I had just recently read the original book version of The Little Prince when I watched the Netflix movie adaptation of it. The movie was gorgeous, and I think it did right by its source material. It managed to include a great deal from the book in beautiful stop-motion animation sequences that looked like folded, textured paper, while adding an additional plot that stayed true to the message of the original. But it drove home (perhaps too heavy-handedly) a few points that I had not fully grasped while reading the book: faith in the improbable and death and childhood innocence as two sides of the divine-encounter coin. This latter idea first became popular during the Romantic period (which peaked somewhere between 1800 and 1850), and has been with us in Western society ever since. Unlike some Romantic poems, though, and even arguably the book itself, the movie manages to convey these messages in a hopeful, uplifting manner.
Major spoilers for both the book and movie versions of The Little Prince below!
If any of you have followed my posts in this Sunday column for a while, you’ve probably noticed that one of my favorite subjects to harp on is that by and large, science fiction does an absolutely atrocious job of authentically representing religion. Most of us have come to expect that if religion even shows up at all in a story, it’s likely an evil strawman of some kind of Christianity: really a parody of 1950s Roman Catholicism. If we’re lucky enough to deviate from that, we get a generic “Eastern Religion”. It’s even less common to read science fiction that takes faith-based issues and conflicts seriously. Take theodicy, for example. It’s a tricky topic but in short, it’s the theological discipline that attempts to grapple with the problem of evil. In many ways theodicy attempts to address some of the most serious objections to faith in a loving, powerful God. So when a priest recommended I read Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, I was happy to not only find an authentic representation of religious belief, but a deeply moving treatment of the problem of evil and divine providence in a faith-based context.
Spoilers for The Sparrow and triggers for rape, cannibalism, sexual slavery, body horror, and disturbing content below.
I have talked before about how Superman is actually a Christ figure, but I have always described and explained it in a mainstream Christian sense. However, there was a form of Christianity that existed on the fringes during the end of the second century called Gnostic Christianity: an interesting form of Christianity that combines Christianity, various Pagan beliefs, and esoteric philosophy. Largely regarded by other Christians as heretical, this form of Christianity eventually died out, though it did have some modern resurgence after some Gnostic texts werediscovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1947.
When I was studying theology in school, I was talking to my professor about Superman as a Christ figure and he argued that Superman was more of a Gnostic Christ figure than a modern Christian one. And it is true that Superman does share some similarities with the Gnostic depiction of Christ. But after doing more research into Superman’s character, I realized that the creators of Superman were Jewish and that Superman actually has a lot more connections with Judaism than with Christianity. Despite this, in recent years writers have taken a more Christian approach to Superman. It’s interesting that Superman, despite being created by Jewish writers, later became more Christian, particularly in regards to the more Gnostic version of Christianity. Gnostic Christianity was more a rejection of Judaism, because it views the God of the Old Testament as an evil god. So is Superman more of a Gnostic Christ figure, or more like one of the Jewish prophets?
Once upon a time, years before we came to the city that’s Not Officially Toronto But Come On, It’s Toronto, a woman had two children. As a fugitive from a dangerous secret organization, she had to give them up. One, she decided, to the church, and one to the state. This is the origin story for the two primary protagonists of Orphan Black. Sarah Manning went into foster care, while her sestra Helena went to an orphanage run by nuns in Ukraine.
It’s not a buddy comedy, despite this picture.
Helena gets indoctrinated into the Proletheans, an ambiguously Christian sect that serves as one of the major antagonists in the series. The religious motifs around the Proletheans make them terrifying, both with Helena as their assassin and as their prisoner. However, the show misses an opportunity to really dig into the theology of the Proletheans and doesn’t truly engage with any number of religious objections to the biotechnology the show presents as being in our immediate future.
Sleeping Beauty is one of those popular fairy tales that’s just a little bit embarrassing. Early last year I took a feminist look at the Disney Princess lineup, and Sleeping Beauty came up pretty much dead last when it comes to empowering feminist messages. Its leading lady could be replaced by a sexy lamp and you’d still have the same story, even if you have a whole lot more female supporting characters (and a female villain!) than in the typical Disney film. At least back then Disney wasn’t afraid of naming their movies with female leads after those leads (I’m looking at you, Tangled and Frozen). Disney’s Aurora is a pretty good example of the pure virgin power trope, in that Aurora’s worth comes from her goodness, which we assume to be true because of her status as the most maiden-like maiden to ever maiden. You’d think this is another result of prudish Christians enforcing gender stereotypes and shaming women into keeping their legs closed, but the real origins of the folk tale are far more interesting and far more pagan.
Trigger warning for rape and suicide after the jump.
Doctor Who is one of those shows that has a complicated relationship with religion. New Who seems to be written by people who are either mostly ignorant of religion or hostile to it (or both). After all, the Doctor is the great modern champion of science and reason. He’s the enemy of ignorant assimilation, and what better manifestation of ignorant assimilation is there than organized (read: Christian) religion? It’s offensive to religious people, sure, but the science vs faith trope is too juicy for most sci-fi to pass up. So it’s no wonder that when DoctorWhodoes decide to play with religious ideas, things go haywire. For example, take the idea of a soul. Lots of religions and philosophies have different ideas about what a soul is, and yet instead of sticking to just one, Doctor Who just uses the vaguest idea of what it might mean, whenever it’s convenient.
Season 4 of Orphan Black gave us a bigger taste of Alison’s religion. Alison is the stereotypical suburban soccer mom, a “type A” personality decked out in pastels. She’s a W.A.S.P. who stands in great contrast with her darker and edgier sisters Cosima, Helena, and Sarah. It’s no wonder that Alison is the clone with the most pronounced religious beliefs. Sure, Helena was raised by harsh Ukrainian nuns, but their religion hasn’t really been delved into by the show. Alison, on the other hand, wears a golden cross necklace and is often shown attending a Mainline Protestant church with her family. Her religion was involved in many minor scenes of this season, and she could be the doorway to a very different kind of religious representation in our scifi media.