Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Catholic Ethics & Sex Between Humans and Non-Humans

byzantine_creation_of_eve.c1160Here is a question that you’ve probably never thought about (and probably don’t want to know the answer to): What would the Catholic Church say about sex between humans and sentient non-humans? Aliens, faeries, werewolves; in much of sci-fi/fantasy/horror, humans are getting busy with some non-human being. And while that is all well and good, I always kind of wonder: if this were real, what would my church have to say about it?

Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The Case for a Genderqueer God

2012-12-17-ImageofGodWell, ladies and gentlemen, I have just finished and defended my thesis and can now proudly say that I have a Masters in Theology. My thesis discussed the idea of gender fluidity—basically, whether or not a more expansive view of gender could help to limit stereotypical views of gender in theology. That’s not what this post is about, but these ideas did get me thinking about how God is portrayed both in theology and in pop culture.

Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Jean Valjean, Javert, and Theology

I am currently in love with the Les Miserables movie, so expect me to be talking about it a lot here. Because, at its heart, Les Miserables isn’t just about how bad things are or a bunch people dying—it’s about God and faith.

Our two male leads, Jean Valjean and Javert, are two characters at the heart of a theological debate. The debate is not simple—it’s more a conflict between two different views of morality. This is a problem a lot of Christians, and a lot of religious people in general, have, and that’s the difference between “the letter of the law” and “the spirit of the law.” This means the difference between obeying specifically what the law says or obeying the overall message.

For example:

“Thou Shall Not Steal” is one of the Ten Commandments. Should good Judeo-Christians obey the Ten Commandments? Of course we should—this is the law of God.

But wait, what if someone is poor and starving and steals bread to feed themselves and their family? Is stealing still wrong then?

Oh, my God, what an oddly appropriate example for Les Miserables.

javertValjean stealing and being sent to prison characterizes everything about Javert and Valjean’s relationship. Everything about Valjean in Javert’s mind is defined by this one thing, regardless of any extenuating circumstances.

Now if we interpret this scenario from the understanding of “the spirit of the law”, things work differently. The main message or the spirit of the Bible is, at its core, to love one another. Yes, the Bible contradicts itself all over the place, but that is still the main message. Love others as God has loved you.

Continue reading

Theatre Thursdays: The Devil’s Carnival

Once upon a time, if someone had asked me, what musical I thought was the most sexist and damaging to women I would have said, Grease. Grease, most people will agree has a terrible message, which is basically, “hey, ladies, compromise your morals and integrity in order to get this asshole guy, who doesn’t treat you right anyway, to like you and stay with you—then you’ll be happy!” But what I usually hear people say is, “Yeah, Grease has a terrible message, but at least it has good music.”

That’s a lame excuse for letting a musical get away with being horribly sexist, but I grudgingly admit that the music is good.

Now, if someone were to ask me what I think the most sexist and damaging musical is I could no longer say Grease. Grease now has the number two spot. And on top of being horribly sexist, this musical doesn’t even have the benefit of having decent music.

Ladies and Gentleman, I give you, The Devil’s Carnival!

TheDevilsCarnival_Soundtrack_CoverThe Devil’s Carnival is the most heinous pile of crap I have ever seen. It was written by Terrance Zdunich, who also wrote Repo! The Genetic Opera, which I actually love. I love dark gothic musicals, so I was excited to watch The Devil’s Carnival. I tried to like this musical, I really did, but on top of having terrible music, the musical claims everyone who is in hell was sent there by God, because they didn’t fit his idea of perfection, that grief is a sin, and that women who fall for bad guys and then get hurt (killed in this musical as well as implied rape) are sinning, because they trusted someone they shouldn’t. Yeah…

[Warning: Discussion of Rape, Murder, Victim-shaming, and Suicide below.]

Continue reading

The Road So Far: Supernatural Season Eight Premiere

WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD!

The boys are back in town and ready to hunt some monsters and save the day. Well, they might be. Dean’s got a new monster pal, Sam’s got a dog, and Cas is trapped in Purgatory. Hmmm… the way things are shaping up you might actually want to go to Kevin Tran to solve your monster problems.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk Supernatural!

As those of you who have read my past Supernatural reviews know, I wasn’t overly found of season seven. Certain episodes were good, but the overall plot and lackluster villain was just uninteresting. Despite that, after hearing more about the season eight plot from SDCC interviews I was actually pretty excited about season eight.

So what do I think about the premiere? Well, I’ll tell you.

Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Dear Fandom, It’s Not Always the Catholics

So, I have a little bit of a complaint here.

