Netflix’s “Black Mirror” is one of the most popular shows on the streaming platform. It’s also one of the bleakest. Each episode deals with a different case of technology run amok–whether it be the dangers of virtual reality or the possible future of social media.
But perhaps its most disturbing episodes center around the nature of consciousness. Several episodes deal with the idea that, in the future, it may be possible to copy one’s entire consciousness–thoughts, memories, personality, everything–into a digital form.
Warning: spoilers ahead.
In one episode, it seems that in the future, a busy individual can create an exact digital copy of themselves and confine to a voice-activated device placed within their home. This digital assistant performs all the home automation for their “master,” like turning on the lights in the morning or playing music. The disturbing part is that the digital copy doesn’t know it’s a copy–it’s basically a clone of a real person trapped forever in a digital form, now robbed of all their hopes, dreams, and freedom.
Another episode sees a woman in a coma. Her husband, desperate to have her back, consents to extracting her consciousness and placing it side-by-side with his own, inside his own brain. She’s able to live vicariously through him, and communicate with their son by relaying messages. But familiarity breeds contempt. Now desperate for some alone time, the husband is informed that her consciousness can be moved to an inanimate object (in this case, a teddy bear). The husband agrees.
The wife awakens inside a teddy bear given to her son, but is unable to move the stuffed animal or communicate in any way, save two predetermined responses. She is doomed to live this way forever–unheard, confined, and once the child grows out of his “toy,” entirely forgotten.
The final episode of season four is called “Black Museum,” and it’s the primary example of what we’ve been discussing. In it, a man named Clayton Lee is accused of murder (later we discover he’s innocent) and sentenced to death is offered a way out. He is told that if he signs a consent form, they can copy his consciousness to a digital format, essentially giving him life beyond the electric chair. Lee is reluctant, but he’s told that his family will be well looked-after if he agrees. He does so.
Lee is put to death. He wakes up some time later, as a projected hologram confined to a jail cell. This jail cell is an exhibit inside a museum of technological curiosities, called the “Black Museum.” He is disorientated and frightened, but is quickly told that his sole purpose is to relive the moment of his death over and over, all for the sake of the Black Museum’s patrons. Lee is restrained in a digital electric chair and a switch is placed on the outside of his cell. Visitors can pull the lever and, despite Lee’s pleas for mercy, he will be shocked to agonizing death only to be “reset” for the next guest. This goes on as long as the museum is in business, and unfortunately for the poor man, he is a very popular attraction.
I told you it was bleak. These episodes, in particular, shake us to our core because it’s hard to imagine a fate worse than to be tortured for eternity. These digital copies of people are fully sentient and able to feel boredom and pain, but they’re sentenced to live in their respective states forever.
It is perhaps even more disturbing that this is exactly what the majority of Christianity teaches will happen to the wicked after they die. Not just murderers and rapists, either. Indeed, everlasting agony waits for anyone who refuses to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
It’s difficult to reconcile the idea of a loving, kind God with the concept of His creation burning alive forever. In this point of view, the damned are very much like the digital copy of Clayton Lee: trapped forever in eternal suffering. So what does that make God? If not the person pulling the lever, God is the museum’s curator–observing from a distance, indifferent to our pleas for mercy.
This concept skews our image of God from loving benefactor and twists Him into a vengeful deity just waiting for us to screw up. That’s a God few would find appealing, much less one to worship.
The Good News
Fortunately, the Bible tells us differently. Ezekiel 33:11, for example, paints a very different image of God:
As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?
The fact is, the concept of eternal suffering isn’t found in the Bible. The dead, both wicked and saved, lie in their graves until the Second Coming (Job 21:30, Ecclesiastes 9:5). Hell, as presented in the Bible, is not everlasting torture, but everlasting punishment (Matthew 25:46). Those in hell do not have eternal life like those in Heaven; rather, their punishment is severe but brief. The effects of that punishment, however, are irreversible and everlasting.
The God of the Bible doesn’t want anyone to be left out of Heaven. But we are given free will, and we can choose to turn away from Him.
At the day of judgement, those who turned away from God will not desire to enter Heaven. For the unrepentant, Heaven would be a very unpleasant experience. This is why God gives us every opportunity to accept His life for us, be He will never force it. And unlike Clayton Lee, it won’t be a single bad decision that lands us in hell. In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis puts it this way:
The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.” There is always something they insist on keeping, even at the price of misery.
The image of the “afterlife” presented in Black Mirror is far-fetched, to be sure. But the horror it elicits is very real. Many, many people have turned from a relationship with God because their idea of Him is fundamentally flawed. God doesn’t want anyone to suffer, and a heart of love would never condemn someone to eternal torment. One more quote from C.S. Lewis, again from the Great Divorce, sums it up perfectly.
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”