Gay atheist Dr Who writer sparks religious discussion

Gay atheist Dr Who writer sparks religious discussion September 14, 2007

DR Who is set to feature in a church service to entice younger worshippers, according to a report this week in the London paper Metro.
A Cardiff congregation are being invited to compare “a Time Lord with the Lord of Time” at a special Dr Who-themed service at the Anglican church used as a location two years ago for an episode of the series starring Christopher Eccleston as the ninth Doctor.
Teenagers and young people in their early 20s are being targeted for the “cafe-style” Communion service, with music and video clips from the hit series, at St Paul’s Church.
Fr Dean Atkins, youth officer with the Diocese of Llandaff and one of the organisers of the service, said:

The figure of Doctor Who is somebody who comes to save the world, almost a Messiah figure. In the series there are lots of references to salvation and the doctor being almost immortal. We are using the figure of Doctor Who as a parable of Christ. The language used in the series lends itself to exploring the Christian faith.

He added:

Christ is a kind of cosmic figure as well if you like, somebody who does not travel through time but all eternity is found in him.
He is a kind of encapsulation of the beginning and the end, in fact he existed before time began and he will exist when time ends.

Parish priest Fr Ben Andrews said:

I love the series, and it has such a great following that we couldn’t resist doing something for young people on a Doctor Who theme. Lots of people think that young people are the future of the Church. This kind of event will show they are part of the church of the present and have an important part to play in its future. We are building on the past but always looking forward.

I’m afraid all this guff was just too much for me, and I posted the following comment on the Metro site.

It is ludicrous to compare Dr Who with Jesus. Dr Who is a fictional character who has a huge gay following. Jesus is a biblical character who was probably gay, but nevertheless spawned a nasty religion that has demonised and oppressed gay people for centuries. The church does not deserve to survive in the 21st century, and it is doubtful that pathetic straw-clutching gimmicks like this will do anything to attract kids to Christianity – young people just ain’t that stupid.

I should also have pointed out that Dr Who writer Russell T Davies is gay.
And Kirby, from Wisconsin, in the US had this to say:

I wonder if the folks running the worship services know that the head writer Russell T Davies and Doctor No 9 Christopher Eccleston are both atheists.

To which Fr Atkins replied:

I am not surprised or abashed that Russell T Davies is an atheist. It doesn’t matter at all. But you can’t deny the beauty of his scripts and the imaginative way he explores what it means to be human and how his language is coloured by Christian references or vocabulary. And by the way, we are not saying Doctor Who is Jesus or Jesus is Doctor Who – ludicrous! But there is nothing wrong with using everyday images, references, connotations, experiences, culture and language to talk about and explore Jesus. In fact, if we didn’t do that we would then be criticised for not relating to the world or being, to use a well worn word, irrelevent! Oh yeh’ just one last point in response to Barry’s comment: I know many followers of Jesus who happen to be gay and I don’t think they feel as demonised and oppressed as you suggest.

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  • Andy A

    Just shows how, like grubby politicians, grubby religionists will jump on any bandwagon. Perhaps we shouldn’t blame them in an artificial Alice in Wonderland world of mendacity and spin, where everyone seems to be out to manufacture consent (to borrow Chomsky’s phrase). Let them enjoy their “Lord of Time”; I’ll stick to the Time Lord from Gallifrey that I’ve come to know and love. Well, like. I mean follow. Oh, to hell with it: LOVE. I’m a Whovian! I’m out of the closet! Whooooo!

  • Would you deny me the power of language?! We’re just using Doctor Who as vocabulary and imagery. Deny me language and you deny me expression yet alone free expression! But then again free expression never comes cheap yet alone free, even the world of free thinking! Keep up the debate! It makes for a good society and a better world!

  • Andy A

    Father Dean, no I would not deny you anything, except privileges in the name of your religion alone, and I have no evidence that you would claim those. No, I was making an observation on the Chomskyan “manufacturing consent” theme: that something that ought to stand or fall on its own merits uses a vehicle to get into the minds of those who might otherwise not want it.
    I have seen and heard religious imagery, thoughts, concepts put into such fine graphic representations, language, music and ritual that I’d have thought Doctor Who would be a rather tawdry choice of vehicle for the true believer (much as I am a fan). I was at Holy Trinity, Coventry, for instance, one Easter in the seventies and felt almost guilty that I had gorged on so much on the meat of religion that day (it was the music I really went for, I guess, but I did enjoy the campery of it all – and in the neighbouring cathedral – and did at that time feel the ticklings of belief scratching away at the edges of my consciousness, but never strongly enough to be allowed in).
    But I would no more wish to see such an event (yours, that is) stopped than I would wish to see the Christian Institute or Christian Voice stop a gay pride march or a secularist lobby (or, for that matter, a Buddhist protest). Enjoy the service. Say a prayer for Adric – he was the pretty one they killed off. Sad day.

