Thursday, October 28, 2010

God in the Movies: When Banal Religion is Disguised by Humour

by Christine Barton

Religion plays such a large role in today’s society that it is not surprising that it finds its way into films (Hesion, 1947). But when we talk about religion in film, what exactly do we mean? Are we referring to films that are formally about religion or that tell stories of the Bible? Are we talking about films that discuss people’s religious beliefs and how they are tested? Does a religious film have to delve into philosophical discussions over the existence and meaning of God? Or, can a religious film simply have themes that relate to religion and spirituality in both direct and indirect ways? The cinema is a source of revelation about our place in the world. Movies reveal our hopes, our fears and what we value as human beings (Stone, 2000). Film offers us a creative and imaginative language that can bridge the gap between the rational and the aesthetic, the sacred and the secular, the church and the world, and thereby provide a refreshing take on old and often sad narratives (Stone, 2000).

Mahan (2002) describes “the effort to transform the written gospel accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus into a compelling film” as one “full of challenges”. The visual representation of Jesus has changed over the course of time, yet in the 6th century the portrayal of Jesus as Pantocrator, with long dark hair and a trimmed beard, became standard (Bakker, 2009). Over time the colour of his hair changed to blonde, but his beard was retained (Bakker, 2009). Long, loose hair was regarded as a symbol of divinity (Bakker, 2009), so it was only natural that this visual depiction was also used in the representation of Jesus in film. Critics argued that because Jesus was a man, he could be depicted in film, but a God who could not be depicted in words certainly could not be reflected in images (Bakker, 2009). So perhaps, as Bergesen and Greeley (2000) suggest, it is the representation of God on the big screen that is a challenge for Hollywood to undertake. Could this be because of Hollywood’s purported hostility to religion (Bergesen and Greeley, 2000) or does it simply boil down to difficulty in presenting a visual depiction of the divine, the transcendent and the almighty

Films about Jesus, God, or religion in general, face the same aesthetic and commercial challenges as any other movie, because as Mahan (2002) suggests, a significant subject does not necessarily always produce a compelling film. Mahan (2002) also argues that the attempt to portray on film the central narrative of religious communities has always been met with suspicion by believers and non-believers alike. Depicting God in film raises issues of whether any visual representation of divinity is acceptable and how this divine God should be interpreted, depicted and represented. Filmmakers attempt this task with their own assumptions and questions of faith in mind (Bakker, 2009; Mahan, 2002), yet through the process of mediatization, the representation of these religious images has become more oriented towards entertainment and the consumer (Hjarvard, 2008).

The media work as agents for religious change through the process of mediatization (Hjarvard, 2008). In fact, the media have become the primary source of religious ideas, by moulding religious imagination in accordance with the genres of popular culture (Hjarvard, 2008). The media have taken over many of the social functions that used to be performed by religious institutions and this is particularly evident through film. This has also led to a gradual secularization and has transformed a society that once had a close identification with religious values and institutions, to a visual culture that turns to the media for all aspects of social life and interpretations of reality.

The media are distributors of religious representations of various kinds and these representations are produced, edited and delivered through genres like film and television. This inevitably leads the media to begin distributing what Hjarvard (2008) refers to as “banal religion”. Holy texts and iconography contribute to the accumulation of banal religious elements that are open to religious interpretation (Hjarvard, 2008). The power relationship between banal religious representations and institutionalized religion may vary, but the increasing role of media in society seems to make more room for the former. As conduits of communication, the media have become the primary source of imagery and texts about magic, spiritualism and religion (Hjarvard, 2008). Consequently, institutionalized religion in modern, western societies plays a less prominent role in the communication of religious beliefs and instead, banal religious elements emphasised by the media move to the fore of society’s religious imagination (Hjarvard, 2008).

In contemporary society, watching movies has become as normal as eating, sleeping or using the computer (Johnston, 2006). Film is now one of the primary sources for telling stories and interpreting reality, with the power of the movie resting on each individual’s gaze (Johnston, 2006). Movies help viewers understand and critique culture, while also allowing them to form perceptions of themselves, their values and their social world (Johnston, 2006). Many also find cinema a rich depository of images that celebrate the human spirit and put us in touch with the divine (Leonard, 2006). While movies themselves are not scriptures, they have the ability to project scripture in a new light in terms of culture and medium (Aichele and Walsh, 2002). They also provide us with much of the imagery that we have previously associated religion with, and this occurs in both over-simplified and over-the-top fashions.

