Oh, My Pop Culture Deities: It’s Tough To Be A God

You’d think that a comic based on an actual god figure from real-world mythology would be rife with potential for this column, but most of the time The Mighty Thor, which stars the new Jane Foster iteration of the character, doesn’t actually deal with much that could be considered theological in nature. However, the last three or so months’ worth of issues (#15-17, to be specific) have featured a very interesting conflict that gets at a meaty question. What does it mean to be a god? More specifically, does ultimate cosmic power come with a responsibility to one’s worshippers? How ought gods prove their power to their followers? This conflict is addressed through a competition that is both fascinating and horrifying.

(via the Marvel wikia)

Spoilers for the aforementioned issues below the jump.

Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Monergistic vs. Synergistic Election in Geek Media—Chosen One or Choosing One?

Hello there, good readers! I am back to the blog after a whole year hiatus; much has happened in my life, but in summary the two most important forces to have influenced my new life are Prozac and Protestantism (I’ve always had a thing for alliteration, I guess). I’m jumping right back in with a good ol’ OMPCR. One of the most hotly debated topics in Protestant Christianity (indeed, all Christianity) is the idea of predestination—in particular in relation to “chosen-ness”. The two biggest names in the Protestant Reformation in fact came to their own interpretations of predestination via studying the teachings of St. Augustine of Hippo, revered by Catholics as one of the greatest teachers of the faith: however, as usual, Luther and Calvin could not reach a common consensus (Luther went for single predestination, whereas Calvin advocated for double predestination). As Western Christianity celebrates Palm Sunday, or Passion Sunday, today, I thought it a great time to look at the idea of a Chosen One embracing their destiny—today the Western churches proclaim Jesus entering into Jerusalem to begin the culmination of his destiny as Messiah through the trials of Holy Week leading to the resurrection of Easter. Let’s look at some other Chosen Folk and see how they are both chosen and choosing.

BuffyTVS

SO chosen. (via softpedia)

Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Occultism: Esoteric Traditions in Foucault’s Pendulum

umbertoeco

Umberto Eco (via WAMC)

Earlier this week, I talked about the political implications of Umberto Eco’s 1988 novel, Foucault’s Pendulum, particularly with respect to the conspiracy-minded thinking that it dissects. But there’s also a significant spiritual dimension to the novel, as its focus on esoterica and the occult represent a real history of discontent with mainstream religion that stretches back nearly a thousand years.

The book generally side-eyes occultists, both past and present, and doubts their claims to supernatural powers. But it is very clear that such figures and groups really existed, and many of them authentically aspired to the powers they claim to have obtained, and their claims were very widely believed. New Age philosophies and other countercultures linked to the esotericism generally have a reputation for being peaceful and loving, but it’s one which has not been earned.

Eco by no means condemns the occult in general terms, but he does call attention to the potential for such beliefs to generate abuse and hatred. The large-scale rejection of Christianity by the alt-right in the United States, and the ongoing links between various neo-pagan subcultures and neo-Nazism, show the need for continued study.

Continue reading

Throwback Thursdays: Paranoia in Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco

Book cover

(via Amazon)

First published in Italian in 1988, Foucault’s Pendulum is an eerily prescient novel by the philosopher and semiotician Umberto Eco, who passed away about a year ago. Despite its arcane exploration of ancient mystical societies, and academic protagonists, its analysis of conspiracies, conspiratorial thinking, and related phenomena feel uncannily familiar, as though he were anticipating the incomprehensible modern world of truthers, birthers, and Pizzagate.

The book focuses on a trio of underemployed scholars in modern Italy, who make ends meet by working at a small, vanity publisher focusing on esoterica and conspiracy theories. Mocking their authors (whom they refer to as “Diabolicals”), the protagonists amuse themselves by trying to weave every bit of nonsense together into a grand new theory of the history of the world.

Belbo, Causabon, and Diotallevi never quite let themselves believe their own tale, but remain dangerously entranced by the possibilities that they dream up. Their apparent knowledge brings them into increasing conflict with the Diabolicals themselves, who persistently believe that any denial of a conspiracy is only evidence of its potency.

The book is set in 1970s and 1980s Italy, a time of social upheaval known as the Years of Lead. The era saw significant terrorist activity from far-left groups such as the Red Brigades as well as far-right and neo-Nazi organizations like the National Vanguard. In a society torn apart not only by violence, but by fundamentally oppositional views of the world, Eco saw the potency of esoteric thinking: it not only offered truths that could not be doubted, but the promise that ultimately, someone, somewhere, was actually in charge. Even if it was all made up.

It is this aspect of the book which resonates so deeply in the 21st century, when the world again seems plunged into chaos, and truth itself recedes into the distance. The conspiracy theories that animate contemporary politics overlap with the many legends in Foucault’s Pendulum, but even more than such specifics, the temptation, power, and danger of these beliefs echo loudly.

Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Prophecy and Providence in the Potterverse

(image via Harry Potter Wiki)

Like most of you, I grew up devouring Harry Potter, but I’m not sure how many of you had problems understanding just how the big prophecy worked. I know I did. Basically, Voldemort’s stooge overhears a seer prophesy that a true adversary to Voldemort will rise, and that “neither can live while the other survives”. Much ink is spilled, both in fandom and in the canon, over just what this prophecy means. Does it mean that Harry is fated to kill Voldemort (or Voldemort, Harry) or does Harry’s free will operate outside the confines of this prophecy? If the prophecy is true, it means Harry really is the Chosen One, chosen by fate to confront Voldemort. But that could mean that Harry doesn’t really have a choice in the matter. In the final book, Harry doesn’t seem like he does have a choice; the universe seems like it’s manipulated him to the point where he feels utterly compelled to fulfill the prophecy. The conflict is between fate, or providence, and free will. If we look at real-world ideas about providence and free will, we can get a better idea of how these might work.

Continue reading

How Mirka Got Her Sword and Stole My Heart

On a rare break from my binge of reviewing the latest in queer comics (don’t be alarmed, that regularly unscheduled programming will be back before you know it, I’m sure), I picked up a middle grade graphic novel that provides a different sort of representation. Hereville #1, How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch, touts itself as featuring “yet another troll-fighting eleven-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl”. And while it has a veeery busy corner of the market in which to distinguish itself (that was my sarcasm voice), Mirka mostly comes out on top.

Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Chirrut Îmwe and Faith Expression

I love Star Wars. Other than Harry Potter, it is probably one of the things that has most influenced my young nerdy life. As a young religious girl I loved the idea of the Force and the Jedi and how their faith in the Force gave them power. Then, like many people, I was dismayed over how the Force and the Jedi were portrayed in the prequels. Maybe it was because of my own issues with my faith, but I very much disliked how overly regimented the Jedi were shown to be and how it seemed to take some of the mystery out of the Force. With the most recent movies, like The Force Awakens and Rogue One, all of the things that I loved about the Force and the Jedi in the original movies were back, and I have to say that Chirrut Îmwe is one of the absolute best examples of someone of faith that I have seen in a long time. And more specifically, it was great seeing a beautiful faith expression that was more reflective of Buddhist and Taoist beliefs.

Continue reading