10:4 Knock Knock

The Landlord in Knock Knock is holding onto false hope-this false hope tells him that if he just sacrifices six people every 20 or so years, then Eliza-the person he loves-will never die.  He transfers this false hope to her and he disguises the false hope in lies.  For 70 years he told Eliza that she was his daughter and that she had to trust him. He knew what was best-he stated that the lives lost-were necessary.  In one striking scene, the Landlord stops the record that had been playing on loop-the record that was keeping Bill’s housemate Pavel trapped- he not yet part of the house but also not fully human. He claims:

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But I would argue that hope itself isn’t a distraction or cruel-but false hope is the type of cruel hope that the Landlord describes. This is a hope based on lies and it leaves destruction in its wake. It can be difficult to separate false hope from true hope. Is it false hope to believe that, for example, you and your family might be spared in a war zone? It is false hope to believe that your friend, who is desperately sick may survive a life-threatening cancer? Does hope need to have a strong possibility of succeeding in order to be “real?” If so, then what is the point of hope? I don’t think there is a neat and tidy answer to that. Hope tends to verge on the impossible. But for me one of the key markers of false hope is the devastation it leaves in its wake and the belief that preserving this hope is all that matters-even at the cost of other lives.

DOCTOR: What do you remember of the past, Eliza? 
ELIZA: My father, he knows what’s best. 
DOCTOR: Yes, the lice preserve the appearance and the voice, but not so much the memories. He’s not your father, am I right? 
LANDLORD: No! Stop talking! 

If you are Christian, regardless of where you fall on the conservative-progressive spectrum, hope plays a central role in your theology. Especially important is the hope that God stands with you and others who are suffering and that all the pain and suffering in this world does not have the last say. God’s love is bigger than all the destruction and suffering in this world. How Christians express this hope can differ depending on whether one identifies as fundamentalist, conservative, progressive, Evangelical, Protestant, Catholic etc. But hope itself is a key part of Christianity. Unfortunately, the hope that Christianity presents-particularly to those who are marginalized has become warped over the centuries. This hope which pushes back against oppressive societal and religious structures, which attempts to destroy the inequalities between the haves or the have nots, has been co-opted by those in power to create anguish and distress. The hope of a God that cares for all and stands against injustice has instead become a hope where violence is king, where the “other” aka anyone who is different from you gets thrown into hellfire, and where the rich are seemingly much more important than the poor. Jesus-the one who eschewed most earthly forms of power and prestige is instead transformed into a modern-day Herod or  Tiberius Caesar. The heart of Christianity is transformed from a focus on a radical, redemptive God, to a power-hungry God, bent on protecting the status quo. Some Christians seek to hide the gospel in a bunch of bullshit lies and when someone dares to counter their lies-they become angry and desperate, like the landlord in Knock Knock they demand silence.

ELIZA: Father, what’s the matter? I don’t understand. 
DOCTOR: Your father would have had better things to do than playing with insects in the garden. But he isn’t your father. When you were ill, he was sent out of the house by the doctors who are failing to save his mother! 
ELIZA: His mother? 
DOCTOR: Eliza, he’s your son. Your loving son. 
ELIZA: My son? 
LANDLORD: (crying) Forgive me. Forgive me

The lies that the Landlord told Eliza came crumbling down within one night. The life that he had managed to build over 70 years disintegrated because Bill and the Doctor were able to recognize the truth and speak it. The Doctor tears apart the lies and false hope that the Landlord used to keep his mother, Eliza alive. The amazing thing is that even after the truth has been brought to light, the Landlord continues to pine for the lies and false hope. He rejects the possibility of a new life and instead wants to hold on desperately to the normal life that ended when he was a kid.

 

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Over the centuries Christianity has become the servant imperial power. Even with the end of “classical” colonialism Christianity is used to justify wars that kill hundreds of thousands of people, that force the poor to struggle to survive, and that okays horrific abuse-if done in the name of Christ. And the crazy thing is that so many Christians prefer this false and warped Christianity. This form of Christianity pretends to offer freedom but in reality, it traps people in their own selfishness and it punishes those unlucky enough to have dark skin or to be on the receiving end of western bombs. This form of Christianity says death-particularly the physical death of the “other” is a necessity. And while I think some Christians know that this Christianity is false and yet they choose to hold onto it anyway, many others genuinely believe the lies they have been told. So when others present a different version-one that calls out blind nationalism and militarism, one that claims that Christ is not synonymous with state power-they become angry.  

