Two weeks ago, Saika wrote a post about pop cultural interpretations of Paradise. This week, I want to explore our ideas of Hell. What I think is most interesting about Hell is not how many different interpretations of it exist, but the fact that most people don’t actually believe Hell exists. While some have good reason—the concept of universal reconciliation is a theologically nuanced doctrine that states that all are eventually reconciled with God in the end—many just plain don’t like the idea of Hell. Even if Christians today are more than happy to imagine an other-worldly life of eternal happiness, many don’t actually believe a place of eternal suffering and punishment is real. Why is this the case? Pop culture might have something to do with it.
After The Avengers came out, many people discussed Captain America’s famous line about God and Thor.
Some people were surprised that Joss Whedon, an atheist, included the line in the movie. Others were either pleasently surprised or dismayed at the inclusion of religion in the Marvel Movie Universe, but the most interesting response, and the one I’m going to address here, is: How can Captain America still be a monotheist when he knows two gods personally? People also pointed out that characters like Iron Man, who is typically written as atheist, would also have issues coming to terms meeting two gods.
In the comics in general, a variety of religions are often included or referenced. In the Marvel universe there are mentions of Christianity, Norse Mythology, Greek mythology, Judaism, Islam, and other forms of Paganism and Wicca. However, despite all these religions being referenced, it is usually the pagan religions that are “proven” when characters actually meet the gods they learned about. For today I will just address religion in the Marvel Universe since each comic book universe deals with religion a little differently.
The concept of Paradise, the idea of some final reward waiting for the good folks after death, is a part of many religious traditions. From Dante’s Paradiso to that episode of Tom and Jerry where Tom dies and St. Peter won’t let him into heaven unless Jerry forgives him, we have a bit of a cultural fixation on the good life after death.
We’ve gotten pretty creative about portraying it, too. It’s not all angels in white dresses wielding harps anymore.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic‘s Season 1 episode, “Feeling Pinkie Keen”, introduces an interesting conflict into the world of Ponyville. Twilight Sparkle, a scientist and evidence-driven thinker, is thrown into a world of confusion when confronted with Pinkie Pie’s Pinkie Sense, a precognitive Spidey-sense-like ability to sense danger before it happens. Pinkie doesn’t know why she sees these things; she just does, and Applejack and Fluttershy (and, I assume, the rest of the Mane Six, who aren’t in this episode) have seen her twitchy premonitions come true without fail so many times that they consider a Pinkie Sense warning as good as a promise.
Throughout the episode, Twilight becomes more and more frustrated with Pinkie. She refuses to accept that there’s not a logical explanation for Pinkie’s precognition, going so far as to hook her up to a machine to test her, and to stalk her for the day, hoping to learn something or to catch the Pinkie Sense failing. At one point she gets up on an actual soapbox to explain to Pinkie how something that’s unexplainable in that way can’t possibly exist.
Eventually, the evidence that the Pinkie Sense exists and is right 100% of the time becomes so obvious that Twilight can’t ignore it. She has to put aside the scientific method and accept it on faith, even if she can’t quantify it. As the episode wraps up, she sends off this Friendship Letter to Princess Celestia with the lesson she’s learned:
I am happy to report that I now realize there are wonderful things in this world you just can’t explain, but that doesn’t necessarily make them any less true. It just means you have to choose to believe in them. And sometimes it takes a friend to show you the way.
The message of this episode is a little ham-fisted and confused, and what the casual viewer comes away with is the story of, essentially, a non-religious person coming to believe in a religion because they’ve witnessed a miracle. Continue reading
Within Catholic-flavored Christianity, you’ll sometimes hear people talk about Vocations and vocations. A “vocation” or “Vocation” concerns the big questions of what you’re going to do with your life. It usually involves a combination of figuring out what you want to do, what you actually could do, and what your deity wills for your life. ”Little v” vocations are something like being a doctor, being an artist, or being a teacher—they involve you practicing your skills in a particular field, usually include a significant time commitment, and in some way contribute to the rest of the human race.
At the beginning of the 20th century, H.P. Lovecraft wrote a series of stories about darkly powerful elder gods and eldritch horrors. These “Great Old Ones” were “ancient, powerful deities from space who once ruled the Earth and who have since fallen into a deathlike sleep”. The most well known among these mythical figures was Cthulu, and even if you’ve never read a single Lovecraft story I’d be shocked if you didn’t think of giant octopus monsters and grimy insanity when someone mentions Cthulu or Lovecraftian horror in general.
There’s something uniquely appealing about a pantheon of powerful, uncontrollable, sleeping gods who if you look upon their true form, will drive you to insanity, and so even after Lovecraft’s death the Mythos has carried on, appearing in all sorts of media.
[Spoilers for Cabin in the Woods, Homestuck, Haiyore! Nyarko-san below the jump] Continue reading
It’s Easter!!! Happy Easter, everyone!!
With great power comes great responsibility, right? Well, godlike power also tend to come at a steep price, no matter what the situation. Fiction is full of situations where characters in need have acquired phenomenal cosmic powers, but only at a tremendous cost to themselves. For this post I’m gonna focus on the good guys, but there are plenty of bad guys that fall into this scenario as well.
[spoilers for Madoka, Homestuck, Doctor Who below the cut]
This is a game based entirely on tactics. If you play without a good strategy, you’re bound to lose unless you’ve set the computer difficulty low. While I have played the earlier versions, my experience with Civilization is pretty limited to the latest installment and its expansion pack, Civilization V: Gods + Kings. I think what I like the most about this game, other than building giant death robots and conquering the world, is that we can see how culture and religion can impact growth and power, while completely neglecting how they impact society.
To be fair, that’s not completely true. The game does have a happiness meter, and if your population completely hates you, they will revolt via barbarians.
I suppose that Civ5 is about as accurate as a game can get in terms of application of religion by a society, though it does leave some things to be desired. Being “about as accurate” doesn’t mean entirely accurate, or that there’s no room for improvement in how religion is implemented.