Alleluia, The Doctor Returns
As posted at The Huffington Post Religion blog –
I’ll admit it: I was more excited about the return of “Doctor Who” than about Easter. Some may say this makes me a poor Christian — that it should be the communal celebration of the Resurrection that my hearts yearns for the most — but honestly, in the past few years it has been in this story of a self-proclaimed madman with a box that I have encountered the most meaningful depictions of the divine. Easter in many churches these days has become more about creating the most perfect liturgy, scientifically trying to prove the resurrection, or demanding that one must believe in divine child abuse in order to be saved than about celebrating a God whose healing love inspires us to believe and go do likewise. For that I have “Doctor Who.”
“Doctor Who” is one of the longest running television shows in history with its first episode airing in November 1963. In 2005, the BBC rebooted the show with a postmodern audience in mind and it has since gathered a worldwide fan base. The show follows the adventures of a witty and hyper-intelligent humanoid alien “Time Lord” known simply as The Doctor, who travels the universe in his time machine, the TARDIS. The Doctor generally travels with a companion and, as his title suggests, often finds himself in situations which are in need of healing and repair. One cannot argue that “Doctor Who” is necessarily a Christian or even theistic show (despite its habit of having Christmas and Easter specials) or even that the Doctor is intended to be equated with God. The two men who have creatively led and written many of the episodes of the BBC reboot of the show, Russell Davies and Stephen Moffat, are both self-proclaimed atheists. Yet, as producers and writers, they frequently address religious themes and use the character of the Doctor to challenge hollow and dangerous conceptions of God. It is in their attempts to use the Doctor to deconstruct inward-focused religion which has little relevance in a world full of injustice and pain that an alternative, more meaningful, vision of God emerges.
Jack Caputo has argued that a God that makes sense in our postmodern era is a God defined by weakness instead of strength. By weakness he does not mean a “weakness that lacks the power of faith or the courage for action” but a weakness that stands on the side of the powerless, that participates in the reversals which displace the high and mighty and lift up the lowly, and that keeps hope alive when life appears to be hopeless. Caputo writes in “The Weakness of God,” “You see the weak force that stirs within the name of God only when someone casts it in the form of a narrative, tells mad stories and perplexing parables about it.” It is in these mad tales that resonate with the imagination of the age that many of us are encountering an image of God more meaningful than what is being presented in many churches these days.
As we watch “Doctor Who,” we encounter the story of one who far from being above humanity, comes alongside us to not only suffer with us, but inspire us to do the hard work of creating a better world. We see in the tale of the Doctor an example of a figure who calls followers to lives of adventure and wonder, practices radical forgiveness, and welcomes the marginalized and defends the powerless. It is an potential image of the divine that inspires hope, and which (for me at least) grasps what it means to live the way of life Jesus modeled far better than do the pointless attempts to orchestrate the perfect worship service or defend the plausibility of miracles.
So, as the show returned this Easter weekend, I eagerly anticipated immersing myself once again in a narrative about one who saves the world by calling it to participate in acts of healing and love. I wish I could say that I knew I could encounter the same in churches this Easter. As a committed Christ follower, I am tired of Easter being reduced to mechanics. I want more than marathon services or reiterations of the details of Christ’s death and resurrection that try to convince me that merely believing that something happened is the purpose of being a Christian. I want to be called to join in on the adventure of healing the world, in welcoming the marginalized, and living in the revolutionary way of Jesus. Thankfully, “Doctor Who” is brave enough to tell such mad tales even when the church is not.