The Unwanted Passenger

No matter where people go in this universe, they bring along an unwanted passenger: their own sin natures.
on Nov 27, 2019 · 22 comments

Netflix recently released season two of National Geographic’s sci-fi/documentary hybrid Mars. The first season was uneven but enjoyable, and the budget has been pumped up for the second go-around. The story moves at a brisk pace, starting the new season five years after the first season (spoiler alert: the Mars colony becomes sustainable) and even more years have elapsed by the time the season finale wraps up. Alas, the show is rumored to have been canceled by Nat Geo but the way the second season ended, it makes for a fairly satisfying series finale if this is indeed the case.

Two things characterize this show, particularly in the documentary footage and interviews spliced in between the fictional adventures of the Martian explorers: an unflappable belief that a human colony on Mars is an inevitability, and an equally unflappable optimism in humanity’s ability to make this dream come true. The over-eagerness is sometimes eye-roll worthy and the experts being interviewed talk about this endeavor as if it’s happening right now. The groundwork is certainly being laid out thanks in large part to mega-billionaires like Elon Musk bankrolling a number of spacefaring projects (and he makes frequent appearances in the show). My thoughts on self-sustaining space exploration are easy to ascertain from my articles on this website (short version: it’s never going to happen) and you can click here to check out my thoughts about the first season of Mars.

In my previous article, I pondered what part religion, and specifically Christianity, would play in space travel and colonization. It’s obvious that no matter where we go in the universe, God is omnipresent and omnipotent, and as Jonah figured out a bit too late, there is nowhere we can go where God is not. The question is would we acknowledge Him when we got there? In our society, science is increasingly atheistic and it stands to reason that the gatekeepers to the stars would do their best to keep God out, in essence making themselves gods of what they perceive as uncharted territory.

Image copyright National Geographic

I would like to delve into the flip side of this equation, and my thought process on this issue was sparked by something an expert said in an interview in one of the latter episodes of season two. To paraphrase, she said that colonizing Mars would let us start over, to correct the mistakes we’ve made on Earth, to have a clean slate and do things better this time. Her naivete would be adorable if it weren’t so tragically misguided. There have been numerous instances in history when intrepid explorers struck out to start new colonies and societies, and sometimes the “new” world has surpassed the “ol” (‘Merica!). Yet this greatness is only achieved at great cost in terms of human lives and environmental impacts. Newt Gingrich appeared on the show and he outlined the tension between progress and preservation, with progress always winning in the end.

But wait, one might say, there are no people on Mars to enslave or forests to topple. This perceived emptiness makes it even more enticing for profitable exploitation, a key source of conflict in the second season of Mars. Greed leads people to make costly errors but also propels them to new discoveries. The terrestrial experts agree that there will be countless challenges on Mars but they can be overcome by cooperation and the realization that we are all in this together.

There’s just one problem. No matter where people go in this universe, they bring along an unwanted passenger: their own sin natures. Mankind had a glorious utopia and ruined it; why would we “do things better” if we somehow made it to a ruthless wasteland like Mars? The people eagerly awaiting the opportunity for a fresh start are ignorant of the corruption rooted deep within their hearts, and this corruption naturally bleeds out onto anything sinful humans touch. In fact, Mars itself groans because of man’s sin on an entirely different planet. Our world, despite being fallen, still exhibits tremendous beauty, and there is a stark beauty in Martian landscapes as well, but it is at one’s own peril to think humanity could have a second chance and somehow get it right this time.

Of course, without the Holy Spirit regenerating these corrupt hearts, there is no way to convince those eager to go that they would be bringing their innate sin natures with them. Most of these explorers would likely dismiss the concept of sin as archaic and perhaps even flat out false. Let’s hope they don’t get the chance to prove themselves wrong.

Mark Carver writes dark, edgy books that tackle tough spiritual issues. He is currently working on his ninth novel. Besides writing, Mark is passionate about art, tattoos, bluegrass music, and medieval architecture. After spending more than eight years in China, he now lives with his wife and three children in Atlanta, GA. You can find Mark online at and at Markcarverbooks on Facebook.
  1. notleia says:

    That title does suggest a number of funnier ways this could go. Tapeworms, chickenpox, kudzu.
    But I am the type of person who would find the ecology of terraforming to be interesting. Especially if we could work mammoths in there somewhere.

    But heck, a lot of those principles would work on existing places like the Great Plains or Siberia. There was an episode of some BBC show about how Chernobyl has amazing biodiversity after people abandoned it. There was also a series on Curiosity Stream about how sustainable land use involves a lot of temporariness. I think our economy should adjust to seasonal incomes with more support for off seasons. Heck, even retail is pretty highly seasonal, let alone farming and fishing.

