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Religion and Fantasy

Edith_Bagot-DixEdith_Bagot-Dix Registered User regular
edited April 2010 in Debate and/or Discourse
I figured I would start this thread as a spin-off from the various threads about literature, because I noticed certain books and authors that were mentioned several times. Some of them are authors I've read, but for the life of me I've never understood. These are:
  • C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia
  • J.R.R. Tolkien and Lord of the Rings
  • Philip Pullman and His Dark Materials
  • G.K. Chesterson and his stuff

I read the first two obsessively as a kid, I've never read the second two, though I understand Pullman is considered by some to be an anti-C.S. Lewis. Perhaps because I was young, or maybe just because I'm slow, I never got the religious overtones in the books I did read and didn't know about the connection between Narnia, C.S. Lewis and Christianity in particular until years later when I was made to read Mere Christianity when I expressed doubts about the Christian religion. It didn't take, as these many years later I would describe myself as an atheist.

To get to the meat of the issue, I still cannot see the connection between a sense of grand adventure and child-like wonder, traits that are encouraged in the fantasy genre, particularly when it's aimed at kids, and religion, which to me seems the opposite. To those who believe, it would seem, it's all deadly serious (though maybe I'm mistaken here? Having never been a particularly serious believer I can't say). To those who don't, or at least those like me who don't, it is at best a deadly bore. Church attendance is about the furthest thing I can imagine from a wonderful adventure when one is a child.

So what I am wondering is - can anyone explain the connection here? Why do these themes keep recurring?



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    DuffelDuffel jacobkosh Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    There's a lot more to a religion than "attending church".

    Religion often deals with concepts touching on the imperceptible, mysterious and the supernatural.

    It sounds like you're viewing religion in terms of a system which tells you what to do and what not to do (mostly the latter). And, to be fair, there's a lot of people who view it in that fashion. But read some hagiographical or eschatological texts, or religious poetry, or go listen to an oratorio. You'll see where the sense of grandeur, mystery and, well, divinity comes in.

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    QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Oh there are lots of connections. I'd actually describe it more as a "cross-pollination" or "co-evolution" since both fantasy and religion emerged from similar narrative modes and worldviews. I think perhaps you're understanding "religion" more for a certain (boring) form of worship, rather than the content of religious texts and traditions.

    First of all, most fantasy derives stuff from mythology and mythology is, of course, religion. Modern religions evolved from ancient mythologies.

    A connection I've been interested in is the idea of revenge fantasy, or divine retribution. Look at the similarities between these stories.

    • In the Bible's various apocalyptic texts (Ezekial, Daniel, Revelation), you have an evil empire that bullies or oppresses religious people (Babylon or Rome). These texts describe the "come-uppance" of this empire when God appears from the heavenly realm, comes to earth, and basically beats the shit out of them.

    • In Lewis' The Silver Chair, the heroes start out at this secular, arguably oppressive modern school. They get sucked into the magical world of Narnia. But then the book ends with Aslan (Narnia's equivalent of Jesus) coming to earth, blowing up the school's wall, and giving kids swords and whips to beat up the mean kids at school.

    • In Harry Potter, Harry is oppressed by his non-magical family. Then Hagrid, a giant wizard from the magical realm, comes and scares the shit out of them, gives his evil cousin a pig's tail, and busts down their door. Similar "revenge" from the magical world occurs throughout the series.

    •*The Neverending Story (the movie, not the book) concludes with Bastian riding down the bullies who beat him up at the beginning upon the back of the luckdragon Falkor, transported from the magical realm.

    I think there's a deep connection between the escapism of fantasy and the idea of "divine order" or "justice" in religion. It's especially pronounced in fantasy books that take place in parallel dimensions. In both cases, Earth—the boring or oppressive world we're stuck with—is contrasted with a magic or divine realm that you really, really want to go to. And in both cases, forces from the magic/divine realm come back to Earth to assist the hero in taking vengeance upon his or her oppressors.

    Related to this, I think, is how the epistemology and metaphysics of the "magic world"—just like the divine world in religion—often serves as wish fulfillment for their authors. Aslan isn't just an analog of Jesus; he's more than the real world Jesus, because unlike Jesus Aslan will personally fuck you up if you cross him. He turns the evil prince in A Horse and his boy into a donkey. He scrapes the dragon skin off of the smarmy kid in Dawn Treader. As noted, he even comes to Earth and fucks up your nasty school. In Pullman's books, Dust is sort of this personalized wish-fulfillment of secular enlightenment ideology. Secularites like Pullman rever intelligence and consciousness ... and in the books there's lo and behold this magic glowing substance that embodies and controls the development of these things.

    (I'm a huge dork about this stuff. I literally wrote my undergrad thesis on religion and fantasy, so I can go on and on...)

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    CptHamiltonCptHamilton Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    I'm not quite sure what you're saying here. If you're talking about typical religious themes of salvation and such, they keep coming back because they're powerful themes. If you're talking about authors who inject Christian (or other religious) elements into their work I suspect it's more often a case of the author's personal faith influencing his work than of the author attempting to write an allegory or influence the reader toward a similar faith.

