Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The Rules of the Universe

I’m always a fan of the idea that there should be some sort of logic behind how the universe works in stories. This extends to concepts of magic. There is a part of me that always wants to know why it works, how it works, why magic in a particular universe acts the way it does. Why do monsters follow certain rules? Questions like that keep me awake at night and cause me to write posts like this. I’m the type of person that would go to a Supernatural convention and ask “why does salt work to stop most evil things?”

imagesSometimes I can brush these questions aside by reminding myself that most of the time the writers are drawing these ideas from old folktales, lore, and religion to create the laws of their universe.

But I always wondered why the characters never asked these same questions. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer there is little to no mention of any of the characters believing in some sort of deity or having any faith. And yet Buffy wears a cross everywhere to protect herself. Which makes sense—but it strikes me that she never asked Giles, “Why do crosses work on vampires?”

buffy-the-vampire-slayer-with-cross-300x225Because that question could answer so much about religion. Do all religious symbols repel or burn vampires? Would a Star of David, a Wiccan pentacle, or the symbol for Om work just the same? If the answer is yes, that leads to so many more questions about religious pluralism: are all religions connected, reflecting the same god, or do the good forces of the universe just team up against the bad ones like some sort of religious justice friends? Or is it something else entirely? Hell, what if the vampire in question is an atheist? Do these religious symbols still work then?

On the other side of it, if the answer is that only Christian crosses repel or burn vampires, then we get a new set of questions. Does it work because the Christian God really is the one true God? Does the Christian God just hate vampires? Seriously, what is the deal!?

Not only are these questions not asked, sometimes they are downright ignored and dismissed. Basically, the characters just shrug and say ‘it works 2qy3fbecause it does’ and never think about it again.

In early seasons of Supernatural, Dean actively says he does not believe in God or in any good or noble force in the universe. Sam believes in something. He never goes into specifics, but we can speculate it’s relatively Christian in nature. Dean uses Christian exorcisms and holy water to banish demons, but never once asks why those things might work on demons.

I just keep imagining that people like Dean assume that all the demons and monsters got together at a big convention one day and just all agreed that they would allow certain things to be harmful to them just to even the playing field and make things more interesting.

In in shows like Teen Wolf that don’t use obvious religious items like crosses or holy water still have rules that seem to judge someone’s ethical behavior. The clearest example of this is with Matt and the Kanima. The Kanima follows certain rules and if you break those rules the… universe… punishes you. Matt controls the Kanima and orders it to kill people that aren’t murderers and even kills people himself. This, as Derek explains to Stiles, breaks the rules of the Kanima and the universe balances things out by turning Matt into another Kanima.

Wait, what? First of all, universe, how is turning another person into a were-lizard that kills people balance? And who determined these rules for the Kanima? It’s not like the first Kanima came up with them. Why does the universe punish Matt for breaking these rules? Universe, are you sentient? Is there someone up there? Hello!?

Are you there, universe? It’s me, Lady Geek Girl.

Now in the case of Teen Wolf, you could argue the rules work more like science. But science doesn’t really punish you for being a bad person.

"Okay, everyone settle down! Now we have all decided that all vampires should not like crosses. Now the question is should we turn bad people into were-lizards?

“Okay, everyone settle down! Now we have all decided that all vampires should be repelled by crosses. Now the next question is, should we turn murderers into were-lizards?

Perhaps it only bothers me. I do study theology for a living after all. But it seems strange to me that the writers or characters in these shows never stop to wonder about these questions. Granted, we live in a world that has become incredibly secular, but there are still a lot of religious and spiritual people out there. It seems highly unlikely to me that no one ever asks why or how.