LANDLORD: Eliza, finish them now. Take them, or you’ll die! They’ll destroy you! 
DOCTOR: What’s the point in surviving if you never see anyone, if you hide yourself away from the world? When did you last open the shutters? 

The false hope this form of Christianity espouses is one that results in the division of humanity based on shallow differences and it breeds contempt, violence, and hatred. What is the point in believing in a God that is just as bad or worse, then some of humanity’s worse dictators? What is the point in believing in a God that has no qualms about “blessing” some individuals, while allowing others to die horrific deaths or experience intense suffering? But letting go of this god can be difficult. It can be scary to open up the window and see that there is something different out there. Likewise, it can be scary to let go of a hope we have held onto for so long that it becomes a core part of our identity. Even if we find out that this hope was nothing but a bunch of lies.  This form of Christianity-based on imperialism, power, greed, and violence will never completely vanish. Humans will always choose to hold onto lies that provide them short term benefit but that are harmful and that ultimately result in the destruction of themselves and others. But there is a different way of seeing the world. There is a different way of viewing God and faith.  The God I turn to is one who loves all-but stands with the marginalized. This God isn’t obsessed with nationalism or military might. There is no set script-some forms of Christianity say-if you believe this, pray this, or do this-then life will be good. But that’s not how life works.

Knock Knock ends with all of Bill’s housemates surviving-but of course the ones who had become part of the house decades ago-were lost. That’s the danger of false hope-once you refuse to hold onto it, you can move forward, but it can be difficult to repair the damage that has already been done. But in letting go of the lies-you  just might help bring about a better future. At least, that’s my hope.

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Let Me Be Brave

Face the Raven Part 2

DOCTOR: What’s the point of being a Doctor if I can’t cure you? 
CLARA: Heal yourself. You have to. You can’t let this turn you into a monster. So, I’m not asking you for a promise, I’m giving you an order. You will not insult my memory. There will be no revenge. I will die, and no one else, here or anywhere, will suffer. 
DOCTOR: What about me? 
CLARA: If there was something I could do about that, I would. I guess we’re both just going to have to be brave. 

Many people are understandably afraid of physical death. It is hard to comprehend our nonexistence or the nonexistence of a loved one. Even those who believe in some sort of afterlife or in reincarnation acknowledge that death marks an end even if it also marks a beginning. We spend our lives at various times ignoring death as something that happens to other people or we obsesses over it, hoping to ward it off and protect ourselves and our loved ones. But death, will eventually come for all of us. We can try to prolong life by avoiding unnecessary risks, eating healthy, etc but at some point, whether one is reckless or extremely careful, death will mark our end in this life.

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However, there is another type of death that need not be permanent: spiritual death which I equate with despair.  I am not talking about “the blues” nor am I talking about clinical depression or other mental illnesses.* For those involved in any type of job or activism that requires constant exposure to the darker side of humanity and the world, despair can become a constant companion. Despair can take on different forms depending on the person, in my case, despair is tied with anger.  When I am overcome with despair, I want to lash out on everything and everyone. The world is cruel, filled with bloodshed and constant violence, so why not add to it somehow, whether through harsh words or physical actions? If the powers that be want to use violence, then why not beat them at their own game? Even one person dedicated to violence can wreak havoc on the larger system. Or conversely, my despair takes on the form of apathy, which I consider a more subtle form of violence: if exploitation and suffering is just going to continue, why even bother with trying to make the world a better place? Why not just give up? Let the state continue to oppress its own citizens (as long as it’s not me) or drop bombs on children in the Middle East. What can I do?

Clara knows that despair awaits the Doctor after her death. It happened after the Ponds left and it will happen again. And why not? Not giving a damn, either through violence or through apathy can feel freeing…for a moment.  And, many of us don’t want to admit it, but making others  experience even a fraction of our pain feels good, even if that feeling is fleeting.  Despair, is in many ways the easy way out. It is an abdication of our individual and collective responsibility to fight for a better world. This abdication provides a false promise: that if we stopped caring our suffering will end. It promises us a new lease on life, when in reality it gives us death. Only the dead don’t feel pain or suffering.

