Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Jesus the Man of Steel

superman-jesus-christ-worth1000I loved the Man of Steel movie! I adored it, in fact, and not only was it great, but some interesting Christian images crept into it as well. I did a post before about Christ figures and explained how if you don’t realize Superman is a Christ figure then you aren’t watching the movies right. Well, the Man of Steel movie, more than any other Superman movie so far, lays the Christ figure parallels on pretty thickly. Let’s take a look at what this movie did differently to make the parallels more obvious.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Jesus and the Twelfth Doctor

It’s that time again—when the Doctor Who fandom explodes with theories and arguments over who will be the next actor to play Doctor Who’s titular role. Many people, including our own Lady Saika, have called for an injection of diversity into the role. I tend to agree; I’ve thrown my hat into the Idris Elba fangirl ring. One of the more contentious issues in the fandom is whether or not to cast a woman for the role. BBC has stated that they aren’t ruling out the possibility of a female Doctor. Some argue that the show needs to cast a woman as proof that we’ve moved beyond sexist stereotypes, that the Doctor’s reference to the multi-gendered regenerations of the Corsair (another Time Lord, long dead) in “The Doctor’s Wife” is proof enough that Time Lords can regenerate into Time Ladies. Some argue that the question is moot, that it shouldn’t matter whether a man or woman is cast, it should go to the actor with the best audition. I’m going to argue that the Doctor should remain a man.

Wait! Don’t go! Most of the arguments for why the Doctor should remain a man are pretty weak, if not sexist. They usually boil down to “It’s always been that way!” or “The Doctor is a man!” or “Women are companions, why do they need to be the Doctor too?” But I think I’ve stumbled upon an argument for why the Doctor should retain his maleness, rooted in feminist theology.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Knows Two Gods, Still a Christian

After The Avengers came out, many people discussed Captain America’s famous line about God and Thor.

CapSome people were surprised that Joss Whedon, an atheist, included the line in the movie. Others were either pleasently surprised or dismayed at the inclusion of religion in the Marvel Movie Universe, but the most interesting response, and the one I’m going to address here, is: How can Captain America still be a monotheist when he knows two gods personally? People also pointed out that characters like Iron Man, who is typically written as atheist, would also have issues coming to terms meeting two gods.

In the comics in general, a variety of religions are often included or referenced. In the Marvel universe there are mentions of Christianity, Norse Mythology, Greek mythology, Judaism, Islam, and other forms of Paganism and Wicca. However, despite all these religions being referenced, it is usually the pagan religions that are “proven” when characters actually meet the gods they learned about. For today I will just address religion in the Marvel Universe since each comic book universe deals with religion a little differently.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Paradise: How Far is Heaven?

The concept of Paradise, the idea of some final reward waiting for the good folks after death, is a part of many religious traditions. From Dante’s Paradiso to that episode of Tom and Jerry where Tom dies and St. Peter won’t let him into heaven unless Jerry forgives him, we have a bit of a cultural fixation on the good life after death.

Am I the only one who remembers this?

Am I the only one who remembers this?

We’ve gotten pretty creative about portraying it, too. It’s not all angels in white dresses wielding harps anymore.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Universal Salvation, The Devil, and Fanfiction

So there is a topic within Christianity that is pretty taboo. No, not gay marriage, not Mary’s virginity, or anything about communion. This idea is so taboo that it’s almost never discussed: the idea that Lucifer, the devil, can be redeemed.

The very idea seems absurd and blasphemous to many Christians. In fact, I dare you to bring up the idea to any Christian. Some may simply dismiss the idea, and others may even be offended that you would dare suggest such a thing.

The redemption of the devil is actually a pretty old idea and one that was popularized by Isaac the Syrian, a seventh century mystic and bishop who is considered a saint by both the Eastern Orthodox Church and Catholic Church. Isaac the Syrian believed in a concept called universal salvation. Universal salvation is the belief that God is so loving and merciful that even if there is a hell, it’s empty, because God would never allow anyone to be damned. This idea has been critiqued because it seems to diminish free will. Some theologians that believe in universal salvation have added to this concept, saying that it is possible for us to reject God and condemn ourselves to hell, but that God would never reject us and would in fact forgive us of everything. Isaac the Syrian was so radical in his belief of universal salvation that he actually believed that there is no such thing as a just God. God, he argued, cannot be just because he is so in love with us. This idea, however, is incredibly controversial.

