Torchwood: Greeks Bearing Gifts (and Gods Bearing Curses)

The Torchwood episode “Greeks Bearing Gifts” alludes to the proverb about the Trojan horse, and seems fitting for an episode in which an alien disguises itself in human form, and under the name Mary befriends and seduces Toshiko so as to gain entrance to Torchwood and seek to retrieve a transporter device that brought it here to be exiled and which she hopes can take her home. But in fact the more direct echo of things Greek is in Mary’s description of herself as Philoctetes (hinting at her exile), and the gift she brings is a pendant that will allow one to read minds.

The jealousy of Toshiko towards the developing relationship between Gwen and Owen, and its mirroring in the symbolism of the alien’s penchant for ripping our hearts, are scarcely worth commenting on at length.

What is of interest at the intersection of religion and science fiction is the description of the ability bestowed by the pendant – the ability to hear what everyone around you is thinking – as leveling the playing field (in British English pitch) between man and God.

Later in the episode, Toshiko describes it rather as like a curse sent by God to torture its recipient.

It is interesting to reflect on the tension between these two perspectives.

On the one hand, the tendency of monotheistic religions is to attribute maximal attributes and supreme perfections to its idea of God, including omniscience and omnipresence. And so many would assume that a god can hear thoughts and that this illustrates the superiority of a deity to humans. On the other hand, in stories in which a person gains the ability to read minds, they typically find it to be a curse or at best a mixed blessing.

And so in this case, we find most religious believers and theological thinkers attributing to God a “perfection” that we might in other circumstances admit was a bane rather than a blessing.

There are perhaps other similar instances in which a traditional attribute of a deity has come to be recognized as less than desirable. Can you think of any?

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  • Mark Hollomon

    I think the thing to point out is not that a perfection is bad, but that a perfection IN ISOLATION can indeed be a curse. E.g. power or knowledge without wisdom, etc.

  • ryan perter

    Every person want to be perfect but perfection is not always good. It is necessary for a person to deal with each and every situation as and how possible.
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  • justin methew

    No one is perfect every person had some thing which is imperfect.  But the things is to deed with that.
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