The church is ailing – send for Dr Who

He has inspired devotion from a tiny band of followers, has sacrificed himself for the good of mankind and is destined to live for ever.

Now, Doctor Who has caught the attention of church leaders, who are encouraging clergy to study the science fiction series to learn about its religious parallels.

They have been urged to use examples from the programme in their sermons in an attempt to make Christianity more relevant to teenagers.

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At a conference last week, vicars watched Doctor Who clips that were said to illustrate themes of resurrection, redemption and evil.

It analysed the similarities between the Doctor and Christ, and whether daleks are capable of change.

The number of under-16s attending Church of England services fell by almost 20 per cent between 2000 and 2006, but the Church believes that improving communication can reverse that trend.

Andrew Wooding, a spokesman for the Church Army, which organised the conference, said that its intention was to give vicars new ideas for conveying their message.

“There are countless examples of Christian symbolism in Doctor Who, which we can use to get across ideas that can otherwise be difficult to explain.”

“Clergy shouldn’t be afraid to engage with popular culture as for many young people television plays a large role in their thinking,” he said.

Although an atheist, Russell T Davies, the chief writer of the current series has previously acknowledged the benefits of religion.

“I think religion is a very primal instinct within humans, a very good one, part of our imagination,” he said.

While he has talked about the humanism in his work he has never admitted to putting overtly religious messages in the story-lines.

However, with sessions including titles such as “Meaningful Monsters: Daleks through the decades”, the clergy looked at several episodes that could have religious meaning.

Examples highlighted for their symbolism included the Doctor ascending with angels, Rose Tyler inspired by a vision and Daleks terrorising mankind.

The Tardis was considered to represent a Church by being an ordinary object that points to something higher while the Doctor was likened to Christ in his willingness to sacrifice himself for others.

The Rev Andrew Myers, vicar at St Aidan’s in Leeds, attended the course and said that he would use Doctor Who in future sermons.

“We saw the Doctor persuaded to save a family of Pompeians in one of the most recent episodes, surely a reference to Genesis and Abraham’s bargaining with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah,” he said.

“There are many themes relevant to spirituality, such as the Daleks as supreme embodiments of moral evil. Even the more cynical have been convinced that this immensely successful series provides a wonderful toolkit.”

The Rt Rev Tony Porter, Bishop of Sherwood, said it was vital that clergy adapt to the culture around them.

“It’s a great idea as Doctor Who is hugely popular and it’s critical to identify with where people are.”

Barry Letts, a former producer of Doctor Who, said it was right to look at the series for religious parables: “I think it’s inevitable because of Britain’s cultural heritage that a long-running programme about the fight between good and evil will have some Christian themes as a backdrop.”

The Church of England said: “Drawing spiritual parallels with aspects of contemporary culture is meat and drink to anyone with a vocation to make the good news of the Gospel known afresh in every generation. Doctor Who is a good example.

“When you make the right external connections, the internal effect, like the inside of the Tardis, can be much bigger.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday May 4, 2008.
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