Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Window Into the Now

     This article addresses one of the fundamental purposes of science-fiction, and one that television shows do particularly well. Following my post from last week on why Christians should feel free and encouraged to enjoy science-fiction, I thought it would be helpful to point out another useful element of science-fiction that Doctor Who is well set up to do. And that is to provide a window into a cultural moment, into our moment, specifically on the subject of religion.

©Doctor Who/BBC
     Science-fiction is typically focused on future events, future possibilities and potentials. More often then not, however, the story is a veil that entertains, but conceals a deeper meaning and critique of our current society and culture. We are judged by our (potential) future, critiqued in light of what may be. This is a tradition in the genre from the very beginning, all the way back to H.G. Wells and his Utopian social vision for humanity. It is much like the role that the doctrine of the end times plays in Christian theology; at the end, true justice will prevail, all wrongs will be righted, and we will be judged by our time spent right now. While less definitive in most cases, science-fiction judges us by what we may become.

     Given this, we should expect to find many of our own world present, in metaphorical forms, in the science-fiction we watch and read. The article notes how Doctor Who has addressed the topic of religion throughout the years, sometimes ambiguously, sometimes more directly. Like most science-fiction, the series never affirms the existence of God, and at best will usually leave such questions open. It presents us with some "possible futures" of religion, complete with strangely militarized clergy, odd rituals, and any manner of creepy aliens. But what is most interesting is not how it is presented then, but what it tells us about our cultural beliefs now.

     Modern Christians are not often good readers of our time. I've heard it said that the Church usually imbibes cultural trends, but usually a few years too late. Perhaps in contrast, science-fiction often channels ideas about our own time very effectively. As the article mentions, Doctor Who presents religion in a way that is analogous to the state of religion in the current day United Kingdom, and probably the United States as well. It does this in a way that recognizes the complexities and diversities of current spirituality, and the relativism required of us that is a practical reality even if not an actual one. It allows us to explore religious ideas, even while being ambiguous enough to leave room for the faithful Christian right next to the atheist. The best science-fiction, in other words, reads our society well, and gives us a laboratory for testing out ideas, and for understanding our own times better. It is a window we do well to look through.

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