The movie was a landmark and milestone for the prominent film director, Steven Spielberg. From the moment Richard Dreyfus has a ship hovering above his truck to the moment he encounters the mother ship on Devil’s Tower, the film captured the audience. That’s right. I’m talking about Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
There’s something about movies such as this that peak the curiosity of the viewer while maintaining a measure of mystery throughout. Is it the unknown? Is it the unbelievable? Is it a fascination for little beings with large heads? Whatever the case may be, it hardly needs to be argued that at least when it comes to film humanity is constantly looking beyond itself for something more.
In Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Dreyfus becomes obsessed with Devil’s Tower and finding out why it stands out so clearly in his mind. He goes there and witnesses something beyond the reaches of his imagination. He encounters an alien spaceship and then aliens. Similarly in Ridley Scott’s movie Alien, a ship receives a possible distress signal deep in space and lands on a foreign planet to investigate. Those investigating are enamored at the evidence of alien lifeforms, though they do not find a living alien just yet. Later, they discover a live alien and curiosity disappears as fear ensues. The Star Trek series, all of them, largely have been obsessed with exploring the unknown and searching for life and other worlds. Science Fiction movies typically wrestle with complex ethical issues, but in addition these issues there is also a common theme in many of them.
That theme is the quest for the unknown or unknowable. The search for something other, something beyond human experience and reasoning.
What is it, though, that makes us as human beings so drawn to a search for something beyond our world, our experience, our reasoning?
I believe it is because deep down inside us all, we all realize that there is something more than what we see. Something more than what we taste. Something more than what we enjoy. Something more that to work and party. Something more than to eat, drink, and be merry. Something more than to work and die. There is something more to life, but at the same time it is as though there is something interfering with our understanding of what that something is.
Scientists believe many things. There isn’t uniformity in science regarding some of the deep questions of existence. Yes, there is the Big Bang and there is Evolution, and many scientists do indeed believe in these, but what of our reasoning behind plumbing the depths and reaches of space (of which we’ve only nearly begun) and finding absolutely no evidence of life on other worlds yet still continuing the quest. Billions of dollars have been spent on such searches and quests, and it is commonly said that they are valuable for advancing in science or better understanding the universe in which we are a part.
Scientists often want to disconnect the quest for meaning and the search for answers to the deep questions from the individual and claim they are simply a part of progressing on the evolutionary ladder. The truth is that there are questions of existence and meaning within everybody. People can spend their lives numbing their intellect to such questions by drinking, partying, simply going through the routine of every day, or writing it off as nothing. Even then there is a conscious effort to not wrestle with the deep questions and problems of life. Why do people seek community? Why is there something rather than nothing? Why is there so much order and organization to the world we live in? Why do we exist? What is our purpose in life?
One way of writing this off is to simply say that it is all a delusion, our quest for significance and for meaning. Humanity is nothing more than an animal, an evolved animal, but an animal. Then, there is an appeal to survival of the fittest and how humanity is a great predator because of this particular stage in evolution. However, if that is what you hold to, then how do you justify feeling compassion for others or helping others in the world if you indeed hold to survival of the fittest? What about self-sacrifice? One would have to be psychotic or insane to put others before themselves, but many do this regularly. Survival of the Fittest makes logical sense, but the problem is you have to explain why we feel for others at all if this theory is true.
Sci-Fi films are great because they wrestle with ethical issues as well as theological-philosophical issues. They often treat some of the deeper questions of life and existence head on. The new Ridley Scott movie, Prometheus, appears no different. Mankind continues it’s quest for something great and beyond itself on a new adventure in space to the unknown. Will humanity like what it finds or become terrified of it’s discovery?
I believe the quest that these movies show so boldly are similar to the questions that we as individuals ask ourselves. Why do I exist? What is my purpose in life? The fact that we ask the question reveals that we haven’t a clue on our own. People try to see what “feels” right to them in life until they can say they “feel” happy, but the truth is that on our own part there is something sorely lacking in our understanding of ourselves and our purpose.
I believe the reason for this lack of natural understanding of the reason for our existence is because humanity has a sort of myopic disorder which only allows us to see many things that are wrong in the world, yet, for whatever reason not readily recognize solutions. We as human beings have a problem when it comes to understanding our nature, our origins. Our problem is a disorder that is both moral and spiritual. How can we understand the solution to our problem if the solution is beyond us as human beings? Can we know something that transcends our understanding? Is it intellectually arrogant to claim that all things are known within the confines of human reason or could there be something beyond what we can comprehend?
I believe that the problem of sin taints our thinking and intellectual capacities as human beings, and that God is the reason we exist as well and the purpose for our existence. God created us and the purpose to our existence is to properly ‘image’ God in the world by imitating Jesus Christ and doing the commands of Jesus Christ in our lives. This is more than an intellectual self-help, do this and that, but it’s a matter of belief, trust, and obedience. Our ultimate purpose is to glorifying and enjoy God while loving others.
Why do we feel the need to love? What is beauty without a comparison to something that is merely a lesser beautiful thing? How can injustice exist without an understanding of what is just and what isn’t?
These questions are deep, but I believe they direct and point us to something beyond ourselves much like Sci-Fi movies. They can and should point us to God, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will. It takes something beyond us to reach down into our existence and to reveal the Truth to us. As Christians, we believe that God has reached down into our existence and not only that taken on human flesh in order to proclaim Himself to us, bring glory to His name, and to save those who would believe in Him from the punishment of their sin.
(This is part 1 of a 2 post series on The Quest for Otherness. For part 2, please click here.)