    Lewis and Pullman wrote their work specifically with children in mind. That I'm aware of, Tolkien and Chesterton didn't.

    C.S. Lewis was a devout Christian who set out to write a fantasy story and his faith, either on purpose or just because of it being such a large component of his personality and life, went into the story with it. I think that as the series went on he turned it more and more toward a sort of Christianity Primer to bring kids into the fold without their realizing it.

    Pullman set out to purposefully write an anti-orthodox-Christianity story for kids. I'm pretty sure he referred to himself as the anti-CS Lewis at some point. Having read both I don't really know where he was going. I kind of enjoyed the first book but it all just turned into a mess of confused bullshit that completely overwhelmed the adventure in the second and third books.

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    DuffelDuffel jacobkosh Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Yeah, I haven't read either series but I think Pullman's status as an "atheist CS Lewis" was a self-appointed title.

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    Edith_Bagot-DixEdith_Bagot-Dix Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Duffel wrote: »
    Yeah, I haven't read either series but I think Pullman's status as an "atheist CS Lewis" was a self-appointed title.

    I thought it was Christopher Hitchens who suggested the title, but I don't go out of my way to read what Hitchens has to say (more the opposite) so I could be wrong.

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    CptHamiltonCptHamilton Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Qingu wrote: »
    Related to this, I think, is how the epistemology and metaphysics of the "magic world"—just like the divine world in religion—often serves as wish fulfillment for their authors. Aslan isn't just an analog of Jesus; he's more than the real world Jesus, because unlike Jesus Aslan will personally fuck you up if you cross him. He turns the evil prince in A Horse and his boy into a donkey. He scrapes the dragon skin off of the smarmy kid in Dawn Treader. As noted, he even comes to Earth and fucks up your nasty school. In Pullman's books, Dust is sort of this personalized wish-fulfillment of secular enlightenment ideology. Secularites like Pullman rever intelligence and consciousness ... and in the books there's lo and behold this magic glowing substance that embodies and controls the development of these things.

    (I'm a huge dork about this stuff. I literally wrote my undergrad thesis on religion and fantasy, so I can go on and on...)

    I don't disagree with anything you said, but the old-testament God is pretty Aslan-y. Jesus had a few instances of ass-kickery and general "I'm going to divinely fuck shit up" as well.


    Edit: I can't find a direct attribution for Pullman's 'title', but he does not seem at all reticent to say that he hates C.S. Lewis or that his books were meant as a way to drive children away from Christianity.

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    QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Pullman just had an adversarial relationship with Lewis ('s legacy) in general. He was a pretty vocal critic of a lot of the stuff in Narnia.

    He had written kids' books before His Dark Materials that didn't have much to do with religion (I haven't read them). I don't think he set out to write HDM as an "anti-Narnia." A lot of it was homage to Milton.

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    CptHamiltonCptHamilton Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Qingu wrote: »
    Pullman just had an adversarial relationship with Lewis ('s legacy) in general. He was a pretty vocal critic of a lot of the stuff in Narnia.

    He had written kids' books before His Dark Materials that didn't have much to do with religion (I haven't read them). I don't think he set out to write HDM as an "anti-Narnia." A lot of it was homage to Milton.

    In as much as Narnia was a sales pitch for Christianity to kids (I don't think it was, at least at first, or at least not only that). From Snopes, Pullman said in a 2001 interview about the HDM books that he was "trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief."

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    QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Qingu wrote: »
    Related to this, I think, is how the epistemology and metaphysics of the "magic world"—just like the divine world in religion—often serves as wish fulfillment for their authors. Aslan isn't just an analog of Jesus; he's more than the real world Jesus, because unlike Jesus Aslan will personally fuck you up if you cross him. He turns the evil prince in A Horse and his boy into a donkey. He scrapes the dragon skin off of the smarmy kid in Dawn Treader. As noted, he even comes to Earth and fucks up your nasty school. In Pullman's books, Dust is sort of this personalized wish-fulfillment of secular enlightenment ideology. Secularites like Pullman rever intelligence and consciousness ... and in the books there's lo and behold this magic glowing substance that embodies and controls the development of these things.

    (I'm a huge dork about this stuff. I literally wrote my undergrad thesis on religion and fantasy, so I can go on and on...)

    I don't disagree with anything you said, but the old-testament God is pretty Aslan-y. Jesus had a few instances of ass-kickery and general "I'm going to divinely fuck shit up" as well.
    Yes—I should clarify. The difference I'm talking about isn't between Aslan and the Biblical character of Yahweh/Jesus so much as the actual, existant (from Lewis' perspective) Yahweh/Jesus in 1950's England. Lewis' God, obviously, never appears to anyone, never personally guides kids from perdition or appears to punish sinners.

    Aslan does all the fucking time—apart from the first story where he's physically present a la Jesus in ancient Rome. Aslan in the later Narnia stories isn't an analogy-equivalent to Jesus post-Resurrection. He's a constant, tangible presence in the world.