However, many critics have argued that the visual representation of God in film is “futile, indeed false” and that these images “obscure God’s glory and convey false ideas about God”, while also arguing that “God communicates best through word, not symbols” (Johnston, 2006). Reinhartz (2007) further argues that God’s presence in the narrative and his role as Jesus’ father can be shown only indirectly. However, cultural expressions, like films, function as important resources for theological reflection (Johnston, 2006), so it appears to make sense that stories of God are told through the medium of film; a medium that is engaged in by millions. Given the power of the media, becoming conversant with its mixed messages is an essential tool for Christian life, involving a process of inculturation in which viewers can discover where Christ is already active within a given culture (Leonard, 2006).

Instead of trying to catch the miraculous and unmediated light for the screen, filmmakers in more recent times have begun to take a different approach, one more complex, demanding and cogent (Mitchell and Plate, 2007). These filmmakers have chosen to focus on chronicling and analysing the encounter of ordinary people with the divine (Mitchell and Plate, 2007). Right on the cusp of the new millennium, a new kind of religious film began to emerge. This new breed of film steered away from traditional Biblical epics and instead took a more modern approach, incorporating the use of clever humour in order to achieve box office success. Instead of portraying stereotypical Christ-like figures, several films began to take these representations one step further and start portraying the Christian God in human form. Two such films to accomplish this are Bruce Almighty (2003) and Dogma (1999). Both of these films depict a God that has rarely been seen in film before; God as a black man and God as a woman, respectively. These films break out of the traditional pattern and in doing so mount a fundamental and explicit challenge to the links between scripture, history and faith (Exum, 2006). From the very beginning of these films we know we are in for a non-traditional glimpse of God. However, the films do not throw out God’s supreme power and transcendence altogether, but rather focus on how God’s divine presence effects those it strikes (Mitchell and Plate, 2007).

The theologically complex, Bruce Almighty, humourously wrestles with the interface of divine power and human freedom. In a highly entertaining fashion, this film appeals to popular culture by depicting aspects of truth, beauty and goodness (Johnston, 2006). The film portrays Bruce (Jim Carrey) as a man consumed by self-importance and insensitivity, especially to God. This flawed protagonist has the ability to make viewers repulsed, especially by his attitude to his (cleverly named), estranged girlfriend, Grace (Jennifer Aniston). Bruce is a television news reporter who wants to be a local news anchor and blames God for not producing this miracle. In the film he takes on the role of God, acting out humanity’s most ancient desire; to be God (Leonard, 2006).

Unlike many other religious films that have merely depicted God as a shining white light, or simply a voice, God in Bruce Almighty is portrayed in human form, visually depicted as an African-American, played by Morgan Freeman. Yet looking past this non-traditional visual representation, Bruce Almighty suggests that God operated on two fundamental principles: “You can’t mess with free will” and “you can’t do everything” (Leonard, 2006). Christian theology teaches that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving (Leonard, 2006). Bruce Almighty gives this a contemporary spin. Rather than positing God deficient in power, it suggests God has a self-imposed limit on the exercise of power (Leonard, 2006). The film raises interesting images and issues, attempting to ask the most basic religious questions in a modern context, with humour. But what the movie really is about is God’s argument that, “The problem is that people keep looking up, when they should look inside…you want to see a miracle – then be a miracle” (Johnston, 2006).

If religious ideas or experience can be put into an irreverent or interesting package, so much the better. This is the appeal of Kevin Smith’s edgy but God-affirming movie, Dogma (Johnston, 2006). Met with much criticism, this movie affirms the existence of God and tells the story of a woman’s recovery of faith, while at the same time mocking organised Christianity and questioning theology (Johnston, 2006). This movie steers away from everything deemed traditional about religious films, presenting images of a 13th apostle and a statue of the “Buddy Christ”, winking and giving the thumbs up (Johnston, 2006). While the movie was regarded as somewhat of a joke, it does affirm the importance of faith, the benevolence of God and the divinity of Christ (Johnston, 2006), in a way that keeps viewers in their seats and entertained.

