Jesus, Doctor Who, and My Preschooler

“What is that?”

Sally had a Bible story book in her hand, and was pointing to the empty tomb. The picture showed the tomb with the stone rolled away, a radiant Jesus standing outside talking to Mary Magdalene, and two sleeping Roman guards off to the side.

“That’s the empty tomb,” I told her. “After Jesus died they buried him there, and then he rose again. That means he came alive again.”

Sally looked from the picture to me, confused. I wrote last month that ever since I overheard Sally call the angel at the annunciation “Mary’s fairy godmother” while reading the nativity story to her baby brother, I’ve stopped worrying about the Bible story books her grandparents have gifted her over the years. To her, they’re just stories like the rest of her books. She exalted in finding “baby Jesus” in nativity scenes over Christmas, and since then she’s realized that there are stories about “Jesus all growed up” (as she puts it). Zacchaeus is a favorite. This was the first time, though, that Sally had come upon a story of the resurrection. She appeared to be flummoxed. I paused, grasping for some way to help her make sense of the story. Finally, I found one.

“Remember how the Doctor regenerated? He was hurt and dying, and then he came alive again with a new body.”

“Ohhhhhhhhhhh.” Understanding spread across Sally’s face. “Jesus is like the Doctor!”

That’s right. My daughter now thinks Jesus was a Time Lord. Honestly, given that Jesus’ disciples didn’t recognize him after he rose again, the inference actually works pretty well.

Anyway, having put the story in a context in which it made sense to her, Sally pointed at the sleeping Roman guards. “Those are Cybermen!”

She might have a point there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I try to read Sally stories of Jesus alongside mythology from other religions, such as stories of Vishnu or Zeus, but I suppose I hadn’t thought of the ways that science fiction can play the same function. Darth Vader, the Doctor, even Severus Snape – all of these are fictional characters Sally is growing up with, and at this point, to her, there’s no real difference between what we call “fiction” and what we call “myth.” Jesus, Leia, Vishnu, the Doctor, Artemis, Hermione Granger … Sally is surrounded by stories of fascinating characters, fantastical worlds, and engrossing events.

One thing I love about this fast array of stories is the way they both feature scads of overlapping themes and provide starting points for all sorts of ethical questions. There is such a richness and depth and meaning to be pulled from fiction and myth, and there are so very many comparisons to be drawn. I could just as well have pointed Sally to Harry Potter, after all, who also died and came alive again.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • RaeBrownie

    Epic.

  • Kelly

    Sally’s also growing up to be a Whovian? Excellent.
    I think a lot of the original fantasy stories would have taken ideas from myths. A lot of sci to and fantasy still do! The Hunger Games was based off of Theseus and the Minotaur and there’s an endless number of books with the Greek, Roman, and (less frequently) Egyptian gods. I see no problem with comparing Bible stories to modern stories until you think she’s old enough to learn about religions. Do you have any books about different religion’s stories?
    Also Jesus being a Time Lord is so perfect, and you were very creative thinking it.

    • luckyducky

      I think a lot of scifi and fantasy is explicitly Christian allegory. Lord of the Rings, for example, is. Whether the authors used it as an expression of their faith (LotR was) or they used it because it is a damn good story and it is a cornerstone of a western literary education varies.

      I’ve never read anything about the Doctor being intentionally allegorical and JK has not admitted to it as far as I know for HP. But I do know if you were a Christian who gave the series more thought than your average children’s series, you were either freaking out over the witchcraft or celebrating the parallels to the gospels (and Catholics were enjoying all the Latin).

      • Christine

        She doesn’t need to admit it for HP, she rubbed it our faces very clearly. And then she made sure to make it obvious for people who aren’t familiar with the Bible stories (or who never got told to look for biblical parallels in literary analysis).

      • Rosie

        Narnia was explicitly Christian allegory; LotR not so much. Tolkien despised allegory as simplistic and simple-minded, and he did not write it. Harry Potter is closer to Christian allegory than LotR; there’s not even a single clear Christ-figure in Tolkien’s writing.

      • Christine

        Tolkien did write allegory. And then hated the story later. (“Leaf by Niggle”). But the fact that LoTR wasn’t actually written as Christian allegory doesn’t change the fact that, after the obvious sagas, Catholic Tradition was clearly a very strong influence in his writing.