    It's actually sort of heartbreaking in a way, because Lewis' whole reason for converting to Christianity was his desire for this numinous otherworldly presence that he experienced in the fairy stories he liked when he was a kid. He identified that presence as the Christian God. But of course, the Christian God is just as remote as any fairy tale wizard in real life, which is probably why Lewis' version of the Christian God in Narnia is idealized to be this extremely personal, present figure. It's wish-fulfillment.

    Edit: re Pullman and his sales pitch, no argument there. The later parts of HDM is every bit as "preachy" as Narnia.

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    emnmnmeemnmnme Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    I want to also ask something semi-related - do comic books and fantasy movies diminish the miracles found in religious books? Jesus walked on water but Superman can fly and shoot laser beams out of his eyes. Elijah rode a flaming chariot into a whirlwind and ascended to the heavens but the USS Enterprise carries thousands of crew members and civilians through the cosmos. Mohamed rode a flying donkey to talk to the angel Gabriel but and the Silver Surfer rides a surfboard and talks to Galactus, devourer of worlds.

    Modern fantasy beats the pants off the miracles that fueled faiths for hundreds or thousands of years.

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    HedgethornHedgethorn Associate Professor of Historical Hobby Horses In the Lions' DenRegistered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Qingu wrote: »
    It's actually sort of heartbreaking in a way, because Lewis' whole reason for converting to Christianity was his desire for this numinous otherworldly presence that he experienced in the fairy stories he liked when he was a kid. He identified that presence as the Christian God. But of course, the Christian God is just as remote as any fairy tale wizard in real life, which is probably why Lewis' version of the Christian God in Narnia is idealized to be this extremely personal, present figure. It's wish-fulfillment.

    A very interesting thought. Even more so given that in the books he wrote after his wife's death (I'm thinking especially of A Grief Observed, Letters to Malcolm, and Till We Have Faces), God and/or the God-figures become distant, remote, and implacable.

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    DuffelDuffel jacobkosh Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    In as much as Narnia was a sales pitch for Christianity to kids (I don't think it was, at least at first, or at least not only that). From Snopes, Pullman said in a 2001 interview about the HDM books that he was "trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief."
    Lame. Sounds like he forgot the difference between art and propaganda.

    Of course he could also just have been trying to stir up controversy, which would sell more books.

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    PaladinPaladin Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Religion has a monopoly on archetypes, and fantasy is built on archetypes. There you go.

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    CptHamiltonCptHamilton Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    emnmnme wrote: »
    I want to also ask something semi-related - do comic books and fantasy movies diminish the miracles found in religious books? Jesus walked on water but Superman can fly and shoot laser beams out of his eyes. Elijah rode a flaming chariot into a whirlwind and ascended to the heavens but the USS Enterprise carries thousands of crew members and civilians through the cosmos. Mohamed rode a flying donkey to talk to the angel Gabriel but and the Silver Surfer rides a surfboard and talks to Galactus, devourer of worlds.

    Modern fantasy beats the pants off the miracles that fueled faiths for hundreds or thousands of years.

    If you're a member of the faithful, the religious miracles win because they actually happened. Superman is cool and all, but I'd still be damned impressed by a guy who could feed a thousand people with two fish and a loaf of bread or kill a fig tree by being pissed off at it. And as much as I love me some sci-fi, a flaming chariot appearing from the heavens would still impress the shit out of me. Biblical miracles are only dated if you look at them as fiction.

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    emnmnmeemnmnme Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Paladin wrote: »
    Religion has a monopoly on archetypes, and fantasy is built on archetypes. There you go.

    That makes so much sense, it's scary.

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    HedgethornHedgethorn Associate Professor of Historical Hobby Horses In the Lions' DenRegistered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Oh, and to the OP, something to read in this light is Tolkien's essay "On Fairy-Stories", which is a defense of the then-newly-emerging 20th century genre of fantasy.

    Tolkien argues there, among other things, that fantasy writing is the way in which human beings can best emulate God's creative activity, by creating new worlds ex nihilo.

    He also claims that the Christian story can be seen as a very special kind of fantasy writing:
    "I would venture to say that approaching the Christian story from this perspective, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. ...and among its marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation.

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    QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    emnmnme wrote: »
    I want to also ask something semi-related - do comic books and fantasy movies diminish the miracles found in religious books? Jesus walked on water but Superman can fly and shoot laser beams out of his eyes. Elijah rode a flaming chariot into a whirlwind and ascended to the heavens but the USS Enterprise carries thousands of crew members and civilians through the cosmos. Mohamed rode a flying donkey to talk to the angel Gabriel but and the Silver Surfer rides a surfboard and talks to Galactus, devourer of worlds.

    Modern fantasy beats the pants off the miracles that fueled faiths for hundreds or thousands of years.
    I agree wholeheartedly sir.

    On the sci-fi front ... I actually think a lot of religious stories—notably apocalyptic texts—can be understood as primitive versions of science fiction.

    A lot of people think Revelation is this extremely mysterious and impenetrable work. But it's not. It's hardly unique for apocalyptic texts (there were many others written at the time). It's coded, but any Jew or Christian would understand the codes as references to Romans or Israel.

