Yes, that’s exactly the reference it appears to be. 0=)
Just for reference, this is a bit of a throw-back to Inherently Religious (Some things are sacred by default, no matter our efforts to ‘secularize’ them) and Speculating Faith (The Speculative genre should be the safest place in the fiction world to ask ‘what if,’ and that includes discourse on what God is not).
I feel like I’ve been thrown into several conversations lately on God: who and what he is, what he’s like, what he’s not like–the very nature and character of God himself. I recently did a three-part segment on my personal blog titled Painting God in which I tried to demonstrate how little we know of him, and how to paint over what he’s painted for us is to attempt to change his nature–all only to discover several other people were posting on the same thing.
The world aligns a particular way once you’ve started to feel you’ve some grasp on who your God is. I have no delusions I’ll ever exhaust the great adventure that is getting to explore the depths of my Creator and Sustainer, but I feel comfortable enough saying I’ve a pretty general idea of the core of his nature. He spent a significant amount of time trying to explain and describe himself, so I don’t think it impertinent to number myself among those who’ve tried to pay attention.
I surmised at one point that speculative fiction is a legitimate place (or should be) for rooting out characteristics that make up the Person who created the cosmos. For better or worse, I still maintain the veracity of the claim.
I’ll be honest: I’m one of those weird people who really doesn’t go looking for theology in a story. If I see something, it’ll capture my attention for weeks. If I don’t, well, it was just a book/movie anyway. It’s not watching with my brain off: it’s not like I won’t notice a particular slant. It’s that unless I’m having something crammed down my throat or something has become grotesque in nature, I’m in it for the long haul. But that said, I’ve found shards of light in the strangest places. I’ve mentioned Elf, despite its flaws. Star Wars and the Matrix are both used ad nauseum (even though I’d take significant issue with Neo being any form of ‘Christ figure.) A few other s, at least for me, included:
-The Lakehouse (due to the time/space nature of it, the woman must wait for her love to provide the means for them to be together; all attempts by her to force or accelerate the matter only make them further apart; her lover alone–and they know each other only through letters–can make it work)
-Sweet Home Alabama (she leaves him; and he waits years for her to come back)
-Doctor Who (details below)
-The Dresden Files (Harry was trained by evil wizards; he’s easily tempted by evil, but he’s also repulsed by it; and the one person whom even Harry would call righteous is a Christian guy who tolerates but never condones Harry’s magic; and, oddly, Michael is someone Harry wishes he were like; yes, I know some of the content in the DF is pretty solidly on the edge of my tolerance, but I’ll still make the point with Harry suspended between good and evil.)
-Criminal Minds (often includes lengthy conversation on good, evil, and the human condition)
-Human Target (former assassin seeking repentance by protecting people, includes a team of misfits and, well, some shady guys)
-Leverage (The pilot sold me with Nate’s lines about halfway through: “Each of you knows what you can do. But I know what all of you can do.” Broken and falling off a cliff himself, Nate, in essence offers them a new way of life to embrace or reject at will.)
Now, I know those connections likely weren’t intentional (although, with Jim Butcher, I’d be more surprised if he didn’t intend Michael that way), but it doesn’t mean I didn’t see them. Why aren’t there more book titles? Um, honestly, I’m still a newbie to the “secular” book world and I needed examples from guys who aren’t, to my knowledge, professing Christians.
The horse is dead, so I’ll let the point be: All storyworlds tell us something about the way the way the world is, and invite some form of solution. There’s a reason something in our gut lights afire when we see injustice and oppression, and there’s a reason we get such immense satisfaction out of seeing justice done and mercy extended.
What God is Not
So on to the title. As I said, it’s not like I don’t see the flaws in the shadows, the faint illustrations. Nate’s a drunk and a liar. Harry’s a player. And so on. But in the same way we can generate discussion on who God is, we can generate it on who God isn’t.
Honestly, I’m convinced the new Doctor Who show does that wonderfully. (Minor aside: I’m a late-comer to Doctor Who. I started with the Season 1 relaunch a couple months ago, and I’ve finished through season two and begun season three. The pilot episode didn’t endear me to the show, and since then there’s been one other episode (season two, the Satan Pit, if you care) that I didn’t care for). It’s arguably a very humanistic show, and by and large gets away with it because the Doctor is fascinated with humans and their capabilities, emotions, vulnerabilities, and so on. What makes humans strong also makes them weak, so to speak.
Now there’s a few things on the Satan Pit episode:
- A 900 year old man should have some idea of what he believes. (I will ignore what I maintain is a character breach in that episode for now.)
- Despite the rather silly claim he doesn’t know what he believes, the Doctor actually does have a pretty black and white view of right and wrong. How he executes that sense of justice/revenge is another question, but for the most part he comes down pretty solid on the dignity of all people and their inherent right to live as free people.
So, on that front, while he does make the silly comment (sorry, Whovians, it was quite absurd) that he doesn’t know what he believes or who he believes in, deity-wise, he’s quite clear on what is not divine. Ruling by fear, conquest, chain, and whip is the dominion of Hell, not Heaven. Destroying people’s lives and livelihoods for your own gain is evil. Setting yourself up as a false god is evil, and the false god must be destroyed.
The other interesting point is that while others describe the Time Lords as somewhat godlike, the Doctor himself makes it known he is not, nor does he set out to be, a god. “I’d make a very bad one,” he says. And with that dark streak in him, he really would.
Anyway, I didn’t set out looking for any of this. But after writing those earlier posts and thinking on it awhile, then running across Doctor Who upon the prompting of a friend, I found that it very neatly seems to illustrate my point (for now, at least). I definitely wouldn’t take it much further than that, as it really isn’t the show’s intent and they fudged what could have been a very profound moment in the particular episode. (They backed off the question. As a writer, I think they were better off not bringing it up if they feared losing some of their audience, or letting the Doctor answer more solidly than he does.) But the themes of human nature and divine nature have continued to appear in the thematic sense, and I find the exploration intriguing.
So I guess this is the end of it: Even the Time Lord knows he’s bound to something bigger and older than himself. Even the Time Lord submits to the Lord who made the time and space he plays in and protects.