Updated: Jun 29
Stories shape us. I was reminded of this by watching the the masterfully written sci-fi show Raised By Wolves on HBO Max. This powerful story is about two androids named Mother and Father, with some very human qualities, that have been given the responsibility of beginning a new "atheistic" human population on a new mysterious planet called Kepler-22b. Meanwhile, the “worshippers of Sol” who ultimately had brought the destruction of Earth through their religious zeal, are also trying to take possession of this new planet.
By the end of season 2 it was shaping some of my thoughts bringing up doubts about God and my faith. I began to realize it hardly had the neutral goal of entertainment; it was meant to shape its viewers, and give them the writer’s views on reality. This very well-written story has the bias of a scientistic, and naturalistic worldview. I would even go so far as to say that the show is a compelling case for atheism in narrative form. While it has far better writing than to simply demonize religion at every turn, it is ultimately operating from a worldview antagonistic to faith or religion.
The show taps into what many feel today about religion; that the zealous adherents to religion and belief bring destruction to the earth and countless people in the name of their beliefs. The worshippers of Sol are intentionally dressed in apparel similar to the clothing of soldiers in the Crusades, and there are countless other connections with Christianity among the “Worshippers of Sol.”
How Stories Create Alternate Realities
In this first article reflecting on the show Raised By Wolves and the power of story, I'd like to discuss how stories can create different scenarios where something the viewer or reader previously thought ridiculous now seems not only plausible, but likely. My goal will be to pull from various popular story lines (not just Raised By Wolves) to show how this is true.
I’ll start first with an example from another show: Once Upon a Time. This show effectively puts all the best and iconic fairy tale characters in the same town: Storybrooke. They are from another realm and have forgotten who they really are because an evil queen (in the “real” world named Regina) has caused them to forget their previous lives in the other realm that they come from. Now this whole show has potential as a biblical allegory, but I want to focus here on how the show can persuade the viewer of some modern beliefs without them even realizing it. My point here is not that the writers are somehow maliciously leading people to think in these ways but simply that our worldviews and biases always deep into the stories we produce.
In one episode, the character that plays Snow White (Mary Margaret in the real world) is in love with a man named David (Prince Charming in the other realm). Mary and David feel that they’ve always known each other, and that they should be together. This is because they actually are together in the other realm. The problem is that David is married to someone else in the real world.
Now, I don’t normally condone an affair, or divorcing your wife because you are in love with someone else, but this story had me rooting for this couple, because they really were supposed to be together. The show had created a scenario through mixing the real world with fantasy that had me rooting for an affair, a divorce, and most of all, true love.
While the show may not reflect real life, it does reflect many who fall in love with people who they are not married to and feel that they were really meant to be with that person, and not their spouse. Maybe they really are together in another realm and that’s why their feelings are so strong.
Raised By Wolves does something similar to support a scientistic belief system (note the difference between the word scientific and scientistic: Scientistic is not just referring to a belief in science or being scientific, but is a worldview, a philosophy, that science can explain all of reality, and is all of reality.) In the show, the earth was destroyed in a civil war between the worshippers of Sol and the atheists. The androids Mother and Father are sent to Kepler-22b to start a new atheist colony of humans, unaware that there are also worshippers of Sol there trying to claim the planet.
(Spoiler alert) As the show goes on, strange things start happening to some of the worshippers of Sol and the atheists that seem to reveal the supernatural involvement of the god Sol. These miracles at first glance appear to prove the existence of Sol, but eventually one discovers that there is an alien entity on the planet using these so-called supernatural events to manipulate people, both the worshippers of Sol and the atheists.
Also, every time someone witnesses a miracle or supernatural event it produces ill effects in that person. What I mean by “ill effects” is not physical, but moral. For instance, Marcus is a prominent character “converted” from atheism to worship Sol who becomes narcissistic and murderous because he has had these “revelations” that he interpreted as proving him to be a prophet and king. The so-called miracles turn him from a decent individual into an evil person. In his desperation to believe in a power higher than himself that gives his own life purpose, he loses his mind becoming narcissistic, delusional, and willing to justify anything in the name of Sol. His story reminds one of what a person goes through when they win the first time they go to a casino, which leads them to become a gambling addict the rest of their life because they assume they’ll be able to win again and again. Really, they aren’t winning anything and are giving everything they have to the casino with nothing in return.
