Thought Control - #1 - The Second Coming

thought control logoUnlike previous discussions, Thought Control presents a question based on a different film each time. See the schedule for the first volume.
There aren't any special rules. Both elaborate ideas and fleeting thoughts are equally fantastic, and equally encouraged - the only requirement for you is:
Please ask your fellow disputants further questions!

Let's start with:

The Second Coming
Shown on ITV in 2003, produced by Red Production Company, it is written by Russell T Davies and directed by Adrian Sherhold.

Chris Eccleston plays Steve Baxter, a random bloke, born and braised in Manchester, who is The Second Coming, the Son of God. He delivers an ultimatum for humanity - they have to choose, write the Third Testament or face Armageddon.

So, without pointing at specific religions, and apart from separate characters' fate, consider the new world. In your opinion, is it a happy or a worrying ending?

steve from the second coming steve from the second coming steve from the second coming

2010-01-27

13 comments:

Liz said...

It surprises me to say this, but I found the ending to be happy and very reassuring. It seems to run parallel to many of the feelings Obama has inspired (particularly during the election, although not so much recently) that humanity has great capacity for love and change. That we as ordinary people can make the great changes needed for a better world.

I also watched the alternate ending and felt that if I had only seen the alternate it would have changed my whole response to the film. On the one hand it was heartwarming that Steve and Judy got their happy ending and lovely family, but it would have diluted the questing nature of the film to explore belief and religion.

Have to say that I have enjoyed your very complete and thoughtful reviews on this site -- great job!

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

Thanks - enjoy it while it lasts.

As for The Second Coming, hope's good, but history so far has demonstrated that a better world for many is not exactly a safe, sane and healthy one.
And what about the non-religious or even anti-religious sociopaths who only would be proved in their ways?

Alt ending, I've read/heard about it, where did you watch it - it's not on dvd?

joanr16 said...

I looked all over the U.S. DVD for an alternate ending, but didn't find one either. I'd never heard of it!

As I was rewatching TSC, I grabbed a pen and scribbled notes (most now undecipherable). The gist was that I kept waffling back & forth as to whether Judith's solution made sense from a logical storytelling perspective. I questioned whether killing one avatar of God would do away with all that God is supposed to be. First, Jesus the Galilean comes along and is killed; 2000 years later, Steve the Mancunian comes along and is likewise killed. If there could be a Second Coming, why not a Third Coming, or a Fourth? I shouldn't think rat poison would end the Source of All Things.... Mind you, I'm not trying to make a philosophical point; that's just me dithering over a possible logic-hole in the plot.

Did I find TSC's post-God world happy, or worrisome? I found it a bit of both... which is the way human life is (even now). At the end of the film, Judith says in her truncated on-camera interview that we humans still often behave abominably; she also says we humans now have to take responsibility for our actions. (Earlier, there's a terrific point made by the Manchester Univ. physicist, that we don't need God or a loaves-and-fishes miracle to feed the hungry; we can do that already, so why aren't we?)

What about the non-religious or even anti-religious sociopaths who only would be proved in their ways?

To be honest, even though I'm a (deliberately non-aligned) believer, I'd be more afraid of the actions of pro-religion sociopaths, if suddenly there were to be definite proof of God's existence. This has a lot to do with the personal intimacy of faith; people hold on to the idea of God for purely individual reasons, and each person's idea of God is-- whether we admit it or not-- unique. An angry or spiteful person will likely believe in an angry or spiteful God (examples: Pat Robertson, who says the Haiti earthquake occurred because the slaves of Haiti "made a pact with the devil"; the Phelps family of Topeka, who show up at U.S. soldiers' funerals holding signs saying "God Hates Fags"). My personal idea is of a patient and tender-hearted God, because I perceive God through my grandmother. I don't expect anyone else in the world to share my view, nor am I bothered when they don't. (However I am, of course, bothered by liars, bigots and sadists, whether they claim to be speaking for God or just themselves.)

So if tomorrow the world news proclaimed: "Proof Found -- There Is No God!", would I be worried or relieved? Well, I'd be worried that the angry & spiteful folks would experience a violent burst of disappointment which they'd take out on everyone else; but I'd also be relieved that they could no longer blame God for such outbursts. And I'd be terribly, tremendously sad to realize I'd never see my grandmother again in some sort of afterlife. But I'd still be deeply grateful (to the nonspecific "universe," I guess) that such a wonderful person ever existed at all.

And to be honest, I can't think of a single realistic scenario for my lifetime, by which the existence or nonexistence of God will be proven. Perhaps unlike (?) Russell T. Davies, I think that's a good thing.

