The thing about being in seminary is that you are constantly exposed to information that forces you to re-evaluate your beliefs. There are those who demand that others make a clear cut decision to believe in a set of beliefs or reject said beliefs-but usually those who demand such action, are not aware of the depth and breadth of theological thought. Belief/lack of belief becomes a one stop shop instead of a journey that requires a constant re-evaluation of what one believes or does not belief. Plus, most of us like labels-they give us a sense of certainty and stability and it also helps us to find other likeminded people. Yet labels can be deceiving. Paul Tillich, Marcus Borg and Franklin Graham all consider themselves Christian yet if you look at the their theology, you might find it hard to see what it is, in fact that they have in common.
Doctor Who, has often touched briefly on religious topics, and at least from what I have been exposed too, more often than not, the show takes on a humanistic stance. Not surprising considering the rapid secularization of some parts of Europe. But occasionally the show still allows for a sense of uncertainty and mystery such as in the episode, The Satan Pit.
DOCTOR: Have you got any sort of faith?
IDA: Not really. I was brought up Neo Classic Congregational, because of my mum. She was. My old mum. But no, I never believed.
DOCTOR: Neo Classics, have they got a devil?
IDA: No, not as such. Just er, the things that men do.
DOCTOR: Same thing in the end.
IDA: What about you?
DOCTOR: I believe, I believe I haven’t seen everything, I don’t know. It’s funny, isn’t it? The things you make up. The rules. If that thing had said it came from beyond the universe, I’d believe it, but before the universe? Impossible. Doesn’t fit my rule. Still, that’s why I keep travelling. To be proved wrong. Thank you, Ida.
I love this line from the Doctor because it demonstrates a humility and openness to the mysterious. It is also a bit disconcerting. The Doctor is supposed to know what is going on. The Doctor is supposed to have an answer. We want that certainty from our lives and from our tv characters. We want other people to know what they believe or what they don’t so that we can put them inside a neat little box. But the reality is much more complicated than that.
What do I believe? That’s a question that seminary forces me to ask on a weekly if not daily basis. Sometimes I go into class confident with what I believe only to leave wondering, “wait, I just got new information, where do I stand? Do I reject this new information or do I incorporate into my world view somehow?”
Yet for most people that answer is not good enough. When people ask that question of others, they want a one word answer-“atheist”, “Christian” “muslim” or even “agnostic” (though those who call themselves agnostic are often derided by theists, by those who identify with some sort of religion and by atheists. Agnostics tend to be viewed as waffling from making a decision).
If you are confident with what you believe or what you don’t believe in, that’s great. But for others the answer isn’t nearly as cut and dry as we make it out to be. I think we need to learn to be ok with the fact that we are going to struggle, we are going to question our beliefs or lack of beliefs every so often, especially if we continue to learn and explore. There will be days where we say, “wow everything I thought is wrong” and there will be days where we can say, “I don’t know much, but I know this is true…”
When people talk about what they admire about the Doctor-they often mention his intelligence, his nonviolence, his ability to come up with answers. But I admire the times where he says he doesn’t know. Yet he continues to travel and explore.
So what do I believe? I believe that what matters is our journey. I believe that the ““The universe is big, its vast and complicated, and ridiculous.” I believe that I will never stop learning and questioning and that will make some people uncomfortable. It might even make them angry. But you know what, I’m ok with that. For some people, they know without a doubt what they believe or don’t believe, and that’s great. But that’s not everyone, and that’s ok.