Clara knows that the Doctor will want to wallow in despair and regardless of how his despair manifests itself: in an extended withdrawal from the world, or in violence, it will mean pain and suffering for others. She rejects that notion: there will be no suffering committed in her name.

When we confront day after day the massive amount of suffering in the world, whether through our research, through hands-on interactions, through our lived experience, despair can blind us and have us believe that we are acting in ways to honor those who are suffering, especially if the despair manifests itself through violence. But in reality we are desecrating the memory or the lived experiences of those whom we feel called to help by contributing to the cycle of destruction and death. We dishonor those whom we claim to care about by ensuring that others experience suffering and exploitation, without contributing to a solution.

Clara asks the Doctor to be brave. What does that mean in this context? It means, being willing to embrace the suffering without lashing out or permanently withdrawing from the world. When despair hits, it is necessary to take a break. But taking a break or moving onto a different area of social justice work is not the same as permanently giving up. But suffering, especially emotional suffering is uncomfortable. Many (though not all) forms of physical pain can be eased by some form of medication and many mental illnesses can be managed (not necessarily cured) through medication, but in many cases despair can only be banished by working through it. This might mean taking a break but still remaining dedicated to one’s responsibility to work towards a more just and equitable society.

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Unlike the man/cyberman we see earlier in the episode, who attempts to run away from death, Clara faces it square on. She is both simultaneously alone and not alone when she faces it. The Doctor watches her die and is with her, even if he is at a distance. But at the same time it is something she must experience alone. No one else can experience it with her. Despair is similar. In the midst of despair we need to reach out to others and we need to articulate our pain with those who have also experienced it. But at the same time, no one’s experiences of despair is exactly like another person’s. And while others can provide much needed physical, mental, and spiritual support, it is also something that is unique to our own individual experiences. No one can take on our despair for us, and no one can work through it for us. Even if one believes in a deity who provides comfort and support, one still needs to be say, “yes I am in the midst of despair right now, but I trust and believe that it will get better.” One still needs to take small actions, not necessarily big ones that display a measure of hope. In some cases that step can be as small as getting up in the morning.

CLARA: Let me be brave. Let me be brave

The way to handle despair is as varied as its manifestations and causes. But I think it starts with the recognition that it is something we need to confront. Ignoring it or channeling it through violence won’t make it go away. It requires to be brave and face it.

 

 

*Though of course despair and depression can go together, and it is often hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. But I am not a mental health expert or doctor, so any questions about depression and despair should be addressed to someone trained to deal with such issues

 

Don’t be a Warrior. Be a Doctor.

Face the Raven Part One

CLARA: We can fix this, can’t we? We always fix it. 
DOCTOR: No. (to Ashildr) But you can. Fix this. Fix it now. 
ASHILDR: It, it’s not possible. I can’t. 
DOCTOR: Yes, it is, you can, and you will, or this street will be over. I’ll show you and all your funny little friends to the whole laughing world. I’ll bring UNIT, I’ll bring the Zygons. Give me a minute, I’ll bring the Daleks and the Cybermen. You will save Clara, and you will do it now, or I will rain hell on you for the rest of time. 
CLARA: Doctor, stop talking like that. 
ASHILDR: You can’t. 
DOCTOR: I can do whatever the hell I like. You’ve read the stories. You know who I am. And in all of that time, did you ever hear anything about anyone who stopped me? 
ASHILDR: I know the Doctor. The Doctor would never 
DOCTOR: The Doctor is no longer here! You are stuck with me. And I will end you, and everything you love. 

The thing about violence or the threat of violence, is that it gives the illusion of being able to bring about justice. With the ability to inflict violence comes power. Of course the State uses violence as a show of power, but for oppressed groups being able to use violence successfully against the State gives the impression that they are powerful. That they can’t just be killed and tortured without the State suffering consequences. The successful use of violence is not necessarily about the type of weapons one has-look at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where the US military was bought to its knees by a militarily inferior enemy. Insurgencies, are able to somewhat readdress  the power imbalance that occurs when a State goes against non-state actors.

