As one who writes non-fiction spiritual topics as a pastor and blogger as well as fantasy fiction, I tend to like finding ways of blending the two together (my fantasy fiction would, therefore, be labeled among the “Christian Spec-fic” category). So it probably comes as no surprise that I am a huge Rod Serling fan. He certainly used speculative fiction to comment on the world around him. Plus, since I was born and raised in the Finger Lakes area of Upstate N.Y. (his old stomping grounds) and having visited his gravesite and places that influenced the setting of episodes of The Twilight Zone, as well as places he’s mentioned in his stories, helps.
But one of the things that intrigued me as I recently finished watching the aforementioned Twilight Zone series in its entirety, was this: I think that the world in which we now live would not surprise Serling one bit. But unfortunately, greatly disappoint him. Why? Because through his talents, he prophetically dug deep down and gave us a mirrored image at something we really didn’t want to see–ourselves. He gave us a warning sign about the human condition–from not only the world in which he lived, but also of the world to come.
Though, of course, in some ways, our world today isn’t that much different than it was during his own day (Serling passed in 1975). In fact, we’re really not that much different than we were in the days of The Old Testament. Humanity is humanity, both good and bad. The things in which he often addressed in his series–selfishness, greed, prejudice, pride, and power–has been innate and among us since The Garden. And unfortunately, it will continue until The New Jerusalem.
This television series, which celebrates its 60th anniversary next year, tackled all of those issues and more and is just as poignant today as it was back then.
Sure, we don’t have giant gremlins wreaking havoc on the wing of a plane; we don’t have aliens promising to ‘serve’ mankind; we do not have ‘all the time in the world’ to catch up on our favorite books because we are the only survivor of a nuclear holocaust.
In many cases, episodes such as those were for pure thrill-seeking entertainment. Others took a more lighthearted approach. But then there were those that were not. Some were more than that.
Serling was a World War II South Pacific veteran, and suffice it to say, he received a first-hand education on the human condition and became wary of the fate of our species–whether it was through nuclear holocaust or through self-destructive methods of moral vices previously mentioned. His goal was to preserve society by preserving humanity.
He looked at the past, looked at the present, and then carefully calculated the trajectory of where the future was heading. He gave us a clear warning that if we kept heading in that direction, we just might end up in a place where we might not recognize ourselves anymore.
And here we are.
Sure, in some instances, we are better people than we were 60 years ago. Yes, our prejudices are less and we are no longer living in a cold war. But in other instances–we are becoming more ‘obsolete’ with the advent of societal changes. Remember, his attempt was to preserve humanity in order to change society. But how can that be done now when we’re living in the age in which he warned us about? An age of increased technology, an obsession with beauty and plastic surgery; plus pressures of social conformity and a lack of individuality and traditional values?
These were the very things Serling was warning us about. The real horror (if you want to call The Twilight Zone horror) was not the plight of what happened to the victims on screen, but that we are essentially living in The Twilight Zone and are just fine with it. Yes, there’s nothing new under the sun, but like a virus, sin continually takes on a new form, subtly mutating into something that we cannot recognize until it’s too late.
What are we losing? Who are we becoming? And where is the trajectory heading 60 years from now? If the trajectory continues the way it is currently going, society’s next theological question will not be about ‘who is God’ as a spiritual being but will look to a physical human being–a world leader, a world system. Why? Well, for one, The Bible tells us it is inevitable. But the amazing thing is, as the world gets smaller, we can actually see it looming on a global scale. Our global society is looking horizontally rather than vertically. We are looking at the man as god, not God as God. We are looking at the divide of political ideologies as our next ‘religious war,’ and for some, to a political savior.
But no matter what the problem is, God made the universe in such a way that nothing can be fixed without Him. Yes, for all of the problems in society, and for all of our efforts to try and solve them on our own and without His partnership, we only make things worse–more chaotic. Like I said, not much has changed in 6,000 years. If anything, we’re right back in the city of Babel. It seems at one time, the world wanted the hand of God. It reached out to Him. At least gave Him some credit. Not anymore. “God? What is God? We are the god.”
As his daughter, Anne recently posted on Facebook:
“A sickness known as hate. Not a virus, not a microbe, not a germ. Highly contagious. Deadly in its effects. Don’t look for it in The Twilight Zone. Look for it in the mirror. Look for it before the light goes out altogether.” Rod Serling
I Am The Night Color Me Black
–AS I KNEW HIM: My Dad Rod Serling
And here is a good example from this scene in his piece The Obsolete Man (1961):
Chancellor: Since there are no more books, Mr. Wordsworth, there are no more libraries. And of course, it follows that there is very little call for the services of a librarian. Case in point: A minister. A minister would tell us that his function is that of preaching the word of God. And, of course, it follows that since the State has proven that there is no God, that would make the function of a minister somewhat academic, as well.
Romney Wordsworth: There *is* a God!
Chancellor: [shocked silence] You are in error, Mr. Wordsworth; there is no God! The state has proven that there is no God!
Romney Wordsworth: You cannot erase God with an edict!
Serling opened The Obsolete Man with this narration, and I will close with it to give you a little something to think about:
“You walk into this room at your own risk because it leads to the future, not a future that will be but one that might be. This is not a new world, it is simply an extension of what began in the old one. It has patterned itself after every dictator who has ever planted the ripping imprint of a boot on the pages of history since the beginning of time. It has refinements, technological advances, and a more sophisticated approach to the destruction of human freedom. But like every one of the super-states that preceded it, it has one iron rule: logic is an enemy and truth is a menace. – This is Mr. Romney Wordsworth, in his last forty-eight hours on Earth. He’s a citizen of the State but will soon have to be eliminated, because he’s built out of flesh and because he has a mind. Mr. Romney Wordsworth, who will draw his last breaths – in The Twilight Zone.”