    Like most apocalypses, Revelation describes a journey up to a heavenly realm where the protagonist receives a divine vision (in this case, future destruction—but not all apocalypses are tales of destruction). The descriptions of the heavenly realm, and this vision, aren't metaphors. They describe largely the way that people in ancient Rome thought the world looked. Heaven was a physical place, above the dome/sphere of the sky. As per Greek philosophy, there were other heavens up there, corresponding to "shells" around which the seven celestial bodies travelled. Some sources described rivers of fire or oceans of water up there. If you read it this way, it's very similar to how Jules Verne naively described wonders of the hidden realms (the deep sea, the underground) in terms of the cosmological worldview of the 1800's.

    Another similarity to SF in these apocalyptic texts is how over-the-top they are. Some scholar (Forgot who it was) compared apocalyptic texts to horror movie sequels. Early apocalyptic texts, like early horror films, were somewhat direct. Later texts (and films), on the other hand, constantly try to top earlier ones in the extremity of their imagery. So in Ezekial there's a huge beast and that's basically it; in Revelation you have this entire bestiary (dragons, lions, giant locusts), extremely detailed visions of natural desctruction, angel battles, etc. Another example are the archery battles in the Hindu epics. Early texts in the epics are somewhat subdued—hero shoots an arrow at protagonist, wins the fight. Later texts, on the other hand, have heroes shooting literally millions of arrows into the sky, slicing up mountains with arrows, creating nuclear explosions. You get the sense that these religious authors are trying to "top" their predecessors.

    (An analogy I personally like better than "horror movies" is with anime and Final Fantasy games. Compare the final boss's attacks in the Final Fantasy games. Early ones are just big explosions. In Final Fantasy 8, the last boss grabs several planets and a black hole out of orbit and smashes them into your party. The "scale" of destructiveness in religious texts, I think, proceeds in the same fashion.)

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    Xenogears of BoreXenogears of Bore Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    The last two Narnia books are basically shitty versions of Genesis and Revelations.

    His Dark Materials is more an interesting story with a lot of Milton shout outs then a rip on Narnia, even if you look at it from a recruitment viewpoint.

    C.S. Lewis had a much better work for that anyways, The Screwtape Letters.

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    TomantaTomanta Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    emnmnme wrote: »
    I want to also ask something semi-related - do comic books and fantasy movies diminish the miracles found in religious books? Jesus walked on water but Superman can fly and shoot laser beams out of his eyes. Elijah rode a flaming chariot into a whirlwind and ascended to the heavens but the USS Enterprise carries thousands of crew members and civilians through the cosmos. Mohamed rode a flying donkey to talk to the angel Gabriel but and the Silver Surfer rides a surfboard and talks to Galactus, devourer of worlds.

    Modern fantasy beats the pants off the miracles that fueled faiths for hundreds or thousands of years.

    If you're a member of the faithful, the religious miracles win because they actually happened. Superman is cool and all, but I'd still be damned impressed by a guy who could feed a thousand people with two fish and a loaf of bread or kill a fig tree by being pissed off at it. And as much as I love me some sci-fi, a flaming chariot appearing from the heavens would still impress the shit out of me. Biblical miracles are only dated if you look at them as fiction.

    Give us a few thousand years, then we will be worshiping Wolverine, God of War; Daredevil, God of Justice; and Spider-Man, God of Geeks. If you are a Marvelite. Not to be confused with the followers of DC (who, oddly, also will want to turn the One World Government into something more closely resembling ancient United States).

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    QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Hedgethorn wrote: »
    Oh, and to the OP, something to read in this light is Tolkien's essay "On Fairy-Stories", which is a defense of the then-newly-emerging 20th century genre of fantasy.

    Tolkien argues there, among other things, that fantasy writing is the way in which human beings can best emulate God's creative activity, by creating new worlds ex nihilo.

    He also claims that the Christian story can be seen as a very special kind of fantasy writing:
    "I would venture to say that approaching the Christian story from this perspective, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. ...and among its marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation.
    Seconded.

    I love the tension between "fairy tales" and "truth" in Tolkien's Silmarillion, too. Tolkien is writing fantasy, he knows he is writing fantasy. There's a pantheon of demigods who make elves and dwarves. But because he is a Catholic, he can't help but make his fantasy world obey what he considers the "rules"—namely that there is only one Creator, and a structure of a Fall.

    His creation story is also quite antiseptic—like the Bible's, and unlike most pagan mythology that it otherwise superficially resembles, with their "creation by dismemberment" or "creation by father sky masturbating onto mother earth"

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    CptHamiltonCptHamilton Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    The last two Narnia books are basically shitty versions of Genesis and Revelations.

    His Dark Materials is more an interesting story with a lot of Milton shout outs then a rip on Narnia, even if you look at it from a recruitment viewpoint.

    C.S. Lewis had a much better work for that anyways, The Screwtape Letters.

    It's not a rip on Narnia in the sense of "Look, I wrote a Narnia parody only it has science instead of Aslan!" It's a work in the same genre as Narnia (fantasy adventure for kids) but with Milton-esque, anti-orthodoxy themes in place of the pro-orthodoxy themes in the Narnia books. Structurally and in terms of content the books have very little in common. I doubt anyone would have ever drawn the connection except for Pullman being vocally opposed to Lewis' work and having media pundits take that and run away with it.

