SyFy, the channel once known as SciFi (it should still be!) recently aired a TV miniseries adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s book, Childhood’s End. Here, I will examine the miniseries from a Christian worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.
Utopia? A transhuman “hope”
In the first part, dimensions of religion are found in the wings. Why didn’t God fix everything if these aliens can come along and fix everything for us? Where was God during all those wars and atrocities? Yet as the story progresses, it is clear that not is all as it seems. Where is Karellen, the alien who seems so godlike in his powers, when people are scared, sad, and afraid? Why do the children start to change, and what does it all mean? Why is Karellen so unwilling to let humans know about him?
Karellen and the Overlords are working for the Overmind to “change the world…” They follow its bidding and do what it says in order to reshape reality in the image that the Overmind desires. The Overmind claims to be “the collective consciousness of this universe” and, more simply, “all.” The Overmind takes the children of humanity to transform them into part of the collective consciousness of itself. So where is God? In the world of “Childhood’s End,” the Overmind plays the part of God, but a pantheistic type of being which is itself clearly not all powerful. Indeed, to call the Overmind pantheistic is itself a bit of an overstatement, as it can only bring certain people to itself and do so in certain ways.
The message of Childhood’s End is one of transhumanism- it is the end of humanity and humankind’s evolution towards some higher state of existence. It seems at points that this is supposed to be presented as something that is a great good, though perhaps with some sorrow. Yet What does this mean for humans? Ultimately, this transhuman hope–really the only hope that a pervasively atheistic worldview could offer–is the death of humanity. Earth is destroyed, in the end. Humanity is gone. All that is left of us is a beautiful piece of music, that whoever passes by will be able to hear.
The utopia that seems to be described as the Overlords come is a fiction. Thankfully, it is not the real world. The hope that we have can be found in Christ and the resurrection.
God and Science
The second part of the miniseries starts with the song “Imagine” in the background as the utopic state of Earth is described. One of the lines that comes through in the song is the line “and no religion too!” Yet the voiceover is by the young scientist, who is bemoaning the death of the sciences–they are no longer needed. Initially, it seems the implication is that if we just get rid of all the silliness of religion and stop trying to pursue useless knowledge in science, we would find ourselves in a utopia.
Another scene juxtaposes a character effectively praying to Karellan, the alien, while another goes into a church. Churches have largely been abandoned, for what use is religion in a world in which there is no injustice? It is intriguing to see the connections made between religion and science made throughout here. It seems that both science and religion are cast aside as people find suffering no longer exists. There are a number of ways this suggestion could be taken.
First, it could be taken as an assertion that science and faith are seeking answers to the same questions, though with different approaches. Faith is asking “why is there suffering?” and looking to God for answers; science is attempting to fix various problems such as disease through a direct approach. Yet this brief sketch oversimplifies things. After all, people expect prayers to be effective, and often think of scientific discoveries as being answers to those prayers.
Second, it could be taken as a broader commentary on the futility of either religion or science. If we could just solve all our problems, why try to figure out how they work? Again, this answer is too simplistic.
Instead, it seems a third option is more likely: the value of faith and the value of scientific exploration in and of themselves as ways to provide answers for what we observe in the universe. These answers may often overlap–and they do–but that doesn’t make them useless or invalid.
“Faith is on its last legs, only we don’t see it, because they give us ice cream,” says a man who is keeping a church clean.
“There is no such thing as evil,” a character snaps to a religious individual.
“I’m not sure God every helped anyone… only the Overlords answered.” Sandwiched between these two statements is an accusation that God gave us diseases and then sent more once we discovered how to cure some.
“All the world’s religions cannot be right… you know that… Your faith, beautiful and poetic… has no place now.”
What is particularly interesting about “Childhood’s End” is that all the people who are taken to be quacks–they are ridiculous, silly, superstitious, paranoid–turn out to be right, at least in part. The Overlords did come to change everything, but not in the positive, benign way they presented themselves. Instead, they came to reshape humanity in the image they desired. It led to the destruction of all humanity. One character may assert there is no such thing as evil, but that flies in the face of the injustice that the Overlords allegedly came to destroy.
The miniseries, whether intentionally or not, offers a view of the world which is both bleak and profound. It is bleak because it takes away all our hope. Even that which seems to offer hope ultimately destroys us. But it is profound in that it presents that world as fiction. It is not the world in which we live, which has hope, and in which we do not need to destroy ourselves. The price that humanity was asked to pay in “Childhood’s End” was paid in reality by God.
Ultimately, “Childhood’s End” is a story of humanity. It is a story of humanity giving in to deceiving itself. Humans sought an easy way to peace, freedom, and justice, and what they received instead was the death of humanity. The story itself does not have any final hope, apart from the hope that some transcendent humanity would live on. In reality, humanity does have the hope provided in Jesus Christ, our savior. It is interesting that the hope humans trusted in in Childhood’s End was something outside of themselves, and indeed the true hope for humanity is not found in ourselves, but in the Incarnate God, Christ.
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