Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: The 100 and False Religion

The 100 Clarke looking at PolisWhen I last left The 100, it seemed like religion was a crutch for those who don’t have the right technology, and spirituality is for everyone (but you get more out of it if you’re from an “advanced” society, of course). Now that we’ve finished the season, I’m both impressed and horrified by the ways in which religion is used this season. Religious symbolism moves beyond suggestion into a strong motif, to great effect. While I’m disappointed that religion remains a tool for our characters to use, the writers thoughtfully employ religious imagery and actions in ways that give us a better, more disturbing story… particularly if you’re an adherent to the religions they draw from.

Spoilers for Season 3 of The 100 below.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: The Lucifer Season Finale & Feminist Theology

Almost a month ago the Lucifer season finale premiered and I enjoyed the heck out of the episode. I loved everything from seeing Lucifer pray to getting a glimpse of hell, but the show really threw me a curve ball with Lucifer’s final line in the episode and the feminist theologian in me isn’t sure how to feel about it.

Major spoilers for the Lucifer season finale after the jump.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Faith in Fantasy

I’ve mentioned before that fantasy is an important tool for analyzing and commentating on reality. Many social conventions that exist in reality are reflected in fantasy, with varying degrees of abstraction, and this allows for some pretty accessible metaphors. I have realized recently, however, that there is a significant difference between the place religion occupies in society and the way it is typically represented in fantasy. The most critical thing is that in reality, of course, religion is a matter of faith: the results of prayer or ritual are not measurable and the existence of deities is not provable. In fantasy, on the other hand, it’s quite common for deities to appear unambiguously and for religious rites to produce clear and repeatable results. That’s generally convenient for the characters, but excluding some or all of the “faith” element makes fantasy religion a much less useful metaphor for real religion. When religion is an important element of a fantasy world, therefore, it does serve a purpose, but generally a less direct purpose than representing or commentating on real religion.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Trickster Gods and Pop Culture

MCU Loki

Trickster gods may seem like a strange thing to some people. After all, why would you believe in a deity who would mess with you for laughs? Pagan trickster gods may occasionally seem malevolent, but they actually serve an important role. In pop culture, trickster gods are often used to critique the powers that be and question the status quo.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: The 100 and That Old-Time Religion

The 100 Clarke looking at PolisThere aren’t many shows on television anymore that I enjoy as much as CW’s The 100. Ace has been following the series here since it began, and I’m only just getting caught up. The 100 offers a kind of teenage/YA dystopian escapism that my preteen self would have obsessed over, plus an imaginary boyfriend to boot (Hello, Nurse Bellamy!). Who cares if we never figure out how the characters maintain their never-ending supply of mascara when we have issues to tackle like turf wars and privilege and racism and sexuality? Among these, I had hoped that religion would be handled thoughtfully, but the result is pretty meh. Nevertheless, The 100 gives us a pretty good example of some typical science fiction religion tropes, and how religion can function in ways that help (and hurt) the quality of the story.

Spoilers for The 100 through Season 3 Episode 8, “Thirteen.”

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Faith-Fueled Gods in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Sandman

Most religious people believe in a god or gods that exist independently of humans, and that do not need anything in particular from humans in order to keep on existing. Some people believe their god or gods predate the existence of sentient life, or even of the universe itself. Neil Gaiman likes to play around with this idea of belief in deities. In particular, in his comic series The Sandman and in his book American Gods, he posits a surprising (to people of faith) scenario: what if gods exist only because people believe in them?

This has some fascinating implications for human (and, in Sandman, other sentient being) agency. It essentially grants superhuman strength to human belief, empowering us to control our own destinies. On the other hand, this premise also opens a whole bunch of cans of worms. It directly contradicts many faiths’ theology and causes issues with causality. Perhaps most chillingly, however, it introduces a degree of moral relativism that could (and in the stories, does) lead to unjust consequences.

Mild spoilers for the Sandman series and American Gods below.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Bad News—The Anti-Gospel of Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist

Happy Women’s History Month! I figured what better time to bring up an old, dark current in human history—a question as absurd to our modern sensibilities as it was ubiquitous to earlier generations: Are women evil? Now, I’m not going to attempt to go through an exhaustive historical catalog of theological and philosophical sources that have answered this question (unfortunately, often in the affirmative). But let’s turn to one particular stream of thought: Gnosticism. The religions under the umbrella of Gnosticism are characterized by a dualistic cosmology that pits the physical, material world against the heavenly, spiritual world, the former being seen as profane and corrupt, the latter being seen as good and holy. Unfortunately for women, they were seen as by nature being more closely tied to the passionate, material world, whereas men were seen as being more closely tied to the rational, spiritual world. Can’t sum it up better than this line from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas: “Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Let Mary [Magdalene] leave us, for women are not worthy of Life.’ Jesus said, ‘I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’”

Though Gnosticism never won out as a normative expression of Christianity, some of its dualistic thinking about gender and sexuality continued to inspire later thinkers in church history. For this post, I want to focus on just one iteration of the idea: the haunting, psychosexual nightmare of a film by Danish screenwriter and director Lars von Trier, entitled Antichrist. I remember first reading about the film on some internet click-bait page of “the most shocking horror movies” or something like that; and it is indeed shocking. A quick list of adjectives I’d use to describe the film include: brutal, savage, delirious, perverse. Yet the cinematography has a sinister, aching beauty that makes it a morbid pleasure to watch for fans of artsy horror films. With a cast of just two main actors (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, of all people) in incredibly intense performances, and backed by a research team that includes consultants on subjects from theology, anxiety, and misogyny to “mythology and evil”, horror films, and psychotherapy, it is an unexpected, unforgettable look at the age-old question: Are women evil? Spoilers below.

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