Described as a “zany, daffy, sometimes crude and tasteless, over-the-top movie” (Greeley, 1999, p. 22), Dogma portrayed God as a woman; a woman who also performed cartwheels. Technically speaking, since divine-figures need only resemble or resonate with the behavioural characteristics and life events of the historical divine, female divine-figures can just as easily fit this functional definition (Kozlovic, 2005). While many critics described Dogma and this representation of God as a woman, as blasphemous, what they failed to remember was that blasphemy involves the intention to do harm to God, religion, faith or the church (Greeley, 1999). Dogma did not intend to do this, but merely represented God as a comedian, who in the end is seen as loving and gracious. This humour is in fact a prelude to making some very serious, and funny, theological points.

While these films are highly entertaining and clear in their messages, we still must question whether they are truly religious or if they simply represent elements of Hajarvard’s (2008) notion of banal religion. Products which are tailored for consumption by masses, and which to a great extent determine the nature of that consumption, are manufactured more or less according to plan (Adorno and Rabinbach, 1975). The masses are not primary, but secondary, and are always an object of calculation and of the culture industry (Adorno and Rabinbach, 1975). The practices of the culture industry rest almost solely on profit, and through the distribution of discourse and ideology to the masses, a profit is almost always made. Cultural commodities are formed because of their value (Adorno and Rabinbach, 1975) and this statement rings true of the film industry. According to Walsh (2003) cinematic images of the divine perpetuate an ideology of triumphant individualism, and Kozlovic (2005) further argues that these images are a legitimate pop-culture phenomenon. More than just media inundation, we have come to live in a “media-mediated” culture, where our understanding of life, reality and our own experience is filtered through film (Kozlovic, 2005). In fact, many people within today’s society, especially the young, believe that popular culture is culture, and so theology must begin to take such cultural expressions seriously (Kozlovic, 2005).

Films that reach out and break down barriers (like Dogma and Bruce Almighty) tend to elicit positive responses, while also allowing viewers to recognise the significance of religion in today’s society and culture. Religious films that fall into the comedy genre effectively portray stories that can be related to by non-believers and those uninterested in religion. These films make religion more accessible to people who normally regard religion as irrelevant, by framing stories of the divine and religious elements in a way that is entertaining and relatable.

Popular cinema has moved forward in its cultural interpretations of the divine, by making them appealing to a wider ranging audience. The movie industry has recognised the secularization of society and has transformed religious values, practices and beliefs into visually pleasing and often humourous films that society has come to rely on for interpreting reality. There is no single person, entity, organisation, institution or power in our society today that even comes close to rivaling the power of film and television to shape our faith, values and behavior (Stone, 2000).

The media, as Hjarvard (2008) suggests, have taken on the role of religious institutions in shaping our religious imaginations, particularly through the use of religious films, and by doing this have provided both moral and spiritual guidance and a sense of community. However, the banal religious elements that these films tend to portray, move into the fore of society’s imagination and have resulted in a society in which individuals can no longer tell the difference between fiction and reality. However, putting the banality of the religion in films aside, the cinema remains an important tool to illicit interest in the religious world and to encourage the youth of today to recognise its importance in today’s society.


Adorno, T. W. and Rabinback, A. G. (1975). Culture Industry Reconsidered. New German Critique, 6, 12-19

Aichele, G & Walsh, R. (2002). Screening Scripture: Intertextual Connections Between Scripture and Film. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International.

Bakker. F. L. (2009). The Challenge of the Silver Screen: An Analysis of the Cinematic Portraits of Jesus, Rama, Buddha and Muhammad. Boston: Leidon.

Bergesen, A. J. and Greeley, A. M. (2000). God in the Movies. New Brunswick, N.J: Transaction Publishers.
Exum, J. C. (2006). The Bible in Film – The Bible and Film. Leidon, Boston: Brill.
Greeley, A. M. (1999). The Catholic Imagination of ‘Dogma’. National Catholic Reporter, 36(8), 22.

