I recently binge-watched the BBC America show Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. It’s one of those rare sci-fi shows that’s delightfully smart and unique without trying too hard, which isn’t too surprising, I suppose, since it’s based on a series of books by the ever-witty Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). It’s also, I admit, obscure enough to appeal to my love/hate relationship with my deep-seated nonconformism.
It’s a hard show to explain, but essentially it follows the exploits of two characters who are not psychic, exactly, but are in some way more tuned into the universe than average people. They believe in the holistic — in this case meaning “interconnected” — nature of all things, believing that events will work toward a good end, and they make every decision accordingly. One of them uses this in-tune-ness to solve mysteries while another uses it to kill the “right” people. Like I said, it’s a unique show.
The lesson the characters are continually learning is that the path to freedom, purpose, and fulfillment is letting go of personal ambition and submitting oneself to a greater call. The specifics, however, are rarely clear. Still, despite the sometimes doomed efforts to figure out what the universe wants them to do, the characters stick with this underlying hope that something in the (sometimes literally) nebulous “out there” knows what it’s doing.
The previous paragraph encapsulates what I love and hate about this show. The thing I love is that it’s helpless; it’s anti me-centered. The characters are totally in the hands of some greater force that is working all things toward a conclusion that, for once in American storytelling, is something other than their increased autonomy. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite, forcing its characters to surrender and trust. For Dirk Gently and his holistically-inclined friends, mysteries can be solved, evil can be destroyed, and individual purpose can be found only when they put faith in something they can’t see.
It’s refreshingly un-empowering. The show beautifully and freely admits that people are small and totally at the mercy of a greater power outside us. Call it the Universe, call it nature, call it God. Either way, the characters are unafraid of surrendering fully to something bigger and wiser, accepting whatever fate as “what is supposed to be.” It’s a surprisingly good picture of the Christian life. Amidst a cultural wasteland of DIYers and image managers, following Christ is about a daily surrender, a daily obedience, a daily dependence in simple trust that someone greater is working all things together for our good and His glory. And, in the same way, Christ doesn’t give us all the answers. Much like the characters in the show, we only know what we need to know in order to pick up our cross and follow.
On the other hand, the thing I hate about the show is that it’s so nonspecific. I’m aware of the irony that my rant about the show’s nameless abstractions is going to get highly abstract, but stick with me. The holistic theory the show proposes, while not explicit, assumes some sort of nameless, transcendent orchestrator causing all things to work toward what is supposed to be. But it never identifies who the orchestrator is, content to throw out a vague “the Universe” or two. That’s a big problem for me.
This glaring omission of identity, while expected (since to be explicit on that front would be to genre-fy it into whatever religious or idealistic slot the details would dictate), is still frustrating. It bothers me because it perpetuates the infuriating semantic mysticism undergirding pop culture’s current entertainment trends, the same baffling vagueness that leads to the senseless spewing of words like “mindfulness,” “self-actualization,” or any of the yoga-esque, social media buzzwords that all boil down to a laughably meaningless concept: “I’m not religious but I am spiritual.”
What I’m getting at is that if we don’t know the one orchestrating things, then we’re venturing our lives on a simple assumption that the unidentifiable agent doing the cosmic arranging is actually good. That’s something we can’t know if we don’t know the character of this being, and we can’t know the character if we don’t know who the being is. But that’s still the assumption everybody makes when they say things like “I guess that’s what the Universe wants” or “that’s how things are supposed to be” — as if the Universe, or whatever, knows, wants, and has the agency and power to bring about what is best for us and, further still, defines “best” in the same way we do.
It becomes even more ludicrous when we call this thing “the Universe.” Listen: the Universe isn’t looking out for anybody. The Universe, in the strictest sense of the word, is a cold, cruel place that is doing everything it can do to wipe out humanity. The small ball of clay we live on is the only place for trillions of miles in every direction that won’t kill us horribly and instantly. Hoping in the vague idea of the Universe as some sort of deity is nothing more than the lost grasping of a hopeless, naturalistic worldview stripped of religion yet desperately hoping that there is something bigger watching out for it.
If I may push further… At its root, this is really just the same paganism that has ravaged humanity for millennia, the kind stemming from the horror of being small, out of control, and whipped around by the overwhelming enormity of all that is. These primitive ideologies have made a comeback among modern, educated people by repackaging themselves in the concepts of destiny or the deity karma. They masquerade as freedom through control, but they’ve always been the cruelest form of bondage. There is a very real and very ignored existential horror in trusting in an omnipotent (or, at least, a very powerful) being when its character is a mystery.
But God, not to be mocked, glorifies himself in our grasping. In the unrelenting silence, God speaks. The crippling mystery of the nameless transcendent being further illustrates the glory of a creator who has revealed himself as good. Christians can only trust in our greater power — God — if we know His character. And we do. Christ came to show us. The Almighty rises above the confusion, descends from heaven in a form we can know, and reveals the essence, the exact imprint, the nature, and the person of the God who is there. Christ shatters the terrifying confusion and shames the nondescript gods of all ages.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the Word of His power. Hebrews 1:1–3
Danny Nathan grew up at Grace participating in the music and worship ministry. He’s currently a worship leader, leading people into worship in a variety of venues, including our modern worship service and student ministry gatherings. Danny is a graduate of The Ohio State University with a degree in English. In June 2016, Danny married his high school sweetheart Alli.