...enjoy it while it lasts.

I hope you're not going away soon! Although I know this blog is a huge commitment.... And I know we don't say "Thank you!!!" often enough! Thank you, thank you!

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

Narrative logic in TSC - there is a very strongly established motive of Steve receiving information in separate downloads, each one adding another page to the map. The final piece is when he receives confirmation that Judith's testament _is_ the Third Testament.

Closing of the family business is what the Second Coming is about, in this film. Biblical Jesus had to die to make a forced turning point in Judaism, introducing Testament nr. 2 and new image of God. He was precisely the avatar for the whole concept. In the same way Steve is an avatar for the new plan, with that difference that this time, he didn't know everything in advance. Makes sense if it's people who have to decide/find it out/take over.

Key moment is that it's not a homicide/deicide, it's a suicide.

Earlier, there's a terrific point made by the Manchester Univ. physicist, that we don't need God or a loaves-and-fishes miracle to feed the hungry; we can do that already, so why aren't we?

Precisely. It's not just that I'm a born-again atheist. What I think about first of all are the events, disasters, recent and historic alike, in which aftermath horrible human behaviour prevailed, and was contained only with advance of powers even fiercer.

And wouldn't the religious power, not manifest in practical and physical, be a more _humane_ control?

After all, religion, just like dreams and fantasies, is what people cushion themselves with. Human imagination is bent on dressing even the coldest mathematical facts in tropes and similes. Proof one way or another won't eradicate it. The throne wouldn't be empty for long.

And when there's no heir apparent, and plenty of human weakness, probably the only positive point is that, indeed, nobody would be able to kill 'in the name of God'. Doesn't mean that would make them stop and turn around.


Thank you for your 'thank you's, Joan. We also take concrit; and, really, this commitment is not in the least taxing.

Hedgehog said...

Happy ending or sad?
It’s really difficult to answer this question; there’s a bit of both in it. In the line of the narrative it feels like the only right ending in any case, though. Not because it stays true to the analogy – Jesus the Galilean, Steve the Mancunian; both dying in the end as a consequence of Judas/Judith’s actions – but rather because the narrative builds up to it. It’s already there in the “you lot” – speech, and despite everything else that happens in the movie, those two speeches are some sort of anchors: “you lot”-statement; “third testament”-reply. There’s also a strong use of the Father-children-image. “If you want the position of God then take the responsibility”; from the “kids with guns” to the closing of the “family business”. I can’t help but see not only Steve Baxter, son of god but also a father who’s looking at a 17-year old ‘rebel-without-a-cause’ coming-of-age kid. The worry of a parent looking at a teenager spreading his wings and getting ready to take on the world on his own, a father still seeing his baby boy or girl and not quite ready to let got, accept they’ve grown and are going away to start a family of their own. There’s a bit of that bittersweetness of moving out of home to start standing on your own feet to the ending. The difference being, obviously, that in most cases your parents don’t die at the point you’re coming of age. That’s not supposed to happen until much later, when you’re dealing with parenthood yourself and sort of take their place and the circle of life goes on. Perhaps because I’m seeing this image so strongly, and thus perceive the 3rd testament world as sort of orphanaged as well, perhaps that’s why the sad side of the scales seems stronger to me in the ending.
That’s the one side of it, and then there’s the other.
I would think that, if you’re coming from the position that religious belief has caused many a war, bloodshed, persecution, pious hypocrisy and double standards, the ending is indeed a very happy one. Take away religion and get rid of the cause for the before-mentioned grievances, have people realise it’s their own responsibility what happens, not due to some mythical spiritual being and they can’t blame what goes wrong on anyone else but they’re own. It’s a tempting idea, really, and I can see where it’s coming from. If you’re looking at the surface it seems RTD’s got some serious issues, and he lists all the wrong-doings of the church and the down-sides of religious belief. I’m using “on the surface”, I’ll be coming back to it.
It’s just not that easy, though. In my very humble opinion at least. Because it seems a bit too one-sided for my taste. Because – and I find myself on very bl**dy unfamiliar territory here – it isn’t all that bad. There, I said it. But while my personal belief may differ, while I might reject the church as institution, while I might argue on the ground everyone just needs something to believe in, and some call it God, some call it Goddess, some call it nature, or destiny or fate, and some just believe in generic human values, love and kindness… I’ve still seen people to whom church and belief in God is important. And not in the negative, fanatical way. Those who found their acting according to those important social basic human values in their belief in God. Those who find the strengths to cope with what life as such throws at them to break them in their belief.

Hedgehog said...

