We have talked before about shows like Supernatural blending religions together in a way that usually ends up being incredibly offensive to any religion that isn’t Christianity. In Supernatural, the most notable episode depicting this poor blending of religions is “Hammer of the Gods.” In this episode, all the gods from every other religion are not only shown as being less powerful than the Christian God, but also less powerful than even the Christian angels. At the end of the episode, viewers are treated to Lucifer murdering all the other gods. This blending and combining of often dissimilar beliefs into one belief is called syncretism. When shows like Supernatural attempt to blend religions together, they are attempting syncretism, though the writers don’t often do it well.
Syncretism mainly happens in three different ways. In the case of religion, it can be used to recognize your own beliefs and hold them to be true while still recognizing another person’s beliefs to be true. In the ancient world, this was shown in the way that each city and/or country believed in and worshiped its own god(s), but another country could have their own god(s). The people of each country were devoted to
their own gods, but they still believed that other countries’ gods existed. It was often believed that if two countries went to war, their gods would fight each other to prove which country was more powerful. In fact, followers of ancient Judaism did not believe their God was the only god until about five hundred years before Jesus was born. This use of syncretism allowed people to keep believing in their own gods while still accepting that others may be devoted to different, but no less real, gods—though ancient people also often believed their god was better than another person’s. So although different people were allowed to believe in different gods, this was not a harmonious system as the various gods and beliefs were often in conflict with each other for supremacy.
The second form of syncretism is the fusion of religions. This is best shown in the spread of Christianity throughout Europe. Christians combined their own beliefs with the beliefs of pagans in order to make Christianity and paganism more compatible and attractive to converts, but also to eventually erase paganism. Christians put holidays like Christmas and Easter during the same times as holidays like Yule and the Spring Equinox. All Saints Day notably almost replaced All Hallows Eve (Halloween) in Europe for a time. Catholic and Orthodox saints were used to replace many pagan pantheons as well. Obviously, Christians didn’t entirely erase paganism by doing this, but after years of syncretism in certain areas, pagan beliefs began to fade away and were replaced by Christianity.
And finally there is the syncretism that is employed by many Wiccans, Pagans, and Neo-Pagans. While some pagans are devoted to one particular pantheon, some believe that all gods and goddesses are different aspects of the God and Goddess. This is more harmonious than the first form of syncretism that I described, because it does not put all the gods in conflict with each other and allows for an easier blending of beliefs. There are also religious pluralists who believe that all religions have some element of the truth, but not the whole truth. In this way, they believe similarly that all gods reflect something of the true god(s).
So what does this have to do pop culture? Well, like in Supernatural, many TV shows, movies, books, and other forms of pop culture try to write about religion by using syncretism, but they don’t really do it right. But boy, do they try.