Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: To Love a God or the Ethics of Mortals & Gods Together

zeus & europa

One of the things that is fairly common in many religions is some sort of erotic relationship between gods and mortals. Especially in various pagan pantheons, gods frequently have sex with mortals, often resulting in the creation of some sort of superhuman child. This is where we usually get the heroes of many of these myths. These heroes are able to stand up to gods and monsters of all kinds, but not all of the children created from these unions are good. In fact, some end up being vicious monsters or even just powerful humans using their godly abilities for evil. Either way, the union between gods and mortals ends up creating a powerful elite class of beings. With that being said, is it ethical for gods to ever have an erotic relationship with a human if the union can create such powerful and dangerous beings? Furthermore, when there are powerful and immortal people sleeping with changeable mortals, this creates a whole other set of issues involving the large power imbalance between the two people involved.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: The Lucifer Season Finale & Feminist Theology

Almost a month ago the Lucifer season finale premiered and I enjoyed the heck out of the episode. I loved everything from seeing Lucifer pray to getting a glimpse of hell, but the show really threw me a curve ball with Lucifer’s final line in the episode and the feminist theologian in me isn’t sure how to feel about it.

Major spoilers for the Lucifer season finale after the jump.

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Lady Geek Girl & Friends’ Best of the Blog Sundays

Hiatus Spongebob Pic SundayWe’re still on hiatus until January 6th. Happy New Year, everyone, and we’ll be back soon!

Oh, My Pop Culture Unchristianity: Sandman’s Humanizing Subversion of Common Christian Tropes. Syng illustrates how Sandman plays with common Christian tropes.

An imperfect God is easier to believe in. Just as a mystical pregnancy that doesn’t result in special children (because statistically, so few people are likely to become Great; why should children of mystical pregnancies be any different from typical humans?), and the death of a son of god being much more personal than a momentous world-saving act is easier to believe in.

Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Religious Practice in the Potterverse. Stinekey speculates on how magic and religion work in the Potterverse.

However, there are a few canonical instances where wizards do actually practice (Christian) religion in the series. St. Mungo’s, the wizarding hospital, is actually named for a real saint. St. Mungo, also known as St. Kentigern, was a Christian missionary who performed miracles and founded the city of Glasgow. The Fat Friar is the ghost of Hufflepuff House and was a monk in his former life.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Pantheon: Gods Alive!

Many stories circle around one particular religion or mythology. However, I think it can be equally interesting when a book or show addresses multiple mythologies simultaneously—when a story posits that all the gods and goddesses from various religions exist and interact. What are the politics like between these groups? The power dynamics? Let’s look at a few examples.

Percy Jackson/The Red Pyramid:

The original Percy Jackson quintet doesn’t touch on any sort of gods outside the Greek pantheon, and on its face, The Kane Chronicles (of which I’ve only read The Red Pyramid) is entirely about Egyptian mythology. However, there was one really interesting moment in The Red Pyramid when the two main kids are hiding out in New York and they look over to Manhattan, seeing thunder and lightning over the Empire State Building (new home of Mt. Olympus in the Jackson books). When they ask their mentor about it, they are told that Manhattan is Greek territory and Egyptian deities don’t go there. This suggests a world where all the pantheons of previous civilizations still exist, are aware of each other, have at some point agreed upon divisions of American territory between themselves, and respect each other’s power. This one throwaway line made me wonder what other pantheons Riordan will eventually delve into—Norse? Aztec? Hindu? I’m excited to see.

Supernatural:

Lady Geek Girl touched on the fail of Supernatural where it concerns Hinduism last week, but I’d say that it fails concerning pretty much any non-Christian religion. The idea that the show appears to work from is that the gods of all other traditions, including ancient ‘pagan’ (the name they give to any sort of Druidic or less-well known gods, mostly Anglo-Saxon) traditions, still exist, but their power is derived from their worshippers, and they no longer have as much clout in the modern world because of the rise of Christianity. LGG pointed out that in this mindset, the Hindu and other Asian gods should be much more powerful than they are portrayed, but most deities of non-Christian mythologies, although more powerful than the average ghost or demon, can usually be killed with a fancy stake or bled-upon ram’s horn. Nothing from a non-Christian pantheon can come close to the power of the angels or other Christian powers, and the non-Christian deities are portrayed as having to band together to protect themselves from complete destruction.

American Gods:

American Gods is a wonderful book by Neil Gaiman.  It also works from the idea that gods are only as powerful as the population of their worshippers can make them, but takes this concept in a far different direction from Supernatural. This story posits that the gods of the Old World immigrated to the US like so many other groups in the last two centuries, and have lost much of their power. Now, the old gods are banding together, and they are massing to make war against the New Gods of America—not Jesus or the Judeo-Christian God, but rather powerful personifications of Media, Celebrity, Drugs, and other fascinations of modern culture. The focus of this story is on Norse myth, but many other traditions’ gods are portrayed, in what I think is a realistic way: they all are aware of each other’s powers and are justifiably suspicious of each other, but have grudgingly put aside their differences to defend their place in America.