I may not be one of those, but what about them? For them, the post-3rd-testament world would be filled with a terrible loss and emptiness. And how would they cope? What right would the 3rd testament have to force them to reorient, to force them to do away with the religious part and still stick to ethics? I can easily imagine someone being suddenly depraved from something that used to form an important part of his self-definition turn to desparation, not caring anymore. Getting rid of religion might remove the cause of many grievances, but it would also pull away the safety net from other people.
That feeling of loss and emptiness, even if it’s a loss of something that doesn’t really concern my life, is the other reason I’d say the bitter bit of the ending outweighs the happy brave new world.
Back to “on the surface”. Does it really matter whether the ending is happy or sad? Isn’t the point a little bit more than that? That’s where it goes beyond the movie, and where the discussion starts. And I can’t be sure if that’s intended. I sure hope so. Because that discussion would have to deal with “how important is religion anyway”? It’s a mind-game, take away religion and see what happens. Is the “brave new world” really better? Wouldn’t people act out of the same motivation as they do now, just without the chance to put religion in front of it? We’d still love, we’d still flirt, we’d still hate, and cry, and commit crimes – isn’t it rather human emotion, human being in the centre of it all the time, even now? Take a look at some of the conflicts that are raging now because of religion – isn’t religion just the part on the surface that’s easiest to spot? Aren’t social discrepancies/injustices at least as important a component? Isn’t religion in this context just another means of dividing “them” from “us”, abused by whoever has an interest of keeping conflict going on, like so many other surface feature have been in the past?
Take away religion and we’re forced to think about all that. And it’s a hell of a lot easier to come up with a storyline that does away with religion than a storyline that gives all people on earth one language or one equal green-blue-chequered skin.
I really can’t tell if that’s what RTD intented, but if the death of Steve Baxter can get people from “religion is the problem” to “is religion really the problem”, then he’d really have died for humanity like his predecessor intended to!

God, this has gone far out-of-bounds again… apologies. One last question, though: Does anyone know the song “Jesus was a capricorn” by Kris Kristofferson? That’s what kept sneaking into the back of my mind the first time I watched TSC. “Reckon we’d just nail him up if he came down again.”

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

That's why I chose the somewhat awkward dichotomy of happy - worrying, because the question is whether it is really that ultimate solution.

Another thought in the direction of what people would no longer have. Quite many religious people manage to survive various atrocities, to carry on with their lives regardless because they believe the culprits - real or imagined - would be punished by some higher forces when these higher forces will find it appropriate. Would you now have to deliver so called justice yourself?

joanr16 said...

Would you now have to deliver so called justice yourself?

But religious people do that already. I expect it's not in the news in Europe, but we have the infamous case here of the "pro-life" man who shot and killed a doctor in Wichita, Kansas, who performed abortions. The murder was religiously motivated; furthermore, the doctor had already been tried by a local jury and acquitted under a strict Kansas law regulating abortion. Neither human law nor God's supposed governance of the situation was enough to satisfy the murderer.

Another example would be the 9/11 hijackers, who believed they were committing justifiable mass murder and were motivated by religion. Some time after the event, the satirical website "The Onion" published a scathing piece about the punishments the 9/11 mass murders might find in the afterlife, instead of the 70 virgins they allegedly expected. Deep down, the Onion piece was an example of the notion that "maybe God does have justice in store." But alas, enter George W. Bush, who once said with a straight face that God wanted him to be president. Bush enacted his own "vengeance," which caused widespread death and destruction for many times more innocent people than died in the 9/11 attacks.

It's sad to say, but I imagine justice in a potentially "godless" world as much the same as in the actual world. In addition to the many examples of impatient, unthinking believers who enact their own "justice," I know far too many atheists who believe in the justice of human law, to equate belief with a more just or compassionate world. I wish it were otherwise, but that's simply not my experience or observation.

I have to re-address the story logic question. I think I have a mental block that comes from growing up with questions like the one posed by the late George Carlin: "If God is all-powerful, can He make a rock so big that He, Himself, can't lift it?" Can an omnipresent God actually commit suicide by incarnating into one human body, and then eating rat poison? I guess it's possible, but I'm still not sure it makes sense; it goes against the very meaning of "omnipresent." Watching TSC last weekend, I also noticed scenes that suggested Judith's decision to kill Steve came not from God, but from the devils. (Judith's final conversation with Johnny Tyler struck me as the last straw for her, cementing her resolve.) I know that parallels Judas's betrayal of Jesus, but the introduction of evil promoting the plan seems to me to cast doubt on the notion that it was God's idea all along.