You see, I am a Catholic. In fact, not only am I a Catholic, but I actually decided to dedicate my life to the Catholic Church by studying theology. I am currently going for my Masters in Theology and further plan to go on to get my PhD. That means I have already dedicated about six years of my life to studying theology and I intend to keep doing so for the rest of my natural existence. Clearly, I care about my faith.

That being said, I am the first to admit when the Catholic Church does something wrong. Actually, because I am Catholic, I tend to come down harder on the Catholic Church and other Catholics for doing something wrong.

These are not Catholics. These are crazy people.

And I will come right out and say it—the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality is wrong. It’s not just kind of wrong, it’s completely and utterly wrong.

However, Fandom, can you please stop making the Catholic Church seem like the freaking Westboro Baptist Church when it comes to homosexuality!

I have read a lot of fanfic and a lot of slash fanfic. Some are what you would call Alternate Universe, where instead of say Dean and Cas being a hunter and an angel fighting demons, they are both starting college and have been paired up as roommates—hilarious hijinks happen!

Inevitably, however, in slash fanfic set in our world a lot of authors tend to incorporate religion into the plot. After all, if one character has been taught their whole life that homosexuality is wrong and then realizes they are gay, well, that is a pretty dramatic and intense story. However, almost all of these fanfic have the uber-religious character be a practicing and devoted Catholic, which would be fine if they didn’t portray my faith like it was Nazism. Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Christian Objects Are Magic

Let me start off by saying this: magic is a part of Christianity. In fact, it’s a part of every religion. Special prayers, powerful objects like crosses or holy water, and even the Church building itself all are seen to carry some sort of supernatural power. These things contain not only God’s power, but also are meant to protect us from evil. These are all magical elements.

Christians don’t have a good history with magic. All the way back in the Old Testament magic and sorcery are condemned as evil, but like many things in the Bible, this is also contradictory with other teachings. In a book not included in most Christian biblical canons, The Testament of Solomon, is actually a magical textbook. Solomon, the wisest of all the Old Testament kings, learns magic that allows him to summon and control demons (and angels to some degree). It’s a fascinating read and I suggest that everyone pick it up at some point. Just be wary about trying anything you learn in there, as it might not go so well for you.

In some ways I actually think whether magic is good or bad isn’t contradicted in the Bible. Magic is good if you learn your skills from God or the angels and honor them for that accordingly. Magic only becomes bad if it’s learned from devils (or evil spirits), if it’s used for your own selfish purposes, or if the user starts to believe the power they have is their own and not God’s. If you still don’t believe that magic is a part of Christianity, then I offer you this example: almost all Catholics I know, when attempting to sell their house, will go out and buy a statue of St. Joseph and bury him upside down in the backyard. This will supposedly help your house sell faster and many Catholics I met swear buy it. I have no idea where this tradition comes from, but if this isn’t an example of magic in faith, I don’t know what is.

So yes, magic is a part of Christianity. I have no problem with that. What does drive me crazy is when characters in TV shows or movies use these Christian objects and attribute nothing back to Christianity or Christian magic. This object banishes demons, because… well, it does. No one thinks about why.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

Buffy is guilty of this particular issue though I usually tend to give the show a pass. Buffydoesn’t have any particular mythology that it is drawing from. It’s one of those shows that constructs its own mythology from various other mythologies. The only time I ever get annoyed with Buffy is when they interpret Bible passages, because they usually interpret them so wrong that it kind of makes me laugh. That being said, they do interpret biblical passages in a way that fits their own personal mythology though. So again, Buffy is really more borrowing from various mythologies than being true to just one.

What really bothers me is their use of crosses and Halloween. Really all vampire movies and shows that employ the cross mythology does this, but it still bothers me. The cross repels vampires. Why? Nobody knows or at least no one explains. Buffy always wears a cross, but only as protection, not any real belief. I think I would be okay with the cross repelling vampires if all holy symbols did the same thing. Like if the Star of David, or a statue of Krishna would also repel and burn vampires, it could be viewed as a sign that all the good forces in the universe condemn the evil vampires. But this only works with crosses, which is never explained and no preference for Christianity is ever expressed in the show. To me this just makes it confusing. Just because there is magic in a show doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be rules. The magic should at least kind of make sense.

Halloween is another thing in Buffy that bothers me. The supernatural takes a night off on Halloween, but this is never explained either. I have a theory that it is because Halloween is actually All Hallows Eve, which comes before All Saints Day, a Christian holiday. Halloween, whether Pagan or Christian, has some religious significance, but any connection to those faiths is swept under the rug, leaving those of us who pay attention to things like that perplexed.

