“You are mistaken about him. He is no child. He is a chromosomal mistake, a genetic anomaly…Like all anomalies, he was scheduled to be destroyed.”
That line was spoken by the character Windmark (Michael Kopsa) in a recent episode of of the TV series “Fringe” entitled “Anomaly XB-6783746” (Episode 10, Spoilers Ahead). I’ve written about “Fringe” before because it addresses relevant themes about science, God, tyranny and hope. This episode was another standout, partially because of the way – whether intentionally or not – it touched on life issues in the modern world and how Christians approach them.
Windmark is from a race of aliens known as Observers [Ed. note: they’re actually revealed to be humans from the future]. They are cold-blooded rationalists who have taken over our world, ruling it with an iron fist reflected in their motto, “The Future in Order.” The child to whom he refers is a boy Observer who the show’s heroes – the Bishop family – are protecting because he has a role to play in saving humanity. What makes the boy a genetic anomaly? He possesses a chromosome that allows him to experience emotions and empathy. Feelings are a no-no for the Observers, so the boy – and presumably others like him – are killed so they can’t dirty up the Observer’s gene pool. (How very Dr. Mengele of them?)
Opposing Windmark in this scene is Nina Sharp (Blair Brown), a human tech executive who preserved her life by playing along with the Observers when they arrived years ago and earned a spot in their government bureaucracy. (Even aliens have government bureaucracies. Go figure.) Now, however, she is helping the Bishop family in their plan to defeat the Observers.
Windmark finds Nina in a lab in which she was experimenting on the cadavers of dead Observers. For doing this, he calls her an “animal.” The irony of a man willing to kill a child calling someone else an animal isn’t lost on Nina. It leads her to tell him off in a calm, but devastating way.
In a brilliantly scripted piece of writing by episode scribe David Fury, Nina says:
“Do you know why you tilt your head in that way? It’s an involuntary reflex in your physiology. It changes the angle at which sound waves hit the eardrum, allowing in more stimuli. Like a lizard. I’ve studied them too. Intriguing characters. Their brains have evolved over 320 million years. Yet for all their evolution, they form no bonds. Love does not exist for them. They are incapable of dreaming, contemplating beauty, of knowing something greater than themselves. Not unlike your kind. The experiments we conducted right here in this lab yielded a surprising result. Because for all your years of evolution, you inadvertently redeveloped and honed primitive instincts that we moved beyond. So in reality, you’re the animal.”
If Windmark could experience emotion, he might say “Ouch!” after that slam. Even so, there are a lot of insights about humanity in that speech. For instance, even though Nina attributes forming loving relationships and contemplating beauty primarily to evolution (as opposed to a God-infused soul), it’s clear that she believes these traits are what separates us from animals. When she says the Observers are incapable of “knowing something greater than themselves,” that certainly leaves the door open for God, in addition to realities like love, courage and selflessness. You could even argue that the only reason human beings have evolved in this unique way is because of God’s design.
Part of the beauty of forming relationships are the feelings that result. The Observers see love as a weakness, but in reality it’s a strength. People do let their emotions get the better of them sometimes, and completely ignore reason. But as with most things in life, it’s all about balance. Acting purely intellectually with no thought to feelings can make us like machines. Being a person dominated by emotion without reason can turn you into an unhinged mess. Finding a balance between those two extremes is the way God intended for us to exist. First and foremost, he created us to love. Or as 1 John says, “If we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.”
The episode also addresses the notion of human beings destroying genetic anomalies. I assume most viewers of the episode were horrified by the notion that the child – identified by the Observers as a number, not a person, as indicated by the episode title – should be killed because he is a “chromosomal mistake.” That’s because the character puts a human face on that idea – and it’s hard for us to support the killing of another human being standing in front of us, especially a child.
Yet Down syndrome is a chromosomal abnormality in our world, and between 50% to 70% of unborn children diagnosed with it are aborted. Though raising these children can present challenges, it can offer blessings as well. And reports show that Down syndrome children tend to show love more purely than the rest of us, so just looking at them as chromosomal mistakes would be wrong-headed.
Following the Observers methodology, these children could still be killed once they’re born. It may sound impossible and barbaric that something like this could potentially happen, but it’s not that far-fetched.
Just last year, two ethicists presented an argument for “after-birth abortions” in the “Journal of Medical Ethics.” One of their examples of when that might be acceptable is when a child with Down syndrome is a burden on a family. The argument wasn’t that the child couldn’t have an acceptable quality of life, but that the family would be burdened by that life. Killing the child in that situation could then be considered morally acceptable.
That doesn’t mean “after-birth abortions” are coming to a clinic near you any time soon. The idea is out there, though, and is likely gaining some support.
So what are Nina Sharp and Windmark telling us about ourselves? On the one hand, we have a dark side that allowed Hitler and Stalin to slaughter millions, that results in the shootings and stabbings of children today, that comes up with expedient ways to get rid of inconvenient lives. Unfortunately, we haven’t completely evolved or transcended the “animal” parts of ourselves. In fact, there are times when we behave in ways that even animals never would.
On the other hand, it’s important to point out that human beings are not animals – that there’s something unique about us that allows us to love and feel and reason and even sacrifice ourselves for a higher good, as Nina eventually does in that episode. When we act in those ways, we’re reflecting the fact that we’re created in the image and likeness of a loving God who instilled us with both reason and emotion. Those are the qualities we need to nurture to propel us toward a brighter future.
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(“Fringe” airs this Friday Jan. 11 at 9E/8C. The two-hour series finale airs Friday Jan. 18 at 8E/7C.)