Hession, Brian, the Rev. (1947. Religion in films versus religious films. Sight and Sound, 16(62), p. 53.

Hjarvard, S. (2008) The Mediatization of Religion: A Theory of the Media as Agents of Religious Change. Northern Lights, 6(1), 9-26.

Johnston, R. K. (2006). Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue. Second Edition – revised and expanded. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Kozlovic, A. K. (2005). Jesus covered in a secular wrapper: The Christ-figure in popular films. Kinema: A Journal of History, Theory and Aesthetics of Film and Audiovisual Media, 24, 33-54.

Reinhartz, A. (2007). Jesus of Hollywood. New York: Oxford University Press

Leonard, S. J. (2006). Movies That Matter: Reading Film Through the Lens of Faith. Chicago, Illinois: Loyola Press.

Mahan, J. H. (2002). Celluloid Saviour: Jesus in the Movies. Journal of Religion and Film, 6(1)

Mitchell, J. & Plate, S. B. (2007). The Religion and Film Reader. New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.

Stone, B. P. (2000). Faith and Film: Theological themes at the cinema. St Louis, MO: Chalice Press.

Walsh, R. (2003). Reading the Gospels in the Dark: Portrayals of Jesus in Film. Harrisburg, PA and London: Trinity Press International.


Kozlovic, A. K. (2008). Cecil B. DeMille: Hollywood Macho Man and the Theme of Masculinity within His Biblical (and Other) Cinema. Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality, 2(2), 116-138.

Forshey, G. (1988). Jesus on Film. The Christian Century, 105(26), 801.

Gilmour, P. (2005). Text and Context: The Passion of the Christ and other Jesus Films. Religious Education, 100(3), 311.

Greeley, A. M. (1997). Images of God in the Movies. The Journal of Religion and Film, 1(1).

Mel Gibson’s Lethal Passion. (2006). In Beal, T. K. and Linafelt, T. (Eds.) Mel Gibson’s Bible. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Stout, D. A. and Buddenbaum, J. M.(2003). Media, Religion, and "Framing". Journal of Media and Religion, 2(1), 1 - 3

Films Cited

Bostick, M., Brubaker, J. D., Koren, S., Carrey, J., O’Keefe, M., Shadyac, T., & Shadyac, T. (Director). (2003). Bruce Almighty. United States: Universal Pictures,

Mosier, S. & Smith K. (1999). Dogma. United States: Miramax Films

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Super-Jesus: Finding Religion's Superhero's in Film

The word superhero is one which can be heard in a multitude of contexts throughout modern society. From an early age children learn about superheroes, which come to save the world from impending doom. As time progresses and adulthood approaches, it is now expected that aspirations of learning to fly and obtaining super-strength are grown out of and have moved towards the notion of superhero which describes someone to admire and model their moral and ethical standards. Society presents a wide range of superheros which take into account modern concerns of age, culture, gender and religion.The superheroes of the modern world can consist of anyone from a great religious leader (Moses, Muhammad, Buddha, Jesus etc.), or icons of pop culture (sports-stars, pop idols, movie celebrities), as well as including those that belong to our films, cartoons and literature: and while they are all vastly different there are also many unifying factors.

Superheroes are most commonly accessed through film and television, with a large number of heroes being religious figures or displaying religious characteristics. The purpose of this essay will be to explore the notion of the superhero, paying particular attention to the ways in which religious heroes are represented in film. In order to do this I will first explore the mythical construct of the superhero before contextualizing the role which is played by religion in the film industry. From here the notion of the religious superhero portrayed through film will be analysed drawing upon the film The Last Temptation of Christ before moving to religious themes and attitudes represented by cinematic hero’s such as ‘Neo’ the main Character from The Matrix.

As was briefly mentioned earlier, there are many observable characteristics held in common by the various types of superhero that modern society glorifies. Significant and well known to those interested in the notion of hero is mythologist Joseph Campbell, whose works cover the mythic superhero in great detail. His view is that the mythological journeys and stories carried out by the ‘hero’ tend to follow a structural pattern which he calls the “nuclear unit of the monomyth”. (Campbell, 1968, p.30) According to Campbell it doesn’t matter what religion or civilization a hero myth comes from, they will all follow this pattern of the nuclear unit: “a separation from the world, a penetration to some source of power, and a life enhancing return.” (Campbell, 1968, p.35) In outlining the structural monomyth Campbell further divides these three overarching facets into smaller components, however, for the purposes of this paper the three are sufficient.

