Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: The Possibilities of Digital Religion


source: Tumblr Staff

A few days ago the staff of Tumblr (you still have a Tumblr, right? We do.) promoted a post announcing “emoji spells” were “having a moment”. I couldn’t help but think about how unique this idea is, and at the same time, really isn’t. Emoji spells are a series of emojis put together with a similar intent to that of casting traditional spells. They’re popular with technopagans and operate under principles similar to traditional spellcraft, combining specific intentions with sending the spell out into the world multiple times. Instead of saying the words aloud thrice, likes and reblogs (or other forms of sharing specific to a digital platform) charge and cast the spell. Witches have used sigils, or symbols, that are experimental and unique to a specific spell. They turn an intention into a magic image, so emojis are the perfect vehicle for digital witchcraft. The more the emojis are shared, the greater charge they get and the more powerful they become, just as many voices are more powerful than one.

The reason emoji spells get so many reblogs and likes isn’t because there are an overwhelming number of Wiccans and magic-users on Tumblr (although there is a thriving community). It’s because people hope they work, it takes next to no effort to pass on today’s version of the chain letter, and if they don’t work, no one actually thinks any harm will come of it. That’s the key: we aren’t really sure if digital manifestations of religion really count in the same way “real-world” religious rituals and practice do. Even in the Wiccan, witchcraft, and pagan communities, practitioners of techno magic are looked down on. One way to start this conversation is to look at geek culture, and the way geeks have been encountering some of the most important fundamental elements of religion since the dawn of the internet.

Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: The Problem with Exorcisms


(via mubi)

Catholicism has a long history of belief in exorcisms, and while many people today may not believe in exorcism, for other Catholics, it is still a very real thing. Exorcisms are also a favorite trope of Hollywood horror films and TV shows, especially during the month of October. However, exorcisms have some issues in regards to ableism and sexism, and the movies rarely seem to want to explore those issues.

Trigger warning for discussions of ableism and disability below.

Continue reading

“Everything’s Coming Up Lucifer”: A Lucifer Season Premiere Review

Season 2 of Lucifer is here and I’m so excited! I love this trash show. Despite many problematic issues and some stereotyped writing, this show is remarkably entertaining and Season 2 looks set up to be better than the last one. I’m actually surprised by how much I enjoyed the latest episode and by how excited I am for the rest of the season. I was also pleased to find that certain issues with the show have been fixed and that the overall plot for Season 2 involving Lucifer’s mother actually seems like it might be really interesting.

Spoilers for first episode of Lucifer Season 2.


Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Faith and the Romantic Child in The Little Prince

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!


Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Theodicy and The Sparrow


Job’s Evil Dreams, via WikiCommons

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.

Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Superman: Gnostic Christ Figure or Jewish Prophet?

supermanI 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 were discovered 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?

Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Orphan Black and Missing Religious Voices

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.

Continue reading