    Reading HDM I didn't even really 'get' the attack on Christianity. Going through The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as an adult the allegories are blatantly obvious. The Golden Compass, aside from casting 'The Church' as an evil figure, was not, at least for me, in any obvious way anti-religious. By the end of the trilogy Pullman gets into stuff that's pretty directly anti-Christian, but it makes 'science' so thoroughly mystical and bullshit-laden that it reads more like a fantasy with a made-up theology called 'science' than it does an assault on the serried ranks of Christian Faith.

    Edit: In fact, going into HDM knowing that it was supposed to be 'the anti-Lewis' I was rather confused by the Golden Compass. It seemed to be preaching religious faith in the face of an oppressive secular order, only with all of the labels swapped around.

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    emnmnmeemnmnme Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Qingu wrote: »
    emnmnme wrote: »
    I want to also ask something semi-related - do comic books and fantasy movies diminish the miracles found in religious books?
    I agree wholeheartedly sir.

    So ... to keep the spectacle of a divine being's miracles fresh ... and to strengthen a religious institution ... we need to ban fantasy and sci-fi so people will continue to find the idea of a man raising the dead awe-inspiring!

    Could the Avatar movie, which made audiences gasp with delight at the sight of such artificial beauty, be the enemy of God? Is it our modern-day Tower of Babel?

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    QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    emnmnme wrote: »
    So ... to keep the spectacle of a divine being's miracles fresh ... and to strengthen a religious institution ... we need to ban fantasy and sci-fi so people will continue to find the idea of a man raising the dead awe-inspiring!

    Could the Avatar movie, which made audiences gasp with delight at the sight of such artificial beauty, be the enemy of God? Is it our modern-day Tower of Babel?
    I'm pretty sure someone linked to a Youtube video of a preacher arguing just this in the old Avatar thread. :)

    Actually, though, I'd argue the biggest detriment to the "wonder" of religious miracles is nuclear weapons. I mean, Yahweh can kill thousands of people at once and is pretty good with terrifying societies with plagues, but he apparently has trouble battling iron chariots. Modern science, on the other hand, has created devices which can literally destroy the entire world in seconds.

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    HedgethornHedgethorn Associate Professor of Historical Hobby Horses In the Lions' DenRegistered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Qingu wrote: »
    I love the tension between "fairy tales" and "truth" in Tolkien's Silmarillion, too. Tolkien is writing fantasy, he knows he is writing fantasy. There's a pantheon of demigods who make elves and dwarves. But because he is a Catholic, he can't help but make his fantasy world obey what he considers the "rules"—namely that there is only one Creator, and a structure of a Fall.

    His creation story is also quite antiseptic—like the Bible's, and unlike most pagan mythology that it otherwise superficially resembles, with their "creation by dismemberment" or "creation by father sky masturbating onto mother earth"

    Wheras I've always found the Silmarillion creation story hauntingly beautiful; but I suppose creation consisting of an angelic symphony marred by demonic dissonance that ultimately magnifies the beauty of the performance doesn't have the shock-value of accidental earth-impregnation.

    And I've long thought that the Silmarillion is explicitly modeled on the Old Testament narrative style. Not just in the creation accounts, but also in the changes of mood, perspective, and chronological scale from chapter to chapter. It's not many books where you have one chapter detailing a thousand years of history followed by one following two lovers on a journey of a few days.

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    surrealitychecksurrealitycheck lonely, but not unloved dreaming of faulty keys and latchesRegistered User regular
    edited April 2010
    I mean, Yahweh can kill thousands of people at once and is pretty good with terrifying societies with plagues

    Dude that's only Silver age Yahweh.

    Frank Miller's Yahweh: The Avenger totally retconned his powers and gave him omnipotence :(

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    Edith_Bagot-DixEdith_Bagot-Dix Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    emnmnme wrote: »
    Qingu wrote: »
    emnmnme wrote: »
    I want to also ask something semi-related - do comic books and fantasy movies diminish the miracles found in religious books?
    I agree wholeheartedly sir.

    So ... to keep the spectacle of a divine being's miracles fresh ... and to strengthen a religious institution ... we need to ban fantasy and sci-fi so people will continue to find the idea of a man raising the dead awe-inspiring!

    Could the Avatar movie, which made audiences gasp with delight at the sight of such artificial beauty, be the enemy of God? Is it our modern-day Tower of Babel?

    Well, considering some of the Christian backlash against Avatar, that's certainly how it seems to be perceived by some.

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    HedgethornHedgethorn Associate Professor of Historical Hobby Horses In the Lions' DenRegistered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Going through The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as an adult the allegories are blatantly obvious.

    Interestingly enough, and only slightly off-topic, this was the aspect of the Narnia books that Tolkien hated the most (with the possible exception of his belief that Lewis stole all his best ideas before he could get LOTR finished). Tolkien thought that direct allegory was among the laziest techniques a writer could employ (see the preface to the second edition of Fellowship, where he lays into critics who claimed the whole series was an allegory on the atomic bomb); a good writer should keep his sources and inspirations very close to his chest.