    Maybe norms for child guardianship should expand so that grandparents or aunts/uncles or even friends could take care of kids while a larger portion of adults take advantage of seasonal employment stuff.

    • That would probably work better with either low populations or areas with lots of space. And then another thing would be the fact that a lot of industries are not seasonal, and even if they were, there are some people that are still going to need or want to work off season. And then if people were relying on family, friends, etc. to take care of children, that might force them to stay in certain communities that they might not like, get along with, or want to influence their kids. Or at least somewhat limit where a person could live. A lot of people like certain areas and would prefer to stay put.

      • notleia says:

        Yup, I did have largely rural areas in mind. Non-seasonal industries generally happen in cities, places where there’s already an established population of workers. (The sarcastic part of me wants to add, places where people actually WANT to live.)
        But urban/ish places would still be part of the equation as places to winter, retire, or raise small kids. And find work in the off-season (like winter). It’s more a matter of using land more effectively.
        For example, Wichita (where I lived for a bit) is pretty loose in its population density, and it’s a waste. I live in a frickin’ suburb with more density nowadays, and it’s still pretty comfortable. With a little planning, I think it’s possible to have higher population density but still a comfortable standard of living AND still have space for small farms around the urban centers AND leave more room for the buffalo and pronghorns and wolves.

    • Travis Perry says:

      This comment qualifies as a complete diversion from the actual subject of the article. Not that you trying to change the subject is a rarity–it’s of course quite common.

      Mark’s focus was on a spiritual reality–or he and I would call it “spiritual.” Perhaps you’d call it something else.

      But that reality is that human beings are stinkers–consistently, throughout history, regardless of culture (though some cultures emphasize certain aspects that others don’t). This reality means that as long as humans are human, there will never be a utopian society. Maybe we can be better in some ways–but developments usually come with trade offs. Improvements in one area, matched by things getting worse in others…

      • notleia says:

        So? We can sit around and agree with each other that people are stinkers, and then the conversation grinds to a halt. I am providing a valuable public service in introducing further conversation topics. 😛

        • Travis Perry says:

          The conversation grinds to a halt only if we let it. AND, changing the subject contributes to the original conversation not going very far. So instead of a providing a public service, one could say you are actually subverting the topic to your own interests–well, I suppose someone might consider that a “service” but we just as soon could call it a “disservice.”

          The way to continue the conversation would be to point out that NatGeo’s Mars show doesn’t include a single overtly religious person among the colonists. Nor are there any chapels, religious leaders, prayers, or thoughts about God openly revealed in the story. Now, is that actually a realistic portrayal of human beings? Further, is it true that one can build paradise in a strictly secular sense, with no concept of God, no thoughts of prayer, no spiritual needs?

          Which portrayal is more realistic–a secular paradise? Or is it more realistic to think that even though humanity will always have bad actors, human beings do better, overall, to acknowledge spiritual need and seek a relationship with God?

          To put the question in more practical terms, which society would live more in harmony? Educated scientific elites from our time, religion-less? Or educated elites from, let’s say, the Victorian Era, for whom the concept of God was ingrained in the culture?

          We can discuss historical examples of how often the Victorians went to war in an attempt to answer this. But people without any strong concept of God also characterized the Communist regimes of the 20th Century, who also went to war–to a degree that at least rivaled, if not surpassed, the Victorians.

          Modern scientific elites are isolated from a lot of the need that we know from history can make “natural” (or perhaps better-called “sinful”) aggression even worse. But what happens when they get on Mars and suddenly really are in hardship? Will they bear it well? Or start murdering each other?

          And what is intrinsically better? A society that believes in the existence of spiritual need and tries to alleviate it through spiritual means (Christian-based or otherwise)? Or a society that looks to psychology, to sociology, to medicine? In short, will Science (with deliberate capitalization) save us? Or something else?

          These are questions worthy of discussion–and are on the topic Mark raised. FYI.

          • notleia says:

            I’m noticing a distinct lack of mammoths in this line of inquiry, but I’ll try it out, I guess.

            But y’know, there are studies about quality of life in relation to religion, and it don’t look good for religion. It depends on how you qualify quality of life to some extent, but areas that are religious are also poorer and with poorer health (including mental health).

            • Travis Perry says:

              Eh. The studies you reference I would say suffer from a kind of bias. Though it’s clearly true that needy people are more religious than non-needy.

              Some people would argue the religion causes the poverty but I would argue the opposite. Wealthy people feel less need of God in general. That doesn’t necessarily make them better people. Though it’s true having plenty really does suppress certain types of crime.