  • It is interesting, though, just how strong the religious subtext is in the revived series of Dr Who: much stronger than it ever was in the old version. Russell T. Davies may be an atheist, but he does seem to be unusually sensitive to the power of these ideas.
    Instead of accusing Fr Atkins of hijacking popular sci-fi, it might be more interesting to consider why shows like Dr Who (and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for that matter, also created by an avowed atheist but imbued with Christian imagery; or now Heroes) incorporate religious metaphors so naturally.
    Is it just that there’s still a resonant undercurrent of Christianity in Western civilisation? (These metaphors and echoes are invariably Christian). Or is it because Christianity might actually be onto something? Not true, in any literal sense, but onto something.
    In its early days, Christianity adopted and adapted pagan concepts (virgin birth, dying-and-rising-god) and gods with shameless alacrity. Ever read or seen Euripides Bacchae? It’s strikingly like the passion narratives, even including a hymn to the power of bread and wine. Perhaps in adopting the language of Dr Who (not exactly Euripides, to be sure, despite Davies’ great talents) the Church is simply reverting to type.

  • Andy A

    Heresiarch, I guess it could be that we shouldn’t be looking at the idea that one is causing the other, but at a common cause that is neither religion nor drama. Perhaps it’s the same things around us (in our minds and our environment, and the effect the one has on the other, with their complex dynamics and interplay, providing an intricate layering and enfolding – as with the beating of a samurai sword or making puff pastry – of concepts, ideas, imagary) that give rise to both religion and to what we perceive as religious elements in art (be that TV drama, music, the written word or a painting). Just a thought.

  • joseph

    thank you very much
    be free=be happy

  • Android

    Puff pastry aside, if Doctor Who fans catch you calling it Dr Who, and calling the Doctor “Dr Who”, well, a bunch of marauding Muslims’ll have nothing on what you might face. Sonic screwdrivers at the ready. Get Duke! Zzzzzttt, zzzzzttt. There. Blasted him into a parallel universe where Jesus is a pink furry Dalek that yodels to the accompaniment of bagpipes – 24 hours a day.

  • I stand corrected. Doctor Who. Doctor Who. Doctor… (what if you’re writing a text message? Is it OK, sorry, okay, then?)
    Now, Andy, it’s not entirely clear what you’re trying to say. “A common cause that is neither religion nor drama”. That would be what, then? If you mean some facet of human psychology, you may well be onto something. My point, however, concerned not religion per se, but specifically Christianity, which seems to me to have its hooks into something essential, something, in however metaphoric a sense, true. I’m not a Christian, but it seems to me that Christianity, more than any other religion, asks the right kind of questions. The same questions asked by drama. I suppose what I am saying is that Christianity, if nothing else, is a great story.
    Of course it’s derivative. Most great drama is: Shakespeare stole his plots, so did Euripides. Nevertheless it deepened and strengthened the underlying narrative and brought new meaning, which still lies buried at the centre of human consciousness. Or perhaps just Western consciousness. In any case, I find that you don’t have to buy into Christianity to be profoundly moved by it.
    All religions can point to artistic achievements, whether it’s a statue of Buddha, the Blue Mosque or the temples of southern India. But (let’s be controversial for a moment) I think there’s something qualitatively different about the art produced by Christianity.
    St Peter’s is no better than one of Istanbul’s mosques of the period, in fact it’s horribly grandiose. But Michelangelo’s Pieta knocks spots off anything Islam has produced, or could conceivably produce. So does the St Matthew Passion, the painting of El Greco. And you don’t have to believe either of them to realise that the New Testament is a vastly superior production to the Koran.

  • Andy A

    Hi, Heresiarch
    The other guy seems to be teasing the writer of the main story, not you. However, I’m a Who fan, so stand right by him/her/it.
    I think I may not have put things clearly. Too wordy, perhaps. I just meant that it’s interesting to posit kind of ready-made holes in our heads to take religion, and perhaps they’re just the same holes that make us want to use that kind of imagery in whatever else we create. All the same thing, but being expressed in different ways, according to your bent. If you’re religious, you love the idea of gods and messiahs and angels; if you’re a sci-fi fan, say, you love the same ideas, but you’ll channel them through watching/reading/writing sci-fi (or fantasy, or science fantasy) that deals with that kind of thing. I think we’re probably in agreement. Sorry for not expressing it as clearly as I might.
    All hail to dr who – shit, I mean the Doctor!

  • Ah yes, but where did the ready-made hole in our heads come from? The religious would say God put it there… more likely it was Evolution. Who knows. But is watching the good Doctor really a religious experience, as you seem to be suggesting? Am I addressing the high priest of the Church of Who?

  • Andy A

    Goodness gracious, no. I don’t consider Who to be a religious experience, but I like the use of religious imagery in it. Or maybe that is imagery that exists as archetypes in our minds and is used when we wish to make sense of what is really going on in there, i.e. lots of electrochemical activity. Even before we knew anything of the workings of the brain, we no doubt used familiar imagery to make sense of what was happening in there, just as our waking mind makes sense of dream activity and forces familiar images onto it (we wake thinking we saw friends, pets, a mountain, a lake). Now, this is intelligent-guesswork theory, but it’s just possible that a database, as it were, of images built up over the millennia (and that’s how gods were made, in various versions of our own image, give or take the odd man’s head on a horse’s body and that kind of thing).
    So both the religionist (by that I mean shamans, priests and other “interpretors” of the “signs” across time) and the sci-fi writer find themselves using the same images. Do we call them religious? Do we call them sci-fi? Do we just call them images conjured by our minds to turn all that electrochemical activity into something familiar, if often fabulous and fantastical?
    That’s what I meant about one phenemonon (the existing imagery) serving two purposes, and that there isn’t one necessarily causing the other, but both (religious imagery and sci-fi/fantasy imagery) are caused by the same thing. A relationship, but not a causal one.
    I looked in on you blog. Like it.