The Skeleton Key in a Doctor Who Recap
I don’t watch Doctor Who. It’s a show I’ve always intended to dive into, but the sheer volume of episodes is so overwhelming that I have done little more than sample. But I do read Doctor Who recaps on the internet because my siblings and their spouses are big Doctor Who fans and I want to be conversant with them.
None of this is really about the space and time traveling British hero. It’s about a random line in a recap of this past week’s episode (by Caroline Siede) which centered around a 17th century witch hunt:
Once you’ve murdered a couple dozen people under the auspices of doing God’s will, it’s hard to admit you may have made a mistake. So the only way forward is to double down, rope more people into your violent system, and do whatever you can to justify your twisted sense of morality—both to others and to yourself.
Reading that, I heard the click of an unlocking door. If you have known me for any period of time then you know that one of the things that has vexed and haunted me for so long is how people who claim to follow Jesus can commit all sorts of actions that are diametrically opposed to Jesus’ teachings. But that statement gets at the problem: once you go down a dark path claiming it is the way of God then it is incredibly hard to go back. And so you expend all your time and energy getting more and more people to agree that what you have done wrong was actually right.
You can fit any number of ills into Siede’s observation.
Once you’ve torn children from families and tear gassed refugees under the auspices of doing God’s will, it’s hard to admit you may have made a mistake.
Once you’ve driven LGBTQ individuals out of your church and others to suicide under the auspices of doing God’s will, it’s hard to admit you may have made a mistake.
Once you’ve coronated a lying, selfish, hateful man as the Christian dream president under the auspices of doing God’s will, it’s hard to admit you may have made a mistake.
Once you’ve stolen land from its native people, driven them out, and killed them under the auspices of doing God’s will, it’s hard to admit you may have made a mistake.
This fairly-obvious-in-retrospect realization gives me pause. Because I can see the trap so clearly and I do not want to be trapped in such an anti-Christ mindset. It is quite easy for me to look at someone else—to see the speck in their eye—and condemn them. It is far more difficult to see the log in my own. So I have to be vigilant that I am not doing things in the name of God that are harmful to others.
And I have to realize that I have benefited from some of those anti-Christ systems. Patriarchy, stealing land from Native Americans, and racism have created a world where it’s a lot easier for me as a white man. I don’t get off scott free in any of this. Some of those logs sticking out of people’s eyes have been rungs on which I have gotten to climb.
This realization also makes me feel sorry for the individuals who have gone down that path. They are still wrong and still trying to rope people into their violent worldview to justify it. We must speak and act out against the ways in which they are harming people. They must, to use the parlance of John the Baptist, repent and turn from their ways. But I also realize now that they are trapped. I wonder if some even know they are trapped; that they have locked themselves in a prison of their own choosing and know that they cannot get out.
Some may say, “Who cares?” They made their bed and they have to lie in it. They’ve hurt too many people. And I’m not waving that away. If you commit violence against others, there has to be some sort of consequence.
Yet I do feel sorry and do hope that they can get out. If the gospel truly is a liberating message then it has to be one for everyone. There’s the old saying that none of us are free until all of us are free. So that means that none of us are free until everyone is freed from violent and oppressive systems. That also means that none of us are free until the purveyors of those systems are freed from the mindset that sees violence and pillage as the way of God.
I was expecting none of that when I opened a Doctor Who recap so I could make a random comment the next time I saw my siblings, but there you go.