As the notion of the monomyth is only a framework the themes presented appear in a variety of guises throughout mythical history. Other similarities also lie in the hero’s mission in that the world which the hero is entering is always suffering from a “symbolic deficiency” (Campbell, 1968, p.37) which the hero must deliver it from. This deficiency could be the presence of a distressed damsel, impending doom, or that the world as a whole has fallen away and reduced itself to evil. Along with Campbell, Norman also acknowledges that in order to be successful in redeeming the world the hero must undergo a transformation where he/she discovers the hidden potential that will lead to victory. For Norman this transformation requires the hero to “abandon all and be abandoned,” (Norman, 1969, p.5) By this she is saying that the hero will enter into the space where evil lurks so as to emerge from it liberated – much like Friedrich Nietzsche’s well used saying “Whatever does not kill me makes me stronger.” (Nietzsche, p.5) The hero and his/her actions provide warning and advice, as well as encouraging the everyday being to live full and productive lives. They provide a hope that all people have great potential and that the key to satisfaction is to unlock and harness that potential, putting it to good use. Campbell reiterates this in saying, “the hero is symbolic of that divine creative and redemptive image which is hidden within us all, only wating to be known and rendered into life” (Campbell, 1968, p.39).

Campbell’s work in both the areas of mythology and religion makes easy work of transferring his notion of the monomyth to religious figures and their cinematic representations. The transcendent nature of the language used in the previously mentioned quotation from Campbell also serves as an example of the close link between the notion of hero and religion. This relationship is best observed in the medium of modern filmmaking, which has maintained its popularity since its emergence in the late 19th Century. Films and their content are designed to captivate their audience, temporarily transporting them into the make believe and instilling in them a wide range ideas about the world in which we live. Because of the integral part that religion and spirituality play in a large portion of human lives, it is not surprising that it features heavily in the films produced. In their commentary on the relationship between film and religion, Pope and Johnston agree that in today’s largely secular world, questions which were traditionally considered to be religious (i.e. Those concerning origin, meaning and purpose in life) have been shifted from religious institutions to the secular world. “The questions are still being asked,” says Pope (2007, p.8) “but in different ways and in different places from those traditionally held to be appropriate.”

Johnston provides two ways of examining the theological content embedded in cinematic productions. In talking about the religious issues raised by films he states, “They affect the heart, then the head.” (Johnston, 2006, p.250) In greater detail this refers to “experiential” and “critical” axis of analysis. The “experiential” refers to the immediate experience of receiving the film, the thoughts that are provoked and discussion that follows. The “critical” axis of deconstructing what has been seen comes with reflection on what has been experienced in a critical manner in order to create an understanding of what these initial reactions mean. In summary, his view is that theological and religious themes are intertwined into the fabric of film – all that has to be done is to approach them with a ‘religion lens’ and examples of theological reasoning will be found.

Now that the relationship between religion and film has been explored, along with the notion of the heroic monomyth, the attention of this paper may turn to applying these theories to cinematic examples. There are two main ways that religion can be observed in film: 1) Films which depict the lives and tales of religious superheroes. 2) Films whose characters and storylines resemble those of religious myths and events. Each one of these categories will now be discussed beginning with the former.

One of the best ways that religion, and its superheroes, can be discovered through the world of film is in those films which retell the narratives and events from a given religion. Films such as The Prince of Egypt (1998), The Passion of the Christ (2004), Little Buddha (1993) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) all tell the stories of religious superheroes which are derived from the myths and stories of their respective religions. The representation of religious characters such as Jesus, the Buddha and Moses in popular film builds their image to celebrity status much like society’s other superheroes – pop stars, sports man and alike. The Last Temptation of Christ (1998) directed by Martin Scorcese, is a prime example of the way that film has been used to elevate the position of the religious superhero. In order to demonstrate the level to which Scorcese’s portrayal of the life of Christianity’s Jesus lives up to the superhero, a deconstruction using Campbells theory of the heroic monomyth will be conducted.

