Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Theodicy and The Sparrow


Job’s Evil Dreams, via WikiCommons

If any of you have followed my posts in this Sunday column for a while, you’ve probably noticed that one of my favorite subjects to harp on is that by and large, science fiction does an absolutely atrocious job of authentically representing religion. Most of us have come to expect that if religion even shows up at all in a story, it’s likely an evil strawman of some kind of Christianity: really a parody of 1950s Roman Catholicism. If we’re lucky enough to deviate from that, we get a generic “Eastern Religion”. It’s even less common to read science fiction that takes faith-based issues and conflicts seriously. Take theodicy, for example. It’s a tricky topic but in short, it’s the theological discipline that attempts to grapple with the problem of evil. In many ways theodicy attempts to address some of the most serious objections to faith in a loving, powerful God. So when a priest recommended I read Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, I was happy to not only find an authentic representation of religious belief, but a deeply moving treatment of the problem of evil and divine providence in a faith-based context.

Spoilers for The Sparrow and triggers for rape, cannibalism, sexual slavery, body horror, and disturbing content below.

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Faith in the Night: Review of Such a Dark Thing: Theology of the Vampire Narrative in Popular Culture

RESOURCE_TemplateI was thrilled when I got the chance to read M. Jess Peacock’s Such a Dark Thing: Theology of the Vampire Narrative in Popular Culture and review this academic treatise for our blog. Just seeing the title itself filled me with nerdy joy and anticipation. This is not the first time I’ve written about vampires and religion for this blog, and I hope it won’t be my last. Such intersections of fantastical genre pop culture media and religious studies/theology perfectly fits in with some of my own dearest interests, as well as the mission of the LGG&F blog, of course. The book does exactly what it says it will, looking at the symbolic value of the vampire in pop culture through a variety of theological lenses, some of which I’d thought of before, but many of which had never crossed my mind. Without further ado, let’s sink our teeth into this review (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist #punsarealwaysintended).

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Theodicy, Dystheism, and Moral Complexity on Hannibal

There are some shows were you don’t expect to ever hear anything about religion, like Parks & Rec. Then there are shows where religious themes are going to come up all the time, like Joan of Arcadia. But sometimes, in shows you don’t expect, religious themes crop up quietly. One of these is Hannibal. Serial killers, culinary masterpieces, occasional harpsichord solos—it doesn’t seem like there’s much room to fit religion into the nightmarish drama that is Hannibal. Nevertheless, at times, hints of religious and spiritual matters do indeed appear in the show, coming from the place you’d least expect them: the mouth of Hannibal Lecter himself. Hannibal is a man of infinite complexity, and through his dialogues with Will Graham, as well as his own actions, we see glimpses of said deep inner complexity in regards to his beliefs about God and morality.

hannibalTrigger warning for typical Hannibal things, such as: gaslighting, mutilation, and of course, cannibalism.

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Rome, part 2.

So, when I say “Rome, part 2,” that’s something of a deception. I’ve since left Rome and traveled to Florence, but since it will be a continuation on what happened to me in Rome the other day, I don’t feel so bad about deceiving you. Also, it’s gorgeous here.

il_duomo_florence_santa_mariaIn my previous post, I wrote about a conversation I had with two priests in Rome which prominently featured Chuck Taylors, superheroes, angels, and theodicy. I’m going to break this continuation up into two posts, one about superheroes and theodicy and a second about superheroes and angels. So, let’s get up to speed on what I’m talking about when I say “theodicy.”

Briefly, a theodicy is an attempt to argue that an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent being is probable, even in a universe where, as Paul Draper puts it, “gratuitous evils exist.” This is perhaps most famously put in that way which the early Christian apologist Lactantius attributed to Epicurus:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

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Rome, part 1.

piazza_cavour_camille_romeGreetings from the Eternal City! Rome is so lovely, in many ways, that it is often easy to forget that it is a city. Dirty, noisy, and crowded, as you’d expect. Anyway, I’m supposed to be writing a post. I’ll try to keep it brief so I can get back to being a dilettante. I am the owner of many, many pairs of Chuck Taylors. My love for them cannot be overstated. When I got ready to go out this morning I put on a pair that looks like this:

Converse-x-DC-Comics-Holiday-2011-FlashThe Flash is one of my favorite superheroes. It’s only logical that I would wear him on my favorite shoe and every once in a while when I’m wearing these shoes, I’ll get a compliment or two on them. They’re nice shoes. But yesterday, I happened to be in the Vatican when I saw two men, obviously Catholic priests, gesturing toward me. I checked to see if I happened to be wearing a fedora, or if I was dressed like Psy. Maybe I had chosen to wear my Manchester United shirt on the day of a Rome derby at the Coppa Italia. It turns out that the answer was (d): none of the above.

It was my Chucks that had attracted their attention. In what sounds like an exceedingly strange joke, an American, an Irish priest and an Italian priest had a long conversation about shoes and comic books in a mix of Spanish, Italian and English. Imagine my delight to find that I had traveled to the other side of the world to find two people as excited to talk about superheroes as I was.

Our conversation began to sputter as it moved from sneakers and superheroes to superheroes and privatio boni, the privation of good, a theodicy which argues that good is much like light, whereas evil is like darkness. Thusly, evil represents simply the absence of good, and not an entity unto itself, rendering the “whence cometh evil?” question moot. As you might imagine, this is a difficult topic about which to be articulate when you lack advanced skills in a language.

We did manage to make words out of the idea in that in comics, evil seems to rise as the result of good. This is an oft-stated problem, centering around how superheroes seem to attract supervillians. I wondered aloud if some superheroes could be thought of as angels, and the conversation shifted briefly to Islam, wherein angels definitively lack free will. The conversation died right about there.

I was left with lots of thoughts on the subject, which I’ll share in my next post. For now, I’m very pleased with how deep a conversation I stumbled across all because I wore a pair of shoes.