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?

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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.

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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.

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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.]

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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.

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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!