Not long ago I asked the question of whether or not robots and androids have souls by primarily focusing on Avengers: Age of Ultron. But after seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a different questioned popped into my mind: is it ethical to use droids as servants? For this question, we will have to discuss the subject of souls once again, as well as some other interesting factors. From a religious perspective, this has certain consequences and could paint our heroes to some extent as extremely problematic.
She’s a hard-nosed cop and a single mother, and he’s the prince of darkness on vacation from Hell: together, they fight crime. That’s basically the plot of the new Fox TV show Lucifer. The show is loosely based on the Lucifer from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics, which is one of the reasons I was so excited for it. Lucifer immediately hooked me with excellent music and an interesting portrayal of the devil, but that didn’t stop me from noticing all of the problematic shit in that has me praying (ironically, I guess) that this show doesn’t end up being another Supernatural. Hey, at least one of the main characters is a woman; that’s a step up.
I’ve talked before about religious themes and undercurrents in Hannibal, so I’m returning for a second helping *food double entendre*. What I want to talk about today is the aspects of mysticism present in the show. Now, colloquially speaking, “mysticism” can be taken to mean almost anything that is vaguely spiritual—Tina the Tarot card reader down the highway may say she is a practitioner of mysticism; any New Age guru with their own faux-Indian merchandise and platitudes can claim they’re a mystic. However, in modern academic discourse, those paths and traditions termed “mysticism” have a meaning tied to transformative experiences related to a transcending of the self, typically with an end goal of a special kind of union with divinity. Examples range from the Christian ecstatics like St. Teresa of Ávila and St. John of the Cross, to the practitioners of bhakti traditions in Hinduism like Ramakrishna, to the Sufi mystics of Islam, such as Mansur Al-Hallaj. Since the focus here is union with the divine object of devotion, for clarity’s sake, let’s call this strain of thought “unitive mysticism”. I believe we see examples of this particular religious/spiritual impulse in the show Hannibal, particularly in the cases of Will Graham and Francis Dolarhyde. Will and Francis are drawn to lose themselves in the identities of their objects of devotion, Hannibal and the Red Dragon personality, respectively. Join me after the jump to delve deeper.
Spoilers for the whole series after the jump.
I firmly believe that one of the reasons why Star Wars is going to stand the test of time is because it’s the classic hero’s journey. Our plucky hero hears the call to adventure, but needs reassurance before they begin. Once our hero sets out, they meet all kinds of interesting characters and gains knowledge and training and spiffy tools to help them with their mission. Just when they think they’re at their lowest, they’re pulled out from despair and prepared for the final boss battle. Our hero wins, we celebrate, and our hero is a changed person for it. This model worked for the original trilogy, and it looks like it’s working for The Force Awakens, too.
You could probably name dozens of stories that fit this model without much effort. You see shadows of this model all throughout the Bible, too. In the Old and New Testaments we have all kinds of stories of people that follow a similar (or the same) framework. So it’d be easy to say that Star Wars is a Christian story, right? We have a great fight between good and evil, the Jedi are a lot like monks, and even the evil Darth Vader has that gloriously religious line: “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” Christian groups clamor to ride the hype train by injecting Star Wars themes into religious services. Alissa Wilkinson’s article in Christianity Today shows just how popular a “spirituality of Star Wars” is becoming in all sorts of religious groups, especially among Christians. But does it work? Is Star Wars really a universe compatible with Christian beliefs?
Spoilers abound below.
Sacred trust is one of the most fundamental elements of religion, and yet it’s rarely talked about explicitly. Religious belief of any kind is built on relationships—relationships between the divine and the human, between the community and the human, between powerful humans and humans without power, and between humans of equal footing. All of these relationships are based on trust. Most religious people have some kind of trust that their God(s) won’t abandon them in this life or the next. We trust our communities to give us support when we’re in need (spiritually or materially) and we honor our obligation as a member of the community to help others. It doesn’t matter if that community is found in a one-room chapel, a megachurch stadium, or an internet forum. Religious people trust their leaders, who have been given the authority and ability to act (essentially, power), to lead their communities in responsible ways consonant with their belief system’s moral codes. We trust they won’t just make things up as they go along or abuse their power for their own gain, we trust they’ll use their education and experience and wisdom to guide others rightly. And we trust our equals to help us in the day to day lived practice of our faiths.
But what happens when that trust is broken? It’s a vehicle for compelling storytelling.
Spoilers for Game of Thrones, Firefly, and Serenity after the jump.
The great joy of geek culture—whether it’s sci-fi, fantasy, or superheroes—is the ability to tell grand stories. Where else can we seriously consider the end of the world, or the responsibilities of ultimate power? These are the stories that always offer an escape from mundane reality, letting complexity fall away in favor of a clear mission.
In the past decade, these stories have dominated pop culture, from the way everything from Avengers to Game of Thrones has become inescapable—perhaps the public has grown weary of the multipolar diplomacy that has characterized the post-9/11 era. But these stories are letting us down. The relief offered by the simplicity of defeating comic book villains is no longer enough; we need to ask for more.
Okay, I’m just going to come out and say it: I’m sick of white gods and religiously-themed stories about white people. I really am. At this point I’m willing to give points to movies, even bad ones, for featuring people of color as gods or at least the main characters in a spiritual movie, because this is starting to get ridiculous. No, scratch that—it has always been ridiculous, but I feel like we should know better at this point.
For those of you who have not heard, there’s a movie coming out called Gods of Egypt. It features an all-white cast with the exception of one Black character. Yep, a whole movie about Egyptian gods—but the gods are played by white people.
There is so much wrong with all of this—not just from a representation standpoint, but from a theological one as well.