Happy Easter to all my Christian sisters and brothers! Today’s post is not going to be about anything involving Easter. Other than the Christ figures, there isn’t much Easter-oriented material in geek culture. There are probably a couple reasons as to why that is, but we aren’t going to get into that today.
Instead, we are going to discuss Christian ethics in geek culture. Particularly, we will be discussing issues of simplicity and voluntary poverty.
Recently, I have been thinking about taking on the challenge of living a life of voluntary poverty. Voluntary poverty is an old idea going back to the monastics and hermits in the early Catholic traditions. The idea oflay (non-clergy) Catholics embracing the idea of voluntary poverty was made popular through the Catholic Worker movement, started by Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day. Living a life of voluntary poverty means to live as simply as possible, rarely buying possessions, and worrying less about making and obtaining money in order to dedicate one’s life to service and prayer. It’s a tough sell for many people, but it can also be very freeing. For most people, living a life of voluntary poverty does not seem to be an option. However, all Catholics are called to live a life of simplicity, not to be consumed with possessions or material wealth. I realized as I tried to realign my life in order to live more simply that I had a major problem. I’m a geek. And being an avid fan of all things geeky actually seems to be an exact opposite lifestyle to a simplistic Christian one.
Magic and science are generally considered antithetical. You have one or the other, and never the twain shall meet. That’s why one of them is the realm of fantasy and one is the realm of science fiction. Even within science fiction, powers like telepathy are explained using science, and in fantasy, technology like long-distance communication or transport is the stuff of magic. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, I think that a society where magic and science exist in some sort of relationship with each other is much more interesting.
Contributors to this blog have generally been pretty excited about the BBC America show Orphan Black, which returns for its second season this month. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, Orphan Black follows the lives of several human clones, all born under mysterious circumstances and secretly monitored their whole lives for the sake of science—until they become aware and start fighting back. I loved the first season just as otherwriters here did, but I think the religious extremist and antagonist, Helena, needs some deeper exploration. Spoilers below.
Belief is a funny thing. When most people talk about belief, they’re usually taking about believing in things that are intangible; things like religion, a cause, or a greater good. Belief is often closely tied to faith. It’s a bit strange to talk about belief in terms of something we can touch or measure, because that kind of belief requires a simple glance over the evidence staring us in the face. It doesn’t really take any effort on our part to agree that something is true when a scientist or other expert has done all the work for us. The more interesting kind of belief requires some component of faith. A large part of faith is believing in something greater than oneself. This sort of belief is crucial to some of the most popular stories in fantasy and science fiction, from Peter Pan to Doctor Who to Serenity to The Hunger Games. It’s this kind of faith in something greater than oneself that gives true power to the characters in these works.
Spoilers for all three Hunger Games books, Doctor Who, and Serenity below.
Did you ever notice that when a fantasy or sci-fi story includes female priests or female religious leaders, the religion is almost always a pagan or pagan-like one? Why is that? Perhaps it’s because in a lot of a fiction, especially within the fantasy genre, the mythology of a fictional world incorporates or is based on some type of religious belief. Because writers so often use religion to build their fictional universes, it’s possible that when creating their own fictional religions, they feel they need to remain true at least to the spirit or structure of the religion they are basing their religion on.
I don’t know about structure, but I certainly hope writers don’t feel as if the spirit of my faith, Catholicism, is all just patriarchy and female oppression. Despite this, I have never read, watched, or heard of a fictional religion based on Catholicism which features women as priests, bishops, or even, dare I say, the Pope.
Possession is one of the most terrifying staples in the horror genre’s arsenal. Its terror stems from two main sources: firstly, the fear of lack of control over one’s own body, and secondly, the shock of seeing someone you know and love doing bad things. But aside from the visceral discomfort viewers feel from seeing a possessed person, how is possession used in the overall narratives of a work? In other words, what is the point of possession? I think it largely depends on who or what is doing the possessing, and the character development impact that the possession has for the character being possessed.