Another theologian named Rob Bell wrote a book called Love Wins, which discussed similar themes. He actually never completely says he agrees with universal salvation, but argues that Christians should hope that all people, no matter what, go to heaven. This so enraged people that in an interview on MSNBC the interviewer basically attacked Rob Bell and accused him of “amending the Bible to make it palatable”. MSNBC isn’t even a Christian station, so it was surprising that they were outraged. What should have been an objective interview turned into an attack on Rob Bell’s morality. I will never understand how people get so upset with the idea that others might not go to hell. And Rob Bell’s ideas of universal salvation didn’t even include the devil.

Isaac the Syrian, however, believed that Lucifer and the other fallen angels would be redeemed as well. Because they were created by God, they were originally good, and at the end of days all things will be reconciled back to God. Isaac the Syrian actually actively prayed for the redemption of the devil.

Despite this idea being, in my opinion, a really interesting idea, it’s not one that has been used that often in pop culture. The closest that anyone has gotten is probably Neil Gaiman in The Sandman comics. There is one notable episode were Lucifer decides to quit and simply leaves hell, but he isn’t really redeemed so much as retired.

There is one place in pop-culture where this idea is played out, however, and that’s in Supernatural fanfiction.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The Myth that Atheism Will Fix the World

I love being a theologian. Studying theology is just awesome, but some hazards come from working for God. I don’t get paid much, people assume I’m a prude, and drunk people in bars like to tell me why I shouldn’t believe in God. Telling someone in a bar that you are religious, let alone a religious scholar, is a very dangerous thing to do. The two biggest questions I get are “why do you believe in God?” and “are you okay with pre-marital sex?”

We… aren’t going to talk about that second one.

The “do you believe in God?” question is often followed some kind of accusation that if there was no more religion then there would be no war, no violence, and all would be right with the world.

While most atheists I know are extremely wonderful and reasonable people, I have encountered a few that are rather militant, whether they are drunk or not. And this idea that without religion everything would be better really pisses me off.

I’m not denying that religion has its problems, but many times in history religion has been used as a smoke-screen for less noble motives like taking money, land, power, etc. But still this implication that our world would be better without religion comes up a lot in our society.

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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: Religion in Battlestar Galactica

At the beginning of December, I discussed my problems with religion in Star Trek. I said that Gene Roddenberry’s view that religion would be unimportant in the 24th century was a tad near-sighted on his part.

Star Trek alumni and creator of Battlestar Galactica, Ronald D. Moore, took his reimagining of Battlestar Galactica in a completely different way. Instead of having religion deemed unimportant, he made religion a key point of the series, adding an additional element to an already-complex story.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Religion in Star Trek

My major beef with Gene Roddenberry’s vision of Star Trek is the lack of religion in the 24th Century. The complete collapse of religious undertones in the franchise drives some of the stranger uses of science and stories.

Originally, The Original Series recognized monotheistic religions as the choice of humanity. In “Who Mourns for Adonais,” Kirk says that “mankind has no need for Gods. We find the one quite adequate.”

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Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The Emperor’s New Groove

You guys, we are starting to get into random desperate topic time. You have been warned. Enjoy the ride.

So in the midst of all of the power outages and natural chaos that was Hurricane Sandy, I found myself frequently wallowing in my office, which had head, alongside my co-workers, their children, their children’s friends, their nieces, their sisters-in-law, their aunt-in-law, and ex-husbands. So as you can probably imagine, I got no work done. And when one of the kids turned on The Emperor’s New Groove, I totally gave up all attempts at work and sat and watched it.

But it got me thinking: Disney left out a heck of a lot of stuff about Incan religion. And while Disney isn’t exactly known for making factually-accurate movies, it doesn’t mean that I’m not going to give them a buy.

So the Incans (if I’m not confusing my native Latin American tribes) worshiped their emperors like gods. In the movie, Kuzco definitely gets that kind of treatment. But I what I found so interesting is how quickly they forgot about him and switched to Yzma. Well, I guess that Kuzco wasn’t the nicest person and the movie needed to keep itself moving, but still. Not to mention if Yzma got found out for trying to assassinate him, she would probably been sacrificed.

And speaking of sacrifices, there were no mentions of Incan religion in this movie. Granted, a religion that largely revolves around ritualistic sacrifice probably isn’t the best for a Disney movie, but it still could have been referenced a little bit. It would be like making a movie about the Amish without including anything about religion.

Bizarrely enough, the waitress in the restaurant says Mazel Tov, so I guess there can be Jewish Incans?

Finally, the llamas. While llamas were used as pack animals by the lower classes, to the upper classes they were a symbol of their nobility; llama figurines were buried with the dead. In addition, Urcuchillay, a multicolor llama deity, protected the animals and was worshiped by Incan herders.

So there you have it. If you feel like I’ve killed the movie a little, don’t be sad. I could have killed it for you like my college history professor killed it for me.