The Power of Story Telling Part Two: A Moral Compass

You can read part one here

The Bible as a Moral compass

The Bible has some horrible, violent stories. People often discard the Bible for the portrayal of an angry vengeful God that has no qualms about killing innocent men, women, and children. Yet as much as those stories anger and disgust me, they say a lot about ancient Israel and modern humanity. One needs to understand that for most of their history, ancient Israel was a small, threatened community surrounded by bigger nations, some of whom wanted to see them and their religious identify destroyed. In order to hold onto their community they passed along stories-some of them were violent tales of a vengeful God. Yet the stories provided them with the knowledge that even when things were going horribly wrong, they could get through said tough times because of they knew their God would not abandon them and would save them. While many recoil at the methods their deity used, modern humanity isn’t that much different. Look at the United States and the amount of money we spend on the military. We spend more than the next 13 countries combined. Then just as now, violence was viewed as redemptive and necessary. The only difference is in who is welding said violence.

There are other stories, however, that show a different way of living. One that is not filled with darkness and violence.  For example I find the stories of Jesus to be inspiring but not in the way that many others do. Literalists view his death and resurrections in terms of the benefits that those who accept Christ as their Lord and Savior receive after death. Mainly that Jesus died and resurrected to save us from an eternity of hell. If Jesus didn’t die or resurrect, then the “stories” about Christ are essentially useless because we are still in our sin (see 1 Corinthians 15:16-19). However, to me Jesus’ death and resurrection has very little to do with the afterlife but is an expression of Jesus’ compassion and passion for justice.

Jesus touched and healed people that were considered to be unclean by the religious authorities, he advocated for the poor and oppressed, which is why he was considered to be a threat by the Roman authorities. In Luke Jesus quotes from the Hebrew Bible:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

The stories, tell of a man who cared deeply about others, who was ushering in a new age where violence and hatred was not to be the norm. He challenged the status quo. Those who followed him, those who heard the stories about him, recognized that there was something different about Jesus and they began to accord him divine status.

To  me the stories of Jesus as well as the history of the compiling of the Biblical texts, to me represents the story of an ordinary man, who made such an impact on others that he became divine by virtue of the stories told of him. And he continues to inspire individuals and organizations to fight for social justice and for the oppressed.  His story inspires people from a variety of theological backgrounds as well as atheists and agnostics to advocate for those who are in pain and struggling. His stories provide people with hope-provides me with hope. While I do not think the resurrection is a historical fact, I still find the story to be inspiring? Why? Because it demonstrates that no matter how hard the systems of this world work, no matter how many times those in power try to keep people oppressed-those who advocate for justice will continue to rise. They will continue to fight. The resurrection story shows me that no matter how dark and painful life gets, no matter how much I personally want to give up, there is always hope. Justice will always prevail even when things go horribly wrong.

The stories in the Bible-even the horrible, violent ones help provide me with a moral compass. They help me examine what I value-in a deity figure, in myself, and in humanity. Do I value violence and “being right” over mercy and compassion? Do I embrace death and destruction, or hope and “Resurrection?”

Doctor Who as  Moral Compass

Doctor Who can be a funny and silly show: Farting slitheeens, the last human, Cassandra who is nothing more than a trampoline made of skin,  Fezes and bow ties,  yet underneath all of the silliness,  the show does address some important themes. Perhaps not as in your face as other shows or books, however, for those willing to look deeper, the show can provide a moral compass.

While some might argue that taking one’s moral compass from a tv show is stupid, one could say the same thing about taking one’s morals from a series of books written over 2,000 years ago in a different time period. And to be sure not everything in the Bible should be applicable to today’s society-such as the view of women as property and the ownership of slaves. Obviously, one should not passively absorb what one watches on TV and use it as the sole basis in which to get one’s moral code. Nevertheless, popular culture-including Doctor Who can be useful in reflecting the values of society and our values as individuals, as well as challenging them.  A function once reserved for organized religion, and which it does not always do a good job.  Doctor Kelton Cobb, in his book: The Blackwell guide to Theology and Popular Culture argues that:

“It is worth noting that a great number of people are finding solace in popular culture, solace they find lacking in organized religion. Theologian Richard Mouw advises that it will be worthwhile to examine popular culture for legitimate critique of the shortcomings of theology that have so distanced it from people struggling to believe.”

