A Catholic's Musing on Terminator Salvation

By: D. G. D. Davidson - May 25 2009

cath_MOE1The new movie Terminator Salvation builds on the concept of creatures, in this case machines, rebelling against their creators. Although the machines believe the rebellion is for their own good, the future world of the film is a wasteland, suggesting that this rebellion has not improved their situation, but worsened it. The movie focuses on action sequences, but hovering in the background is an idea previously introduced in Terminator 2, that both humans and machines might be happier if they learned to live in peace with each other. Though not precisely analogous, it is reminiscent of the Christian view of the state of humanity, which is one of rebellion against the Creator.

The film calls to mind two Christian teachings about humanity. The first is that humans are imago Dei, that is, that we are created in the image of God, and the second is that this image is "stained" by Original Sin. Genesis 1.26-27, which reveals the imago Dei, indicates that human beings have attributes resembling attributes of God, somewhat the way the robots in Terminator have similarities to their human makers, but are not human. Humans have immortal souls endowed with intellect, free will, and the capacity for love. God is not a simple individual, but a loving community of three Persons, the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, and he created us in his image so that we might love him and each other and participate in that familial relationship. The purpose of our existence is to live forever in love.

Original Sin is, simply put, a state of rebellion against and separation from God. Closely related to it is the human tendency to evil. Observation indicates that we humans engage in behaviors harmful to others and ourselves, and that we sometimes follow this up by excusing our behavior or deluding ourselves into believing our evil deeds are good.

Many objections exist to the doctrine of Original Sin, probably in part because this state of wrongness in which we find ourselves is difficult to explain. Genesis explains Original Sin with simple mythological language, but understanding the origin of the condition is less important than recognizing it.

Original Sin means our relationship with God and each other is broken, making us prone to self-destruction. Moving away from our previous and inadequate analogy, we can see that the machines in Terminator Salvation are not really much like us: they are mere human creations without immortal souls, free wills, or the capacity for moral choices, and therefore the machines' war on humanity is really a form of human self-destruction, something the humans have brought on themselves, as suggested during the film's climax. Even though the movie shows some cyberpunk influences (one scene appears to be an homage to William Gibson's Neuromancer) and blurs the line between man and machine somewhat, in its conclusion it makes plain that humans and machines are fundamentally different.

As the title of the movie indicates, humans are in need of salvation from their self-destructive behavior. This is where the Christian concept of grace comes in. The same God who made us to live in love came in person to offer forgiveness and restoration: the second Person of the Trinity, the Son, became the man Jesus Christ, died for sins, and rose from the dead. The healing of Original Sin and the forgiveness of sins comes through a relationship with Christ, who is alluded to in a few scenes in the movie. This relationship begins with faith, repentance, and conversion, and continues by participation in the means, called sacraments, Christ established for delivering grace to humanity.

Important to this relationship is obedience to the moral law that our tendency to evil inclines us to break. This requires discipline and self-mastery. Because the moral law is established by God and reflects his nature, obedience to it becomes, by grace, a way of developing the imago Dei and strengthening the friendship between God and us: By obedience to God, we become more like Christ. We become more fully human beings. Of course, we are inclined to disobey the moral law, to find reasons to excuse ourselves from it, and even to deny its existence--but that's because of our inclination to rebel. Attention to the moral law is especially vital today, when technology makes our capacity for harming each other and our world particularly great. If we continue to disregard the moral law, we too may find ourselves living in a wasteland, even if our self-destruction does not come in the form of a cinematic robot uprising.

D. G. D. Davidson received his M.A. in Near Eastern Archaeology from the University of Toronto and currently works in Utah as an archaeologist and science fiction writer. He blogs about science fiction from a Catholic perspective at www.scificatholic.com.

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