In this segment of "The Twilight Zone" and Atheism, I'm going to take a look at one of the program's most popular episodes: "Time Enough at Last".
For those who have not seen this classic episode, it follows a thick-spectacled man who is obsessed with reading. He works as a teller at a bank, where he is frequently sidetracked from his duties because of his reading habit. When his boss brings up the issue, he explains that his wife won't let him read at home. His employer is unamused by this, and forbids him to read on the job anymore.
The day after this confrontation, our protagonist takes a newspaper with him on his lunch break. Looking for a quiet place to read, he decides to cloister himself into the bank's vault. While he is there, a hydrogen bomb is dropped on the town, destroying the entire area. The protagonist survives only because he was secure in the vault, and emerges to witness the absolute devastation. He discovers the corpse of his employer and the remains of his house during his explorations. He locates a stock of food, and concludes that he will be able to survive on what he has found (contamination aside). After a day or so, he realizes how bored he is with nothing to do, and decides to take his own life. Just prior to pulling the trigger, he recognizes the remains of a public library, with all of the books in tact. He immediately becomes estatic and puts away his thoughts of suicide. He then plots out his reading schedule for the coming year with stacks upon stacks of books, giddy with the joy of the discovery. Just as he is about to delve into the first, his glasses fall off of his face and shatter on the library steps. He begins weeping, uttering "there was time now..." as the camera pans away.
So, how can this relate to atheism?
To begin, I should point out that although this is a specifically famous epiisode of TZ, it is relatively aformulaic for the series. Typically, TZ episodes act as morality tales, involving a sort of karmic justice to the theme. The bad characters get what they deserve in the end. However, in this episode, the protagonist is not a villain. He isn't a nazi or a racist or a murderer. He is just a man who faces daily abuses, who wants nothing more than to read. Instead of being handed a paradise to make up for his sad life, he is handed a black card of fate (or so it would seem).
The ending can be called nihilistic, but I prefer to label it as naturalistic (rather, "unnaturalistic"). In this story, there is no all-powerful being running the show. The bomb falls, the populous is killed, and there is no divine interference. This people were not sinners or villains; just a casual populous of a town. The ending, as well, is not due to the supernatural interference of a diety. The man simply drops his glasses. None of the action, in fact, is supernatural at all. Everything that occurs is done on a human level. In this sense, what we are presented with is a tale of an environment that is entirely ambivalent to the presence of our protagonist. Not malevolent, mind you, but ambivalent. Nothing supernatural goes out of the way to torture anyone in this story. Typically in a naturalistic story, a man is presented with a conflict with nature. In this case, however, his conflict is with a nature imposed by humanity (the blast and fallout). Aside from the presence of a bomb explosion in the place of a flood or a hurricane, "Time enough at Last" is a naturalistic tale. Thus, I refer to it as "unnaturalistic".
There is no creator, no supernatural justice, and no divine reassurance for the viewer. This episode is a look into the darkest corners of humanity itself. Keep in mind, this episode first aired in 1959, during the height of the Cold War. The concept of a bomb dropping on any given day was a very real fear. Keep also in mind that the 50s was a time of rabid religiosity (fighting "godless communists"; also when the pledge was altered): it was one of the few consolations Americans took when facing the nuclear threat. Presenting a realistic, naturalistic view of the aftermath on the homeland was thus all the more shocking. This episode is thus a masterpiece of horror: it drives into a tangible fear within the hearts of the viewership, brings it to the surface, and puts it right into the face of the audience. This is why "Time Enough at Last" is memorable, and why it has stood the test of time.
Anyway, I have a few more TZ episodes I am going to do in the forseeable future; but I may switch my focus over to Doctor Who for a bit just to mix it up. For those of you who are reading these (I may be assuming too much there), I would love any feedback that you may have. I'll try to update again before the week is up. Peace, heathens!