What can Doctor Who teach us about our society? About human nature? And how do they compare to the lessons one can learn from reading the Bible?

In the Bible, Jesus frequently interacted with the lowest of the low-the poor, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, women, and children. He asserted again and again through his words and his actions that the poorest of the poor, that those despised by society were in fact important and worthy of being loved.

The Doctor, a timelord who has seen millions of different species, some of which are bound to be much more intelligent than humanity yet throughout the series he stresses again and again the importance of the individual and of the mundane. In Father’s Day, (1.8) a couple who’s wedding the Doctor and Rose have crashed, asks the Doctor if he would be able to save them and their unborn child from the Reapers. Sarah, tells him: “I don’t know what this is all about, and I know we’re not important.”  The Doctor responds:

Who said you’re not important? I’ve travelled to all sorts of places, done things you couldn’t even imagine, but you two. Street corner, two in the morning, getting a taxi home. I’ve never had a life like that. Yes. I’ll try and save you.

When Rose tries to justify her action in saving her father by stating that he wasn’t an important world leader, the Doctor angrily replies:

Rose, there’s a man alive in the world who wasn’t alive before. An ordinary man. That’s the most important thing in creation. The whole world’s different because he’s alive.

photo (2)

In the 2010 Christmas special, “Christmas Carol” the Doctor , in response to Kazran stating that someone was not important says:

 Nobody important? Blimey, that’s amazing. You know that in nine hundred years of time and space and I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t important before.

In a society where commodities and money are often valued over human life, when the worth of an individual life is assessed in monetary terms, it serves as an important reminder that each life is important. No matter how seemingly insignificant a person appears to be, they matter and they have worth. People neglect the poor, ignore those in war torn countries, and give passive consent to pain and violence when they forget that.

The key component of the theology of the incarnation (God becoming human flesh) is the idea that God cares enough about humanity to become actively involved. Jesus’ ministry is centered on healing and salvation. While the institutional church has reduced his ministry as being relevant only in the spiritual realm (to save humanity from “hell”) the gospels portray a human/deity willing to get involved in the suffering of others and who demands his followers do the same.

In the Parting of the Ways (1.13) Rose explicates why she would no longer be content with working a regular job and going out for chips:

The Doctor showed me a better way of living your life. You know, he showed you too. You don’t just give up. You don’t just let things happen. You make a stand. You say “no.” You have the guts to do what’s right when everyone else just runs away!

photo (1)

In the Rings of Akhaten (7.7) The Doctor assures Clara:

Listen. There’s one thing you need to know about travelling with me. Well, one thing apart from the blue box and the two hearts. We don’t walk away.

Many in the 21st century, especially those in the West have been described as selfish and individualistic. How many of us have turned a blind eye towards those who are suffering? How many of us prefer ignorance to painful knowledge. To a certain extent, we all do. Yet stories whether we read them through an ancient text or we watch them on TV can remind us of how interconnected we are to one another. Stories can remind us that occasionally we do need to get involved in the messiness of life and in the pain of others.

Conclusion

Stories-no matter what form they take can be extremely useful. They entertain us, yet they can reflect and challenge our values. However, the impact a story has is heavily dependent on us and whether or not we are open to such reflection. For many people the Bible is used to justify hate and prejudice. For others the Bible inspires activism and acts of compassion and mercy. Both Martin Luther King Jr and the Westboro Baptist Church claim allegiance to the Bible.  Stories found in popular culture can be just as entertaining, damaging or enlightening. It really is up to the reader/viewer to decide what impact, if any a story will have on his her life.

Advertisements

One thought on “The Power of Story Telling Part Two: A Moral Compass

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s