastic packet of cards... There was a Social Security card... a card declaring her to be a tithing member of the Holy Blood Pentecostal Mission Church (with a laminated photo)...
William GibsonVirtual Light. New York: Bantam (1993) 2005Pg. 80:
One night they were listening to a country station out of Georgia and "Me And Jesus'll Whup Your Heathen..." came on, this hardshell Pentecostal Metal thing about abortion and ayatollahs and all the rest of it. Claudia hadn't ever heard that one before and she about wet her pants, laughing. She just couldn't believe that song.
P. 199:
...and maybe we'd all be listening to Pentecosal Metal and anyway the President was black.
Robert A. Heinlein"Concerning Stories Never Written: Postscript" in Revolt in 2100. New York: Baen (1981) 1952Pg. 212:
It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics. This is equally true whether the faith is Communism or Holy-Rollerism; indeed it is the bounden duty of the faithful to do so. The custodians of the True Faith cannot logically admit tolerance of heresy to be a virtue.
Joe. R. Lansdale"Pentecostal Punk Rock" in Deathrealm (Summer 1989) ?
Elliot S. MagginKingdom Come. New York: Time Warner (1998) 1945Pg. 23:
My maternal grandmother had spoken in tongues. She'd been a suffragette in her early days, but once women had gotten the vote, she no longer had a cause to champion, so she had taken to the evangelical circuit, at first as an audience shrill: On a signal, she would go into paroxysms of ecstasy and roll on the ground with the preacher's summoning of the Spirit upon the crowd; or she would come into a tent meeting on crutches, and then throw them off and walk a the appropriate time. Soon, however, she graduated to preaching, becoming quite well known in evangelical circles. "Reverend Imogene Arcane, First Lady of the Holy Witness," was how she billed herself. She had gone off on her own and pitched tents and presided over revival meetings all over the South and Midwest in the Depression and the War years. When she had no cripples to heal or heathens to convert, she'd spoken the words of the Scriptures and lost texts in the original languages, or so her roadies and retainers had claimed. It is very difficult to make up nonsense words and sounds and string them together, so they seemed to be from an unfamiliar language. If that, as I suspect, was what Grandma Imogene had done, then she'd marketed her skill very ably.
John SladekTik-Tok. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd. (1985; 1st printed 1983) 2094Pg. 85:
Every other house seemed to be some kind of tabernacle. The television channels were clogged with ranters, chanters, rollers, healers. A Bible was probably being thumped, somewhere on Mars, every two seconds.
Pg. 77:
Lint was our undoing. Not having had a naval before, I didn't realize that it would accumulate lint, requiring daily harvesting. Lint jammed my pentecostal button, so that I pressed it and blurted out, without thinking, 'Okay, Rev, let down your nets and pull up some cash. You know, when I look around at all these Neanderthals, I'm not surprised they don't believe in evolution. Most of 'em have got enough fingers to count their own IQs--twelve. If God loved the common people so much, as Lincoln said, how come He made them so common? And ugly? I--'

Lint and charisma were our undoing. Reverend Flint's great organization was not going to be stopped by a little incident like this.

Gerald Jonas"The Shaker Revival" in The Ruins of Earth: An Anthology of Stories of the Immediate Future. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons (1971) 1995Pg. 290:
...I assumed they were just another crackpot fundamentalist sect like the Holy Rollers or the Snake Handlers, an attempt to keep alive the pieties of a simpler age in the present age of abundance.
Neal StephensonSnow Crash. New York: Bantam (1992) 2025This novel deals with Pentecostalism more extensively than any other major work of science fiction. It was listed at number 22 on Amazon.com's 25 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of the Century. Stephenson provides a somewhat fanciful naturalistic explanation of glossalia as a viral infection. A major Pentecostal church is at center of a conspiracy for world domination in the book. but Some passages are sympathetic towards Pentecostalism, but the overall plot essentially casts Pentecostalism as a disease and attempts to deconstruct the movement from a secular or mainstream Christian viewpoint.

There are many references to Pentecostalism throughout the book, only a few are listed here. Some others are in the main database. Pg. 188:

"...there have been several efforts to deliver us from the hands of primitve, irrational religion... Another attempt was made by Jesus--that one was hijacked by viral influences within fifty days after his death. The virus was suppressed by the Catholic Church, but we're in the middle of a big epidemic that started in Kansas in 1900 and has been gathering momentum ever since."
Pg. 182-183:
The customer stomps toward the double doors, drawn in by hypnotic organ strains. The interior of the chapel is weirdly colored, illuminated partly by fluorescent fixtures wedged into the ceiling and partly by large colored light boxes that simulate stained-glass windows. The largest of these, shaped like a fattened Gothic arch, is bolted to the back wall, above the altar, and features a blazing trinity: Jesus, Elvis, and the Reverend Wayne. Jesus gets top billing. The worshipper is not half a dozen steps into the place before she thuds down on her knees in the middle of the aisle and begins to speak in tongues: "ar ia ari ar isa ve na a mir ia i sa, ve na a mir ia a sar ia . . ."
Pg. 376:
"The Reformation opened the door a little wider. But Pentecostalism didn't really take off until the year 1900, when a small group of Bible-college students in Kansas began to speak in tongues. They spread the practice to Texas. There it became known as the revival movement. It spread like wildfire, all across the United States, and then the world, reaching China and India in 1906. The twentieth century's mass media, high literacy rates, and high-speed transportation all served as superb vectors for infection. In a packed revival hall or a Third World refugee encampment, glossolalia spread from one person to the next as fast as panic. By the eighties, the numbers of Pentecostals wordwide numbered in the tens of millions."

Related Pages:
-Pentecostal Comic Books

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