Under The Dome: A Microcosm of Society, Decision Making & Religious Education

I read the book Under the Dome by Stephen King a while ago (maybe a couple of years ago) – though I have to confess to not remembering the ending! – and recently the hubby and I watched the two TV series of it on box set (which doesn’t seem to help with the ending, given that it seems to be never-ending). It is really interesting, though, as a concept. [Usual disclaimer, I’m about to spoil it for you so if you’ve never read it or watched the series, go and do one of those instead of reading any further – it’s definitely worth it!] So I’m talking here about the TV series, rather than the book, though it probably applies to both!

The premise is this: an invisible dome suddenly appears over the small town Chester’s Mill, a fictional town set in Maine, USA. It cuts off all access to the outside world, including all internet and phone lines, so although the dome is see-through, very quickly it becomes isolated. It becomes a microcosm of American society – and not a very good place to be for the unfortunate people who are trapped. It’s a bit of an ant farm for those on the outside looking in. It is really interesting to study a community from the outside, but what if you were stuck in the middle of it?

After the death of police chief Duke, when his pacemaker explodes as he comes near the dome, several natural leaders come to the fore, but none more forcefully than the self-serving car dealer Big Jim, who kills the local man of the cloth to prevent his corruption being aired publicly. He’s not the only one prepared to kill to protect the life he used to have, and to preserve his relationship with people under the dome (i.e. to maintain his position of control). Lies become the norm, and lots of people seem to have lots to hide. In the real world, when the pressure is on, what lengths people would go to to protect their way of life? Obviously (hopefully) not to the extent of Big Jim – but would we deceive others to protect ourselves? Would we even want powerful positions to control others?

I’m pretty sure that being a leader under the dome is a thankless task. You’re fighting a losing battle, supplies are running low, and the Dome seems to do whatever it wants anyway (yes, really). At the same time, I’m not sure I’d want someone as corrupt as Big Jim controlling the food supplies, never mind controlling the justice system. What makes the people follow him? Well, he sounds convincing: he can talk his way out of anything, hence being a used-car salesman. He already has some power in the town: his role wasn’t judiciary, but it’s political. Most importantly, no one is prepared to stand against him until it is too late. This reminds me of the cliché: all that is required for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing (or similar paraphrase).

It’s not as simple as that, though, because the others all have ulterior motives too: perhaps, then, leaders should be chosen on the basis of ‘the lesser of two evils’ – I’m really throwing the clichés in today! This is a phrase often thrown around in teaching ethics, but what it really represents is making a judgement based on the fact that all the options are flawed, but some are more flawed than others. In order to make this judgement, you have to be informed. It is impossible to tell which of two options is the lesser of two evils from a standpoint of ignorance. If you’re not interested in teaching Religious Education, stop reading here; I’m about to make a big leap.

Which brings me round to thinking about conversations I’ve had with regard to Religious Education over the last few days (more on this coming in a later blog which I’m currently drafting). There is no way for students to make informed judgements about belief systems unless they have a firm basis of knowledge at their disposal. It is probably one of the reasons why so many young people are easily seduced by fairly radical belief systems: they simply do not have a basis of knowledge (call it religious literacy, if you will) against which to critically evaluate the belief systems proposed to them (I’m not just talking about one particular faith or belief system here, it could be any). It’s only through exposure to a range of beliefs, and having the tools to evaluate them, that students are able to make informed decisions. Here endeth the lesson.

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