Most of the time, geeky media does a pretty poor job of utilizing religious ideas. So I was shocked when I watched the fourth season premiere of The Flash and found that amid the somewhat clunky storytelling, there was actually a pretty decent portrayal of faith. This episode can show us a bit about how Christians understand how faith works, even though religion-flavored faith had almost no role to play in the episode.
A few weeks ago we reviewedOrphan Black for the last time. Religion played an important role in Orphan Black‘s worldbuilding, but the writers never truly moved beyond offensive religious stereotypes. In a show about bioethics, identity, and power, religion should have played a major role in creating diverse characters and showcasing different perspectives. After all, the show’s ultimate thesis was about women having the freedom to pursue their own definition of happiness and fulfillment through self-determination. Different versions of Christian religion and philosophy make an appearance in the show, but they’re never a good thing. In fact, religion ends up being a minor antagonist throughout the show.
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!
It’s December and that means it’s time to watch the endless parade of awesome Christmas specials. Of course, one of the first ones I turned to was The Muppet Christmas Carol. I apologize to all others who have English degrees, but I just can’t stand Charles Dickens. Not that he wasn’t brilliant—writing a ghost story to celebrate Christmas is awesome—but I just loathe his writing style. Thankfully, I don’t have to read his writing to enjoy The Muppet Christmas Carol. (And besides, everybody loves Muppets!)
While I was watching this amazing movie, I started thinking about Ebenezer Scrooge and how he was portrayed primarily as showing the deadly sin of greed. However, the more I thought about it, the more I started thinking that greed might not be his main problem.
Sleeping Beauty is one of those popular fairy tales that’s just a little bit embarrassing. Early last year I took a feminist look at the Disney Princess lineup, and Sleeping Beauty came up pretty much dead last when it comes to empowering feminist messages. Its leading lady could be replaced by a sexy lamp and you’d still have the same story, even if you have a whole lot more female supporting characters (and a female villain!) than in the typical Disney film. At least back then Disney wasn’t afraid of naming their movies with female leads after those leads (I’m looking at you, Tangled and Frozen). Disney’s Aurora is a pretty good example of the pure virgin power trope, in that Aurora’s worth comes from her goodness, which we assume to be true because of her status as the most maiden-like maiden to ever maiden. You’d think this is another result of prudish Christians enforcing gender stereotypes and shaming women into keeping their legs closed, but the real origins of the folk tale are far more interesting and far more pagan.
Trigger warning for rape and suicide after the jump.
Nothing bothers me more than the fact that religion has such a bad relationship with sex. In my particular experience, I am sick and tired of Christians having so many hangups about sex. I don’t necessarily have an issue with some Christians wanting to wait to have sex until marriage—I don’t agree with it, but as long as Christians don’t judge people who chose to do something different with their sexuality, then I’m fine with it. But that tends to not be the case. Individual Christians might be fine with it, but many Christian institutions tend not to be. I can’t tell you how many times as a kid I attended events that said “sex is a gift from God” but then proceed to say things like “but if you ever masturbate you’re sinning, if you think about sex you’re sinning, if you have sex ever then not only are you sinning but you’ll probably get a sexually transmitted disease, get pregnant, and even (especially if you’re a woman) you’ll be used up and broken.” This might not always be the intentional message, but I have seen and talked with enough teens to know this is the message that often gets through. The constant push from Christians to avoid any sort of sex or even exploration of sexuality certainly diminishes the belief that sex is a gift from God. But these modern problems aren’t the only thing that makes it seem like sex isn’t a gift from God. It’s Christianity’s long history of portraying sex as evil. Christianity has long listed numerous demons whose whole purpose was to tempt humans into some sort of “sexual perversion”, from Satan to Lilith and many others. There is also an obsession in Christian history with regulating peoples’ sex lives. There was a time when even married sex was considered lustful if it wasn’t done for procreation. Anything beyond married procreative sex was seen as the temptation of the devil.
Unfortunately, that’s not all. According to many religious teachings, this temptation into sexual sin was often seen to manifest itself primarily through women. Women were often thought to be more susceptible to lustful urges and temptation. Women were furthermore thought to have a closer connection to the devil because of this and because of their connection to Eve, the first woman, who was believed to have caused the downfall of man. And this is even reflected in our pop culture. I’m more than a little annoyed that more often than not in our pop culture, any and all sexuality is connected to the devil or demons, and that is all often wrapped in a nice sexist bow. While it’s understandable that our pop culture gets these ideas from religious sources, it’s certainly not healthy or helpful.
Season 4 of Orphan Black gave us a bigger taste of Alison’s religion. Alison is the stereotypical suburban soccer mom, a “type A” personality decked out in pastels. She’s a W.A.S.P. who stands in great contrast with her darker and edgier sisters Cosima, Helena, and Sarah. It’s no wonder that Alison is the clone with the most pronounced religious beliefs. Sure, Helena was raised by harsh Ukrainian nuns, but their religion hasn’t really been delved into by the show. Alison, on the other hand, wears a golden cross necklace and is often shown attending a Mainline Protestant church with her family. Her religion was involved in many minor scenes of this season, and she could be the doorway to a very different kind of religious representation in our scifi media.
Too fragile a portal into another dimension, a dimension which is probably Hell? IDK. I… I’m not a religious studies major, although if I were, I bet I would have graduated by now.
When I listened to this quote from Maureen in the Welcome to Night Vale episode “Things Fall Apart”, I took it as a little bit of a challenge. I am a religious studies major, and I started to look at some of the past episodes, trying to figure out what the latest plotline of Welcome to Night Vale was leading us to. It wasn’t until I listened to the episode “Who’s a Good Boy?” that I managed to finally figure it out.
Spoilers for Episodes 85 to 89 of Welcome to Night Vale after the jump.
When 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.
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.