Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Believe in a Smiling God

Welcome to Night Vale is a fandom that I absolutely adore! In recent episodes of WTNV, starting with “Yellow Helicopters” through the most recent “Renovations”, the nefarious company StrexCorp from Desert Bluffs has taken over the town of Night Vale. What really intrigues me about StrexCorp is the presence of a Smiling God, as the representatives at StrexCorp call it.

StrexCorp Synernists Incorporated.
Look around you: Strex.
Look inside you: Strex.
Go to sleep: Strex.
Believe in a Smiling God: StrexCorp.

Here is what I am wondering: is the smiling god real, and why is any sort of religious ideology being associated with an evil corporation like StrexCorp?



StrexCorp seems to enforce constantly that those they control should keep working and work hard, and believe in a Smiling God. What’s interesting about this is that the Smiling God is not really ever described and no sense of any religious belief about the Smiling God is mention or even inferred. The only thing we really get is the commercial from StrexCorp quoted above, which seems to imply that StrexCorp is the Smiling God. StrexCorp is everything and everyone, and StrexCorp is the Smiling God. In many ways, the Smiling God could be a device used by StrexCorp to lull people into a sense of false security and even to worship their corporation. If this is the case, then StrexCorp and the Smiling God could simply be a critique of how some corporations take on a benevolent image even if they are doing awful things behind the scenes. Think about how Disney actively tries to portray the image of being wholesome, family friendly, and (to some extent) good Christians, while at the same time using dirty business practices and often contributing to sexist, racist, and homophobic attitudes (look here and here for more info about this). I’m not saying that the Night Vale writers are trying to draw parallels between Disney and StrexCorp, but they may be trying to point out corporations in general who do things like this, Disney being just one example. So until recently, I doubted that the Smiling God was a real entity.

However, in the latest episode of WTNV, “Renovations,” it’s implied that StrexCorp and the Smiling God aren’t necessarily the same; rather, StrexCorp is conjuring or bringing the Smiling God forth. In the episode, Cecil implies that the Smiling God is not StrexCorp, but that it is coming, and soon.

And then there is Dana, and her army of masked warriors, standing in the path of that deep, rumbling light. That searing, blinding, hum. That Smiling God. (x)

That’s all the description we have. So is the Smiling God real? Well, now it certainly seems to be. But is the Smiling God’s presence a link to a real religious ideology held by StrexCorp? In western religion, light is usually used to represent something that is good, but the way Cecil describes the light of the Smiling God makes it seem menacing. Because of light’s usual association with goodness, though, I couldn’t help but think of the Christian God. I began to wonder if the Smiling God is something of a critique of Christianity.

The Christian God is often described as a God of light and a God of love. And while the Smiling God is clearly associated with light, smiling and loving isn’t necessarily comparable, but the fact that StrexCorp’s God is a smiling one is at least meant to fool people into thinking that this god is kind and loving. Furthermore, I see some parallels between StrexCorp and the Prosperity Gospel.

The Prosperity Gospel is usually taught in non-denominational Christian churches and is imgresoften criticized by other Christian denominations. Prosperity Doctrine regards the Bible as a contract between God and humanity. If humans have faith and believe in God, then God will give them security and prosperity (including economic prosperity). People who have security and prosperity are seen as evidence of their faith and God’s favor. Obviously, one can see how problematic this is and why it is so often critiqued by other Christian denominations.

While StrexCorp’s God seems to be evil and does not  offer any security or prosperity, it at least seems as if StrexCorp is using Prosperity-esque doctrine as a means to motivate those in their employ to work harder. If StrexCorp is associated with a Smiling God and everyone wants to believe and take comfort in that Smiling God, then it could mean that they will work harder for StrexCorp. So is the religious ideology of StrexCorp one that we can associate with Christianity? I don’t think so. It’s certainly not a direct parallel, and the limited amount of information about the Smiling God means it’s easy to draw almost any conclusions about it.

I could just as easily claim that the StrexCorp is a satanic organization because the Smiling God is associated with light, and Lucifer was the light-bearer. Furthermore, the angels who allied themselves with Old Woman Josie seem opposed to the Smiling God, which would mean Lucifer as the Smiling God would make sense. See the problem? I could probably assert that the Smiling God is a stand-in for a bunch of other deities too, so there is no clear religious ideology here so far.

But there is one thing I find incredibly interesting. When StrexCorp takes over Night Vale, Baphometthey essentially ban the religious practices of those in Night Vale. The takeover starts with Old Woman Josie and the angels being driven out of Night Vale, and the bloodstones most Night Valians use are banned by StrexCorp. Combine that with the overall philosophy and often chaotic atmosphere of the Night Vale community and I have to wonder: is the battle between Night Vale and StrexCorp a battle between the Left-Handed and Right-Handed Paths? Left-Handed and Right-Handed paths described two different approaches in Western Occultism. Right-Handed paths tend to adopt ethical codes and social conventions, while Left-Handed paths believe in breaking taboo and abandoning a set morality, but I will get into that more later. That’s right, the Catholic theologian is going to talk about Left-Handed Paths, but sadly that will have to wait until my next post. 

But for now, good night, Night Vale, good night.

5 thoughts on “Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Believe in a Smiling God

  1. Actually, a fair number of ancient cultures, including the Romans, didn’t have good feelings about the smile (subrisus) or the laugh (risus). It was felt to be associated with mockery, or sometimes with a forced smile. The Greeks tended to show gods and dead people smiling in Archaic statuary, like the kores and youths. The Etruscan smile is also widely felt to be creepy and associated with the dead.

    And Strex sounds like Latin “strix,” the screech-owl, bloodsucking vampire, or witch (Italian strega).

  2. “Think about how Disney actively tries to portray the image of being wholesome, family friendly, and (to some extent) good Christians, while at the same time using dirty business practices and often contributing to sexist, racist, and homophobic attitudes (look here and here for more info about this).”

    I’m not sure what to make of this statement. Disney is a corporation, and of course its image is at least to some degree cynical and profit focused. But when it comes to people who genuinely, sincerely consider themselves to be family focused, wholesome, and good Christians, many of those people hold deeply ingrained racist, sexist and homophobic beliefs, which are instilled supported by large segments of organized Christian denominations worldwide. It’s possible to make the argument – and I believe it to be true – that racism, sexism and homophobia are incompatible with Jesus’s original message, and it’s also true that there are many Christians who have stood against oppression, including oppression perpetrated in their own religion’s name. But in the real world context of history and current events, if you try to tell me that “wholesome, family-friendly Christianity” and “racism, sexism and homophobia” are somehow diametrically opposed constructs, I will laugh in your face.

    • “that racism, sexism and homophobia are incompatible with Jesus’s original message” Is it? Jesus never spoke out against slavery, he even praised a slave for being loyal to his master. The old testament even gives rules on how and who to enslave.

      SO yeah “wholesome, family-friendly Christianity” and “racism, sexism and homophobia” being “… diametrically opposed constructs.” they’re quite compatible, people have dissonant values all the time yo.

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