Supernatural:

Until season four and the introduction of beautiful, perfect-in-every-way Castiel, Supernatural would often annoy me. Supernatural draws on Pagan and Judeo-Christian mythology, but I would argue it draws more on the Judeo-Christian mythology (especially in later seasons). What would drive me crazy wasn’t so much that they used these magical Christian objects to fight evil, but that they would use them and then assert that not only was there no God, but there was no good higher power at all. What?! Okay, Sam believed in God and angels, but Dean never did. Dean didn’t even believe in Lucifer until season four. And while this may be in character for Sam to believe and Dean not to, it drove me crazy that Dean wouldn’t believe and then use a Latin exorcism, invoke the name of Christ to reveal demons, use rosaries, holy water, and devils traps to fight off demons. Where do you think that stuff comes from, Dean? Why would invoking Christ’s name work on demons if there is no God? Why would holy water work if there aren’t any good forces in the universe? Did the demons get together with the hunters one day and just agree that certain things would be allowed to hurt them? While the show eventually fixed this with the introduction of the angels and revealing that God does exist, those first three seasons will always be endlessly frustrating for me because that.

There are more shows like this, but this is all we have time for right now. Feel free to tell me about other shows, movies, books, etc. that do this. And feel free to point out how pop culture does this with other religions besides Christianity.

And as always, tune in next time and get some religion!

Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The Antichrist

Every end of the world tale needs the antichrist. It’s not really the end of the world without him.

For those of you that may not know, the antichrist is kind of the evil mirror image of Christ, as the name suggests. The antichrist is mentioned in the Bible several times, along with other antichrists, who are connected to him. It’s not strictly stated what the antichrist(s) relationship is to Satan. We only know that the antichrist is a bad person who will do many bad things.

In our pop culture, however, the antichrist is always directly tied to Satan. This isn’t a complete invention of pop culture; though no explicit relationship is stated in the Bible, the relationship between Satan and the antichrist is in many Christian traditions. Some think the antichrist is Satan incarnated in human form, much like Jesus was God incarnated in human form. Others think the antichrist is autonomous from Satan, but rather is Satan’s son following after his father in the ways of evil. However, this leads to an interesting theme that’s been popping up in our pop culture. Let’s take a look!

There are a lot of movies with adult antichrists, but I don’t want to talk about those. Why? Because they’re boring. Adult antichrists are always evil, mustache-twirling villains with little to no personality. Who wants to read a post about that? No one, that’s who. I would like to talk about the antichrist’s evolution in pop culture though. You see, somewhere along the line someone realized that if the antichrist was in human form and was supposed to be this mirror image to Christ, well then, he had to grow up like Christ, right?

The Omen:

The Omen is one of my all-time favorite horror movies. It takes that basic idea that people sometimes speculate on: if you met someone who you knew would grow up to be evil could/would you kill them when they were an innocent child? Damian, our little antichrist, is not an innocent child, I don’t even think any part of him is human, but to most of the adults around him he appears to be, thus dealing with the moral debate of the above question.

Some brief background information: Robert Thorn, the U.S. ambassador to England, and his wife Katherine suffer a tragedy when Katherine’s baby is born dead, but a “kind” priest points out that another baby lost its mother. He convinces Robert to switch the babies and spare his wife the sorrow of losing their baby. Thorn agrees and begins raising Damien. Many creepy deaths happen around Damien, along with having a creepy nanny, and acting violently when he’s near churches. Eventually, after much convincing from priests and a photographer, and after the death of his wife, Thorn finally realizes that Damien is the antichrist and tries to kill him. He fails and is shot by police and Damien is taken to live with the president of the United States who was conveniently a close friend of Thorns.

Though the main characters in The Omen are unsure and often deny that Damien is the antichrist, it’s only done to build the suspense of the audience. The evidence the viewer is presented with makes it extremely clear that Damien is the antichrist. The audience even sees moments when Damien is simply alone with his nanny that more than reveal his evil nature. There is never a moment where one feels that Thorn is hallucinating things.

In this way, the character of the antichrist doesn’t develop much from the adult version. He is still pure evil, but he’s a little kid. This did have one major development however, the idea that the antichrist could grow up with a human family and maybe even have a human mother. This idea allowed for many interesting changes in the character of the antichrist.

Supernatural:

I like to think that people are good people and that human beings are somehow special. I think this comes, in many ways, with the territory of being a Christian. Humans (also everything ever) was created by God and thus basically good, and since humans were created in God’s image and likeness we have a special place in creation. To me this naturally evokes many humanist concepts. All people regardless of religion tend to believe there is something special about humanity (of course we’re also all humans, so I guess we’re kind of bias).