              Supposedly the happiest country in the world is Nepal. I’m not sure how that’s measured, but Nepal is more religious than any EU country in practice.

              I’ve been to Uganda, Kenya, and Guatemala and a striking thing about those nations is how overtly friendly most people are and how happy they seem, in spite of very evident poverty and quality of life issues and subsectors of violent crime.

              It’s not the demand for drugs from Guatemalans that funds cartels that make life more miserable than it would otherwise would be in Guatemala. It’s demand for drugs in the USA and Canada, countries with supposed better quality of life.

              Some Afghans actually use opiates (note that Afghans are not very happy people overall) but it’s not the Afghan desire for drugs that causes drug money from selling heroin to fund guns in Afghanistan. It’s heroin sales especially in Europe but also the USA.

              It’s not the Albanian desire for sex slaves that empowers Albanian gangs and makes life in Albania even worse than it would already be. It’s the demand for sex slaves in Western Europe, to countries that already have legal prostitution, to include the Netherlands and Germany.

              And sexual tourism, in which the sex slaves, often underage, stay at home and are visited by wealthy foreigners (typically in SE Asia) are usually seen by Germans and Americans beyond all others (but by other wealthy nations as well), countries already awash in consumption of as much as a person could reasonably want if people only cared about their needs and sin wasn’t a “thing.”

              The most secular country in the world is probably France and while I speak French and admire a number of things about France, not even France is devoid of religion. And France is definitely not the happiest place on Earth.

              So, if we took a bunch of secularists to Mars and they lived lives of relative hardship there–long days of hard work, with little wanton pleasure to indulge themselves in, how would they do? Mark was saying, “Not that well.” I tend to agree with him. But they imagine they’d do well.

              If hardship causes religious belief rather than the other way around, then perhaps what would actually happen on Mars is a colony would experience a religious revival–though the religion may not be Christianity.

              Or perhaps a secular colony would go to war. France goes to war–and has violent crime…

              • notleia says:

                I thought it was Bhutan rather than Nepal, but I guess they’re both Buddhist countries jammed up in the Himalayas.

                But it’s true that poverty is relative, so probably the more accurate way to frame it would be in terms of inequality. I also have a lot of words about inequality, including conspicuous consumption and how “opiate of the masses” is not untrue.

              • It’s probably actually more about poverty. Yes, it’s relative, but if people can meet their needs ok, they’re usually fine. As far as equality goes, it doesn’t matter if random person over there makes more money than me. Them having more doesn’t necessarily take from me or automatically put me in a bad position. The idea of ‘everyone must be equal no matter what’ would, though.

              • notleia says:

                I think taking it to that extent is unfeasible and possibly ridiculous. But take this for example. Right now the world produces enough food to feed the world population. There should be no starving people, right, except there are. The reason is because it’s not profitable to bring it to certain markets. Boom, inequality.
                (As an aside, what if agriculture were essentially nonprofit? Also we ate all the big agri-business chuckheads.)

              • Inequality’s probably kind of a weird term to use for some of this stuff. But when it comes to things like ‘it’s not profitable to bring it to certain markets’, that’s of course A reason, not THE reason. If there’s a lot of danger and political unrest in a nation, for example, a company might not want to get involved due to the risk, and not nearly all of it would be financial.

                They might not even be able to hire enough people willing to work in a dangerous nation. I guess inequality sounds like a weird way of looking at it in certain scenarios, because it sort of implies that the company is automatically bad, unfair, prejudiced, or whatever for choosing not to move into a certain nation. Sometimes a company can break through all the challenges with the right strategies, but whether or not people can come to the right strategies depends on a lot of circumstances. And companies have to be very careful with their decisions. If they make too many losses, they’d eventually have to shut down, which would be bad for everyone in their employ.

                As for agriculture being nonprofit… There’d be absolutely nothing wrong with people starting nonprofits for agriculture, but if someone wants to start a for profit agriculture business, they shouldn’t be prevented. Doing so would cut out yet another option for making a living. Plus, donations and tax dollars to run nonprofits need to come from somewhere. From that standpoint, cutting out/disabling for profit businesses would sort of be cutting everyone’s throats.

                I dunno. People just really seem to oversimplify this stuff. People can shout ‘The problem is inequality!’ when in reality it’s so many more complicated issues. Heck, sometimes thinking in terms of ‘inequality’ could distract from actual concrete things that could actually make someone’s life better. It’s not that inequality doesn’t exist, and yes, there are tons of problems that need to be solved, but maybe people aren’t always blaming and acting on the right things.