Season 3B: I did lose my mind, thanks a lot, Jeff Davis. I also lost my faith in humanity, my hope for this show, and also my dignity.
I’ll examine two notable examples from recent television. For those of us who are somehow still Teen Wolf fans, the latest season, which wrapped up this past week, featured an extensive possession story arc. This season, everyone’s favorite Loyal Best Friend, Stiles, came to the forefront (look at many promotional image for 3B, like the one above; Stiles was literally in the forefront, featured as more central than the Teen Wolf himself, Scott). Stiles was possessed by a malevolent Japanese fox spirit, called a nogitsune. Fox possession may sound strange to Western audiences, but in Japanese mythology, it’s totally a thing. On the other hand, most American media will feature the more familiar demonic possession, exemplified for the purposes of this post by the case of Sister Mary Eunice in 2012’s American Horror Story: Asylum.
Since the Divergent movie came out this weekend (Luce reviewed the trailer here), I figured now would be a good time to discuss the trilogy’s religious implications. And no, I’m not going to go on about how the main character Tris is a Christ figure, because once again, that’s too obvious. But it’s well-known that Divergent trilogy author Veronica Roth is a Christian, and her beliefs come through in her books more clearly than they do for a lot of other authors. Specifically, while reading the second book Insurgent, I found a lot of references that sounded Protestant to me. Let’s take a look at how the whole trilogy holds up against a specific Protestant framework, the Five Points of Calvinism. Spoilers for the entire Divergent trilogy after the jump.
I don’t think there are enough white things in this painting.
Happy Lent to my fellow Christians! Although I’m not entirely sure if “happy” is the appropriate sentiment. Lent is the Christian season of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving (giving money to charity) that comprises the forty days before Easter, not including Sundays. Catholics, Orthodox, and plenty of Protestants participate in this period of spiritual preparation for Christianity’s most important holy day. There’s an element of spiritual purification to the season. But most people today have really strange ideas about purity, and these ideas have infected our popular culture. Snow White follows all of the “rules” for female purity, and still gets punished. On the other hand, the story of King Arthur thoroughly exploits the near-total ambiguity of male purity.
When fantasy authors attempt to build the mythology of their world, they often rely on religion or religious belief, usually on pagan or Christian beliefs (but for this particular post we will be focusing on the pagan beliefs). Norse, Greek, and Roman mythologies are some of the other favorites used by authors. Using these beliefs is not a bad thing in fantasy writing. What is a problem is when these religious aspects are utterly forgotten or confused in the world building. As someone who both studies theology and is an avid fantasy fan, one of my biggest pet peeves is when religion is introduced into a show, but only as “magic” and never as actual religious beliefs.
One recent example of this is in Teen Wolf. In Seasons 1 and 2 there is no mention, hint, or indication of any type of religious belief in the show, but come Season 3 we are introduced to a whole host of mythologies. We learn that werewolves are descendants of Lycaon, who was cursed by Zeus after Lycaon attempted to feed him human flesh. Lycaon was trying to humiliate Zeus because he was actually a worshiper of the Titans, but Zeus turned Lycaon and his people into wolves as punishment. Later, according to Teen Wolf’s mythos, Lycaon’s people met the Druids who they begged to help turn them back to humans, but the Druids were only able to help them partially transform, thus creating the werewolves.
Let’s face it: most religions, both in real life and pop culture, seem to be made up of a hierarchy of men leading other men.But mostreligions actually have many important influential and powerful female figures, yet upsettingly, they are often ignored, forgotten, or even rewritten in order to maintainsexist notions about women.
Now you might be thinking, how is geek culture in particular going to incorporate female religious figures? Exactly the same way geek culture interprets male religious figures. Sometimes literal angels or gods are featured in movies or TV shows. Sometimes characters symbolically or allegorically represent one of these figures. There is no reason that female religious figures can’t receive the same treatment as the male ones.
So here are, in no particular order, my top five female religious figures that need to be incorporated more into our pop culture.