This weekend the most-seen UFO in the skies was the Man of Steel. I didn’t see the new Superman movie, partly because, I suppose, of my own inadequacy issues. Also partly because I’ve always had trouble warming up to Superman. He’s just got too much going for him. Don’t get me wrong—I love heroes. But heroes are vulnerable. In fact, their vulnerability is the key to their strength. Superman, truly threatened only by kryptonite, is maybe just a little too perfect. A little too… messianic? So it would seem, according to CNN’s Belief Blog. According to a post by Eric Marrapodi, Warner Brothers is pushing hard on the Christian imagery of Man of Steel, encouraging church discussion groups, and even providing a study packet of Jesusesque tropes to discuss with the faithful. All this for a hero dreamed up by a couple of Jewish kids in the 1930s.
A telling observation appears somewhere in the middle of the article, where Ted Baehr is quoted as saying “I think it’s a very good thing that Hollywood is paying attention to the Christian marketplace.” Did you catch it? Christian marketplace? No surprises here, really. Christianity has “been good” to many who advocate the prosperity gospel—god wants the good to be rich. And since I haven’t been able to walk through Times Square for two weeks without seeing the Man of Steel, larger than life, flying off of massive billboards into the crowds of tourists and locals, I have no doubt the movie did very well over the weekend. Some may have even had their faith restored. Others will have had their pockets lined.
A few years back I was asked to present a program for adult education for a church in Princeton. They wanted someone to talk about religion and movies, and this is something I’d often addressed in my classes. I selected movies to discuss that were not “religious”—no films premised on religious characters or situations—and had no difficulty filling an hour with example after example. Movie makers have long known the benefits of movies based on Christian concepts. Self-sacrifice, redemption, and resurrection permeate the movie industry. This is a Christian culture. The parallels between Superman and Jesus have long been noted by critics of religious imagery in both films and comic books. And those who make films have also realized that Christianity is more than just a belief system. Indeed, it is a marketplace. And with enough money, even a regular mortal can bend steel.
Posted in Current Events, Deities, Movies, Popular Culture, Posts
Tagged Christianity, CNN Belief Blog, Eric Marrapodi, Man of Steel, Princeton, Prosperity Gospel, superhero, Superman
When I saw Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as a child, I had never heard of Roald Dahl. Although I enjoyed the movie, it was never a favorite. Like any kid I liked candy, but I’ve seldom been motivated by sweets. I discovered Roald Dahl when my daughter was young, and read for the first time his somewhat more disturbing original version of the story. Tim Burton has a reputation for going back to the roots of beloved childhood characters and revealing their darker sides. When his Charlie and the Chocolate Factory came out in 2005, the appeal went beyond sweets, for this was a modern, if sinister, morality play. While rewatching the movie recently a number of what should’ve been obvious religious motifs suggested themselves. The first came when Charlie Bucket is shown in the main chocolate processing room reaching for a candy apple. Violet Beauregarde steps in and snatches the apple from the tree in a defiantly Evesque move. She later receives her punishment by being transformed into a fruit.
Augustus Gloop receives a strange, chocolatey baptism is what might otherwise be the waters of life. After all, the Oompa-Loompas are shown bowing down in worship to a cocoa bean in a flashback. When Veruca Salt attempts to catch one of Willy Wonka’s nut-sorting squirrels, in a rather disturbing scene reminiscent of Ben, the squirrels pin her down and carry her to the garbage chute. She is carried in classic cruciform style, emphasizing the martyrdom she receives at the hands of her indulgent father. Even Mike Teavee undergoes a kind of resurrection after being atomized and projected into a television.
A friend once told me that the characters in the film represent various deadly sins. Augustus Gloop easily falls into gluttony, and Violet Beauregarde is an emblem of pride. Veruca Salt clearly represents greed, and Mike Teavee is full of wrath. Willy Wonka is part devil and part god in the film, doling out just punishment in a seemingly unfeeling way, while rewarding the few instances of virtue. Deprivation forges virtue in Charlie Bucket demonstrating how clearly the movie is in the realm of a morality play. With its horror film tropes and forays into the truly strange, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is an example of how morality persists even in the vision of those often considered completely secular. Without it the movie becomes just another excuse to overindulge in sweets.
Posted in Books, Just for Fun, Literature, Movies, Popular Culture, Posts
Tagged Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, morality play, Roald Dahl, seven deadly sins, Tim Burton, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Rupert Sheldrake raises the ire of some of his fellow scientists. Science has increasingly allied itself with a strict kind of materialism, although, as Sheldrake repeatedly points out, evidence for such absolute materialism is lacking. This is not to challenge science, but simply to note that we may not yet have all of the data. The Sense of Being Stared At considers possible scientific explanations for unconventional situations we all experience from time to time. Who hasn’t felt eyes on them and turned around to find somebody looking? A number of other “impossible” scenarios also find their way into this intriguing book. Sheldrake suggests that such phenomena can start to be explained scientifically if we allow that the mind is not the same thing as the brain. Sure beats a Christmas party with B. F. Skinner, where every present is inevitable.
Materialism feels threatened when spooky action at a distance occurs. As Sheldrake points out, however, we are willing enough to accept it if an invisible “field,” one that we can’t even feel, is posited. Take magnetism, for example. Few people doubt that magnetism is a real force. We’ve never actually seen it, but its effects are clearly visible. Taking this as a starting point, Sheldrake suggests that various psi phenomena involve such fields. The scientific studies that have been undertaken on many of these “spooky” scenarios show statistically that chance may be safely ruled out. And, if the experience of many ordinary people counts for anything, even our pets and other animals may possess minds.
Ironically, the mind (with its taint of being associated with religious concepts such as the soul) is one of the most contentious phenomena in science. Many materialists deny its existence, suggesting it is merely some epiphenomenon of our brains’ electro-chemical processes. Yet these scientists still, one presumes, insist on being treated with respect and being paid for their work, although these mere trifles are just odds and sods clinging to the edges of a materialistic abyss. To me, work like that of Rupert Sheldrake is crucial for an honest assessment of the evidence. Maybe not everyone accepts that dogs know when their “owners” are coming home, and maybe Sheldrake’s morphic fields have yet to be confirmed, be it is clear, when all the evidence is considered, these phenomena do actually happen on occasion. Instead of simply dismissing something because it shouldn’t be, or can’t be, according to materialism, why do we find accepting the evidence so frightening? Is it perhaps the fear of being watched?
Posted in Animals, Books, Consciousness, Posts, Science
Tagged B. F. Skinner, magnetism, materialism, mind, morphic fields, psi, Rupert Sheldrake, The Sense of Being Stared At