Earlier this month, the Catholic Church celebrated the Memorial feast of the guardian angels—it’s like a holiday to celebrate that spiffy angelic being given the job of poking you in the direction of Heaven. In honor of it, my mom planned a lesson for her fifth grade Sunday School class about what the Catholic Church thinks about angels, particularly guardian angels. Afterward, she told me that her students had all kinds of weird ideas about who and what angels are, none of which were really drawn from our own faith tradition at all.
You see, most people in America tend to think of angels as cute baby cupids from old, beautiful art, and as beautiful people who fly around, sit on clouds, and play the harp. They also tend to think that nice people turn into angels when they die, so that they can watch over us. But while those first two ideas clearly come from artistic representations of angels throughout history, the idea that humans turn into angels when they die really doesn’t have much religious basis… in Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. In the big three Abrahamic religions, angels (and demons, also known as fallen angels) are completely separate created beings. To any of these religions, it’s a bit like saying a dog turns into a human when it dies—it just doesn’t work in any of our cosmologies. And while it’s a nice, comforting idea that angels are beautiful, harp-playing souls of the much-loved departed, at the end of the day it’s a rather boring concept. Comforting, yes, but boring. But why must we stop at boring? Even if we don’t want to get our ideas of angels directly from religious faith, there are plenty of much more interesting examples of angels in pop culture.