    For instance, no one would ever know that Frodo and Gollum's encounter on Mount Doom was written as a meditation on the Lord's Prayer if Tolkien hadn't said so years later.

    Hedgethorn on
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    emnmnmeemnmnme Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Qingu wrote: »
    emnmnme wrote: »
    So ... to keep the spectacle of a divine being's miracles fresh ... and to strengthen a religious institution ... we need to ban fantasy and sci-fi so people will continue to find the idea of a man raising the dead awe-inspiring!

    Could the Avatar movie, which made audiences gasp with delight at the sight of such artificial beauty, be the enemy of God? Is it our modern-day Tower of Babel?
    I'm pretty sure someone linked to a Youtube video of a preacher arguing just this in the old Avatar thread. :)

    Actually, though, I'd argue the biggest detriment to the "wonder" of religious miracles is nuclear weapons. I mean, Yahweh can kill thousands of people at once and is pretty good with terrifying societies with plagues, but he apparently has trouble battling iron chariots. Modern science, on the other hand, has created devices which can literally destroy the entire world in seconds.

    Ooh, got a link to that video?

    emnmnme on
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    QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    @Hedgethorn, I thought the Silmarillion's creation story was really beautiful too. And I agree that Tolkien's heavily influenced by the OT—not just in his world's mythology, but in the writing style of LoTR. Sometimes in a bad way, I'd argue (see the other thread about fantasy/SF goosery).

    @emnmnme, no link offhand; I forgot what page of the thread it was on.

    Qingu on
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    CptHamiltonCptHamilton Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Qingu wrote: »
    emnmnme wrote: »
    So ... to keep the spectacle of a divine being's miracles fresh ... and to strengthen a religious institution ... we need to ban fantasy and sci-fi so people will continue to find the idea of a man raising the dead awe-inspiring!

    Could the Avatar movie, which made audiences gasp with delight at the sight of such artificial beauty, be the enemy of God? Is it our modern-day Tower of Babel?
    I'm pretty sure someone linked to a Youtube video of a preacher arguing just this in the old Avatar thread. :)

    Actually, though, I'd argue the biggest detriment to the "wonder" of religious miracles is nuclear weapons. I mean, Yahweh can kill thousands of people at once and is pretty good with terrifying societies with plagues, but he apparently has trouble battling iron chariots. Modern science, on the other hand, has created devices which can literally destroy the entire world in seconds.

    "I am become death; destroyer of worlds."

    (though I honestly prefer the "Now we're all sons of bitches" quote)

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    shrykeshryke Member of the Beast Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Qingu wrote: »
    I think there's a deep connection between the escapism of fantasy and the idea of "divine order" or "justice" in religion. It's especially pronounced in fantasy books that take place in parallel dimensions. In both cases, Earth—the boring or oppressive world we're stuck with—is contrasted with a magic or divine realm that you really, really want to go to. And in both cases, forces from the magic/divine realm come back to Earth to assist the hero in taking vengeance upon his or her oppressors.

    I think it goes beyond that. It's not just about revenge, it's about meaning.

    R. Scott Bakker had a good essay that is sorta related to this: http://www.sffworld.com/authors/b/bakker_scott/articles/whyfantasyandwhynow.html

    Though the essay is specifically on "Why do we read fantasy?", it makes alot of points that are just as applicable to religion. From a part of it:
    Thus the crisis of meaning. The world we live in has been revealed by science to be indifferent and arbitrary. Where we once lived in a world steeped in moral significance, now we live in a world where things simply happen. Where once the meaningfulness of life was an unquestioned certainty, the very foundation of rationality, now we must continually struggle to 'make our lives meaningful,' and do so, moreover, without the sanction of rationality. Questions of the meaningfulness of life have retreated into the fractured realm of competing faiths and the 'New Age' section of the bookstore. In our day in age, the truth claim, 'My life has meaning,' is as much an act of faith (which is to say, a belief without rational legitimation) as the truth claim, 'There is a God.'

    It is no accident that fantasy is preoccupied with our pre-Enlightenment, pre-crisis past. The contemporary world is a nihilistic world, where all signs point to the illusory status of love, beauty, goodness and so on. This is not to say that they are in fact illusory, only that at a fundamental level our culture is antagonistic to the claim that they are real. Nihilism is a fever in the bones of contemporary culture, afflicting all our assertions of meaningfulness with the ache that they are wrong.

    Fantasy is the celebration of what we no longer are: individuals certain of our meaningfulness in a meaningful world. The wish-fulfillment that distinguishes fantasy from other genres is not to be the all-conquering hero, but to live in a meaningful world. The fact that such worlds are enchanted worlds, worlds steeped in magic, simply demonstrates the severity of our contemporary crisis. 'Magic' is a degraded category in our society; if you believe in magic in this world, you are an irrational flake. And yet magic is all we have in our attempt to recover some vicarious sense of meaningfulness. If fantasy primarily looks back, primarily celebrates those values rendered irrelevant by post-industrial society, it is because our future only holds the promise of a more trenchant nihilism. One may have faith otherwise, but by definition such faith is not rational. Faith, remember, is belief without reasons.

