Get ready for more wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff, as the boys from the Dwarf are about to encounter The Inquisitor… a creature of myth, known only to Kryten as a dark fable, a simulant who outlasts time, and having discovered that there is no God, takes it upon himself to go back and prune away the wasters, expunge the wretched and delete the worthless. So our heroes are in deep smeg when the Inquisitor turns up, briefly possesses Lister in order to announce himself in the voice of Zuul from out of Ghostbusters, and sets up his court on board Red Dwarf.
It’s a fun little episode that threatens the status quo, really raising the stakes for at least half the team; it helps that the story plays with time to good effect, and I’m a big fan of stories that do that. And at the same time, it throws up a lot of philosophical questions – not least of which is ‘what is the purpose of existence?’
The first thing that strikes me about the Inquisitor is that he’s just like Douglas Adams’ Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged but with a bigger chip on his shoulder.
The first thing of any consequence that strikes me about this episode is that the authors have very definitely set out the theology of Red Dwarf: there isn’t one, because there is no God, there is only justice as meted out by the Inquisitor. It even appears that Kryten has lost his belief in Silicon Heaven during this episode.
Nonetheless, I’m going to go right ahead and find some theology in this episode, because, well, with its themes of judgment and a Godless universe, it’s pretty hard not to. So here goes…
After millions of years alone, he finally reaches the conclusion that there is no god, no afterlife, and the only purpose of existence is to lead a worthwhile life.
Rimmer is first to face the Inquisition, having already been reduced to a blubbering wreck by Kryten’s helpful insistence that the object was to lead a worthwhile life; and the first to discover that you cannot lie to the Inquisitor – because you cannot lie to yourself.
Putting aside the argument that we are, in fact, quite capable of lying to ourselves on some level (most often about what constitutes a worthwhile life), I wonder if Rimmer was justified in complaining that no-one ever told him that it didn’t matter that he wasn’t a great philanthropist, he simply had to make a contribution, no matter how small.
Well – SPOILER ALERT! – apparently, because of his own low standards, Rimmer was judged to have done the best he could, therefore earning the right to live. I’m sure that should say something about our shallow and self-serving culture.
The Cat, on the other hand, is convinced he has lived a worthwhile life just by virtue of being so gorgeous. The fact that he – SPOILERS! – also gets let off the hook makes me wonder about this Inquisitor’s morals – but then I remember that they judged themselves, and no matter how much we’ve squandered our lives, somehow we can always justify it, by our own screwed up values at least.
Lister, on the other hand, knows there’s more to life, we’ve seen him being the philosopher of the crew in many previous episodes; he could be more than a space bum, and he knows it – but he’s lazy, and that’s what get’s him in trouble in the end.
But where it gets really interesting is with Kryten:
INQUISITOR KRYTEN: Well, Kryten? Justify yourself.
KRYTEN: I’m not sure I can.
INQUISITOR KRYTEN: But surely your life is replete with good works? There can be few individuals who have lived a more selfless life.
KRYTEN: But I am programmed to live unselfishly. And therefore, any good works I do come not out of fine motives, but as a result of a series of binary commands I am compelled to obey.
INQUISITOR KRYTEN: Well, then, how can any mechanical justify himself?
KRYTEN: Perhaps only if he attempted to break his programming and conduct his life according to a set of values he arrived at independently.
INQUISITOR KRYTEN: Your argument invites deletion.
KRYTEN: The rules are yours, not mine.
Taking Kryten’s character arc as a whole I think there could be some holes made in this argument, but rather than debate that, let’s just look at that conversation. If Kryten is selfless by programming only, his good works don’t count. But if he were to break that programming and make his own choices, based on his own values… he would have to justify himself. And as we see with poor Krytie, that’s easier said than done.
It’s a sermon staple that God could have programmed humans to be selfless and serve Him/each other unquestioningly, but he chose instead to give us free will, so that our good works would be by choice and not some binary compulsion. Because of that, we will also one day have to justify ourselves – again, easier said than done.
So what’s the answer?
Well, in the Red Dwarf universe, we would stand before the Inquisitor, and see not him, but ourselves.
In a universe where the God of the Bible is real and is the ultimate judge of all, when we stand before Him and He lifts his visor, we will not see ourselves; but God might. If we accept that Christ is real, God – the Judge – will lift his visor and see not us, but His own Son.
OK, I know that metaphor needs some work, but the point is this: you don’t have to be a Saint, you don’t have to be anything special – just grab what God gives you, don’t be lazy with it, and if Judgment Day comes, well, you can’t say nobody told you…