Flesher and Torry, in their book Film and Religion (2007), provide a critical deconstruction of the film The Last Temptation of Christ, focusing on the positioning of the audience to experience the well known story of Jesus in a confronting and unexpected way. As outlined in the book, Martin Scorcese’s – the director of the film, intention for this film was to attempt to capture the human image of Jesus as conflicting with the divine, by portraying human weakness within him. The film depicts Jesus as lustful towards women, uncaring and often selfish. It also portrays a confused, God denying Jesus who is reconsidering the mission he was to carry out. By employing Campbell’s framework of the classic hero myth and applying it to the narrative context of the Last Temptation of Christ, as deconstructed by Flesher and Torry, many similarities arise between the figure of Jesus and Campbell’s ‘hero.’ In its entirety, Martin Scorcese has effectively produced a hero myth in accordance to Joseph Campbells structure of the “nuclear unit of the monomyth” (Campbell, 1968, p.35)

Campbell suggests that there are a number of essential features within the concept of monomyth beginning with the Separation (1968, p.35). Using Jesus as the hero of Scorcese’s film, two separations can be extracted from the narrative. Firstly, Jesus is separated from God the Father in being born into the world; however he is also separated from the world because of his dual nature as both human and divine.

Campbell’s second aspect of the monomyth is the initiation, whereby the hero enters a discovery process of both potential, reason and mission. (1968, p.35) Throughout the movie, Jesus is portrayed as struggling to develop his mission and purpose on earth and battles with his dual nature. According to Flesher and Torry’s analysis, Jesus comes to a gradual understanding of his mission, through a staged “discovery process” (Flesher & Torry, 2007, p.144). which incorporates various “turning points of Jesus’ development..[through which] his character also changes”(p.145). Campbell also refers to the sacrificial nature of the hero stating,

“The really creative acts are represented as those deriving from some sort of dying to the world; and what happens with the interval of the heroes nonentity, so that he comes back as one reborn, made great and filled with creative power.” (1968, p.36)
In reference to the movie’s reflection of the Jesus story this would be considered to be the point where Jesus acquires “access to the power of his divine character and begins to perform miracles.”(Flesher & Torry, 2007, p.145) Also referring to this part of the monomyth is Jesus’ decision to make the ultimate sacrifice for humanity with his life. Flesher and Torry also reiterate this in saying, “Christianity’s mission of salvation is to rescue all human beings from the punishment that their sins deserve, and to give them the heavenly rewards of which sin had deprived them.”(Flesher & Torry, 2007, p.145) This epitomizes the redemptive power of the hero to restore peace and hope to the world. And finally, no great story would be complete without knowing the hero didn’t die for good which Campbell describes as the “Life enhancing return” (1968, p.35) which is for the Christian story, the resurrection of Jesus and his conquering of death.

Finally, examination will now turn to the way in which filmmakers extract and manipulate religious themes, concepts, stories and histories in order to create their superhero’s and the narratives which they enact. Flesher and Torry (2007) also expressed the view that films often draw on religious symbols and motifs in order to enhance the message of their hero making it more emotional and personal. (Flesher & Torry, 2007, p.3) There are many different films which express religious views explicitly and others more implicitly. Ford (2000) offers that myths are a form of human expression and are constantly evolving, while being adapted and re-contextualised to create meaning for a wider variety of audiences. Attention will now be transferred to Lana and Andy Wachowski’s film, The Matrix (1999), in order to gain an understanding of how both Buddhist and Christian themes have been adapted for this film.

The Matrix is a well known film that is often recognised as carrying strong Christian themes and as representing the messianic story of Christianity. Ford acknowledges that while this is certainly a strong narrative basis for the film there is also strong parallels with Buddhist philosophy. To understand his position Laurie Honko’s definition of myth, as cited in Ford’s article, is helpful:

There are “Four criteria of myth with respect to form (narrative of sacred origin), content (cosmogonic in terms of cultural origin or existential condition), function (model for human activity), and context (in the sense that myth provides the ideological content for a sacred form of behaviour.)” (Ford, 2000.)
Ford believes that the Christian over-tones within The Matrix do not meet these criteria of myth. His view is that in order for The Matrix to be considered mythic it must meet all the criteria, as defined by Honko, and so fails resoresenting the content aspect of Honko’s definitionof myth. It is however, fulfilled by existing themes of Buddhist philosophy.

