Death in Heaven: Give a good man firepower, and he’ll never run out of people to kill…

DOCTOR: I had a friend once. We ran together when I was little. And I thought we were the same. But when we grew up, we weren’t. Now, she’s trying to tear the world apart, and I can’t run fast enough to hold it together. The difference is this. Pain is a gift. Without the capacity for pain, we can’t feel the hurt we inflict.

CYBER-DANNY: Are you telling me seriously, for real, that you can?
DOCTOR: Of course I can.
CYBER-DANNY: Then shame on you, Doctor.
DOCTOR: Yes. Oh, yes.

I love graduate school. I get to go to school and study what I love (though the prospect of not getting a job and being able to pay off my loans does frighten me…). But one thing that I’ve noticed after reading various theological opinions is how beautiful some words can be but in practice they seem to fall short. There are some theologians who are able to capture the hope and promise that God gives. A promise that states that blood, violence, and oppression will not have the last word. But the more I study the more I realize how big the gap is between how things are and how they should be. I’ve written on numerous occasions about a loving deity, about compassion, about perhaps finding different ways of dealing with oppression outside of violence. But to be honest there are times, where I look back at what I have written and it feels like nothing more than empty words on a page. Don’t get me wrong, while I am writing I fully believe and am committed to what I am saying, but sometimes, after learning about a friend’s struggle, or reading about injustice, or the cycle of oppression that keeps on going, no matter what anyone does, I find myself thinking, “words. These are just empty words that I was able to string together to sound vaguely beautiful or interesting.”

I do hope for a loving God, a God of compassion and justice. But when I continue to have to live in a society where I am devalued-for my race, my gender, my sexuality, I get angry. Hearing again and again, the voices of people crying for justice-structural racism that continues to cause deaths, dictators or revolutionaries who promised their people that a day of change is coming only to continue the cycle of oppression, makes me feel enraged and hopeless. As a result I find myself wishing not just that the structures that enable such suffering are dismantled, but that those that are intentionally perpetrating them be destroyed. On those occasions, violence makes sense to me. If those in power won’t hear the cries for justice then perhaps we should make them listen. If authority will only give lip service to human rights and justice, fine, let’s take justice into our own hands.

I have little patience for those who have ignored the cries of those being slaughtered and then decide to try and take the moral high ground and tell the oppressed how they should act. “Fuck you.” I want to scream. And quite frankly, I try to give them as little of my time and energy as possible. Those who have ignored the cries of the hurting, who get angry when the truth is bought to their ears already have enough people listening to their fake cries of victimhood. I don’t want to dignify them with even more attention.

But do I really believe that violence is a useful response? Do I really believe violence, even done in the name of goodness, really accomplishes a more just and peaceful world?

DOCTOR: You’re part of a hive mind now. Presumably that’s how you found Clara. Just look.
CYBER-DANNY: I can’t see much.
DOCTOR: Look harder.
CYBER-DANNY: Clara, watch this. This is who the Doctor is. Watch the blood-soaked old general in action. I can’t see properly, sir, because this needs activating. If you want to know what’s coming, you have to switch it on. And didn’t all of those beautiful speeches just disappear in the face of a tactical advantage? Sir.
DOCTOR: (sighs) I need to know. I need to know.

The Doctor tried to convince Clara and Danny the value of emotions. The Doctor argues that the only difference between him and Missy, is that the he feels pain. Danny of course, sees right through the Doctor’s bull shit. The Doctor is good at giving nice little speeches, but he has no qualms disregarding them if he feels that he needs too.

In many ways I feel like I do the same. I talk about the importance of demonstrating a new way of living. Of working together with the oppressed-not trying to “save” them, but trying to listen and understand. I encourage those of us part of marginalized groups to advocate for justice without stooping to the level of our oppressors. But how do you do that when you are constantly ignored? When God’s promise-of love, justice, seems so far away that they appear to be nothing more than shallow words? There are time where I read back what I have written and wonder if I really believe that justice will one day reign and that God is actually a God of love who sides with those who are systematically abused.

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The Doctor is disgusted by the army that Missy has given him and the seemingly unlimited power she offers. Yet I have to wonder, did the Doctor even feel a tiny bit tempted? He not only has a TARDIS but an endless army that could right any wrong. Did he not see that as a way to use violence in a redemptive fashion?

I have to admit, that if given the same opportunity, I am not sure I would have so easily turned it down. Can you imagine? The power and ability to forcibly stop those who use others as mere play things to be exploited? Imagine all the evil that could be stopped. I care deeply about ending tyranny and domination. And there’s a lot in this world. Not just in places that are often reported on the news-but the places that are long forgotten and that are engulfed in civil wars. Or places that were the focus of media attention a few years ago for their resistance to tyranny only to be taken over by new tyrants. If given an army, if given that amount of power, who wouldn’t want to take it?

“Give a good man firepower, and he’ll never run out of people to kill.” But then again, where would I stop? Isn’t it the same old story repeated over and over again in history? Those tired of being oppressed, rise up, sometimes through violent means. And if they succeed-if they manage to kill or drive the old leader into exile, a new system ostensibly rises up claiming to be different. And perhaps for a while they are. But then those who have risen to power find that they don’t want to give up power. “Evil” isn’t concentrated in a few individuals. You get rid of those who are supposedly evil only to find that the system of domination continues. And once again, more people need to be stopped and killed. The number of people, who would have to be killed would never end and ultimately I would become just like those I seek to overthrow.

