Is Doctor Who anti-religious? Part one: The dangers of deification

Someone shared this link on a doctor who facebook page that had quite a few members. She did it, in what I perceived in a respectful way and I thought most of the comments shared were respectful and civil. Of course, one person who identified has an atheist made a comment that referred to those who believe in God as being “nuts” and others pointed out that Doctor Who regularly makes fun of religion. The thread was eventually deleted by the admin, which was unfortunate because I would have enjoyed engaging with the person who held such a negative view on religion.

Of course, those who personally know me or have been a fan of my Doctor Who and theology page know that I identify as agnostic(y) and yet my background is Christian, I attend a progressive Christian seminary, and I am attending a progressive Christian church. So while I understand the criticism lobbied by many agnostics and atheists toward organized religion (criticism, which many self-aware Christians and people of other religious beliefs share!) it is important to note that Christianity (and other beliefs systems) are not monolithic and so while Doctor Who might be making fun of a type of religious belief,  that does not mean that the show is making fun of all religious(or even just all forms of Christian) beliefs. I can’t speak for the motivations of the writers, who may or may not feel as if they are criticizing all religious beliefs,  but I agree that the show is critical of the type of blind faith that all should be weary of-regardless of whether one identifies with a religious tradition. Doctor Who rightly disparages blind uncritical religious faith that results in harm and devastation, the  type of religious beliefs that feeds on humanity and ends up leaving pain and sorrow in its wake, a type of faith that is not held by all those who proclaim religious beliefs.

In, “Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale: The final chapter” Russell T. Davis states, “Dumbos think that I’m turning the Doctor into God when clearly I’m saying that God doesn’t exist, that we mythologize real people, events or aspirations into deities and pay the price for it.” (sorry, my kindle version of the book does not have page numbers.) We saw, especially towards the end of Tennant’s run, how dangerous the Doctor became when he began to view himself as a god-like figure. It was one thing when others viewed him as a god-like figure (you see examples of that when in, “The Last of the time Lords” the whole world turns to the Doctor for help, and it literally looks as if thousands of people are praying to the Doctor) but once he started to view himself as a god-like figure, one who could manipulate time at will, that was when things really started to go downhill.

In The Waters of Mars, the Doctor has the following exchange with Adelide

ADELAIDE: You can’t know that. And if my family changes, the whole of history could change. The future of the human race. No-one should have that much power.

DOCTOR: Tough.

ADELAIDE: You should have left us there.

DOCTOR: Adelaide, I’ve done this sort of thing before. In small ways, saved some little people, but never someone as important as you. Oh, I’m good.

ADELAIDE: Little people? What, like Mia and Yuri? Who decides they’re so unimportant? You?

DOCTOR: For a long time now, I thought I was just a survivor, but I’m not. I’m the winner. That’s who I am. The Time Lord Victorious.

ADELAIDE: And there’s no one to stop you.

DOCTOR: No.

ADELAIDE: This is wrong, Doctor. I don’t care who you are. The Time Lord Victorious is wrong.

It is fairly easy to see how the deification of Christ, and the intent to hold on tightly to that theology has caused harm. Heretics were brutally killed for disagreeing with the view that Jesus was not really God or equal to God the Father, Christians have insisted that because Jesus is the only way to God, and because some Christians hold that to be true, everyone else is wrong and some have used that theology as an excuse to commit horrible acts of brutality toward nonChristians. Even in it’s less physically violent form, the deification of Christ and the insistence that “Jesus is the only way to God” has resulted in the mistreatment of nonChristians or even of fellow Christians who view Christ in a different way. Any view of Christ that leads to the mistreatment of others should be rejected. However, because Christianity is diverse, different denominations/churches/individuals interpret Christ in differing ways. Some focus on Christ’s humanity, some focus solely on his death and resurrection, others focus more on his life and social teachings, others try to incorporate Christ’s life, teachings, as well as his death and resurrection (some Christians viewing resurrection as literal, others as spiritual) into their theology.

In seminary, I am meeting people who view Jesus as the literal son of God, while others view God purely in human terms, and others try to view Jesus as both divine and human, yet the majority of students I have met are not interested in forcing their views on Christ on other people.  Even those who view Christ as a divine figure are not interested in using their theological beliefs as justification for treating others-especially those who do not identify as Christians as inferior. Instead, Christ (divine or not) is viewed as a great expression of love, and for them the ultimate expression of love and it is through that love that they interact with others, even those with differing theological beliefs.

However, the type of Christians one sees in pop culture and in certain parts of the country, are the type that demonstrate how dangerous it can be to deify Christ. Their view of Jesus as God has been used as an excuse to act in hateful and spiteful ways towards those with differing opinions, but it is important to note that not all Christians behave in such a way. The deification of Jesus can be dangerous and harmful, or it can provide an impetus to practice love and fight oppression. Conversely those who view Jesus as only human can treat those who view Jesus as God as delusional idiotic freaks, or they can focus on the moral teachings of Jesus that focus on the love of God.

So while Doctor Who, rightfully criticizes the dangers that can result in deifying a person, aspiration, or idea, it does not in fact tell the whole story as the variety in religious expression and in particular Christianity, makes it difficult to take that criticism and make it all encompassing.

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