A brief description, in the table below, of the Christian influence present in The Matrix will be provided before focusing on the newly exposed ideas of Buddhist revelation also operating within the film.

Neo (main Character): Represents the redemptive figure of Jesus. He is the ‘Chosen One’ who will deliver the world from the hands of the enemy. He sacrifices himself and is later resurrected transforming him into a more divine figure who has the full power to defeat evil ascending into the sky at the end.(Christian story of Jesus’ ascension.)
Morpheus: Seen as being John the Baptist – preparing the way for the ‘Chosen One’. Could also represent God the Father who guides Jesus and shows him the way.
Trinity: While having a clearly Christian theological name, she is similar in many ways to Mary Magdalene – slight hint of possible love interest – but cares for and helps Neo.
Cypher: Represents Judas. He is the trusted friend who betrays the team handing them over to the forces of evil, death and destruction.
Oracle: Holy Spirit – Revelatory powers, also empowers them and gives guidance.
Agent: Devil/Roman soldiers – try to inhibit Neo’s mission/beats and tortures Neo. Neo eventually conquers both.
Intelligent Technology: Satan/Sin. Morpheus says, “The world (the matrix) has been pulled over your eyes to blind you to the truth...that you are a slave. Have been born into bondage.” (Wachowski, 1999)

While Christianity seems to fill the film with plenty of thematic detail, Ford insists that the problem/existential question offered from Buddhist philosophy is essential. This problem is, “our ignorance of existential reality. If we could perceive the true nature of reality and the path to enlightenment...then we could overcome our ignorant state and achieve the insight of a Buddha.” (Ford, 2000) This is a quote used by ford which can be found in two verses of the Dhammapada (a Buddhist text) and relates closely to the quote from the movie by Morpheus which was included in the last cell of the table above. The Mahayana notion that the world which we perceive as our reality is merely a production of our own minds is also inextricably linked to the themes which are presented throughout The Matrix. Ford also suggests links to Buddhist practice in that the training that Neo and his associates undertake is a form of meditation and that the cycle of Samsara, which Buddhist believe humanity is born into is similar to the way in which the participants are programmed into their lives in the matrix.

“A movie can devote not only words but also active visual expression – extended expression at that – to its perspective.”(Flesher & Torry, 2007, p.1) For this reason, film becomes a powerful medium through which filmmakers can manipulate religion in order to serve a variety of purposes. Throughout this essay it has been demonstrated how the filmic and mythic construct of the superhero can be and is readily adapted to portray religion and its ideals to audience members. This is achieved by not only portraying events in religious history, but also in reflecting the values, attitudes and beliefs within the secular superhero. In doing so, many believe that the once traditional expression of religion – through organised institutions – has now been carried to the secular world and is enhanced by cinematic attendance and discussion.
By Kelly Freyling

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Review on Peter Beyer’s article ‘Religion and Globalization’

By Mele Halaufia

Religion and Globalization play an important part of society, not only to those interested in these two issues, but those who are witnessed to culture and change. Peter Beyer’s ‘Religion and Globalization’ sees to allow a thoughtful and in-depth analysis of the place of religion in worldwide culture, and the phenomenon that has been a result of it.

In Beyer’s article, he contextualises and outlines specific definitions and ideas while supporting his arguments by providing his audience with three major ‘manifestations’ (2006) in reference to the international spread of the present-day religion. The first describes the importance of transnational migration, the second exemplifies the movements or religious organizations around the globe and what has resulted as such, and the third sees how the social and political movements have affected its country and what affect they have on each other.

Deliberately, Beyer also presents underlying queries to the readers while providing substantial examples and ideas that formulate the reader’s questions. A specific inquisition, which was most obvious, involved the establishment of globalization, particularly determining whether it started in the rise of the 1980’s or the start of civilization.

