I love fairy tales, both old ones and new versions. It’s fascinating how you can tell the same story twice and get two totally different meanings. You can see this with Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid. Both the original and the beloved Disney version are very much influenced by Christian moral frameworks, but in two totally different ways.
Who has a soul? The question seems pretty simple when we first think about it, but can get complicated very quickly. Do animals have souls? Unborn fetuses? Plants? The soul is a tricky thing to discuss, largely because there is no way for us to truly quantify or fully understand the soul. People who are religious tend to think of the soul from everything as the spirit that lives on after your death to that spark of God that truly makes you you. Most people will say that living things have souls. But what about your computer? Does it have a soul? This is a question that sci-fi authors have asked about robots and/or androids over the years. Can something man-made have a soul in a similar way that a human does? Is it something more than an inanimate object or more like a human being? Age of Ultron is one recent movie that gives us a glimpse of this issue.
Spoilers after the jump.
A while ago Stinekey wrote a post about people who call themselves spiritual, but not religious. What people generally mean by this is that they do believe in a “something more”, but they’re not attached to a specific religious belief system. While pondering a topic for my own post I considered that the opposite, things that are religious but not spiritual, are also a common feature in media.
What do I mean by that? Well, I mean that different forms of media often use religious figures in their stories without showing any spiritual aspect of said religion. And while I think this happens across faiths, a lot of pagan pantheons get this short shrift more often, probably because the general public doesn’t usually think of Greek or Egyptian or Norse deities as being worshiped in the modern day.
If you haven’t seen Mad Max: Fury Road yet, you’re really missing out. It’s more or less a complete feminist masterpiece, set in a strangely intriguing post-apocalyptic sci-fi world, with lots of awesome explosions. There are so many things I could say about the film, but today I’m going to stick with the way it plays with religion. Fury Road isn’t a movie that hits you over the head with a moral or a message (unless you count the wives shouting “We are not things!”), but like all good science fiction, it has a lot to say. In this case, I was pleasantly surprised at the complexity of the film’s use of religion. It shows us how the power of faith can be used both to inspire the best in humanity and to utterly destroy it.
Spoilers abound below.
If you have been on this blog for more than a second you can probably already guess that diversity is something that is important to us. And that is true even when it comes to belief. It is important to have wide representation of people of faith. We need characters who are Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, etc in our media. But within those categories we need characters who are devout in their faith, question their faith, are eclectic in their faith, etc. And even beyond that, we need characters who are strongly religious, atheist, agnostic, spiritual but not religious, etc. Basically, we need to show as many varieties of belief as we see in human beings because this is something that really matters to real people.
Firefly has always been one of my favorite shows despite it being tragically canceled, and I think one of the main reasons I enjoyed the show so much is the wide diversity of belief we see with the cast. It’s rare that shows discuss belief, and it’s even rare that a show does it across a decently broad spectrum.
There are two things people know about me, even if they don’t know me very well. One, I love Jesus, and two, I love musicals. If you put those two things together you will usually make something I supremely enjoy. And while Jesus Christ Superstar is by no means perfect, theologically speaking, it is one of my favorite Jesus-themed musicals. However, I have sadly never seen the show live (other than high school versions), and many of the other movie versions of Jesus Christ Superstar were sadly lacking. Each version had certain strengths but each also failed at what I thought was the musical’s biggest strength: putting Christ in a modern setting. However, the 2012 Live Arena Tour of Jesus Christ Superstar does set the story in the modern day, and furthermore, does a great job at portraying Jesus as a social justice activist.
The 1973 version had a bunch of hippies drive out to the desert to reenact Christ’s story, which… why? I really think this would have been a lot better if they had just retold the story of Jesus, but set it during the seventies. But no, we got hippies in the desert acting out the story as if performing a play. And things got really uncomfortable when it seemed like they had actually killed Jesus. Since the show is staged as if a bunch of random people go out to perform the story of Christ, it came off particularly weird at the end when all the actors leave on the bus but the actor playing Jesus remains on the cross. In the context of the movie it looks like these people actually crucified the person playing Jesus and left him there, which is both creepy and weird. Then there was the 2000 Jesus Christ Superstar, which was all over the place, time period-wise. Jesus still looked like a seventies hippie, the apostles looked like they walked straight out of the eighties, Mary Magdalene dressed like Mimi from RENT, and the Pharisees and Roman soldiers looked like something out of a futuristic dystopia. It was a mess. Anything else good about that version was lost due to the extremely confusing mix of aesthetics.
You might think this is a silly thing to linger on, especially from a theological perspective. Why would showing Jesus in a modern day perspective be so important? Shouldn’t I be more concerned with how the musical portrays Jesus and the Biblical narrative of Christ? Well, yeah, and I am concerned about that, but Jesus Christ Superstar—just by virtue of how the music and lyrics are written—is in the unique position to show Christ in the modern day. And for a believer like me, that is extremely important. One of the main things I do at my job is try to help people understand how Christ’s radical message of love is still relevant today. For me and many others, Christ wasn’t just a nice guy, but a reformer with a radical message. People today try to claim that Christ’s message supports their beliefs, but more often than not, our pop culture, and even many practicing Christians, ignore Christ’s message of social justice. This 2012 Live Arena Tour of Jesus Christ Superstar does not ignore Christ’s social justice message. Rather, it sets Christ in a modern-day setting and shows him combating the powers that be of the time.
A few years ago I came across the comic Sky Doll. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to finish it because it was overtly sexual, and that’s not really my cup of tea, but the story and the characters were interesting so I read it all anyway. One of the most fascinating topics the comic addressed was the religious war between the two female popes (papesses), Agape and Lodovica. They were both meant to represent aspects of religion, yet they didn’t unite people together. Their church tried separating the spiritual side of religion from the carnal side, and it caused pandemonium and chaos for everyone on their planet. Sky Doll shows what happens when people misinterpret the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law (and vice versa).
Spoilers ahead! Also trigger warning for blood and nudity.