Futurama, Santa Claus, and the Opinio Legis

I try to teach the teens in my church to search for the spiritual message of any given entertainment venue. We’ll usually attempt to watch a movie about every month and then talk about what the message is. Whether it’s Jesus being “hidden” by Batman’s sacrifice to cover up the misdeeds of a villain in Dark Knight or talking about the nature of love based on Twilight, there are spiritual messages everywhere – good and bad.

Even Saw II has a spiritual message. Can you find it? Do you dare?

And then we come to Futurama.

Futurama is a cartoon series that focuses on a man accidentally cryogenically frozen in the year 1999 (well, he fell into the cryogenic unit right as the countdown for 2000 hit zero, so you could say he fell in right at the flip into the big round number). He gets thawed out a thousand years later. Hijinks ensue.

It’s a series my wife and I enjoy. We’re actually rewatching the series now, about an episode every weeknight. Every time we’ve come to the holiday episodes, though, I’m struck by how clearly the show exhibits the opinio legis.

What? You’ve never heard of the opinio legis? You have one, though it’s a term usually reserved by theologians. Let me allow a smarter man than I to explain:

“All people by nature come into this world with the attitude that they can do something to secure their salvation. We call this idea the opinion of the law (opinio legis). Thus, throughout history we see that people have rejected the biblical teaching that we are saved by grace alone. They have either taught that “I am saved by me alone” or “Jesus and me equal salvation,” or they have limited God’s grace to a select few.” (Lyle Lange, God So Loved the World, pg. 232-3)

So, how does the geeky sci-fi animation Futurama exhibit the doctrine that says we do something to earn our salvation?

Enter: Santa Claus.

Wouldn't you want your child to sit on this fellow's lap and go on for hours about everything he wants?

You see, in the world of Futurama, someone tried to make a Santa Claus robot to hand out toys to good children around the worlds. The only problem? In the esteemed words of Prof. Wikipedia: “Unfortunately, due to a programming error, the jolly robotic saint soon turns into a mad murderer when his standards are set too high and he will kill anyone who has been naughty.”

...that is, everyone but Dr. Zoidberg, who deserves a pogo stick. Completely random!

It’s a homicidal robot intent on punishing every last man, woman, and child every December 25th. Honestly, the episode where the main characters decide to take down the deadly fiend has some of the best music in the series. I laugh heartily every time I view it.

But here’s the thing: This version of Santa Claus actually believes the truth. It’s standards aren’t set too high. We don’t deserve toys on Christmas. We don’t deserve a jovial fat man delivering us treats. We do deserve the beating the Futurama version of Santa Claus seeks to give – and we deserve far worse.

By thinking that this Santa Claus is delusional, Futurama shows that it believes all people must have something good in them. We don’t deserve punishment. After all, we’re nice, not naughty! Santa Claus, bringing on the law, is the bad guy. The people who fight him to release the cosmos from his steely grip are the good guys.

And in that, we see some glimmer of hope.

We do need someone to release us from the law – but not because the law is bad. It’s because what the law says is true. We really are that bad. We do deserve punishment.

It’s a good thing that someone went to fight for us. He didn’t fight the law, though. He obeyed it. He didn’t attempt to take out the law so we could be free from it. He allowed the law to destroy him, instead. And as a result, we are free.

Oh, and that guy’s alive. Maybe you’ve heard of him. He’s called Jesus.

Only in science fiction could we have a story like this, where an insane Santa Claus robot represents what the law truly says. (And only in science fiction could we have a human, a cyclops, and another robot team up with enslaved Neptunian elves to fight him.) It reveals something about us humans: we don’t like admitting how bad we are, and we’ll fight that idea to our dying breath – and we’ll mock the idea, too, turning it into a robotic harbinger of death that we can defeat.

It’s a good thing that the Holy Spirit reveals the truth to us… so that we can see all the more clearly a Savior who truly does free us from sin.

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