      • luckyducky

        Sorry, I was a little sloppy with my literary terminology. What Christine said — scripture and Tradition are very consistent source material for western scifi and fantasy in one way or another.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Actually, I HAVE read that in the double episode “Human Nature/Family of Blood (which is one of my all-time favorites),” the writer intentionally intended for him to be a Christ figure, which makes total sense. He has to sacrifice his own mortal life (as John Smith) in order to assume this god-like Time Lord form in order to save the world. There’s no actual religious agenda in the show, it’s just a compelling story, which is perhaps why the story of a god or god-like figure dying and being resurrected is something that actually pops up in a LOT of religions (Norse Paganism, for example), not just Christianity.

        Also, the thing about Sally seeing the Roman soldiers as cybermen is definitely the most awesome thing I will read today, maybe ever.

      • The_L

        @Rosie: Technically, Narnia wasn’t an allegory. Aslan isn’t an allegory for Jesus–in the books, it’s made explicit that he is alternate-world Jesus. Aslan and Jesus are supposed to be the exact same man/lion, not symbols of each other. :)

  • Rae

    Actually, given the parallels that Doctor Who sometimes does draw about redemption and self-sacrifice… Sally sounds like a very, very wise child :-)

  • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com MargueriteF

    I love Doctor Who:-).

    I think that we no longer truly create new religious myths as a society, but we still have a need for myths of a sort, and so these kind of stories fulfill our need for mythmaking. As your daughter pointed out, science fiction and fantasy have similar elements to a lot of religious stories. These characters become part of our collective consciousness, just as myths do, and fit into the same patterns as religious stories, with the same sorts of quests and characters and efforts to explain why our reality is the way it is. The only difference is that we (well, most of us) are aware that they’re fiction.

    • Rae

      Are you saying that science fiction and fantasy are like our current culture’s version of religious myths? Because I totally agree – and, I think that hundreds or thousands of the years in the future, there might even actually be people worshipping Cthulhu or holding up Obi-Wan Kenobi as a prophet. I mean, obviously, we currently accept that they’re stories that someone just invented… but I’ve watched one too many Star Trek episodes where some culture decides to shape themselves around one single random Earth artifact ;-)

  • The_L

    As a fellow Whovian, I can’t help but laugh at “Jesus is like the Doctor!”

  • The_L

    By the way, another good mythological story for children is the Nordic myth of Thor in the land of the giants. You may already have told Sally this story, but just in case you haven’t:

    Here’s a text version, to give you an idea of the story: http://library.thinkquest.org/25326/Viking/thor.html

    And a silly video version from BBC, if you’re so inclined: Part One is here, and it links to the other parts.

    There are also illustrated children’s books with this story. I always liked it because of all the fairy-tale-like action, and because you can’t help but smile at the image of a glove so big people mistake it for a cave. :)

    • AnyBeth

      Oo! this reminds me. I don’t know whether the International Children’s Digital Library has this particular tale, but it does have lots of children’s books in many languages, including a bunch of fairy tales and folk tales. I think it’s a really neat, free service.

  • Niemand

    Sorry, can’t help but add this comparison between Jesus and Dr. Who. Hope you enjoy.

  • http://AztecQueen2000.blogspot.com AztecQueen2000

    I’ve been reading my kids the D’Aulaire book of Greek Myths. Next year, we’ll study the Norse myths. Mythology is key to understanding history, and you’re right to teach the Jesus story in that context.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia

      I have that book for my stepdaughter when she comes home! :D

  • Cathy W

    You’re utterly wrong on one point: The Roman soldiers are not Cybermen. You and Sally must catch up with the Eleventh Doctor!

    But I’d agree that one of the differences between “fiction” and “myth” is time…all of “classic” mythology started out as stories our ancestors told each other around the campfire.

  • Anat

    I love the conclusion of Gilgamesh, I think it’s very pro-humanist – forget about immortality, build cities. Too bad there is misogyny on the way, but that’s probably unavoidable in mythology.

    As for Jesus – he’s just another incarnation of dying and resurrecting gods. Osiris did that before him.

    • http://noadi.etsy.com Noadi

      I don’t think it’s unavoidable in mythology but it certainly is unavoidable in mythology from that time period and region.

  • http://beholdconfusion.wordpress.com/ Sara

    I love everything about this post. What will my future children see as acceptable role-model myths? I really hope Buffy. Thank you for opening my eyes to this treasure trove of options!

  • Kate

    Jesus as a Time Lord. I love it. I think there is merit in knowing biblical stories, even as a non-religious person. A lot of our idioms have their roots in them, for instance.

