Saturday, March 22, 2014

What Doctor Who Teaches Us About Gods

Doctor Who Puts Gods to the Test

Although Doctor Who doesn't directly tackle the question, "Does a supreme creator god exist?" it does address the existence of a variety of entitles who claim to be gods. Through these episodes we can see various types of god figures emerge and we see the value of putting their claims to the test. Today we will examine a few of these through the lens of Josh McDowell's "Lord, Liar or Lunatic?" phrase. 

The Callieach's cult prepares to sacrifice the Doctor.

Spoilers ahead. If you haven't watch every single episode of Doctor Who available, you should do that now.

Gods Who Are Lunatics

In Tom Baker's episode "The Face of Evil," we have two very different groups of people worshipping the same god Xoanon. The Sevateem are a warlike band of hunters whose shaman hears Xoanon's voice through a ceremonial headdress. The Tesh are technologically advanced and more peaceful people who are constantly surrounded by the disembodied voice of Xoanon. Although both groups serve the same god, they hear very different messages from him and consider each other enemies.

When the Doctor gets to the root of this mystery, he discovers that Xoanon is not a god in any real sense. He is just a highly advanced computer with a split personality. Once the Doctor fixes the split, Xoanon is whole and the two tribes must learn to work together under the guidance (but not lordship) of this computer.

Not every self-proclaimed god or spokesperson of the gods is sane. Some are truly sick and in need of compassion and care. 

Gods Who Are Liars

In Tom Baker's episode, "The Stones of Blood," we meet a local druidic cult who believes very strongly in a Celtic goddess known as the Callieach. They believe so strongly, in fact, that they perform blood sacrifices to her on the standing stones. After the Doctor runs afoul of the cult leader, the cult even tries to sacrifice him on the stones! Why would a modern day pagan group be willing to perform a human sacrifice? Because they believe their goddess is real and is literally with them. The trouble is that they are almost right.

The Doctor discovers that the entity known as the Callieach is a real person who has been directing the cult and accruing power throughout the centuries. But she is not a god. She is, in fact, an alien criminal who is pretending to be a god. When her deception is revealed to the galactic authorities, the charge of pretending to be a local god is added to her long list of charges. 

Some self-proclaimed gods and spokespeople of the gods are liars. It's just that simple. And like anyone who defrauds the public, they should be brought to justice.

Gods Who Are Lords

Sometimes, gods really do have enormous power. In Jon Pertwee's episode, "The Daemons," an extremely powerful alien named Azal awakens at the behest of a local sorcerer (who is in fact the Master). Azal's power goes far beyond that of even the Time Lords so he can't be defeated by conventional means. Although Azal makes no claims of godhood, his power is so far beyond anything human that he would be a natural candidate for a god or demon (which is what he is called). But even though Azal has tremendous power, he is amoral and cares nothing for the welfare of humanity. He may be a "lord" but he is not worthy of worship.

Likewise, we see the god Sutekh (or Set) appear in Tom Baker's episode, "The Pyramid of Mars." Sutekh was worshipped by the Egyptians and is known for his great evil. He is, in fact, an alien of tremendous power - again, far beyond that of humans or Time Lords - and, as such, cannot be directly defeated. He is possibly one of the most immoral characters ever known. He delights in the suffering and destruction of every living thing. He is the living embodiment of "Might makes Right." He is a lord in terms of power and he has been worshipped and feared throughout the galaxies but he is evil and not worthy of human devotion.

There may be creatures out there who are more powerful than us humans. They may have powers beyond our understanding. But that does not make them good and it does not make them good candidates for our love and obedience. Even if we could prove such an entity exists, we should take great care in choosing whether to give them our reverence and devotion.

Gods Who Are Legend

What about those deities whose names come down to use through culture and tradition? What are we to make of those who may survive the first three tests?

In David Tennant's episode, "The Satan Pit," we come face-to-face with a nightmare that has haunted every living thing throughout space and time. We don't know its real name but we know it's been called Satan on earth and a million other sinister names beyond. It is evil incarnate - not just the act of evil but every dark wish and desire that might spark evil. 

Where does it come from and what is it? The Doctor freely admits that he does not know. What does it mean to come from "beyond time"? 

And so it is with our legends and our insistence that some entity must be the source of all that is good or evil. We may never fully know the origin of some of these myths and we may never fully understand the nature of suffering. But that does not mean that these things are gods or should be worshipped or feared as gods. When confronted with such legendary concepts, we must do as Tennant's Doctor does - we must turn to the people we love and trust in them. Humanity has proven over the centuries that real acts of compassion and love are more valuable and more moral than evil done in the name of any higher power. 

Put Your God to the Test

Do you have a god that you worship and obey? Put him or her to the test. Can you prove that this god exists or is it more likely to fit in one of the above categories? Do you have a good reason to obey this god? Is it really worthy of your worship? Is its record of conduct spotless? How do you know that your god's claims are real? Put yourself in the Doctor's shoes and check it out. Find the truth. 

You owe it to yourself and to us.