Then, of course, there's the whole notion of an alternate ending to the film that is quite the opposite of the final one. This means the story wasn't necessarily building to the conclusion we know. I think the writing was intentionally ambivalent at times to give us much to think about, and also to allow for very different possible endings, so I see the ending we know as logical in some ways, and not-so-logical in others.

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

No no, I'm not speaking about religious fanaticism. What I had in mind, was a very trivial, and clear situation. Say, a family loses their child in a traffic accident, or something similar. DUI driver gets the mildest sentence. Grieving parents, being religious, console themselves that God will sort it out for them, if the driver needs further punishment. They carry on.

Now, in after-god world, there's no higher institution. Parents feel two years in jail is in no way enough for taking someone's life, accidentally or not, and the life of the whole family is in ruins. There's no legal way to proceed. What do you do?

As for TSC, the devil does not exactly seduce Judith. Their goals are not the same. The devil wants Steve to join them, wants him corrupt - and they try to enlist Judith. She, being sceptical, already from the beginning wants this show to end. The real scope and meaning of her actions come later. Still, the essence is that destroying god, you also destroy the devil.
She is completely like Jude in one aspect - they're both the necessary agents.

And the technical side of god's suicide - yes, he's omnipresent, but this is not a physical act, this is an act of will. Word becoming a body, body becoming a word. A ritual, if you like.

joanr16 said...

Parents feel two years in jail is in no way enough for taking someone's life.... There's no legal way to proceed. What do you do?

It's rare now (even in the U.S.) that a grieving family member commits a courtroom shooting in response to a lenient sentence, and I can't say if the incidents that do occur are spurred by a lack of belief in higher judgment. It's impossible to say for sure, but if there were no belief in God as the ultimate judge, perhaps human law would become stricter and more even-handed. I think most people empathize with the grief and frustration of the unjust situation you describe; I'd like to think human law would strive to avoid such situations if there were no God to appeal to.

The political examples I cited do show that a belief in God doesn't mean a person is going to leave justice or vengeance to God. Perhaps there's a cultural difference here; in the U.S., a vast number of everyday folks maintain a degree of belief that Europeans might find fanatical. I know many people who still think Bush was God's warrior, and who believe shooting abortion providers is an act of heroism, not hypocrisy. I've widely read and heard that the U.S. and the U.K. are very different, tonally, on the subject of God. Also, most Americans have no understanding at all of the distinction between "religion" and "spirituality," and their attitudes are derogatory toward those of us who accept the distinction. Rather than experiencing belief in God as a cushion against panic and despair, they often fall or are led into the trap of using God and His counterpart, the Devil, as excuses to avoid responsibility for their own actions.

Bottom line, I agree with Hedgehog that an excellent takeaway from TSC is: If the death of Steve Baxter can get people from “religion [or God] is the problem” to “is religion [God] really the problem”, then he’d really have died for humanity like his predecessor intended to! Very well said, and it underlines the highly complex nature of the film. The debate is an ancient and perpetual one, and simple answers never will suffice.

¡Oye Cristóbal! said...

Your take is still too dramatic =) Seriously though, it would indeed be quite a long process.

I've encountered American version of religiousness firsthand when I was in the States, so I do know what you mean.

So, what is the verdict: Is the ending just controversial, or controversial enough?

chiclit said...

Ok, first of all I am blown away by the quality and quantity of the discussion, have been monitoring it this morning and feel any thoughts I might are redunant. None the less, I find Joan's point about religion here in the US to be spot on, although I know many folks who are devout and liberal-they are not influential.

I cannot really examine religion without thinking how its become tied up to politics and to popular culture. Sorry. This is very different from Europe-the Blair approach vs Bush. Tony Blair thought it would be odd to talk of his religion while Bush did it all the time.

I honestly think if there was a second coming today, response would be fragmented. Those that believe would believe-those that found it at odds with their current religious beliefs would simply ignore it and watch media that didn't discuss=or sneer that it was a hoax. In todays world there can be more than one sets of facts apparently-and people would find a measure of comfort of responsibility or not.

Everyone has been brilliant and I agree with many of your points..I am intriguied that RTD a self proclaimed Atheist would tackle the subject and weave religious imagery through other work..

Hedgehog said...

I'd like to ask a new question, if I may.

"Has TSC made you ponder what _you_ would write into a 'third testament'?"

Because that's another effect the movie had on yours truly. It's something that sticks around, keeps nagging at the back of your mind after you're through watching the movie. What would you put in your epistles, and who would you address them to? What good advice for modern times should be included in the New New Testament? What would really have to be adapted for our time or stressed because it has become of new importance in our time?