The Silent Stars Go By and Biblical Literalism.

Contains some spoilers for the book: The Silent Stars Go By Dan Abnett

Rory, Amy, and the Doctor find themselves on an earth-like planet. Of course the Doctor had originally promised to take Amy and Rory back to Leadworth for Christmas, but as we all know, the TARDIS rarely takes the Doctor and his companions where they want to go, but instead takes them where they are needed. And the inhabitants of this planet, known as the Morphans, desperately need the Doctor. The Morphans have spent generation after generation trying to make the planet hospitable for human life by trying to trying to turn this planet into a replica of earth. And for years everything was proceeding as scheduled, until the temperature inexplicably gets colder and colder. The complicated machines used to equalize and stabilize the planet’s atmosphere have been tampered with, bringing the planet to the brink of an ice age. Without going into too much detail, suffice to say that aliens are responsible for tampering with earth’s conditions and the Doctor tries to set things right with a minimal amount of death and destruction.

For generations the Morphans have based their way of life on what they call, “The Guide.” The Guide has provided the people with detailed instructions on how to maintain the world and keep it running and as a result when an issue arises, leaders turn to the Guide for advice. When life is proceeding as expected turning to the Guide for advice has served the group well. But when things begin to fall apart in unexpected ways, the people struggle with how to apply the Guide is to their current situation. In one scene, Bill, the leader of the community and Winnowner Copper, a well-respected elder go back and forth about their next course of action. Bill wonders if the giants members of the community have claimed to have seen might actually exist and are responsible for the changing weather, while Winnowner argues that the Guide mentions nothing about giants and therefore they do not exist.

Bill: There was nothing about strangers either, but today strangers came.

Winnowner: They were unguidely, and they brought conjury with them.

Bill: I understand that…I do. But just because something is unguidely, just because it is not part of Guide’s law, it doesn’t mean we can ignore it. It could be killing us Winnower, do we let it?

Winnowner: Of course not. Survival is the greatest doctrine of all. What is happening to us may be exceptional, and therefore not covered in specifics in Guide’s words, but Guide will not fail us. We must look again. Study the passages. Guide will instruct us in ways we have not yet imagine. (133)

In addition, the community is very protective of the Guide. When the Doctor figures out that the Guide is most likely some sort of manual that can enable them to control the various complicated machines on the planet, the community is reluctant to allow the Doctor to have access to the Guide  until they finally realize that they are up against creatures and situations that they cannot defeat on their own. They are so intent on protecting their interpretation of the Guide that their refusal to allow an outsider to access and interpret it almost destroys them.

The parallels between the community’s treatment of the Guide and fundamentalist Christianity’s understanding of the Bible is clear. Fundamentalists tend to interpret the Bible as the literal word of God. The Bible’s historical context is often ignored and the Bible is deemed the ultimate authority not just religiously but scientifically and politically. For instance, the Bible does not mention evolution. As a result, many fundamentalists are quick to try and discredit evolution and any scientific data that supports it. Yet many fundamentalists are not just content with disbelieving evolution, but they seek to ensure that at the bare minimum their religious interpretation about the origins of the earth are treated as a valid scientific alternative. In addition, the Bible is used to decide complex political issues. For instance same-sex marriage is often condemned based on a handful of Scripture verses. Yet the argument isn’t that same sex marriage is against their own personal religious beliefs, but that because the Bible supposedly states that same sex relationships are wrong, then it should be banned on a societal wide basis, so that even those who do not adhere to a fundamentalist world view are expected to legally conform to it.

When data does not support biblical literalism, theological and scientific gymnastics occur. For instance, some creationists argue that dinosaurs were on Noah’s ark. However, in order to believe this it requires that one disregard both scientific research and Biblical scholarship from the past two hundred years. Yet if dinosaurs and humans did not co-exist, then a literal interpretation of the creation story and the flood stories are called into question. Their whole worldview will begin to fall apart.

The Morphans are more willing to question their current reality then their interpretation of the Guide. Their interpretation not only says that the Guide has all the answers, but that only a select group of people are privy to said answers.

Bill-if our world is under attack, and our way of life also, and this is the only way to save it, then who are you to say that it cannot be?

Winnowner- Who are you trusting, Elect? Guide have mercy on us all, you’re trusting the world of these strangers! We have only their say that there are any of these menacing (creature) things! None of us have seen them! (215)

Winnowner then goes on to state that perhaps Amy, Rory and the Doctor are in fact the real creatures attacking their town and that they are simply seeking to gain access to the Guide.

Even though Amy, Rory, and the Doctor have done nothing but try to help them, Winnowner is so adamant that the Guide is something to be protected and followed uncritically, that she is willing to distort current reality to protect her interpretation of the Guide.

In fundamentalist Christianity the Bible isn’t a book that is to be sequestered away and studied by a few people. In fact, the belief is that the Bible should be freely read and available to everyone. The catch, however, is that any interpretation that differs from a literal reading is to be rejected. Those who do not agree to a certain set of theological ideas are to be distrusted. They aren’t real Christians. The Morphans reacted by panic and attempted to keep the Guide away from the strangers for fear that it would be used to destroy their way of living, while in fundamentalist Christianity it is ideas that are deemed “strange” or not in line with the status quo that are to be feared and distrusted. Ideas that contradict their narrow view of the Bible stand as a threat to their whole faith system and as a result, they are to be ridiculed, mocked, ignored and rebutted.

The Morphans’ blind allegiance to the Guide and their refusal to listen to those not part of their inner groups threatens to eradicate what is left of humanity. In the “real world,” especially when religious interpretation is elevated to divine status, the consequences might be less drastic but still troubling. The Bible has become a tool of the privileged; only certain types of people can make claim to the Bible and what it says-if others dare to reach a different conclusion-if the poor, if members of the LGBTQ community, if women, seek to make a claim to the Bible, their voices tend to at best be ignored and at worst trivialized and mocked. Yet in a western world that is increasingly becoming secularized, Christians cannot afford to close ranks and state that there is only one correct interpretation-an interpretation that seems to correlate with the political wishes of the powerful. It is only when the Morphans let go of their rigid insistence that they have all the answers did they gain the information they needed to survive. Likewise, a Christianity that insists on a singular interpretation that is catered to the whims of a specific privileged demographic will not last long. The center of Christianity is shifting from the west and the world is fast becoming more globalized and interconnected. In order for Christianity to survive, diverse voices need to be welcomed and heard. A Christianity that fails to take into account the diversity of human experience is aiding in its own destruction.

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One thought on “The Silent Stars Go By and Biblical Literalism.

  1. I haven’t read the book spoken of here, but the title grabbed me. I could not agree with this post more! If only Christians would be willing to base understanding of the scriptures on how they fit into society in the era they were written. Sigh.

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