Finding Faith in the Fifth Dimension
Religious content in The Twilight Zone? The sci-fi fantasy show about time travel, homicidal dolls and aliens with hostile intent? The idea may seem absurd at first.
Yet the deeper one looks for religious messages — and Lent certainly seems like a good time to do it — the more one finds them popping up, both directly and indirectly. (Spoilers ahead, casual Zone viewers.)
For starters, consider how often we see the Devil or one of his emissaries. In “Printer’s Devil”, for example, Burgess Meredith plays a man who helps a small-town publisher on the brink of suicide achieve financial success by ferreting out scandal stories that smash the competition. He then unfurls a contract stating that only by agreeing to relinquish his soul can the publisher cement this arrangement.
In the most famous “Devil” episode (“The Howling Man”), a man on a hiking trip stumbles onto an abbey during a terrible storm. His surprise at finding that the monks keep a man who howls loudly in a locked cell is topped only when the head monk tells him that it’s Satan himself. Swayed by the prisoner’s desperate pleas of innocence, he unlocks the cell, only to discover that the man is indeed the Devil.
And who can forget Mr. Cadwallader’s Satanic overtures in “Escape Clause,” Miss Devlin’s diabolical machinations in “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville”, or Pip’s evil laugh in “A Nice Place to Visit”?
The fate of one’s soul arises even in episodes where the Devil is absent. In “Judgment Night”, a man with amnesia awakens on a British passenger vessel in 1942, and is seized by an inexplicable certainty that the ship will be torpedoed by a German U-boat. His forecast proves correct … whereupon we learn that HE is the Nazi U-boat captain, and the entire scenario is revealed as his personal hell to relive endlessly for all eternity. We even hear a fellow Nazi warn that their war crimes could merit damnation “in the eyes of God.”
In “Deaths-Head Revisited,” a former member of the Third Reich makes a gloating return to the concentration camp where he tortured and killed his victims. He is greeted by a man who was a prisoner there, only to discover that the man is one of many ghosts who haunt the place … and they’re ready to put the unrepentant Nazi on “trial”. He is sentenced to insanity, then told: “This is only the beginning. Your final judgment will come from God.”
We see religious content in other episodes as well. In “The Obsolete Man,” a persecuted librarian reads from a contraband Bible. In “Execution,” a preacher reminds a sneering convict in a noose about his “immortal soul.” In “I Am The Night — Color Me Black“, another preacher tells a condemned murderer not to return the hatred of the mob yelling for his death. When the murderer mutters how people like to “get with the majority,” the preacher remarks, “The minority must’ve died on the cross 2,000 years ago.”
Perhaps the most overtly religious content comes in an underrated episode called “The Gift.” The townspeople of a small Mexican village are frightened by the arrival of a mysterious visitor who, despite his human appearance, they feel certain is an alien from outer space (who gives the name Williams). The only one not afraid of him is a little boy known as Pedro, who chats comfortably with him:
Pedro: “Where you’re from, is there a God?”
Williams: “The same God, Pedro.”
Pedro: “I wonder.”
Pedro: “If God were to come to earth, would they find him so strange that they would be afraid, and would they shoot him?”
Williams: “Did not His son come once, Pedro?”
Pedro: “And they nailed Him to a cross.”
Williams: “And then spent 2,000 years learning to believe in Him. All things take time, Pedro.”
I could name still other examples, but you get the idea.
You certainly don’t have to be religious to enjoy The Twilight Zone. But if you are, such references can’t help but elicit a smile. Most TV shows act as if religious faith doesn’t exist. Still others mock it. How refreshing to see that Rod Serling — a Jewish Unitarian who always celebrated Christmas — made sure The Twilight Zone took a more positive and inclusive path.
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!
Posted on 02/29/2016, in Twilight Zone and tagged A Nice Place to Visit, Deaths-Head Revisited, Escape Clause, Execution, I Am The Night -- Color Me Black, Judgment Night, Of Late I Think of Cliffordville, Printer's Devil, Rod Serling, The Gift, The Howling Man, The Obsolete Man, Twilight Zone. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.