DOCTOR: Why are you doing this?
MISSY: I need you to know we’re not so different. I need my friend back. Every battle, every war, every invasion. From now on, you decide the outcome. What’s the matter, Mister President? Don’t you trust yourself?

God’s promises often seem so far away. And while I would never dare to tell others living through oppression how they should or should not react* I need to deeply examine my gut reaction to oppression and injustice. It is easy to look at those who have been pushed to violence and condemn them, especially if one has been ignoring their cries and pleas for justice. But it is much harder to look within ourselves and see how far we have fallen. To see the gap between what we profess to believe and how we act.

Missy was offering the Doctor a false promise. Yes the Doctor could use the army to stop injustices and to prevent the “bad guys” from winning, but she knew that by doing so, the Doctor would be admitting that he really isn’t that different from her. Missy now and in her previous incarnations sought power and was willing to kill for it. Ostensibly the Doctor would have power, but would be using it for good. Yet to have that much power is dangerous. There comes a tipping point where it becomes difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys because they use the same violent and exploitative means.

I want to stop injustice and part of me wants to advocate that by any means possible. But by doing so what would that make me? Like I said before, I refuse to condemn those who have been pushed to violent action by injustice, especially if I have not experienced what they have. Those within the marginalized community acting out will have to speak out if they so choose too. (ie, since I am not in Mexico, I will not tell those protesting violently against the government that they should stop and do something else instead.) But all I can do is examine my own reactions and motives. Am I acting in a way that leads me closer to the world I envision or further away?

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Questions of identity were central to this season. The Doctor needed to figure out what type of person he was-was he a good man? Was he evil? Was he a hero? He didn’t know who he was, and his uncertainty showed. There were moments he acted heroically and there were moments he acted cruelly. But finally at the end of this season he figured out who he was. An idiot. Someone who makes mistakes. Someone who gets it wrong sometimes. Someone whose best intentions can harm others and who has selfish and manipulative tendencies.

So who am I? Well I’m NOT a violent revolutionist, going out into battle to topple oppressive governments. I’m also not a nonviolent activist dedicating all of my time to various causes. I’m not a politician seeking to directly influence the political system. Those aren’t my gifts or skills. I’m not the world’s savior. And I don’t know what the right answer is. I don’t know how to be particularly helpful to those who are expressing pain that I will never know. I’m just an idiot. Who loves to learn. Who hopes that in some small way, even as I struggle to live authentically to my beliefs (and figure out what my beliefs are) that I am contributing to the type of world I envision.

Because love, it’s not an emotion. Love is a promise. I don’t feel God’s love a lot of times. And I don’t particularly feel loving all the time, especially to those whom I believe contribute to systematic violence. (But in all reality, we all contribute, even in some small way to institutional injustice). I don’t particularly feel like advocating for a new way of living, when it seems as if most people could care less about who they intentionally or inadvertently hurt. I am a hypocritical wreck who struggles with what I believe, but who can string together words in such a way that I give the impression that I know what the hell I’m talking about. I don’t know. The only thing I can do, the only scrape of knowledge and hope I can hold onto is the notion that love is indeed a promise. That God’s love isn’t fickle or conditional, that God not only loves me, but loves a hurting world enough to take part in our suffering in pain. I hold on, even weakly, to the promise that working towards justice, working towards of world of peace, makes some small difference.

*Theologian Walter Wink said it best: “When an oppressive regime has squandered every opportunity to do justice, and the capacity of the people to continue suffering snaps, then the violence visited on the nation is a kind of apocalyptic judgment. In such a time. Christians have no business judging those who take up violence out of desperation. The guilt lies with those who turned justice aside and did not know the hour of their visitation…”

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5 thoughts on “Death in Heaven: Give a good man firepower, and he’ll never run out of people to kill…

  1. I’m surprised that you did not mention Ferguson Missouri. I am certain that MLK would not agree with how the crowd responded. Yes something needs to be done there but not through violent means.

      • Furthermore, people rarely just randomly react violently. It happens when injustice has built up and when people feel as if they are being ignored. I refuse to condemn the rioters. As a person of color I sympathize with their anger and frustration. I might not join in. But I refuse as someone outside of that community To tell them how to act. They did have nonviolent protests. For weeks and months before the verdict was announced. And they were ignored.

  2. I really value your candour in thinking this through in public: it’s easy to quote the 8th Doctor ‘I’ve started more revolutions than you’ve had hot dinners.’ but it’s rare that the Doctor sticks around to pick up the pieces. With the 5th we can all say ‘there should have been a better way’ but the only time I’ve known a non-bloody revolution was 1989 in Leipzig. Our friends went and prayed every monday, never knowing if they would come home to their three kids. they marched peacefully, little Uta putting a flower in the open maw of a tank. And they were all terrified. It all turned on a phone call, could have gone so badly wrong. instead the Wall came down. Sometimes everybody lives.

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