What happens when you try and make a better society?
IN May 2016, 13 men and ten women arrived in Ardnamurchan, on the west coast of Scotland to take part in a channel 4 documentary called “Eden”. Their mission was to survive for a year – to feed themselves off the land and some basic rations, to build shelters to live in, and, most importantly, to create ‘a new society’. There would be no technology, no social media, no electricity and no contact with the outside world, but everything would be filmed.
The advert for the show contains the strapline: “What if we could start again?” The contestants bring with them a range of skills; they include a couple of junior doctors, a paramedic, a chef, a hunter, a fisherman and a vet. It follows an upsurge in survival-based shows like Bear Grylls’ “The Island” and a general interest in digital detoxes.
For a lot of people, it probably sounded quite idyllic; getting ‘away from it all’, living a simpler lifestyle, the appeal of getting to know a range of people from different walks of life.
However, after broadcasting four episodes, everything to do with “Eden” went quiet. The contestants went home a year later to find out that since August 2016, no-one had been watching them. Recently, channel 4 produced four new episodes, as a summary of what had happened in that mysterious place, with one crucial difference: it was now called “Eden: Paradise Lost”.
All the hopes that were placed in this TV show deteriorated, as cliques and factions emerged among the group, and one by one, over half of the original contestants left. Some people were looked down on because their skills weren’t deemed as useful, (for example, the yoga coach), contraband items such as alcohol, chocolate, and even, at one point, a mobile phone, were smuggled in. There were reports of bullying and intimidation. A group of some of the men who had built their own shelter away from the rest of the group, naming themselves “The Valley Boys”, at one point declared themselves on an all-meat diet, and began slaughtering the animals at an alarming pace.
There are inevitable comparisons to William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies, showcasing humanity let loose without the constraints of society, consequences and ‘proper behaviour’. In the same way, “Eden”, lays bare the dark underside of polite society.
Of course, Eden is a familiar name and a familiar concept to many of us. An idyllic paradise, corrupted because of humanity’s sin. In the bible it says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). But there is hope for us because we do not place our hope in human might or compassion but in Jesus and his sacrifical love.
We will fall, will fail, we may even be guilty of some of the shocking things seen on “Eden” (the characters are certainly recognisable), but we have a chance for redemption and change. There are several moments on “Eden” when people bemoan the lack of ‘community’, but we can know a real and deep community with people that have put aside their differences to serve Jesus.
“How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)