    • Christine

      My high school English teacher required everyone to read one gospel, to make sure that you understood what the heck he was talking about when he referred to someone being a Christ-figure. It was very clear that this was for literary reasons, which unfortunately was probably part of why he made no suggestions as to version, so a lot of the people in the class discovered that there was a Bible in their house and read it. Said Bibles were often King James.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Well, King James is probably the best one to read for literary purposes, since it’s the one that most of the authors one reads in English class were working with, and the one whose specific language is referenced the most in literature. All the take-offs of the phrase “through a glass, darkly” aren’t going to make sense without King James.

  • Steve

    It’s no coincidence that the complex backstory and history of some fictional universes is called “mythology” sometimes

  • acoustic_alchemy

    A bit tangential to the conversation, but the host of PBS’s Idea Channel brought up an interesting point; that due to the strength, activity and “effervescence” of the fandom, Doctor Who can actually be considered a religion. I don’t agree with his point that DW is the only TV show (let alone media) to engage its fans in this way, but it’s an interesting parallel to how religion often functions as a story (however internally inconsistent in practice) to explain Everything That Ever Was, And Will Be . Thoughts?

    • acoustic_alchemy

      D’oh, I broke the link: here it is.

    • Nebuladance

      Like Star Trek, which has been around nearly as long at Doctor Who. I am reminded of the quote from Stargate SG-1 episode, “The Other Guys” when one of the techs is arguing with another and says,

      “And I don’t know how you can call yourself a scientist and not worship at the altar of Roddenberry!”

  • Rilian

    I didn’t see xtianity in harry potter, and unless the author has explicitly said she meant it that way, I don’t buy it.

    • Rosie

      *spoiler alert*

      The Chosen One who has to give himself up to be killed by the bad guy in order to defeat said bad guy? That’s pretty Xtian. Also, the general ethics of the world. I mean, compared to something like The Dark Crystal, anyway.

      • Anat

        The ethics of the world is as hypocritical as the worldview of many religious believers (and just anyone who holds their in-group to lower ethical standards than the rest of the world). IOIAGDI: It’s OK If A Gryffindor Does It. Bullying, cruelty to animals, date-rape etc.

      • Rilian

        That’s not the xtian story at all. Jesus/god just killed himself to “save” you from himself. And harry wasn’t any kind of chosen one, people in the story thought that, but they were wrong.

      • Rilian

        Anat:
        I didn’t see that in the story. Examples?

      • Christine

        Rilian – we’re talking based on the books here, not the movies.

        And no matter what you want to describe the “real” Christian story as, the standard criteria for what makes a Christ figure haven’t changed since your high school English courses, like it or not.

      • Anat

        Rilian: Date-rape: Is a horrible thing when Merope Gaunt does it to Riddle Sr, and implied as the reason Riddle Jr was ‘born evil’ (he was an odd baby who didn’t cry much – implying there was something wrong with him from infancy, rather than any later development or choice). But Molly can joke about making a Love Potion when she was young to Hermione and Ginny and there is no criticism of her.

        Cruelty to animals: The Weasley twins feed a fire-cracker to a salamander to make it zoom about, they killed Ron’s pet puffskein (in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) by using it as a bludger (IOW they beat their brother’s pet to death) – yet nobody points out those two are psychopaths, they are totally fun people to be around.

        I can go on forever about bullying in the Potterverse.

        Basically, if an ancient hat sends you to Gryffindor you are one of the elect and there is little you can do that will get you criticism. If you are a Slytherin it is almost impossible for anything you do to be viewed positively (and whatever is seen as such is only because you are a secret Gryffindor and don’t know it – I hate the ‘sometimes we Sort too soon’ line – they shouldn’t have been Sorting at all).

      • Rilian

        Christine: I’m talking about the books, too. Of course.
        We didn’t talk about jesus in my high school literature classes.
        But it’s stupid to say that harry potter is like jesus because he’s like some other kind of thing that people think is like jesus.

    • Nebuladance

      You may not see it, but many have. Here is an entire book written on the subject if you’re interested in a more in depth look at the parallels:
      http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Potter-Harry-Christ-Fascinating/dp/0615430937

      JK Rowling in fact did admit it:
      “To me, the religious parallels have always been obvious,” Rowling said. “But I never wanted to talk too openly about it because I thought it might show people who just wanted the story where we were going.”

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/fictionreviews/3668658/J-K-Rowling-Christianity-inspired-Harry-Potter.html

    • Anat

      Rilian, if you want a critical view of Jesus’ sacrifice, the parallel to that view is in HP as well. Critics of the idea of salvation by Jesus like to say that the Christian god sacrificed himself to himself in order to solve a problem in the universe that he created himself. And Jesus didn’t even really die, because being part of God he was immortal already anyway. So he had a weekend in hell to solve a problem in the universe that was the result of the actions of God the Father (which is himself).

