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.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Orthodoxy: Why a Russian Orthodox Viktuuri Wedding Would Make History

The figure skating anime Yuri!!! On Ice skated into all of our hearts last year, and I was not immune to its charms. The relationship between professional skater Yuuri and his coach Viktor (thus the ship name “Viktuuri,” alternately spelled “Victuuri” or “Victuri”) was inspirational, heart-warming, and so very, very gay. And as its opening song states, it “made history”: it managed to tell a story in which a relationship between two men was unremarkable, just another part of life for these characters, while eschewing the fetishization and stereotypes typical of yaoi, like the dominant, masculine seme and more feminine, submissive uke. Unlike the vast majority of sports anime, it did not queerbait while never canonizing any queer relationships, instead celebrating how a blossoming romance could become an integral part of Yuuri’s self-expression through his sport. In addition, it’s significant that Viktor, one half of this victorious couple, is from Russia, a country known for virulent homophobia which has even passed laws against “gay propaganda”. While we don’t know if the creators of the anime purposefully set out to show up Russia, the fact that their Russian character is openly queer is still a statement.

I’m here to propose another way Yuri!!! On Ice can make history. By the end of the first season (spoiler alert), Viktor and Yuuri are engaged and have moved to St. Petersburg to both continue their skating careers at Viktor’s home rink. A wedding in the next season (or an OVA) is obviously imminent. If that wedding takes place in a Russian Orthodox church, it would be another statement of protest, since the Orthodox Church currently does not allow same-sex marriage–not to mention that this would be one of the few instances of representation that Orthodox Christians (like me!) would get in media! Also, Orthodox weddings are beautiful and meaningful, and deserve more coverage in fictional media beyond just My Big Fat Greek Wedding. (Note that I am Greek Orthodox, not Russian Orthodox, so I’m not familiar with all the Russian Orthodox traditions and would be happy to hear more from any Russian readers in the comments!)

Let me tell you all about it below the jump!

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Our resident history-makers

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: House of Sim

screenshot by beggar1015

screenshot by beggar1015

The Sims is one of the most popular god-simulation games on the planet. I’ve been playing it since the original Sims game, when babies were made by passionately kissing a bunch of times in a row and children never grew up. Nowadays, Sims 4 is making progressive strides in the world of inclusive gaming. The creators want everyone to feel like they can see themselves represented in their Sims and tell more diverse stories than ever. Most recently, a patch removed the rigid gender binary in the Create-a-Sim workshop. Now you can customize your Sim’s gender, their ability to be pregnant or make others pregnant, and if they prefer masculine or feminine clothing. It’s not total gender customizability, but it’s a new and significant move in the name of inclusivity and representation. We can customize our Sim’s age, education, occupation, and where they live. Sims now come in all colors of the rainbow (literally). Sexual orientation is determined by the player’s will. There are Vampire-Sims, Zombie-Sims, Fairy-Sims, Witch-Sims, Plant-Sims, Werewolf-Sims, Mermaid-Sims, and Alien-sims. So why haven’t the creators touched religion yet? Well, there may be a few reasons, and none of them are great.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Logical Paradoxes, the Soul, & Christianity

Recently, I have started watching Vsauce3, a great YouTube channel that discusses a lot of interesting philosophical and scientific theories. It’s really cool, and if you have never watched it, definitely check it out. I became particularly intrigued by one video that discussed four logical paradoxes about what really makes you, you.

The Theseus Paradox considers Theseus’s ship as an example. Say you have this ship, and after a while you replace the sails, then the mast, and all the rope, and eventually you even replace all the wood so that none of the elements of the original ship are there anymore, even if it looks exactly the same. So then the question is: Is it the same ship anymore? Furthermore, it also states that if you took all the parts you removed from the first ship and used them to build a second one, is that actually the original ship? Or are they both entirely new ships?

Another paradox discussed in this video is the Sorites Paradox, which asks: If you have a heap of sand, and you keep taking away one grain of sand until there is only one grain of sand left, at which point during this process does it stop being a heap of sand?

Then, if you combine the Theseus and Sorites Paradox and apply it to a person, we ask the question: when do we stop being ourselves? If your leg is cut off, yes, you are still you, but think about how most of your cells have replaced themselves since birth. You look different, act different, maybe even have different opinions and a different personality since you were a baby or even a little kid. Is the you who was a baby the same person as the you you are now?

Finally there is the Teletransportation Paradox, which discusses being in a transporter where you are broken down into little pieces and then rebuilt somewhere else. It would essentially kill you and then put together different atoms in order to remake you. The last you would remember is stepping into a transporter and then coming out the other side. You would have all the same memories and same personality, but we wouldn’t know what happened in between moving from one location to another. And really, how can you even be sure you do have the same memories and personality? So then the question becomes, is the person who walked into the transporter the same as the person who came out?

