Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: “God Johnson” and Fear of Characterizing God

(image via mymbuzz.com)

The second season of Lucifer recently ended and I have to say that it was amazing. However, there was one episode in particular that I both loved and was frustrated with called “God Johnson”. In this episode, Lucifer and Chloe head to a mental institution where a man has been murdered. The main suspect in the case is God—or, well, a man who thinks he is God, and who even legally changed his name to God Johnson. Lucifer confronts Johnson to tell him that the real God is an asshole, but he stops shorts when Johnson calls him by his angelic name, Samael. This prompts Lucifer to believe Johnson really is God. Later Lucifer admits himself into the same institution and sees Johnson heal a human, again causing him to truly believe this is really God. I was so excited about this! After the show introduced God’s wife, I was hoping we would eventually get to meet God himself and explore the relationship between God and Lucifer in a more real way. Sadly, though, this episode doesn’t take the direction that I would have hoped. God’s character is not engaged with in the same way that Lucifer’s is. God remains just this impassive, omnipotent, but never present figure. Despite how our media loves to play with religion in its shows, movies, etc., the Abrahamic God appears to be off limits in terms of real character exploration.

Spoilers for the Lucifer episode “God Johnson” below.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Faith-Fueled Gods in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Sandman

Most religious people believe in a god or gods that exist independently of humans, and that do not need anything in particular from humans in order to keep on existing. Some people believe their god or gods predate the existence of sentient life, or even of the universe itself. Neil Gaiman likes to play around with this idea of belief in deities. In particular, in his comic series The Sandman and in his book American Gods, he posits a surprising (to people of faith) scenario: what if gods exist only because people believe in them?

This has some fascinating implications for human (and, in Sandman, other sentient being) agency. It essentially grants superhuman strength to human belief, empowering us to control our own destinies. On the other hand, this premise also opens a whole bunch of cans of worms. It directly contradicts many faiths’ theology and causes issues with causality. Perhaps most chillingly, however, it introduces a degree of moral relativism that could (and in the stories, does) lead to unjust consequences.

Mild spoilers for the Sandman series and American Gods below.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The Case for a Genderqueer God

2012-12-17-ImageofGodWell, ladies and gentlemen, I have just finished and defended my thesis and can now proudly say that I have a Masters in Theology. My thesis discussed the idea of gender fluidity—basically, whether or not a more expansive view of gender could help to limit stereotypical views of gender in theology. That’s not what this post is about, but these ideas did get me thinking about how God is portrayed both in theology and in pop culture.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Jean Valjean, Javert, and Theology

I am currently in love with the Les Miserables movie, so expect me to be talking about it a lot here. Because, at its heart, Les Miserables isn’t just about how bad things are or a bunch people dying—it’s about God and faith.

Our two male leads, Jean Valjean and Javert, are two characters at the heart of a theological debate. The debate is not simple—it’s more a conflict between two different views of morality. This is a problem a lot of Christians, and a lot of religious people in general, have, and that’s the difference between “the letter of the law” and “the spirit of the law.” This means the difference between obeying specifically what the law says or obeying the overall message.

For example:

“Thou Shall Not Steal” is one of the Ten Commandments. Should good Judeo-Christians obey the Ten Commandments? Of course we should—this is the law of God.

But wait, what if someone is poor and starving and steals bread to feed themselves and their family? Is stealing still wrong then?

Oh, my God, what an oddly appropriate example for Les Miserables.

Valjean stealing and being sent to prison characterizes everything about Javert and Valjean’s relationship. Everything about Valjean in Javert’s mind is defined by this one thing, regardless of any extenuating circumstances.

Now if we interpret this scenario from the understanding of “the spirit of the law”, things work differently. The main message or the spirit of the Bible is, at its core, to love one another. Yes, the Bible contradicts itself all over the place, but that is still the main message. Love others as God has loved you.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Manny (Man in Moon)

0So Manny, sometimes referred to as Man in Moon or even just MiM, is the God figure in the Rise of the Guardians universe. Just to be clear, I have only read the first half of North’s book in the Guardians of Childhood series, so while some of what I say will come from that, most of this is based on the movie, since that is what I know.

Manny became the very first Guardian many years ago, around the time the Earth got a moon. It is Manny who chooses who to make into spirits for children to believe in and it is Manny who chooses which of those spirits will become Guardians. He watches over the children of the world through both the Guardians and his moonbeams, which act to him as angels might to God.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Aerith (aka Aeris)

ff7_aerith5It’s not often that we find Christian themes in media straight from Japan, except for when we do, because it happens all the time. Japanese culture seems to be very fascinated with Christianity as a whole, and so it comes as no surprise that we may find some Christian themes in the Final Fantasy franchise as well. When I first sat down to outline what I was going to say for this post, I initially planned to discuss Aerith as a Virgin Mary figure, but I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. Aerith has more in common with Jesus than she does Mary. While it’s true that she does share some traits that we would find with a Mary figure—purity of heart, (more than likely) virginal, etc.—these are also traits that Jesus had. And really, the main reason I first thought of Mary and not Jesus is because Aerith is a woman.

So let’s talk about Aerith as a female Christ figure.

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Theatre Thursdays: The Devil’s Carnival

Once upon a time, if someone had asked me, what musical I thought was the most sexist and damaging to women I would have said, Grease. Grease, most people will agree has a terrible message, which is basically, “hey, ladies, compromise your morals and integrity in order to get this asshole guy, who doesn’t treat you right anyway, to like you and stay with you—then you’ll be happy!” But what I usually hear people say is, “Yeah, Grease has a terrible message, but at least it has good music.”

That’s a lame excuse for letting a musical get away with being horribly sexist, but I grudgingly admit that the music is good.

Now, if someone were to ask me what I think the most sexist and damaging musical is I could no longer say Grease. Grease now has the number two spot. And on top of being horribly sexist, this musical doesn’t even have the benefit of having decent music.

Ladies and Gentleman, I give you, The Devil’s Carnival!

TheDevilsCarnival_Soundtrack_CoverThe Devil’s Carnival is the most heinous pile of crap I have ever seen. It was written by Terrance Zdunich, who also wrote Repo! The Genetic Opera, which I actually love. I love dark gothic musicals, so I was excited to watch The Devil’s Carnival. I tried to like this musical, I really did, but on top of having terrible music, the musical claims everyone who is in hell was sent there by God, because they didn’t fit his idea of perfection, that grief is a sin, and that women who fall for bad guys and then get hurt (killed in this musical as well as implied rape) are sinning, because they trusted someone they shouldn’t. Yeah…

[Warning: Discussion of Rape, Murder, Victim-shaming, and Suicide below.]

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