Telling the Genetic Truth Could Get You Killed

Orphan BlackMy second year in seminary, classes were arranged such that I returned to my apartment for lunch daily and watched TV while I was eating. Because I was busy, television was analogue, and cable was expensive, my choices were (1) news, (2) talk, (3) screaming therapy or (4) soap opera.

Seminary amounted to the same thing (sort of): (1) facts, (2) analysis, (3) therapy-training and (4) story-telling. Being wired for narrative, I chose Days of Our Lives. At the beginning of the semester, I found myself rooting for someone named Hope to tell her husband the truth. “He’ll still love you,” I urged the television. Some days I almost prayed for Hope before I remembered that she was fake.

Days of Our Lies

By the time my schedule changed, Hope was still keeping secrets and telling lies. Five years later, I caught a few minutes of Days in a waiting room. All this time Hope had continued to lie . . . about the same things. My old lunch-mate’s burden pressed on my heart, but then I remembered (again) Hope was fake, her dilemma dull.

Of course, tiresome as it is, the endless sludge of prevarication, secrecy, and outright fibbing is the fuel that powers the plot in Days. It’s like the original 1927 boiler in my basement. Falsehood may be ancient, inefficient, and boring, but it’ll run the show until the second coming of Jesus.

Now writing and editing upstairs in my study is the life of my days. TV is digital and HD. The dish supplies more channels than I can use, plus DVR. During lunch, I watch last year’s season of Orphan Black from BBC America.

Truth Will Set You Free

Conspiracy, self-discovery, and “neolution” (you get to choose your own evolution—wohoo!) fuel the plot of Orphan. Sarah, a messed up foster kid who’s aged out of the system, finds out that she’s one of multiple genetic identicals. She teams up with two of the others to uncover the truth about their creation and to stop their destruction. Jessica Goldstein calls the series “part sci-fi, part action movie, part family drama.”

Unlike with Days, however, I’ve had to deploy a strategy to manage Orphan. I make my salad and then watch the end of one episode and the first bit of the next, shutting down the narrative somewhere in the middle. Stopping at the last minute cliff-hanger is not an option. Orphan Black’s suspense generates way too much adrenaline for the middle of a work day.

<minor spoiler alert> One reason it hasn’t slowed to boredom is that Orphan Black’s writers created a character in Sarah who confronts the secrets head on. Every time she should run and hide, every time I think she’ll lie, she beards the lion in its den. (In their own ways, so do her identicals.)

Nature v. Nurture

The Dyad Institute may have generated Sarah’s genetics, but somehow this conspiracy managed to weed her DNA of itself. The father of lies governs her actions a great deal less than it rules most of us humans.

“You are of your father,” Jesus accuses the conspiring corporation of his day in John 8:44. “Your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and has nothing to do with the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature. He is a liar and the father of lies.”

As you might imagine, the institute’s board of governors is not pleased. They had explained politely that their DNA and their spiritual heritage derive from the father of nations, Abraham (8:39). Now they escalate, claiming God as their father (8:41).

“God is not your father,” Jesus answers. “God is my father” (8:42).

The rulers try again. Jesus’ nature is Samaritan, they counter; his nurture, demonic (8:48).

Then, Jesus beards the lion in its den, that is, their Temple: “The true truth? I Am,” he says, claiming not only to be God’s genetic offspring, but the original, God himself (8:58).

So, the board tries to murder him—proving their parentage—but he slides out sideways (8:59). This time.

Lies can string along a plotline until the second coming of Jesus. Truth may end the show in murder, which is way too much adrenaline for the middle of a work day. But I’d rather watch half an episode of truth than one more installment of fake hope.

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