What stories have I missed? Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comes to mind, but I figured I’d focus on the more topical of Gaiman’s works here. Anyway, let me know in the comments, and, as always, tune in next time to get some religion!

Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: O Death!

Do I really need to explain why death is important to religion? Life, death, and the afterlife are key parts of any religion. That mysterious force that is death has perplexed humanity for… well, ever. Why do some people die while others live? And what part does God have in it all? Well, let’s look at my three favorite examples of Death as he/she is often personified in pop culture.

Check out the first appearance of Supernatural’s Death.

Man, doesn’t that video just give you chills.

The portrayal of Death in Supernatural is one of my favorites. Despite looking completely normal, if a bit skeletal, Death is clearly a wholly other being of great power. When Dean Winchester first meets Death it becomes very clear fighting Death will not be plausible. That becomes even more obvious when Dean actually talks to Death. Death describes how he is so powerful that to him Dean appears like nothing more than an ameba and even describes Lucifer, arguably one of the most powerful angels in exist as “a bratty child.” But Death’s power becomes even more obvious when he talks about God. He describes himself as being as old as God, maybe even older. He furthermore explains how in the end even God will die and he’ll reap God. And though it’s never shown in the TV series, it is implied that Death talks to God and knows where God is—God has been notably absent in the show. Death, like God, sees the big picture and understands how the world works. Because of his power and his ability to understand seemingly everything, Death appears as this indifferent larger-than-life figure.

Death spares Chicago because he likes the pizza, he pulls Sam’s soul from hell, but refuses to do the same for Adam, and seems to only do this because he wants something from Dean. The only person that Death seems particularly fond is actually God. When Dean, Sam, and Bobby bind Death to them in order to kill Castiel, who proclaimed himself god, Death doesn’t understand that they want him to kill the Castiel god and thinks that they want him to kill the God. Death tries to stall. He lies and says that he can’t, and when Castiel shows up calling himself god Death makes fun of him, calling him a “mutated angel” and says, “I know God, and you sir, are no God.”

I think the Death of Supernatural is portrayed as he is because he is based on humanity’s own feelings about death. Death is the awe-inspiring, impartial, unfeeling force in the universe, but for those of us with some spirituality we also have a sense that Death is part of something greater and more important. In this respect, Death in Supernatural is portrayed extremely well.

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

I’m not ashamed to say that Good Omens is perhaps my all-time favorite novels with one of my all-time favorite portrayals of Death, or I guess for these purposes we should call him DEATH. In this portrayal, DEATH is not impartial. DEATH is excited for the end of the world. It is described by him and the other horseman as waiting for Christmas or your birthday. At the end of the novel, the antichrist Adam faces down DEATH because he doesn’t want the world to end. DEATH wants the world to end and tries to convince Adam to follow along with his nature, but when Adam and his friends defeat the other horseman, DEATH grudgingly concedes that the apocalypse cannot continue, but makes of point of saying that he is not defeated.

BUT I, he said, AM NOT LIKE THEM. I AM AZRAEL, CREATED TO BE CREATION’S SHADOW. YOU CANNOT DESTROY ME. THAT WOULD DESTROY THE WORLD.

The heat of their stare faded. Adam scratched his nose.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “There might be a way.” He grinned back.

DEATH himself cannot be defeated and even the other horsemen seem to continue to exist in some form, but Adam implies that perhaps there is a way. I think this might be implying the idea that Christ defeats it in the act of his crucifixion and resurrection, or even the obvious fact that if DEATH does go through with the apocalypse there will either be Hell on earth or Heaven on earth, meaning that DEATH would no longer need to exist. In enacting the apocalypse, DEATH would actually be killing himself.

Neil Gaiman apparently owns my soul because he has another portrayal of Death that is my absolute favorite. Death in the Sandman Comics is very different for several reasons. First, unlike most portrayals of Death, this Death is a woman, shown as being a young attractive goth chick. She is also very different in the way that she functions. This Death is not distant, impartial, uncaring; she is invested in the world. She adds the spark of life to all babies when they are born and remembers them all, calling them by name when they die. She enjoys life and enjoys humanity and the many other creatures that inhabit the Sandman universe. She is often seen giving advice to her brother Dream and genuinely seems to care about everyone.

This Death is clearly a benevolent and caring one who understands the importance of Death, while understanding the fear and misunderstanding of Death that comes from those finite beings that can’t see the larger picture.

I hope all this talk about Death hasn’t depressed anyone. Personally, I find it extremely hopeful. This makes me think that though we humans fear our own death, we fear the death of everything just as much, while at the same time many people long for the end of days. Weird, right?

Next time on Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The End is Here

Tune in next time and find some religion!