      OK, so Harry Potter ‘died’ (or actually spent a while chatting with Dumbledore) in order to solve the problem of Voldemort and his attempt at immortality. And the problem of Voldemort was not stopped in its early stages and allowed to reach the level it did for a large part because of the action and inaction of Albus the White, who is an analog of God the Father. He was the one who learned that at 11 little Tommy was terrorizing the orphanage, that he had already traumatized 2 kids to the point they were never the same again and killed the pet of another child. And Albus let Tom into Hogwarts without warning anyone – not the headmaster, not Tom’s Head of House. Also, while Albus heard what Tom did in the orphanage, the only crime he warned Tom against was stealing. And then at school he did nothing to stop Tom. And when Tom returned to Britain from his travels Albus interviews him – and does not call the authorities despite the fact that he had good reason to think he was speaking to a serial murderer. Albus did not create Tom, but he had a large role in creating his Voldemort persona.

  • Bob Jase

    Tom Baker is the only True Who!

    Anyone thatother is a heretic.

  • Liz

    Can I ask how old your daughter is? I have been hesitant to introduce Doctor Who to my 5-year-old, but maybe he is almost old enough!

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      She’s younger than your son, and she has completely surprised us by becoming totally infatuated with the show. We do tell her when “a scary part” is coming, and she’s never had nightmares. Of course, she’s relatively mature for his age. I say go for it!

  • pagansister

    Jesus and Dr. Who comparison. Totally cool, Libby Anne.

  • http://sylvia-rachel.livejournal.com sylvia_rachel

    OK, I am totally going to use that explanation the next time my 10-year-old is trying to figure out this whole Jesus thing. (We’re Jewish. The culture around us is not. I get more questions about Jesus than one might think…)

  • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia

    Isn’t the Christ archetype actually older than Christ?

    • Charlotte

      Most certainly. The Messianic Archetype is very old. Horus, from Egyptian mythology, is a big one and his mother Isis may also have had a strong influence on the character of Mary. There’s also Dionysus, Heracles, and Mithra, though just how well they fit varies. All of these characters predate the Biblical Jesus.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia

        It gets very tiring for people to jump to Christ as the beginner and really shows one’s Western bias, IMO anyways…

    • luckyducky

      Well, technically speaking the archetype had to predate Jesus of Nazareth as prophecy.

      But while there are definitely themes/stories that re-emerge or are re-told throughout western mythology/religion, it isn’t western-centric to acknowledge the particular influence that Christian versions have had on western literature. It isn’t a problem to pull out when Greek, Roman, or Norse mythology is more explicitly drawn from. And however one might define it the western vs. other canons, for the purposes detailing the influence of religion/mythology on literature, Egyptian mythology is definitely influenced the development of other western mythologies/religions and non-religious literature. I don’t know eastern other canons of literature well enough to know how universal certain stories are.

      Just because the Christ archetype exists in other cultures/mythologies, individual authors usually draw from their own cultural context unless they’ve developed an expertise in another mythology (even then, it is questionable how much they can remove their own cultural context from their writing). See as present-day westerns have grown up in an era in which the Christian religion/mythology is most dominant, even if they aren’t adherents, it is part of their culture.

  • http://dukesofearl.blogspot.com Joy

    I remember in vivid detail a conversation with my son when he was Sally’s age where he was desperately trying to figure out what would happen if someone tried to kill Jesus *again*.

  • http://dukesofearl.blogspot.com Joy

    Jesus the Time Lord…reminds me of this Peter Nguyen essay

    http://img20.photobucket.com/albums/v60/profmadhatter/nguyen3.jpg

    • Steve

      It all makes sense now

  • A Reader

    Doctor Who is the best! Haha I just had a conversation with one of my friends earlier that involved both Jesus & The Doctor. It was…interesting :)

  • Nebuladance

    The Doctor answers prayer too. In the episode “Night Terrors”, a young scared boy whispers fervently, “save me from the monsters, save me from the monsters, save me from the monsters!” and his message is carried out to the Doctor via the psychic paper.

    While not as close, when Amelia Pond is first introduced she is praying to Santa Clause, thanking him for her christmas presents, and then asks him to send someone to look at the crack in her wall. The Doctor crash lands in her back yard, and she clearly interprets this as an answer to her prayer.

    • Tanzenlicht

      The Doctor is one of Santa Claus’s angels. That might even be better.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ WMDKitty

    Awesome.


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