              • notleia says:

                Also, when liberals talk about inequality, they generally mean social inequality. Income/financial inequality is a solid part of that, esp in America, but it’s not the whole. Just to clarify.

              • Travis Perry says:

                Notleia, I can agree to an extent that religion can act as the “opiate of the masses” as in it makes people feel better and helps them accept their fate.

                But judging by the flow of drugs around the world, it seems wealthy people (or relatively wealthy, internationally speaking) use real opium as their opiate. The idea that all people need to do is throw of the shackles of religion and they will be just fine–no, better even–is given the lie by the international drug trade. Also the international traffic in sex slaves.

                HINT: In spite of some actual hypocrisy on this topic, it ain’t Evangelicals funding international drug trafficking and sex slavery to any significant degree. Those things come from the activities a certain segment of your secular friends are doing in secret–while simultaneously thumbing their noses at religion and pretending to have everything in their lives under control.

              • notleia says:

                It generally works differently than that. Like, how certain sectors push religious charity as a replacement for social programs, even though they have nowhere near the capacity to support as many people. And often there are unreasonable strings attached, and often the strings are the real motivation for the givers.
                Or elsewhere on the internet, I found an article about how ritualized gratitude (like T-day) can be used as a control mechanism to undermine efforts to correct inequality. It’s not that gratitude is bad, but it can be used for gaslighting.

              • notleia says:

                A Moment of Real Talk, tho.
                It’s true that deconverting doesn’t automatically make a person enlightened about much of anything. Atheist dudes are often as misogynistic as your common Bill Gothard, but instead of biblical clobbertexts, they use bs evolutionary psychology rationalizations.
                Converting to a religion doesn’t really help, either, because they gravitate towards the Bill Gothards.
                As much as I want the convenience of a surefire cure, the solution looks more like quarantining them away from any positions of importance and inoculating the future generations.

  2. Another thing is that people could eventually try to altering the human genome and whatnot to make us more ‘cooperative’ with each other. But doing certain things to the human race (at least in a fallen/’natural’ universe) might weaken it and leave it unable to handle certain problems it comes across. So, for example, someone could conclude that our ability to be aggressive is the problem, convinces the rest of humanity, then gets a team of scientists to remove human kind’s ability to be aggressive. Even if we could make a utopia among ourselves like that, that could leave us less able to handle attacks from, say, an alien race. ‘Aggression’, emotion, and so many other things we can try to blame are not simply a matter of a few undesirable behaviors we might imagine. Any number of these things are linked with traits we need or even consider desirable, such as the desire for self preservation. And if we took some of that away, would we still be living in a worthwhile manner?

    I don’t mean that humanity’s existence should only be desirable if it can emote or fight or whatever. But we shouldn’t be too eager to discard huge pieces of ourselves just because those pieces are bad or problematic sometimes. We can learn from our mistakes and do better, but that should probably come more in the form of understanding ourselves and learning, rather than actually trying to alter ourselves as much as some people might desire.

    • Travis Perry says:

      The idea that aggression is part of a spectrum of behavior that we actually need really stems more from Evolution than it does a Christian worldview. But the problem with humans isn’t just aggression. To pick one example, Vandalism doesn’t ever have an aspect that’s actually positive, so that acts of Vandalism contribute to the survival of the human race (you might attempt to think of exceptions where people write vital messages to one another on public space or something like that–but writing a message isn’t Vandalism). Vandalism is always negative–and there are other things human beings do I would argue are always negative, though I won’t list them here.

      Even aggression when positively channeled into legitimate defense under attack would not be necessary if there were not human beings who use aggression illegitimately to take from others things they want for themselves. There can be warriors fighting in justice–but war itself would not exist without impulses that are wholly sinful, in rebellion to God.

      • Well, vandalism could be a part or at least effect of aggression. Like if someone busted the mailbox of someone they disliked. Or graffitied an old building to mark gang territory. I also just used aggression as an example, and wasn’t trying to say it was the only bad or destructive trait.

        Regardless, my point wasn’t to say that all behaviors are natural and so essential that they should just be left alone. It was more about HOW we deal with them. Scientists might want to just alter humanity genetically to remove aggression or vandalism or whatnot, and remove important or at least not necessarily bad parts in the process, which in many cases would be a human rights violation. Especially when, instead of simply removing something that we think causes a bad behavior, we could maybe teach the next generation to behave better instead.

        Taking your example of vandalism, that IS a behavior that is undesirable the vast majority of the time, like you said. It actually really bothers me that there’s individuals that go around disrespecting other people’s property without a care in the world. But vandalism is simply a behavior. To stop it, we would have to think about what causes it, both in terms of circumstance and psychology.