And why wouldn’t the oppressed be justified in using violence against their oppressors? I know that in moments of anger, I have had fantasies of Americans rising up against an unjust and corrupt government. The thing about America, is that its corruption and authoritarianism, is hidden underneath the veneer of democracy. Unlike completely totalitarian governments, the United States gives the illusion of free speech, freedom of the press, and we are made to believe that we elect our leaders. But the reality is, the game is rigged and has been from the start. The mainstream press does the bidding of the private corporations that own them, and the government often works in sync with said corporations. Free speech exists…but only if you are so unimportant that your opinions don’t matter, or if you follow and endorse the status quo. But if you exercise your freedom of speech to criticize the government, law enforcement, intelligence agencies, etc you can find yourselves on a government watch list.  Look at what happened to some prominent black lives matters activists: they used their constitutional rights to protest both in person and online the brutal murders of black and brown people at the hands of police, and the Feds responded by monitoring their activities. Well known animal and environmental activists have also been placed under government surveillance.

Meanwhile, anti-government right wingers are able to specifically challenge government authority, even to the point of taking over federal land, point guns at federal agents and avoid punishment as was the case during the Bundy standoff in 2014 and not face consequences. It waits to be seen whether the armed group in the current Oregon standoff will be charged with any crimes. Yet compare the response of the Feds to a standoff by armed white right wingers, and their response to black lives matter protests, many of which have been relatively peaceful. If the government is going to harass you, send law enforcement agents and the National Guard after you, when you are peacefully protesting, why not take up arms?  Why not give them a taste of what they have been dishing? If the government is going to treat you as a enemy combatant why not fight back?

In Face the Raven, the Doctor is powerless to help Clara. There is nothing he can personally do to save her, except to threaten Ashidir and those in her refuge with death and destruction. I can understand his anger. I can remember moments where such anger flowed through me as I read about another instance of the US government killing dozens of civilians in the Middle East, or when I read about another police officer getting away with what amounts to murder. It’s been over 50 years since the civil rights movement, and while much has improved, much hasn’t. Black and brown bodies are still viewed as expendable by the US government. War continues to gain the share of the budget that should be going to create a more just and equitable society. Those who advocate for justice are viewed as enemies of the State. It leaves one with a feeling of helplessness where violence seems like the only alternative. So I can empathize with the Doctor’s rage. His anger threatens to destroy anything and everyone.

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But as angry as I get. I remember how violence has the tendency to spread out of control. It might start out as targeting only those directly responsible for oppression, but soon the circle becomes larger, enveloping more and more people. The State responds with a disproportionate response, and revolutionaries up their game. More and more people end up dead. There are cases where violence has helped force the creation of a more just and equitable society, but it came with a heavy price paid in lives lost and bloodshed. And in a time period where conventional wars seem to be a thing of the past, violence can go on for years or even decades, with little progress being made. I would never condemn those who are utterly oppressed and who feel as if violence were their only alternative. But I don’t think I could join them. On tv and in books, even history books, revolutions are portrayed as just causes, with the forces of good vanquishing evil. Rarely are the atrocities mentioned. The rapes that occur on both sides, the targeting of children and civilians for death, torture, cruelty, etc. At some point, the original, noble cause that fueled the violent revolution gets lost. The oppressed in turn oppress others. The cycle of violence and exploitation continue. Deaths pile up for no discernible good reason. Lives are traumatized.

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But nonviolent activism doesn’t always work. In fact it is often met with strong resistance by the government. The government kills and imprisons people with no second thoughts. Why shouldn’t I encourage violence? Why not encourage the people to fight back? Why insist on an action that does not seem to work? I don’t have brilliant answers to these questions. And as I said before, I would never tell a group that has been oppressed for centuries how they should advocate for equality, but for me personally, I know that I’m not a warrior-at least not the violent kind.

In The Day of the Doctor, Clara once again reminded the Doctor of who he was:

CLARA: We’ve got enough warriors. Any old idiot can be a hero. 
DOCTOR: Then what do I do? 
CLARA: What you’ve always done. Be a doctor. You told me the name you chose was a promise. What was the promise? 
DOCTOR 10: Never cruel or cowardly. 
WARRIOR: Never give up, never give in

In a similar way, I believe that in the real world we have enough warriors; people willing to kill in order to create what they believe to be a more equitable society. But in the end, violence often creates even more violence, leaving massive amounts of death and suffering in its wake. I’m not denying there are instances where violence may be necessary, I’m just saying that for me, a different approach to creating a more just and equitable society is needed. Our worlds needs less warriors and more doctors.