Saturday, January 19, 2013

Are You Obsolete?

Whenever you hear, "Twilight's on!" at our house, you have to pay attention who's speaking. If it's my wife, undoubtedly she's talking about the recent series of popular vampire movies. But if it's me, more than likely I'm referring to something else: I'm always excited whenever I can see an episode of the classic series, "The Twilight Zone" on TV. Thankfully, Syfy has gotten in the habit of running a marathon every year around the first of January, so after the ball drops at Times Square, I like to get up the next day and watch as many episodes as I can stand!

Wordsworth on trial © Image Entertainment
Romney Wordsworth stands trial for the crime of being obsolete.
There are so many great episodes, but I especially enjoy the ones that feature Burgess Meredith (maybe in part because I'm such a big fan of Rocky and Batman!).

In particular, I think my episode favorite is 1961's "The Obsolete Man". Here, Meredith plays Mr. Wordsworth, an appropriately named librarian living sometime in the future, who is sentenced to death when he is deemed "obsolete" by a society that believes it has evolved beyond the need for books or religion.

So examine with me, if you will, this glimpse into other dimension - a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind... Next stop, The Twilight Zone!

As the story begins, Romney Wordsworth is brought in to stand trial. The State has declared that since there are no books, a librarian has no purpose, and someone with no purpose has no right to live. The State's representative explains that a librarian is just as useless as a minister, "since The State has proven there is no God." When Wordsworth protests that there IS a God, this only upsets the chancellor, who (rather than produce any evidence) begins repeatedly shouting his blasphemous claim into a loudspeaker.

Wordsworth continues to insist on the value of all human life and the importance of the printed word. He likens The State to past totalitarian governments run by people like Hitler and Stalin, and he passionately cries out, "You cannot erase truth by burning pages!" But the chancellor will hear none of it. His distorted mind fails to even see that those past regimes had done wrong. Instead, he claims that what history has taught is that people like Hitler and Stalin were simply not willing to go far enough!

Mr. Wordsworth is sentenced to die within the next 48 hours, but he gets the "privilege" to decide where, when and how, so he decides to die in his room the next night at midnight. The method is kept secret for now. Wordsworth's only request is to have an audience to watch him die, and the chancellor is all too happy to put a live TV camera in the room, since he's sure that watching the execution will be educational for others. Little does he know what they will learn!

I don't know about you, but to me, this "other dimension" almost feels like a real possibility for the future of our world. Technology is already making books with paper seem obsolete. Maybe that's not exactly what we see in the show, but it's nothing new for someone to try to rewrite history to support their agenda. By leaving out certain facts or giving things more or less emphasis, these people know they can shape what the next generation remembers and believes.

"He who controls the present controls the past. 
He who controls the past controls the future."
- George Orwell

We already see folks who, like the chancellor, look up to those like Hitler. Some even go so far as to deny that the Holocaust happened! Wikipedia has 77 articles on people who have actively promoted Holocaust denial, including politicians, historians, professors, journalists and more!

Then there are those who feel it's their duty to try to disprove God's existence. They call it foolish to believe in the unseen God, and they put their faith instead in unproven theories. And since those who ignore God feel free to eschew Biblical morality, the idea that a government might declare God a myth simply so it can get away with whatever it wants doesn't sound far-fetched at all. It sounds like what they tried in the former Soviet Union, and I wouldn't be surprised if it returns again in a more globally-accepted form - like the beast of Revelation ("One of its heads seemed to have received a death-blow, but its mortal wound had been healed." - Revelation 13:3).

I'm not opposed to science and philosophy - the ability to learn and understand about our world is from God! - but no one can ever prove God isn't real (Psalm 14:1; Colossians 2:8). We who have experienced God's presence and seen his hand at work in our lives need no further proof, but Romans 1:18-20 reminds us that God is constantly revealed all around us! Still, like the chancellor, some will bash and persecute us for our faith no matter what; and like Wordsworth, we have to stand for what we know to be right, even if it means suffering (Luke 9:23; Matthew 5:11-12).

"But Peter and John answered them, 'Whether it is right in God’s sight 
to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; 
for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.'"
- Acts 4:19-20

As for the idea that a person's worth is only found in what they can contribute - this is already common. If someone becomes homeless, they are labeled as dysfunctional and ignored. People with disabilities are often looked down upon, as if it's their fault. How often are the poor and elderly simply treated as a burden?

Two philosophers argued last year in the Journal of Medical Ethics that if a mother can legally choose to kill her baby before birth, she should also have the option of an "after-birth abortion"! They said there's nothing about being born that makes a fetus any different from a newborn in terms of development, and since the child can't take care of itself, they believe it's not really a person. According to them, "Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life."

How far is it from where we are to the idea of killing people just because we say they're worthless?

We need to be bold enough to recognize and stand up for the sanctity and dignity of every life! We need to stand up for the rights of those who can't defend themselves and honor those who can't care for themselves. We should protect people - whether we like them or not, whether they go to our church or not, whether we agree with them or not - because we are all part of this human race! As I've mentioned before, we should care because we know God made ALL of us, and he loves ALL of us! Every life should be valuable to us because it's valuable to God (Psalm 139:13-16; John 3:16; 1 John 4:7-11, 19-21).

We must insist that a life's value is determined by the love of God - not by its contribution to society. Otherwise, how long will it be before a God-less State decides to eradicate every Wordsworth among us?

The second act finds Mr. Wordsworth alone in his study, awaiting execution, when the chancellor knocks on his door. The two argue, and the chancellor again explains his beliefs and boasts in the idea that a TV audience will soon see "which is the stronger: The State or the librarian". He wants the world to see Wordsworth agonizing over the thought of his impending death. But the librarian has another idea!

Here we learn Wordsworth's chosen method of liquidation: a bomb has been hidden in the room... and the door is locked! Now, Wordsworth says, people will really see who's stronger, as they see the difference between the way a high official and an insignificant librarian both face death! At first, the chancellor tries to get out, but unable, he sits down and nervously smokes a cigarette in silence. As midnight approaches, we see him coming more and more unhinged.

By contrast, Mr. Wordsworth shows no fear. Instead, he takes out a Bible he had hidden for 20 years (owning a Bible, he says, was a crime punishable by death), and he sits down and reads calmly from Psalm 23... Psalm 59... Psalm 14... Psalm 130... His faith obviously gives him comfort and strength, and death does not scare him.

The obsolete chancellor is dragged away.
"Even though I walk through 
the valley of the shadow of death, 
I will fear no evil, for you are with me; 
your rod and your staff, 
they comfort me."
- Psalm 23:4 (NIV)

At last, the chancellor loses it and cries out, "Please! In the name of God, let me out!" to which Wordsworth replies, "Yes, chancellor. In the name of God, I will let you out!" Wordsworth produces a key before facing the camera to calmly await his fate. The chancellor escapes with his life, but not for long: for now, because his cowardice is a disgrace to The State, he is the one who is obsolete!

This episode - like the Bible - has a lot to say about the value of human life, honesty, and the difference faith in God should make in both the way we live and the way we die. And while it gives us a glimpse, perhaps, of one terrible possibility for the future of our world, it also encourages us to stand firm in the face of persecution. Those who reject the Lord are right to fear death, because Judgment is coming. But those who have put their faith in Jesus can receive peace from God to see them through any trial, because even if we die, God is good! (Philippians 4:6-7; John 11:25; Hebrews 9:27-28)

Stand strong in Christ, no matter what the future holds!

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