Gods, Heroes and Terminators

Gods, Heroes and Terminators September 26, 2008

I’ve just been catching up on some of the TV shows I like to follow. New seasons have begun, but I’ve only just managed to watch the Heroes season premiere and that of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (which has already aired its third episode).

Both seasons began with an increase in God-talk, all the more noteworthy since such language and imagery was already present to a significant degree in seasons past.

My first reaction was to suspect that religious elements are becoming a fad, and that these might simply pepper the episodes the way they pepper the speech of many (perhaps most) religious adherents, with no deeper significance or meaning.

But I’m starting to wonder.

Both of these shows are about humans building or turning into beings with the powers that characterized the divine and the demigods of epic myths and legends. Perhaps, as technology increasingly holds out to us the possibility of overcoming death (although perhaps not permanently), becoming powerful, and many other things humans admire and aspire for, it is becoming more rather than less important to us to ask what is ultimate, what is even greater than these new heights that are, for the moment, just out of reach, but may like forbidden fruit soon be within tasting distance.

One of the greatest mysteries that still puzzle us is consciousness, how the functions of body and brain become mind and self awareness. Can a machine ever say “I love you” and really mean it? Cameron, the reprogrammed terminator, keeps looking at Jesus on the crucifix in a Catholic church with an inquisitive gaze. Eventually she asks Sarah if she believes in the resurrection. When Cameron says faith isn’t part of her programming, Sarah suggests that neither is it part of hers. Once again, the question of how the human mind is “programmed” begins to come to the fore, and hopefully will continue to be explored in a serious and reflective manner.

If machines begin to explore religion, some will treat it as proof that religion is just a result of our “programming”, while others will treat it as proof that machines can think and feel or that religion is indeed universal. But in fact, it is unlikely that machine religion will prove anything more than human religion will – except perhaps from the point of view of the machines themselves, if they have one.

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