Something Greater Than Ourselves: 2001 A Space Odyssey & the Future of Christianity
I often wonder what Jesus would think if he read the Left Behind books. I don’t think he would find much use for them at all. In fact, if you look at his parables and realize that they never had much to do directly with God, it seems like Jesus would be a big science fiction fan. Good science fiction is a lot like Jesus’ parables. A story seemingly about one thing when really it’s about something so much more. Left Behind isn’t exactly subtle in its message. And it doesn’t get one thinking about God or Jesus in any other way than, “Holy crap, I don’t want to be left behind!” It’s coercion to Christ. It’s manipulating fear into faith. And its theology concerning the “end of the world” is believed by a lot of people.
It’s interesting to think about the different ways in which Christians have viewed the future since Jesus left, promising his return. At first, the early Christians believed it would literally be any day now. As evidence of me sitting here writing this or you reading it–they were wrong. This is an example of something that not many modern day Christians like to admit to–that it’s real easy to be wrong. And that it might be okay to be wrong.
The theology within the pages of Left Behind is a human-construct. It’s a particular interpretation of the book of Revelation called “dispensationalism.” I’m not saying that all human-constructs are wrong. I think it is our duty as Christians to wrestle with the Bible to find its meaning and often this goes hand-in-hand with our own ideas and suppositions. However, there are certain widely-held beliefs that are hammered into us at such an early age that we don’t even realize we are believing a commentator and not the Bible itself. Which, again, it’s fine to believe a commentator but only after you have looked into it yourself and not simply believed on blind faith because “that’s what I’ve always been told.”*
Though I don’t think much common sense is utilized in dispensationalism, that isn’t my main problem with it. My issue comes in the form of the kind of worldview it fosters in those who believe it so wholeheartedly. It’s a belief that says things are only going to get worse. Death. Disease. War. Hate. All of these things must come to pass before the return of Christ. So bring it all on. It fosters a belief that, in the end, it’s okay that there is war. It’s okay that millions of people are dying of hunger every day. It’s okay that the Earth, who we were commanded to be good stewards of, is slowly wasting away. Because it all just means that Christ is closer to returning, right? It also fosters “us-them thinking” in who will be chosen and not chosen on that day. It perpetuates the lie that the only reason for Christ is to get as many people into Heaven as possible. It presents fantastical archetypes like the “anti-christ”– which we use to accuse any person in power of being as this helps us calm our own hate and fear. (Obama couldn’t even get the right particulars in his health care bill passed, but we’re all supposed to believe he’s the son of Satan?)
When I read the Gospels, I don’t see hate and fear. I see love and hope and mercy and grace. I see a beautiful future being set in motion–The Kingdom of God coming to Earth in the form of Jesus Christ. And this is where science fiction comes back in to the picture and why I think Jesus would prefer the parables of science fiction to the “warnings” of Left Behind. I think Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is the most optimistic science fiction film ever made. It presents a future of humanity that isn’t one of destruction but transcendence.
The movie opens at the dawn of man where a mysterious monolith (a simple large black rectangular block) suddenly appears amongst a group of apes. They reach out and touch it, but nothing happens. After this, one ape suddenly for the first time in history picks up a bone and uses it as a tool. Somehow this mysterious object (presumably from an extra-terrestrial species) has sparked a new level of evolution for these creatures.** However, it’s not long until these tools are being used to kill their fellow apes in order to gain control of a water source. In one of the greatest jump-cuts in the history of film, an ape throws his bone into the air which then cuts to a nuclear device orbiting in space–we are now much further in the future. And our tools have advanced us into space travel, but have also created even greater weapons. And once again, a monolith appears. And after humanity spends the majority of the film wrestling with their own run-away technology, a human touches the monolith once again. Another spark in evolution begins–this one even greater than the last.
Yes, if you need it spelled out for you–I’m saying Jesus is the monolith. He is the catalyst in which our spirits embark on a new evolution. He is the key to the future–a future in which we daily become something greater than ourselves. That isn’t to say that wars won’t happen, but what if we finally believed that the Kingdom in which Christ initiated on this Earth does have the power to stop all war? What if it does have the power to stop hunger and hate? What if we actually believed that the Kingdom was brought here to change the world and not just to save our asses from fire? What if we believed all these things and rejected the idea that things are supposed to get worse? What if the future does not hold death and destruction, but grace and peace in the culmination of the Kingdom which Christ began?***
If you look at the history of Christianity, we have gotten better as a whole. We’ve done some incredibly terrible and unspeakable things, but we have persisted and refined ourselves closer and closer to the heart of Christ–very slowly straining away the hate and violence that has been inherent in our human nature from the beginning of time. Personally, I think Christianity is still in its infancy and we’ve got a long way to go. I would say we’re just now learning to walk–struggling to stand up and take our first few steps. We’re just now wrestling with growing up and getting past legalism and our judgmental attitudes. Now, we will be struggling with how to truly live fully in the freedom of Christ without going off the deep end of freedom itself. Just because I believe it will get better doesn’t mean I think it will get easier. It’s easy to stay legalistic and judgmental. But it’s time to grow up. And then it will be time to grow up some more. Until God’s Kingdom fully comes and his will truly be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.
*In my next post, I will concentrate solely on why I believe the dispensationalist’s interpretation of Revelation is wrong. (But remember, don’t just take my word for it.)
**If you have issues with evolution–remember that it’s not the point. This is supposed to be a science fiction parable.
***Again, I’ll go more into this on my next post.