Why is it that so many religious liberals and progressives I meet love Dr. Who? I don’t believe it is entirely that the good doctor is an alien trying to save the universe and enforce intergalactic law, or that there’s all kinds of good geeky gadgets and toys, although these have a certain appeal. I believe it is that both the long-running BBC television series and liberal religion are grounded in an attitude of ultimate optimism. Bad things happen on Dr. Who. From episode to episode our hero might not always win. People die. Terrible things happen to characters we love. Actors playing the doctor go on to other roles and new ones are cast. But there’s a tangible hopefulness pervading the series, the fans, and progressive religionists. We may not know how, we may not know when, we may in fact just be suffering painful defeats, but we are justified in keeping on our way creating meaningful change. Dr. Who may be creating that change across light-years and galaxies, but every religious progressive knows that social and environmental changes to the good can feel just as far away.
“…liberalism holds that the resources (divine and human) that are available for the achievement of meaningful change justify an attitude of ultimate optimism.” – James Luther Adams
We share a trust in resourcefulness, in creativity under fire, in unforeseen possibilities that create wonderful results, in companions and colleagues met along the way, and in what appears to be small outposts of safety being much bigger and more significant than they first appear, like the TARDIS.
I find that when my stocks of ultimate optimism are low, I’m probably in need of a change in perspective, reminding myself both of all kinds of good I encounter regularly (giving thanks for such blessings), in revisiting times when I’ve been part of achieving something good (I think of this as reruns), and in revisiting favorite texts that encourage and inspire me (stories in syndication). Just like watching Dr. Who, sharing and connecting to these resources in support of ultimate optimism is more useful with others – in person, by phone, in congregations, and on Twitter and Facebook. But trust in the resourcefulness of life to create good is at the center of ultimate optimism, whether one is a Time Lord or religious progressive.
(Let me be clear that Dr. Who has no known affiliation with any religious group. I was just wondering at the love for the show by many religious liberals and progressives. James Luther Adams, however, was a known and identified religious liberal theologian and ethicist.)