Humanism is a major theme in Supernatural. Pitting the very human Sam and Dean against monsters, demons, and angels. Humanity, despite all its flaws and weaknesses, is what makes Sam and Dean so strong.

Another major theme is free will. Humans have the distinct ability to make choices that these other beings don’t, at least not without consequences.

These two themes come into play in the evolution of the antichrist. If the antichrist is not evil incarnate but simply born of an evil being and a human than the antichrist has to have that same spark of humanity and the same free will. In the same way that Christ could have chosen not to start his ministry and die on a cross, the antichrist could choose not to bring about the reign of the evil one.

In Supernatural, Sam and Dean come to a town where lies children believe (the tooth fairy, your face will freeze that way, etc) begin coming true. They discover this is because of a boy named Jesse, who is the product of a demon (notably not Satan) and a human woman the demon was possessing. Jesse doesn’t know any of this. Nor does he know he has powers. Castiel, the angel, realizing the boy is the antichrist tries to kill him despite Sam believing that Jesse could choose not to be evil. Castiel fails and is followed by Sam and Dean, who want Jesse to choose to fight with them, and then Jesse’s demon father who is trying to convince Jesse to join the devil. After the truth is revealed to Jesse, the boy makes a decision. He gets rid of the demon, puts the town back to normal, and uses his powers to disappear. Choosing not to fight for either side but remain out of the war all together.

Again this shows the unique development of a young innocent antichrist who is half human and thus, basically good, using his free will to make the correct decision. A decision not to fight all together. In this way Jesse removes himself entirely from the script both Heaven and Hell have placed on him, which is perhaps his greatest power of all.

But Supernatural isn’t the first to write a humanistic tale involving the antichrist.

Good Omens:

How much do I love Good Omens? So much! Good Omens, written by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, tells the story of the end of the world. The story focuses primarily on an angel and a demon who have grown attached to the world, and a young antichrist who has grown up with a normal middle class family in England. The story clearly is at least partly satirizing The Omen. Adam, the antichrist, is meant to grow up with a wealthy American family in America, but a mix up in the hospital (run by Satanic nuns) causes little Adam to grow up in a completely average family and environment.

Adam realizes he has powers and at first is tempted to use them. In an otherwise hilarious book one scene comes off as actually being pretty spooky. Adam uses his powers to control his friend’s will. This only lasts a minute or two before he realizes how wrong what he’s doing is. Adam’s powers allow him to figure out how the world will end, and he and his young friends leave to try and stop the apocalypse. Adam faces down the four horsemen (including Death himself), Beelzebub, and the Metatron. Adam, when faced with these supernatural beings, seems genuinely annoyed with them and determined to defend earth and humanity.

“I don’t see what’s so t’riffic about creating people as people and then gettin’ upset ‘cos they act like people,” said Adam severely. “Anyway, if you stopped tellin’ people it’s all sorted out after they’re dead, they might try sorting it all out while they’re alive.”

Good Omens really focuses on humanistic ideals. Adam, despite being the literal son of Satan, grows up a normal human child with good parents, friends, and a great life. He sees the virtue of humanity and is annoyed by Heaven and Hell for trying to make humanity into something it isn’t. Adam himself shows the virtues of being human by living just a normal life and being able to make choices, and the right choices at that.

The end of the world focuses a lot on good people and bad people, the Saved and the Damed, but these more humanist versions of the antichrist ask a fundamental question: What is the real sin? Perhaps it’s not being human. People are created as people, but then try not to act like people because they think that what they are is flawed and wrong.

The fun thing about shows like Supernatural and books like Good Omens is that they explore what really makes humanity what it is what makes them good, using the narrative of the end of days to show how great people can be and important humanity really is.

Next time on Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Humanity at the End of the World

Tune in next time and get some religion!

Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The Evil Woman or the Whore of Babylon

So here we go, the first of my End of World posts. Let me start with this disclaimer: I am not, in any way, shape, or form a Biblical literalist. I find taking the Bible literally impossible. I don’t know nor do I understand how people are able to take the Bible at face value. That being said, most Americans tend to take the Bible literally, and that’s reflected in our pop culture, especially when we talk about the apocalypse.

To say that the Bible is problematic when it comes to the portrayal of women is like saying that Jack Donaghy is awesome. In other words, it’s an understatement. Now don’t get me wrong; there are many good women in the Bible, but there are many more evil ones. These evil women are often instruments of the devil and, of course, key parts of the apocalypse, so they make their appearance a lot in these types movies, TV shows, and books.

