Last night I watched the 1996 film adaptation of the classic H.G. Wells novel The Island of Dr. Moreau. Though meant to be serious and deep, I found the movie, starring Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer, quite funny due to the poor acting and special effects. But this well-known sci-fi got me thinking nonetheless, due to its portrayal of power and its implications.
In it, Dr. Moreau (played by Brando) appoints himself ruler over a menagerie of genetic mutants on a deserted island. These man-beasts are the product of his misguided attempt to create a more ‘pure’ human species. To Moreau’s delight, they worship him as their god and ‘father’ and live by his code of law. The film explores the questionable ethics of the doctor’s experiments, and the unfortunate result of taking on a God-like role in people’s lives.
But it’s not only crazy scientists seeking deity status that get themselves into trouble. There’s at least a small part in every one of us that desires power and authority over others. After all, Adam and Eve were created to rule. In Genesis 1:28, God instructs the first couple:
“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
But, if you know the story, these two are soon tempted by Satan and rebel against God’s perfect plan for them, changing history. Since then, we have always struggled to rule well, and with justice.
For example, my country Australia is responsible for poor decision-making regarding its indigenous inhabitants.
During 1869 and 1969, Australian federal and state government agencies and church missions followed policies which led to the forcible removal of Aboriginal children from their families. These kids – believed to form up to one tenth of the indigenous population born during this period – were placed in institutions, or with white families due to the belief that they could be turned into “useful citizens”.
The Stolen Generation is the term we use to describe these children of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent. Our prime minister made a formal apology for these acts of power in 2008. But sadly, the ripple effect of this loss of legacy, culture and dignity is still felt.
We can rule wisely, or we can rule poorly. Every minute, every day.
Lording our power over the weak and vulnerable can look like acts of aggression or omission… And often we do things to others out of our own ignorance or brokenness.
For those of us who live in the wealthy west, we have supreme power comparatively speaking. Every financial decision is weighty because we have so much opportunity to change the world beyond our beautiful, functional homes.
Sins of omission account for some of the world’s greatest atrocities. We hide our faces from suffering because it’s socially acceptable to do so.
Guilt trips rarely convict, but awareness of our God-given power and the opportunity to use it well might just get us thinking more about our personal role in changing the world. In our own special way.
Turning our minds from our first-world suffering to others in our neighbourhood and beyond can be good for us. But let’s not be tokenistic.
We aren’t God, but we are employed by him to affect change in the environment we live in. Let’s keep fighting to defend our children, other people’s children, and the poor and vulnerable. Everybody needs someone to go into bat for them because there are a heck of a lot of people playing God out there. And there are even more who hide their faces, myself included. Let’s ask for a new vision and purpose within the small time frame we have. And let’s also remember that Jesus goes before us. Paving the way, providing answers, and giving us the strength and discernment we need for each new day on the ‘islands’ he’s given us.
But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
take God seriously.