The basic idea behind humanism is that humanity can, against all the odds and in the face of overwhelming evidence, be good. In the absence of God or gods, we can achieve greatness. It’s faith for people without faith.
I know there are all sorts of complex schools of thought behind humanism, but for the purposes of this TV essay that’s going to be the baseline of the concept.
At its core, humanism, like any philosophy, is about making sense of why death exists. Humanism is about making sense of the meaning of human existence in the face of an indifferent universe and an inevitable ending. The answer, in humanism, is always people—which is another way of saying that love saves the day, when you think about it. People are what gives life meaning while it’s here, people are what care about us when the universe doesn’t, and people are what is left when life ends.
Science Fiction has a long humanist history. “Star Trek” is probably the most famous humanist text in existence. Gene Rodenberry, Robert Heinlein, and Joss Whedon are just a few science fiction writing humanists. The idea is that, in the future when a lot or most people have left religion behind, what will replace it is a certain faith in humanity.
“Doctor Who” is very humanist. There is no capital G God in the Doctor Who universe. And traditional ideas of divinity are regularly trashed by the show. The Doctor himself technically qualifies as a god, but he is far from a divine figure: he’s flawed, changeable, and has a habit of failing catastrophically.
What the Doctor himself believes in is people. In a big and complicated universe, there are people, using their imaginations to make sense of the world around them, and forging ahead no matter how great the obstacles.
What many people may not have noticed is that this past season was actually a fantastic humanistic story. In an indifferent universe, where there is no one watching over us, all that is left are people, and what we mean to each other. That’s the story of the seventh season of Doctor Who: the answer to the indifference of the universe and the inevitability of death is people.
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