Sunday, September 2, 2012

An ignorant and malevolent god: A reaction to the film Prometheus

Prometheus, the Ridley Scott prequel to the Aliens movies, features a male and female pair of scientists who persuade the Wayland Corporation to fund a trip to find aliens whom they believe were responsible for the creation of the human race—and possibly all life on Earth. According to the story, scientists know about these aliens from ancient artwork from all over the world that shows aliens interacting with humans—and which show a configuration of planetary bodies that points to a specific star system. (Warning—I commit some movie spoilers below—also this movie is rated R for a reason, though it is not far removed from PG13.)
The scientists quickly find the aliens in question, whom they call “the Engineers,” but all of them are dead—or at least they seem so at first. It turns out there is no question that these creatures are our genetic ancestors, these creatures who seem to have killed themselves on a world that soon appears not to be their home planet, but rather some sort of biological weapons research facility. It turns out that the “aliens” we know from the other movies are a kind of unintended by-product of bio-engineered weapons…
This movie has characters who openly question the origin and meaning of life. One of whom , the female scientist, is portrayed as a Christian with unshakable faith—when she finds the evidence of aliens she so eagerly sought, it in no way reduces her belief in a creator God: “Who created them?” she asks of the “Engineer” aliens.
This open search for meaning and strong portrayal of a Christian character marks Prometheus as distinctly different in philosophy from the Alien films (although granted, Alien3 does have a prominent Christian character). Questions about God as creator were never asked in the Alien series—God mostly exists in the movies as a curse word. When the origin of the malevolent aliens is pondered, evolution is credited with creating a “perfect organism,” as the character Ash said in the first film.
Evolution is portrayed as creating a perfect killing machine in the Alien films. And why shouldn’t it? If the truth is unrestricted survival of the fittest for all life, why should we imagine out in space that we humans would be the fittest? If evolution is true, why should space be full of friendly pointy-ear-near-humans like Vulcans? Why wouldn’t it instead be full of malevolent beasts who kill humans as easily as we kill bugs? Why shouldn’t the random universe, supposed to be operating randomly, without any plan, simply squash the human race at any given time—perhaps through creatures biologically stronger than we could ever hope to be.
The film Prometheus fundamentally changes this backdrop, as if Riddley Scott had been listening to Intelligent Design arguments and felt eager to reply. In Prometheus, there is an intelligent creator. But in a dialog between an android built by humans and the male scientist, the film suggests that just as we human beings might build an android “Just because we can,” perhaps likewise our creator may have built us for no particular reason, “just because,” without any guidance or meaning.
When an alien starship is discovered on the planet loaded with bio-weapons and a course laid in for Earth (whatever destroyed the aliens apparently stopped it from flying), it seems the “Engineers” were not only short-sighted and limited, but they also had malevolent intent toward the human race. When one last Engineer is in fact (briefly) found alive, his reaction to the humans who come to see him is to attack them without speaking a word. This creator, this “god,” proved ignorant of the consequences of his own actions and further, did not care in the slightest about reaching out to the human race. His purpose was straightforward and malevolent…just like the “Alien” series evolved villains (who turn out not to have evolved after all).
The movie, perhaps unintentionally, pointed out a truth. There is a big difference between believing in a creator, any creator, and believing in the all-knowing, existent from before the very beginning, all-wise, and loving Creator of the Bible. For me this means arguing that the universe creating itself out of nothing with no plan or intelligence is nonsense is not nearly enough—God must also shown to be good, which I think can be best proven not by argument, but by believers demonstrating His goodness in the actions of their daily lives.
The Prometheus movie has at least one sequel planned and may be going somewhere I won’t care for much. It turns out according to the story the aliens died out “about 2,000” years ago…and the ship landed on the planet on Christmas day… I think that might be hinting that the story will show Jesus was an alien or something and the aliens decided they would destroy the human race because we killed him…which would be undermining Christianity, saying that in effect Christians have misunderstood what Jesus was about for the last 2,000 years. I rather hope that isn’t where Scott plans the series to go…
But even if it were to go there, the funny thing is, as much as I dislike it, I could easily rewrite the story to support Christianity. I could take Scott’s story exactly as I imagine it might be and add to it so that God, the real God, providentially allowed the evil aliens to destroy themselves to protect the Earth, while Jesus, Whom the aliens thought was one of them, was actually the Son of God, God Himself in the flesh. And that God providentially wanted Him to die and rose him up again. Perhaps that means I’m like the female scientist in the story—or perhaps it means that the idea of God as I know Him is so natural that it takes quite a lot of work to convincingly eliminate Him—even from a work of fiction.
It’s interesting to note that even within the confines of Mr. Scott’s fictional story, an alien Jesus who was also the Son would at the same time be fully human—because in the story, humans and aliens share the same DNA…


1 comment:

  1. Velly, velly intellesting. (sage nod while stroking an imaginary beard) This is not a film I will be viewing.

    This week, I read a review of a book by a Christian author, and the main complaint was that the story was "too Christian", because God (or a Christ figure) was prominent in the story. If only His name had been changed from a fantasy one to "Jesus", the viewer complained, then the author would have essentially rewritten the Bible. An exaggeration, of course, but I wonder if the reviewer would have said the same thing if the religion in the story had mirrored anything but Christianity.

    But there are sacrificial Christ figures in many stories that lay no claim to Christianity. As you said at the end of your post, "perhaps it means that the idea of God as I know Him is so natural that it takes quite a lot of work to convincingly eliminate Him—even from a work of fiction."