In the Bible, the Whore of Babylon is representative of the Roman Empire’s powerful but decadent and morally bankrupt ways. In Supernatural, the Whore of Babylon is an evil demon that takes the form of a woman. She, as Castiel, puts it, “‘…shall come, bearing false prophecy.’ This creature has the power to take a human’s form, read minds. Book of Revelation calls her ‘the Whore of Babylon.’” In Supernatural the Whore’s main job is to condemn as many souls as possible. How does she do this? She turns people to religious fundamentalists.

In this way Supernatural invites its viewers to see the harm in blindly flowing something they don’t understand. Those being manipulated by the Whore do so out for fear for salvation. They are so scared of not being saved they are willing to kill people in order to do it. In this way, the show uses the Whore to point out the real sin that is condemning them to hell. It’s not drinking or premarital sex, but hypocrisy and judgment. In the end, Dean kills the Whore and those following her ask the question, “How will we be saved now?” The answer is they have to figure it out for themselves and that the path of righteousness is a hard one filled with difficulty and questioning, not blind faith.

Supernatural managed to take what could have been a very sexist trope (the evil woman) and turned it into a more complex message about religion, allowing them to elegantly side step some of these gender issues that show up in the Bible. There are many other evil women we could talk about in Supernatural, but they pretty much all die before the apocalypse, so we’ll limit it to this one evil lady.

Stephen King’s The Stand is another great apocalyptic story. For the purposes of this article, though, we are going to stick with the TV miniseries. Why? Because I have yet to read the book, and because the miniseries is awesome.

In The Stand, Larry Underwood meets the young, beautiful, and mysterious Nadine Cross. Both Larry and Nadine are attracted to each other, maybe even in love with each other, but Nadine refuses to engage in any sort of sexual activity with Larry, because she keeps on having visions of Randall Flagg. Randall is actually Satan in human form. Through his seduction, Nadine makes terrible choices, which leads to the death of several of the protagonists. Randall Flagg tempts Nadine and draws her too him, eventually they have sex and Nadine becomes pregnant with, presumably, the antichrist. Nadine repents of her actions and rebels against the devil in the only way that is left to her—she kills herself and the baby.

From a feminist perspective, this could potentially be a terrible portrayal of a woman. Nadine is a strong woman that wants great things for herself, but in her pursuit of those great things she ends up getting in over her head and destroying herself… yep. On the other hand, however, Nadine’s character is very human and compelling. Nadine struggles with whether or not she should pursue her own goals or help other people. She does ultimately fail and chooses the wrong thing, but she realizes what she did wrong at the end.

The only problem I really have with Nadine’s character is that at the end when she realizes what she did was wrong she kills herself. This isn’t exactly the type of message I think we need in our pop culture, especially in one with religious overtones. The harder path, the better one, would be for Nadine to live and try to work against the devil, to actively make amends for what she has done. By having Nadine commit suicide, her story becomes completely tragic, which I’m guessing is what Stephen King was going for, but personally I think the story would be more complex and interesting had Nadine lived.

Nadine, like many evil apocalyptic women, is there for one reason: to bring one of the most important apocalyptic figures into the world.

Next time on Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The Antichrist.

Tune in next time and get some religion!

Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The End is Here

The end it nigh! The end is nigh! There have been signs in the stars! War, famine, DEATH! Repent! Repent… are you bored yet?

If you haven’t heard something along these lines from street preachers, televangelists, or crappy magazines, then you have probably heard it from a crap ton of movies. The apocalypse, according to these people, is always happening. Every generation has said that the end was coming soon and that’s reflected in our movies, books, and TV shows.

There are all kinds of apocalypses. Environmental, zombie, and religious, just to name a few of the many different apocalypse motifs. Obviously, we are not going to be talking about the nonreligious ones for the purposes of this series. So if you were hoping I would talk about Wallie, The Day After Tomorrow, 28 Days Later, or Resident Evil: Apocalypse, then I apologize because I’m not.

What will I be talking about? Well, religious apocalypse stories are usually based on one thing, the Book of Revelation, found in the Christian Bible. In order to talk about the differences in how the Judeo-Christian apocalypse is portrayed, it needs to be broken down into certain elements that seem to appear in every apocalyptic story. There are certain characters and themes that always pop up.

So over the next couple of weeks I will explore the apocalypse and all it entails. So what’s up first…?

Next time on Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The Evil Woman or the Whore of Babylon.

Tune in next time and find some religion!