    Reading fantasy represents the attempt to give meaning to one's life by forgetting, for a time, the world that one lives in. In the escape offered by fantasy one glimpses the profound dimensions of our modern dilemma. Fantasy is the primary expression of a terrible socio-historical truth: the fundamental implication of our scientific culture is that life is meaningless.


    If so many religious groups are up in arms about Harry Potter, it is because they see in it a competitor--and rightly so. Fantasy novels can be construed as necessary supplements to the Holy Bible. In a culture antagonistic to meaning, the bald assertion that life is meaningful is not enough. We crave examples.

    Fantasy, like Religion, is about a world with meaning and purpose.

    shryke on
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    Edith_Bagot-DixEdith_Bagot-Dix Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Duffel wrote: »
    There's a lot more to a religion than "attending church".

    Religion often deals with concepts touching on the imperceptible, mysterious and the supernatural.

    It sounds like you're viewing religion in terms of a system which tells you what to do and what not to do (mostly the latter). And, to be fair, there's a lot of people who view it in that fashion. But read some hagiographical or eschatological texts, or religious poetry, or go listen to an oratorio. You'll see where the sense of grandeur, mystery and, well, divinity comes in.

    I have been thinking about how to respond to this. I guess all I can say is "I don't get it". It's not like I've devoted my life to these things or anything, but I have at least some familiarity with them due to one side of my family being very Catholic, and all I can say is that I don't understand. Even that is not really doing it justice - it is more like having some one talk about the exceeding redness of a clear blue sky, if that makes any sense. I guess that kind of dichotomy is what got me thinking about the topic and caused me to make this thread.

    Edith_Bagot-Dix on


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    Xenogears of BoreXenogears of Bore Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    The last two Narnia books are basically shitty versions of Genesis and Revelations.

    His Dark Materials is more an interesting story with a lot of Milton shout outs then a rip on Narnia, even if you look at it from a recruitment viewpoint.

    C.S. Lewis had a much better work for that anyways, The Screwtape Letters.

    It's not a rip on Narnia in the sense of "Look, I wrote a Narnia parody only it has science instead of Aslan!" It's a work in the same genre as Narnia (fantasy adventure for kids) but with Milton-esque, anti-orthodoxy themes in place of the pro-orthodoxy themes in the Narnia books. Structurally and in terms of content the books have very little in common. I doubt anyone would have ever drawn the connection except for Pullman being vocally opposed to Lewis' work and having media pundits take that and run away with it.

    Reading HDM I didn't even really 'get' the attack on Christianity. Going through The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as an adult the allegories are blatantly obvious. The Golden Compass, aside from casting 'The Church' as an evil figure, was not, at least for me, in any obvious way anti-religious. By the end of the trilogy Pullman gets into stuff that's pretty directly anti-Christian, but it makes 'science' so thoroughly mystical and bullshit-laden that it reads more like a fantasy with a made-up theology called 'science' than it does an assault on the serried ranks of Christian Faith.

    Edit: In fact, going into HDM knowing that it was supposed to be 'the anti-Lewis' I was rather confused by the Golden Compass. It seemed to be preaching religious faith in the face of an oppressive secular order, only with all of the labels swapped around.

    HDM doesn't promote Science as a religion at all. You could interpret it as saying that no religion is a great idea, or that spiritualism, love, and all that is much better when unfettered by concerns of an absolute morality, but not so much a promotion of Science. The books even have a Skeptic Scientist getting a huge dose of unexplainable mysticism.

    The only thing you can say for sure is that it is definitely not pro-Christianity.

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    CptHamiltonCptHamilton Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    Duffel wrote: »
    There's a lot more to a religion than "attending church".

    Religion often deals with concepts touching on the imperceptible, mysterious and the supernatural.

    It sounds like you're viewing religion in terms of a system which tells you what to do and what not to do (mostly the latter). And, to be fair, there's a lot of people who view it in that fashion. But read some hagiographical or eschatological texts, or religious poetry, or go listen to an oratorio. You'll see where the sense of grandeur, mystery and, well, divinity comes in.

    I have been thinking about how to respond to this. I guess all I can say is "I don't get it". It's not like I've devoted my life to these things or anything, but I have at least some familiarity with them due to one side of my family being very Catholic, and all I can say is that I don't understand. Even that is not really doing it justice - it is more like having some one talk about the exceeding redness of a clear blue sky, if that makes any sense. I guess that kind of dichotomy is what got me thinking about the topic and caused me to make this thread.

    Catholics are a funny thing to use as an example here. Catholicism is full of grandeur and marvel with the huge cathedrals, ceremonies in ancient languages, belief in a pantheon of saints and crazy shit like transubstantiation. It's just not that grand or marvelous if you grow up so used to it that you can't see it from the outside, as it were. I'm not religious but I can recognize the wonder and glory that a person could feel with a strong religious faith. Believing that supernatural, all-powerful deity is personally concerned about your well-being and is going to whisk you off to paradise if you lead a good life. Believing that all the miracles in the bible went down as-written. You just have sort of step outside of and away from the day-to-day religion of modern Christianity (or any other religion) and look at them the same way that you'd look at a work of fiction.

