The Twilight Zone and Catholic Theology Part 2: The Obsolete Man
I consider The Twilight Zone to be a legitimate vehicle for transmitting the Faith. The seeds of the Gospel can be found in strange places. The Twilight Zone episodes are each in their own way a morality tale. Some of them touch on the supernatural directly, others focus on fantasy, science fiction, psychological thriller, macabre and they almost always end with an unexpected twist. In part one, I examined how the episode, Five Characters in Search of an Exit serves as an allegory for life in the fallen world. Today, I want to consider The Obsolete Man, from season 2, episode 29. It serves as a prohetic warning about the dangers of a secular government imposing ideology and dictating man-made 'ethics'.
The Obsolete Man (Season 2,Episode 29) Synopsis
Romney Wordsworth is a librarian somewhere in the future. He is a believer in God and big fan of the Bible. The problem is that being a librarian, in this future authoritarian regime controlled by ‘The State’, is an obsolete profession. Since there are no more libraries and no more books, Wordsworth serves no useful function for the state. He is worse than a ‘non-essential’ worker, he is an 'obsolete man'. Therefore, he must be liquidated.
The episode begins with Wordsworth having to report to a board. Standing in front of a large table in the spotlight as the head of the State, the Chancellor is elevated on a large podium and stares down at him. There are state bureaucrats who are hearing his case. They all look the same, dress the same in their state issued uniforms and they are all of one ideology. After he makes the case for why he serves a purpose the Chancellor disagrees and finds him ‘obsolete’. He asks the apparatchiks and bureaucrats, “What is your finding in this matter?” They unanimously concur as they chant with one hive-mind, ‘Obsolete!, Obsolete!, Obsolete!’.
“Romney Wordsworth, the State finds you obsolete” declares the head. He is then sentenced to be executed. The head of the State explains that the regime is super-efficient in carrying out executions. Wordworth is allowed to choose the time and method of execution. He asks that it be televised and that it be carried out in his apartment. He then sends a note asking the Chancellor to meet him in his room. He secretly locks the door and explains that a bomb will be going off in a few minutes. The Chancellor panics and begs like a coward to be let out. Wordsworth lets him out and the bomb goes off as he makes it safely down the stairs. The next scene shows the Chancellor arriving at the board but he is put in the spotlight and declared ‘obsolete’ due to his public display of cowardice. He is then sentenced to death. He is seized upon as he cries out, “I am not obsolete!’.
What Pope John Paul II called ‘the Culture of Death’ and what Pope Benedict XVI called, ‘the Dictatorship of Relativism’ is now called by Pope Francis, ‘the Throw Away Culture’. All three of these monikers seem to converge and come to head in this episode of The Obsolete Man. What these popes were warning us about was the denial of the objective truth that human beings are made in the image of God and are the crown of creation. The Church teaches that the value of a human can never be reduced to the utilitarian extrinsics of work, skill, appearance, economic output or intellectual contribution. As Romney Wordsworth said, “No man is obsolete!’. God became human in Jesus-Incarnation, therefore human life is intrinsically sacred because of who and what they are, and not what they can do.
The 5th commandment, “Thou shall not kill” or better understood as ‘thou shall not murder’, applies to both individuals and to governments. It is especially grave when there is an imbalance of power between the authoritarian State and a single citizen. We see that the State has ruthlessly supplanted the moral authority of religion and the Bible. There is definitely a commandment five theme and a religious liberty theme.
Wordsworth has to hide his Bible since it has been outlawed. The hyper-secular State has 'proven' that there is no God so any religious liberty has long since evaporated. In fact, this future society is ‘book free’ which has an eerie prophetic feel since our schools libraries are rapidly being replaced with ‘digital resource centers’. Books have been supplanted by computers and iPhones. In Wordsworth’s book collection his Bible is most prized since it had been banned. When the government bans the Bible and censors free expression of religion in any area of life that is a red flag. It was the Catholic Church that gave us the greatest book of all, the Bible. The first half of Mass, the liturgy of the Word, is book centered. To ban the Bible would be to ban Christianity. Without an objective moral code which religion and the scriptures provide, the government has to create arbitrary, man-made ethics that has to be imposed with force. In a 'dictatorship of relativism', power always wins.
When it comes to human life the State mandates a Throw-away culture and a culture of death.
At one point the Chancellor lauds Hitler and Stalin for their utilitarian, anti-human de-population mindset…” their error was not one of excess. It was simply not going far enough. Too many undesirables were left around, and undesirables eventually form a core of resistance..Old people clutch at the past and won't accept the new. the sick, the maimed, the deformed, they fasten onto the healthy body and damage it, so we eliminate them. And people like yourself- they can perform no useful function for the state so we put an end to them.”
This is not that far off from what current ecological green extremists say about the negative impact or ‘footprint’ one human has on the environment. They go so far as to advocate for depopulation via abortion and euthanasia on the shaky grounds of climate change. It turns out, you are the carbon they want to eliminate.
Pope Francis, author of the 'green encyclical', Laudato Si, warned about this sick, perverted attitude, “The victims of this [throwaway] culture are precisely the weakest and most fragile human beings — the unborn, the poorest, the sick and elderly, the seriously handicapped, etc. — who are in danger of being ‘thrown away,’ expelled from a system that must be efficient at all costs.” (Pope Francis– Speech to a delegation from the Dignitatis Humanae Institute Dec. 7, 2013)
I will give Rod Serling the last word, “Any state, any entity, any ideology that fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of Man, that state is obsolete. A case to be filed under "M" for Mankind - in The Twilight Zone.”