The Orville is a science fiction comedy-drama that is based on Star Trek and takes place in the 25th century. The first season just ended . Although I had heard about it from a friend, some time in the middle of the season, I didn’t want to pay Netflix to catch up from the beginning. Just by chance, I happened to catch the twelfth and last episode one Thursday night on Fox. It was entitled “Mad Idolatry”.
The story involved an Earth-like planet that only appeared every 11 days for a short time, and aged 700 years each time it reappeared. We could ask how this is possible or how it was created in the first place, but how much fun would that be? After all, this is science fiction. Science fiction has the license to tell scientific stories that cannot be substantiated by fact. In this episode, however, it told a religious story that cannot be substantiated by fact. So I ask myself the question, “Can the science fiction license be automatically transferred to the domain of religious fiction?” Maybe there should be an announcement like we used to hear, “You are now entering the Twilight Zone.”
At the first appearance of the planet, the First Officer, Kelly Grayson unwisely descends a hill, encounters a Bronze Age youth, and heals a gash in her forehead. When they return, the civilization has aged by 700 years and has evolved a religion of the worship of the god Kelly, complete with a Cardinal and the killing of heretics. She tries and fails to logically argue them out of their religion, but at the last appearance of the planet, they have naturally evolved to where they understand that religion is just a man-made myth and that there is no God. The creativity and art form are fascinating, but the presentation is not objective. It actually expounds the message of New Atheism without saying as much. Should it?
Here are the subliminal messages of the episode:
1. There is no God.
2. Religion evolved from Bronze Age fetishes.
3. Religion is always a source of evil.
4. People use religion for power and human abuses.
5. Science and Education overcome religious “superstition”.
6. All religion will eventually disappear.
7. This is a natural and universal scenario.
If we took a hint from the current fake news discussions, we would ask for a fact check. Oops! There are no facts to disprove God. All we find is a minority opinion, since only 3% of Americans identify themselves with atheism. So it’s religious fiction.
Art is not objective. Francis Schaeffer, in his seminal book Escape from Reason, taught us how to investigate the links between beliefs and various art forms. Art is an expression of beliefs. I enjoy listening to ideas with which I disagree, as long as I’m able to identify them. Young people have not developed this ability. They can be easily persuaded by an art form that impresses them, without realizing that it conveys a message that they would not accept in any other context.
In some specific cases, we choose to protect our children. Cigarettes have warning labels that say, “Cigarette smoking may be dangerous to your health.” We post warnings for food coloring, insecticides, and opioids. Movies have parental guidance ratings for moral reasons. Maybe we need one that says,
“Warning! This episode may be harmful to your faith.”