I started to wonder about these paradoxes in relation to the soul and religion. Most religions believe that there is more to a person than just their body; their soul is also a key part of who they are. In some religions the body takes second place, and the body is viewed as an illusion or a prison for the soul, while other religions see the soul and body as very much linked and equal in value. For example, in Christian sects, gnostic Christianity views the body as less important than the soul, but most mainstream Christians view the body and soul as equally important. Because I am Christian, I will talk about the mainstream Christian view of the soul and body, but I would love to know what other religious belief systems have to say about this issue, so please let me know in the comments! Are any of the Star Trek characters still the same person after having been broken down and rebuilt in the transporter? Is Voldemort still Voldemort even after he split up his soul and then basically built himself a new body? Let’s dive in!

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Oh, My Pop Culture Westboro: Fantastic Beasts and Magic as Metaphor Instead of Genuine Representation… Again

I enjoyed 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie, though like Lady Geek Girl, I felt it had a lot of logical issues and problems with racial representation. The film didn’t have much in the way of religious or LGBTQ+ representation either… but it did have metaphors for them. Which—do we even have to say it anymore?—is not enough.

We’ve called out the Harry Potter series before for using magic and various conditions in the wizarding world as a metaphor for different kinds of oppression in the real world, such as lycanthropy as a metaphor for AIDs and discrimination against non-purebloods as a metaphor for racism. The problem with these metaphors is that readers might not make the connection to the real-world problem, so in order for them to really have impact, there should be examples of the real-world issue too. For instance, the series could have featured more prominent characters of color who experienced racism in the Muggle world in addition to discussions of blood “purity”. Instead we got a cast of all white protagonists, with characters of color getting very little development.

J. K. Rowling makes no secret of her support for social justice causes (just look at her Twitter feed!). In fact, she’s totally fine with headcanoning Hermione as Black and applauded the casting of Noma Dumezweni, a Black woman, as Hermione in the Cursed Child play, and racebending Hermione helps to relieve some issues about her Muggleborn blood status acting as a stand-in for discrimination rather than discussing any real-life discrimination. But real-life discrimination is still not discussed in canon. You would think that maybe Rowling would have listened graciously to some of these criticisms about hiding real-world issues behind metaphors that not everyone is going to get, and would have worked harder to avoid them in her next work. What is that next work? Fantastic Beasts. Did she listen? Nope. Instead the movie gave us a new metaphor to grapple with: obscurials as coded LGBTQ+ children repressed by overzealous religious families, in this case represented by the Second Salemers. And it isn’t pretty.

Spoilers for many aspects of Fantastic Beasts below the jump!

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: The Tenuous Relationship Between Buddhism & Doctor Strange

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I love it when any piece of pop culture incorporates some kind of religion that isn’t Christianity, because despite the fact that Christian themes are everywhere in Western media, not everyone is Christian. It’s nice to see media embrace themes from other faiths and show more religious diversity. However, sadly this tends to be a very exotified, watered down, and often inaccurate depiction, especially when it comes to Eastern religions.

Marvel’s latest hit, Doctor Strange, is based on a comic that relies heavily on Eastern religions, particularly Buddhism. However, the orientalism displayed in the comics, as well as the culturally appropriative nature of the comics in general, means that the portrayal of Buddhism in the movie tends to be a rather problematic one.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: The Legacy of Christian Paternalism in the Harry Potter Universe

As long as there has been racism, people have been trying to justify it to themselves and others. Unfortunately, all too commonly, religion has been a prime factor in these justifications. While the Atlantic slave trade was just beginning, before slavery was made hereditary, slavery was justified by the simple fact that slaves weren’t Christian. Worse—they didn’t even know about Christianity! It was obviously necessary to capture them all and take them under the loving wing of white overseers in order to educate them about the Lord and Savior, right? Jesus did say to go and make disciples of all men! And otherwise they wouldn’t be able to get into heaven! And Christian salvation was just the first perk in a long line of awesome things slaves got for being slaves!

Yeah, that was my sarcasm voice.

Slavery is rampant in the Bible. The Hebrews were God’s chosen people, and they had slaves. Not only did they have slaves, but God must have approved of them doing it, because He gave them specific rules in Deuteronomy and Leviticus on how to do slavery the Yahweh way. In the New Testament, in St. Paul’s Letter to Philemon, Paul doesn’t so much reject the idea of slavery as he recommends that slaves and their masters maintain an imbalanced system of mutual respect, e.g. slaves should be obedient to their masters, and masters should repay that obedience with compassionate lordship. (Sounds a lot like what he had to say about marriage, so, uh, yikes on that one, dude.)

In the beginning, God created a bunch of stuff, including Adam. In both of the Creation stories included in Genesis, part of the myth involves God granting dominion over the earth and all the creatures He created to Adam, to hold in stewardship. As nonwhite peoples, in particular Black Africans and brown Native Americans, were seen as lesser, subhuman, and savage by white colonialists, it was easy to argue that this sense of God-given stewardship, this paternalism by divine right, should extend to include these other races. (The troubling principles of social Darwinism later lent pseudo-scientific credence to these arguments.) Instances of cultural genocide like the Trail of Tears, the doctrine of manifest destiny, and the Indian Residential School System were all in some way justified by the God-given belief that the white man had authority over how these “lesser races” should be living their lives.

Now, this is all horrifying and unpleasant to say the least, but what does it have to do with geeky stuff? Well, this Christian paternalist mentality is front and center in the Harry Potter universe, with the serial numbers filed off just enough to make it kind of secular.

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