    CptHamilton on
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    QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    I have been thinking about how to respond to this. I guess all I can say is "I don't get it". It's not like I've devoted my life to these things or anything, but I have at least some familiarity with them due to one side of my family being very Catholic, and all I can say is that I don't understand. Even that is not really doing it justice - it is more like having some one talk about the exceeding redness of a clear blue sky, if that makes any sense. I guess that kind of dichotomy is what got me thinking about the topic and caused me to make this thread.
    Have you read the Bible or other religious texts?

    I wonder if part of the reason you don't see the connection is because you think the religious texts themselves are boring. And that may be because they are, by our standards of writing, archaic, repetitive and boring. They're just hard to enjoy and get into on the same level as a well-written modern fantasy. Especially if you read the Bible in the King James translation.

    Qingu on
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    QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    HDM doesn't promote Science as a religion at all.
    Not exactly. But the world of HDM has the same metaphysics as a world in which religion is true.

    It's not a secular, naturalistic world that Pullman describes. There is literally a supernatural presence, Dust, that creates consciousness. (To say nothing of the physically real angels made out of it.) Pullman also uses Dust in the same way that Lewis uses Aslan, wielding it moralistically. It's an idealized, personified version of a worldview he'd like to promote. And it's idealized to such an extent that it starts resembling an entity from a religious worldview.

    Qingu on
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    CptHamiltonCptHamilton Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    The last two Narnia books are basically shitty versions of Genesis and Revelations.

    His Dark Materials is more an interesting story with a lot of Milton shout outs then a rip on Narnia, even if you look at it from a recruitment viewpoint.

    C.S. Lewis had a much better work for that anyways, The Screwtape Letters.

    It's not a rip on Narnia in the sense of "Look, I wrote a Narnia parody only it has science instead of Aslan!" It's a work in the same genre as Narnia (fantasy adventure for kids) but with Milton-esque, anti-orthodoxy themes in place of the pro-orthodoxy themes in the Narnia books. Structurally and in terms of content the books have very little in common. I doubt anyone would have ever drawn the connection except for Pullman being vocally opposed to Lewis' work and having media pundits take that and run away with it.

    Reading HDM I didn't even really 'get' the attack on Christianity. Going through The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as an adult the allegories are blatantly obvious. The Golden Compass, aside from casting 'The Church' as an evil figure, was not, at least for me, in any obvious way anti-religious. By the end of the trilogy Pullman gets into stuff that's pretty directly anti-Christian, but it makes 'science' so thoroughly mystical and bullshit-laden that it reads more like a fantasy with a made-up theology called 'science' than it does an assault on the serried ranks of Christian Faith.

    Edit: In fact, going into HDM knowing that it was supposed to be 'the anti-Lewis' I was rather confused by the Golden Compass. It seemed to be preaching religious faith in the face of an oppressive secular order, only with all of the labels swapped around.

    HDM doesn't promote Science as a religion at all. You could interpret it as saying that no religion is a great idea, or that spiritualism, love, and all that is much better when unfettered by concerns of an absolute morality, but not so much a promotion of Science. The books even have a Skeptic Scientist getting a huge dose of unexplainable mysticism.

    The only thing you can say for sure is that it is definitely not pro-Christianity.

    By the end of The Amber Spyglass, yeah, I'd certainly agree. But unless I'm confusing when and how the first book in the trilogy ended, he hadn't really approached his message at all.

    The Golden Compass presented a Church that was basically a secular State. It professed a faith, but that faith took the structural form of modern secular life. They had theology in place of science, religious leaders in place of political leaders, etc. Agents of the Church forbid research into or discussion of 'Dust' as a threat against their power. I don't remember who it turned out, in the end, was behind the whole project to sever kids from their demons, but I seem to recall the impression, reading the first book, that it was the Church doing it.

    It doesn't seem like much of a step to just swap all of the labels. The State forbids religious research, hailing science as the only true approach. They don't want people talking about 'God'. They develop a technology that removes a person's spiritual soul.

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    Xenogears of BoreXenogears of Bore Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    I don't know if I'd quite go that far, but I can definitely see the point you're trying to make and it's pretty much why I said the only known point the book is trying to make is a harsh slam on Christianity.

    I still can't believe they greenlit the first book's movie adaptation.

    Yes, I get that Hollywood is stupid, LotR and Harry Potter did insanely well, Narnia was greenlit by another group, we gotta get in on this.

    If only the movie were a lot better then the protests would have been deafening, especially when the sequels showed up.

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    QinguQingu Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    That movie was such shit.

    Not even because of the (non) ending. It was just very poorly directed. And cast. Ian McKlellan for Iorek? Just because a guy plays Gandalf does not make him a one-size-fits-all for every single character in fantasy, let alone a giant fucking armored polar bear

    Qingu on
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    Xenogears of BoreXenogears of Bore Registered User regular
    edited April 2010
    I liked the visual design and I think they cast the girl fairly well.

    Still, I would have loved to see what would have happened if that movie did really well, the questions that would have come up after taking your kid to the third movie.

    "Mom, why is god hooked up to life support? Why is the Lucifer allegory winning?" :P

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