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Doctor WT_?!

The Rings Of Akhaten -- episode 2 of the current Doctor Who series -- culminates with a sweat-dripping, hubris-bristling rendition, from the eponymous physician himself, of what is essentially an out-and-out New Atheist manifesto, all set to a stirring choral accompaniment and staged in front of a cosmic CGI backdrop:
"Okay then. That's what I'll do. I'll tell you a story. Can you hear them? All these people who lived in terror of you and your judgment. All these people whose ancestors devoted themselves, sacrificed themselves to you. Can you hear them singing? Oh you like to think you're a god. But you're not a god. You're just a parasite. Eat now with jealousy and envy and longing for the lives of others. You feed on them. On the memory of love and loss and birth and death and joy and sorrow, so... so come on then. Take mine. Take my memories. But I hope you're got a big a big appetite. Because I've lived a long life. And I've seen a few things. I walked away from the last great Time War. I marked the passing of the Time Lords. I saw the birth of the universe and watched as time ran out, moment by moment, until nothing remained. No time, no space. Just me! I walked in universes where the laws of physics were devised by the mind of a madman! And I watched universes freeze and creation burn! I have seen things you wouldn't believe! I have lost things you will never understand! And I know things, secrets that must never be told, knowledge that must never be spoken! Knowledge that will make parasite gods blaze! So come on then! Take it! Take it all, baby! Have it! You have it all!" (Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten, BBC1, April 2013)
Thus by sheer rhetoric -- well, with some help from "the most important leaf in human history" -- the Doctor saves another day, successfully liberating a medium-sized corner of the universe from awe-struck slavery to a self-appointed 'god'.

This is by no means the first time I have noticed Doctor Who giving voice to anti-religious sentiment. The God Complex (episode 11, series 6) features a minotaur-like creature who feeds on faith. Carefully selecting and capturing his prey, he places them in artificial situations of extreme fear, to which they each respond by drawing strength from the strength of their varying convictions (not all of them religious) -- exactly the reaction he is relying on for his next meal. I remember finding the episode a fascinating and thoughtful exploration of the relationship between fear and faith. I don't remember wanting to throw things at the screen.

Indeed, I am not the most avid of Doctor followers, but I have usually found it to tackle questions of faith as exactly that -- questions. The show has its own discernible 'take' but has always struck me as suitably humble in its delivery, acknowledging other 'sides' to the various discussions and aware of its own limitations when it comes to definitive answers. Furthermore, never in past episodes do I remember feeling that it was being emotionally manipulative or taking advantage of a captive (young...impressionable...) audience to enforce an agenda.

This particular offering, by contrast, produced in me such oxymoronically vehement sighs as I half-imagined capable of reaching the ears of the BBC people on the other side of the television. The certainty and self-satisfaction of the program makers as the episode reached it's emotionalised "nail in the coffin of God" climax was so ickily evident that I would have been reaching for proximate projectiles whatever the particular dictated hypothesis had happened to be -- even, or perhaps especially, had it happened to be one I agreed with. And given that "brainwashing of children" was clearly a concern understandably on their hearts, I thought they were on rather shaky ground themselves with their chosen mode and tone of delivery.

Whatever the age of the 'target' audience, I just don't like to see emotional tactics employed to 'win recruits' to any cause. Sadly, I've seen this as much in church as on the telly -- and no matter how innocently done, it makes for uneasy viewing. Ethics aside, it should never be necessary: if we hold something to be true, and we recognise the ability of other people to engage in a rational evaluation of the evidence, then we should never want to do more (or less) than give them the opportunity to think for themselves and make their own decisions. Moreover, if (as for some of us) the belief we profess is in a personal God who interacts with human beings, then we must surely be prepared to trust Him to make Himself known to others as we believe He has to us.

Paul, several times in his letters, recognises the danger of those who win people over to their own agendas by way of 'fine sounding arguments' (cf Colossians 2:4 in various translations), and makes a point of reminding his readers that this was not the way they had first found out about Jesus, but that he had spoken to them plainly and that it was the power of God and not of man which was at work to convince them of the truth of his message:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
It seems to me that the most honourable way of sharing one's convictions (religious or otherwise) is also the most genuinely faith-filled: straight speaking, with an awareness of one's own limitations, trusting in the reality of what is professed to become evident, and being prepared to be challenged in one's own understanding if reality communicates something different to one's expectations.

I might not have liked Doctor Who's recent 'tactics', nor it's pomposity, but I do like the fact that it engages in conversations worth having, and I do appreciate the sincerity of the ideological thrust of this particular episode. The fictional accomplishment of the Doctor in toppling the malevolent pseudo-god pretty well embodies the essence of the wave of contemporary thinking usually bundled up under the aforementioned appellation 'New Atheism'. Indeed, the Doctor's speech resembles an early-evening-audience-friendly mash-up of various much-repeated soundbite quotes from some of the movement's most well-recognised spokespersons:
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion)
“Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.” (Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything)
It is not for me for now to aspire to a definitive 'answer' to these objections, and I hope that my brief remarks (which flow from personal experience and my own fledgling investigations) do not offend or aggravate anyone for whom they are deeply felt. Suffice to say, Dawkins here is not describing the God that I believe I know, and Hitchens is not describing the life of following Jesus that I believe we are invited into. But there is no denying that the Bible is a complex and often bewildering compilation of writings, especially if sections are taken out of context or if literature types are mis-categorised in interpretation. There is also no denying that many, many appalling things have been done by people claiming divinely-given authority, including the claim of obedience to the Bible. It is right that we should find ourselves disturbed by these realities and that Christians as well as skeptics be prepared to grapple with them.

My 'short answer' to the 'questionable' character of God would have to be Jesus [1]. "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation", Paul writes in Colossians 1:15. I take this to mean that, if we want to know what God is like, we should look to Jesus (which includes taking him as the starting point for figuring out the 'problematic' portions of the Old Testament). Jesus, who reached out with love, forgiveness and healing power to outcasts and 'hopeless' cases (e.g. Luke 5:17-26, Matthew 9:9-13, Luke 7:36-50, Matthew 8:1-4 ,Luke 8:43-48 etc etc...), who received and honoured women in ways which were unheard of (e.g. Luke 8:1-3Luke 10:39), who overturned the world's hierarchies and power structures with his teaching (e.g. Matthew 5-7), who seemed to command even nature and matter (e.g. Luke 8:22-25, Matthew 14:13-21), who washed the feet of his disciples and exhorted them to lives of service and sacrifice (e.g. John 13:1-17, Mark 9:33-37) ...
...who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)

[1] Cue the old Sunday school joke: A teacher asks the class "What lives in trees, eats nuts, and is grey with a long bushy tail"... To which one well-intentioned child replies "Well, I know the answer must be 'Jesus', but it sounds quite a lot like a squirrel".