By the time this posts, I’ll have spent two full days at a workshop learning how to more effectively navigate people through the rather detailed stages of Christian Initiation in the Catholic Church. There are so many moving parts: say these things here, do these actions here, meet the bishop here, pour water and oil there… it’s enough to make a theologian’s head spin. Today’s Catholic Initiation can be pretty simple or pretty complicated. But it got me thinking about how much simpler initiation experiences seem in some of my favorite geeky stories. Often we’re treated to a single coming of age ceremony or experience that makes a character an adult or a full member of their community. But these ceremonies still serve an important role in our characters’ lives, and we can see parallels between them and the kinds of things religious people do to mark the stages of initiation into their community.
Of course, initiation ceremonies aren’t just limited to Christianity or even to religion. From Masonry to fraternities and sororities to clubs to professional organizations, rituals and oaths are how we mark that someone is “one of us”. Christianity is the religion with which I’m most familiar, so I’ll use it as a lens to view some examples of coming of age and initiatory experiences in geek culture. I’d certainly be interested to see a similar treatment from a different (particularly non-Western) religion’s perspective. So let’s dive in.
Some spoilers for Dune, Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Giver, and Doctor Who below.
It was quite clear after watching the trailers that The Giver would be significantly different from its book counterpart. Right away we can see that Jonas is older—in the books he’s twelve, but here he’s eighteen—and he and Fiona also share a kiss or two, when in the books, nothing romantic ever happens between them. While this movie was certainly a visual experience—its use of both color and black-and-white images was beautifully done—its narrative sadly conformed to the “sameness” that it actively attempts to tell us is bad. The Giver offers little to nothing new in its narrative and instead adheres to the same annoying standards and minority erasure as every other movie out there. This is only made more disappointing because the movie’s intended message is the exact opposite of the one it sends.
I recently just got done rereading The Giver, and I have to say that this book is one of the scariest stories I have ever read. Although it’s presented as a utopia, The Giver shows us a world under total government control, where people’s individuality has been stripped from them. Using a combination of medicine, technology, and genetic programing, the people of the Community have lost their unique traits. Everyone has the same birthday, ethnicity, so on and so forth. One thing that has also been taken from the people is their gender and sexual identities.