Marcus’ wife Sue remains a staunch atheist through much of the show, wanting nothing to do with Marcus’ newfound religion. However, when Marcus’ wife eventually witnesses a miracle she decides to become a worshipper of Sol with Marcus, giving up her atheistic beliefs. As one of the writers explained, she gives up her beliefs to be happy which becomes her undoing.
The third season seems to be going in the direction of connecting this malevolent and manipulative alien entity to the events of earth in the past. In other words, the same alien entity that is manipulating people with “miracles” on Kepler 22-b was also likely active on the planet earth enlisting people to worship it so it could use them for it’s own self-centered purposes. So any so-called “miracles” that may have happened on earth were really just the manipulation of humanity by the “Entity.”
What’s my point? Raised By Wolves has created an alternate reality where even miracles can be explained through a naturalistic worldview. Supernatural events, or miracles, are explained not through a God, but through a highly evolved alien that manipulates nature to get what it needs or wants from those who do what it wants. Not only this, but the show aims to persuade the viewer that miracles believed to come from God don’t produce anything good any way. Even if there were miracles, they would either produce egotistical maniacs like Marcus or a gullibility and lack of self-sufficiency as in Marcus’ wife Sue. When you are immersed in the world of Kepler-22b this all seems plausible and logical. As in the show Once Upon a Time, through story Raised By Wolves produces scenarios that have the potential to get Christians questioning their beliefs faster than Richard Dawkins ever could.
Ultimately, this was a good challenge, and the doubts brought up helped me rethink how believing in miracles is plausible. I ended up reading the numerous testimonies in Craig Keener’s Miracles Today and reading C.S. Lewis’ philosophical defense of miracles. Ultimately, I got some good entertainment, it brought up some doubts for me, but my faith was ultimately strengthened.
C.S. Lewis and the Use of Stories
Many Christian writers today, including James K. A. Smith in Desiring the Kingdom, Richard Beck in Hunting Magic Eels, and Joshua McNall in Perhaps all note the superior power of story and novels in shaping worldviews and culture in a similar way that habits and practices usually produce human and spiritual development better than the simple input of information. For instance, In Desiring the Kingdom James K. A. Smith says:
“A vision of the good life captures our hearts and imaginations not by providing a
set of rules or ideas, but by painting a picture of what it looks like for us to flourish and
live well. This is why pictures are communicated most powerfully in stories, legends,
myths, plays, novels, and films rather than dissertations, messages, and monographs.”
What grabs hold of the imagination often grabs hold of the heart, shaping our desires, our loves, and lastly, what we believe. This is why Jesus saw fit to explain spiritual truths in the form of stories. Jesus knew the way to the heart was through the imagination.
C.S. Lewis also realized the power of stories. He recognized the power of a story to shape values and beliefs. In fact, he wrote his Ransom sci-fi trilogy at least in part, in response to H.G. Well’s novels. Lewis had a love-hate relationship with Well’s work: he loved the depth of story-telling, but hated the worldview that was being pushed through Well’s stories. So Lewis tried to create something new operating from his own views of what it means to be human to subvert the secular and disenchanted worldview of Wells.
As a proponent of scientism (the belief that the natural universe is all there is), Well’s novels proposed a secular worldview that depicted the universe as a cold and indifferent place. Faith in God in such a universe will only put one at a disadvantage, and discourage the self-sufficiency needed to survive. Lewis said that with his novel Out of the Silent Planet he was “trying to redeem for genuinely imaginative [and spiritual] purposes the form popularly known…as ‘science-fiction.’ ”
The Conscious and Sub-Conscious Persuasion of Stories
We should not underestimate the power of stories to shape our subconscious psyches and should at least be aware that what we can be shaped into certain views by what we watch and read. Some readers may misread what I'm saying here as puritanical, that I’m saying we should avoid watching anything that might shape us in a “worldly” way. No, what I am saying is that we ought to, like C.S. Lewis, read and view widely, appreciating the story-telling of people with other worldviews, while remaining able to provide our own critique. I pray for more C.S. Lewis’ in the world to produce stories that challenge secular narratives. I realize my thoughts in these articles will be woefully inadequate in addressing the storyline of Raised By Wolves because what’s really needed is another great story.
(Note: I recently learned Raised By Wolves was cancelled on HBO Max and will not be returning for a third season. No one is more disappointed than me. I'll be praying that they change their minds. :)