Welcome to Night Vale constantly amazes me with how unique it is, especially when it comes to religion. It manages to take real religious ideas and weave something entirely new and different from the thing that originally inspired them. The Smiling God, the beagle puppy, and the angels are inspired by Abrahamic religions, but while it’s clear that Huntokar and the other gods are definitely at least inspired by real deities, the creators of Night Vale have managed to create their own unique pantheon.
Several episodes ago, we learned that the god Huntokar, who has been mentioned in passing throughout the show, is the god of Night Vale and has been protecting the people of Night Vale since the very beginning. However, we came to discover that her protection also nearly doomed Night Vale by causing the multiple versions of the town in different universes to collapse in on themselves. In this episode, Huntokar mentions that she is one of four old gods that include the Glow Cloud (ALL HAIL), the Woman from Italy, and the Distant Prince.
Writers tend to take two different routes when it comes to adding deities to their stories. They either use gods of real religions, or they invent their own. Creating your own deities has the major advantage that you aren’t taking the risk of portraying another religion’s deities in a potentially harmful way. However, we cannot escape the fact that we are affected by what we know about religions and their deities and inevitably the audience may realize that these “fake gods” are inspired by real ones. It’s fine to be inspired by real deities, but it’s important to still develop them in such a way as to make them their own unique god, otherwise the portrayal could still end up seeming problematic. And that is exactly what the creators of Welcome to Night Vale were able to do. Their deities are clearly inspired by different real gods, but are written in such a way that they become their own unique god and are not simply a copy of another deity.
Spoilers for Welcome to Night Vale for up to Episode 113.
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.
During these troubling times, I like to go to my safe space for a while so that I can process things, and for me that often means diving into comics. Recently I was thinking about the 2017 Wonder Woman movie, which I loved, but also had some troubling religious aspects. We talked previously about how Wonder Woman was heavily Christianized, with Ares acting more like the Christian devil and less like the God of War, putting Wonder Woman in the Christ/savior role. But today I want to focus on the lack of goddess figures in Wonder Woman, excluding Wonder Woman herself, of course. Why, in a society of just women, was there so much focus on Zeus as the main god they followed, especially when previous comic incarnations of the Amazons did have them worshiping the Greek goddesses over the gods?
The Hulu adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale and the story’s frightening relevance in Trump’s America has led to a resurgence of interest in the original book. I read it back in high school, but watching a couple episodes of the show rekindled my interest in reading it again. Recently, I was lucky enough to be able to listen to a copy of the audio book. Atwood’s magnificent prose delivers a chilling, timely tale of a world where women have lost all control over their own lives and bodies. Despite its 1985 publication date, the book engages with numerous issues that remain relevant today, especially in light of current events.
Warning for discussions of slavery and rape below. And, of course, spoilers through the very end of The Handmaid’s Tale novel.
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. Thisprompts 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 theLucifer episode “God Johnson” below.
As someone who isn’t very religious and who’s had very few positive interactions with religion, I always get a little bit worried when it takes a significant role in the media I consume. That same worry filled me in Mass Effect: Andromeda when I began speaking with one of my crewmates, namely the science officer aboard the Tempest, Dr. Suvi Anwar. As I continued interacting with her, I was pleased to find that her character wasn’t limited to being “the religious one”, and that she found joy in the fact that she and my Ryder both had differing opinions on spirituality and the prevalence of religion—a mindset that is often sadly lacking in real life. I left my first Andromeda experience feeling like Bioware really stepped up the nuance in their conversations concerning religion and spirituality, but as the game’s plot twists ruminated in my mind, I came to the conclusion that Bioware and their stories still have a huge problem with avoiding exploring and accepting other religions outside of the Christianity “norm”.
I looked forward to Civilization VI for months before it came out, and on its release day, I was more than happy to drop $60 for a great gaming experience. After all, I liked Civilization V, and despite Civilization: Beyond Earth’s problems it was still an okay experience. The first couple weeks with Civ VI, I had a blast figuring everything out, but there were a lot of little things in the gameplay that lessened the experience, and unfortunately, nearly half a year later, they have not improved.
I have recently become obsessed with Gravity Falls. I know it is too little, too late, since the show is over and the fandom is sort of dead, but hey, I still have Rick and Morty, which is in the same multiverse as Gravity Falls, so it’s fine. As I was watching Gravity Falls over and over again this past couple of weeks, I started thinking about Bill Cipher and religion. Bill Cipher is the main villain in Gravity Falls. He is a triangle from the second dimension and seems to be a demon or some kind of demigod with numerous powers. Throughout the show, Bill attempts to merge the nightmare dimension, which he currently resides in, with the Gravity Falls dimension, and because of this he often interacts with and influences humanity.
If I existed in the same universe as Bill Cipher, I would seriously be concerned about Bill’s influence on religion, because triangles are everywhere in religion. It’s arguably one of the most universal symbols in real-world religions. And according to Gravity Falls canon, Bill has been making deals and influencing humankind for a long time, so the idea that he could have influenced ancient and current religions is not that out there.
You’d think that a comic based on an actual god figure from real-world mythology would be rife with potential for this column, but most of the time The Mighty Thor, which stars the new Jane Foster iteration of the character, doesn’t actually deal with much that could be considered theological in nature. However, the last three or so months’ worth of issues (#15-17, to be specific) have featured a very interesting conflict that gets at a meaty question. What does it mean to be a god? More specifically, does ultimate cosmic power come with a responsibility to one’s worshippers? How ought gods prove their power to their followers? This conflict is addressed through a competition that is both fascinating and horrifying.
I love Star Wars. Other than Harry Potter, it is probably one of the things that has most influenced my young nerdy life. As a young religious girl I loved the idea of the Force and the Jedi and how their faith in the Force gave them power.Then, like many people, I was dismayed over how the Forceand the Jediwere portrayed in the prequels.Maybe it was because of my own issues with my faith, but I very much disliked how overly regimented the Jedi were shown to be and how it seemed to take some of the mystery out of the Force. With the most recent movies, like The Force Awakens and Rogue One, all of the things that I loved about the Force and the Jedi in the original movies were back, and I have to say that Chirrut Îmwe is one of the absolute best examples of someone of faith that I have seen in a long time. And more specifically, it was great seeing a beautiful faith expression that was more reflective of Buddhist and Taoist beliefs.