        Boredom could be a major aspect in many cases. So, there we have the innate human need to stay occupied. If vandalism was a huge problem, and people decided that boredom was the core reason behind vandalism, scientists could take away the human ability to feel bored. But the ability to feel bored can actually be pretty important. It reduces our ability to be lazy or unproductive, and increases our chances of doing things to improve life simply for the sake of something to do. But then if a person doesn’t have a desirable productive thing to do, they may just turn to destruction.

        In some ways we interact with our human nature like an irresponsible dog owner would. Such a person could get a high energy dog, never exercise or train it, but expect it to behave perfectly and never destroy anything. The dog will make mistakes sometimes regardless (just as humanity will always have sin, at least until God comes back) But it will be a million times better and even useful if trained and exercised. But someone that doesn’t realize that might see a dog disobeying and chewing things up, and merely assume it’s a bad, destructive animal. They might think the breed should be altered or even destroyed. But what they don’t realize is that the dog’s undesirable traits are a manifestation of high levels of drive and energy, which are absolutely great if focused in the right direction. So training and refocusing the manifestation the dog’s behavior is what’s needed. But, instead, some may just want to remove the drive and energy from that animal, inadvertently removing a lot of what makes them useful and good.

        So, again, it’s a matter of HOW we want to fix or alter behaviors. Sometimes humanity wants to take too many shortcuts, like genetic alteration, or too much government intervention, or any number of potentially needless things. But the better answer would be understanding ourselves and improving, and teaching the next generation better. This actually can be put in a six day creationist viewpoint. God made us the way we are. He allowed us to be this way because it’s what we need to survive after the fall. He also holds us accountable for our behavior and expects us to learn and improve. So, if God made us a certain way psychologically, should we arrogantly assume we know better and remove key parts of our mind or genetics when we don’t actually need to? Or should we instead have a more biblical mindset, such as learning from our mistakes, teaching our children better, and having a relationship with God that motivates us try and improve our behaviors?

        • Travis Perry says:

          The thing that Mark was pointing out, his bottom line idea, is that better training or education or psychology or medicine or whatever cannot ultimately fix what is wrong with the human race. We need Christ–we need a connection to God–we need the Holy Spirit. To think that something else can fix the human race is essentially what Mark was disagreeing with.

          Not that better education or psychology or medicine are not good things–but to ignore human spiritual needs–as the NatGeo series does–is guaranteed to fail, according to Mark Carver. And I agree with him.

          • Well, yes. I wasn’t asserting that this would solve all our problems or that we should ignore the spiritual side. In a way I was actually criticizing one of the ways humans want to try to make themselves ‘perfect’ (genetic alterations and such) And I was discussing some means of improvement that are better, but, like I said a second ago, I wasn’t asserting that it would solve all our problems. They would merely HELP. I’m rather pessimistic and don’t believe humanity can become perfect.

            Physical, psychological, etc aspects do matter to the spiritual side, though. At the very least they can help one understand why people might accept Christ or not. And how we can follow him better after accepting him.

  3. Travis Perry says:

    Mark, I just finished watching NatGeo’s “Mars” myself. While I would agree with you that the commentary hoping for a chance to start fresh and emphasizing cooperation was naive, I was more struck by another aspect of the series that relates to what you said. [Hey, I commit some spoilers below.]

    The second season, which featured corporate Martian colonists and “international science” type colonists nearby one another, missed the most obvious problem with having two such separate groups nearby–the possibility of war between them. Or at least individual acts of homicide.

    The series rather elaborately set up tension between them, giving a real chance that there would be red human blood deliberately shed on Mars’s orange sands. But no, they backed away from that.

    Instead, the show chose to demonstrate that 500 kilograms of explosives set off a “Marsquake” that would have to be at least a 6 or so (though probably higher) on the Richter scale. Yeah, you can’t even set off an earthquake on tectonically-active Earth with that much explosive. Causing one on geologically dead Mars would of course be much LESS likely. So that element of the story I found scientifically implausible.

    And what for? To show “you can’t mess with Mother Nature”? Look, that’s just the kind of attitude that will prevent human beings from going to Mars in the first place–because on Mars, if you aren’t willing to make major changes to the landscape around you, you have a very bleak future ahead of you. If a colony like Mars is to succeed, the notion of environmental conservation is one thing you’d have to leave behind on Earth–yes, you wouldn’t want to pollute your own backyard on Mars, but you would want to radically change it.

    So it turns out you might be right about humans living on Mars–if we adopt the attitude that we will go there but not change anything, then the easiest way to achieve that would be to refrain from going at all.

What do you think?