The article is very thorough; giving examples of worldwide experiences describing the cause and effects that religion has played in a number of countries, including Islam, Thailand and Iran. Moreover, he describes the religiosity of a country and the growth of religious institutions due to migrants detailing how they have adapted over time to be major religions such as Islamic, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist and Sikh.

Through Peter Beyer’s succinct ideas, terminology and life examples, he has successfully provided a detailed analysis of the relation between religion and globalization. Referring to these two issues individually and collectively, Beyer’s argument is not to be disregarded, but to be studied and understood for religion and globalization will forever be apart of society.

Works referenced:
Beyer Peter, 2006, Religion and Globalization, in George Ritzer, Ed, THe Blackwell Companion to Globalization. Malden. MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

“Us” vs. “Them”: A Review of Tara Magdalinski and Timothy J.L. Chandler’s article: “With God on their side”: An Introduction

By Elizabeth Bailey

In a world, where the media influences of the lives of millions daily, sport is considered by many to be a religion. While there are many similarities between religious and athletic devotion Tara Magdalinski and Timothy Chandler argue in their article, “With God on their side” that there is a relationship between religion and sport, but popular culture takes it too far. The authors argue that it is more important to examine the interaction between sport and religion and recognize the influence sport has over a religious community and the promotion of their beliefs.

Creating a definition for religion is the first hurtle these authors overcome. Religion as defined by Magdalinski and Chandler is when a group of individuals consider themselves linked to others through faith and shared cultural practices. From this definition, the authors agree that it is acceptable for a community to define cultural practices, faith, and rituals as a religion. Religion has the power to influence a community socially, as well as spiritually. This article examines how religion impacts a group’s and an individual’s identity. Distinguishing one religion from another is key to understanding the role religion plays in one’s life. Every religion has clearly defined: initiation rites, dogmas, prescribed moralities, authoritative teachings, texts, and traditions, clear social structures, and organized authority structures. These differences provide individuals with a sense of belonging in ritualized and cultural activities.

Religion and sport both provide a framework for individuals to define themselves, sports fans and religion are both created from an “us” and “them” mentality. By defining one’s self as a Red Sox fan or a Baptist, one is given an identity and place within the social structure of the community. Sport is one of the driving factors behind self-identification, within a religious context. With this in mind, the authors explore various relationships between religion and sport, ranging from sport in the Jewish Women’s Settlement Houses in America to the development of rugby unions: Muslim clubs versus non-Muslims clubs in Cape Town. Though athletes are not the gods media makes them out to be and stadiums are not a place of religious worship, there is a real relationship between religion and sport. Both institutions exist because individuals are able to define themselves as part of the community; an “us” rather than an “other”.

Works Cited
Magdalinski, Tara, and Timothy J.L. Chandler. "With God on their side: An
Introduction." Introduction. With God on their Side: Sport in the service
of religion. London: Routledge, 2002. 1-19. Print.

Why Not?: David Chidester on the Role of Religion in American Popular Culture

By: Elise Burgett

While the idea of considering baseball, Coca-Cola, and rock music as religions is unsettling to some people, there is no denying that many Americans do worship these elements of popular culture, at least at some level. In his article “The Church of Baseball, the Fetish of Coca-Cola, and the Potlatch of Rock ‘n’ Roll: Theoretical Models for the Study of Religion in American Popular Culture,” David Chidester explores the complexity of defining religion and the role it plays in American popular culture. He does this using three theoretical models: the institution of the “Church of Baseball,” the system of symbols involved in the fetish of Coca-Cola, and the ritualized gift-giving of the Native American potlatch present in the rock ‘n’ roll song “Louie, Louie.” Throughout the article Chidester explains the ways in which each model acts as a religion in everyday American life, followed by evidence to refute potential arguments from “non-believers.”

Focusing on Chidester’s “Church of Baseball” concept, he offers four ways in which baseball behaves like the institutionalized church: it ensures continuity through tradition, it creates a sense of uniformity and belonging, it involves a sacred space, and it engages with sacred time through ritual and revelation. He makes his argument even more convincing by discussing theories on religion as a relationship with supernatural or superhuman beings (we revere athletes in this manner) and as centred around a sacred focus (one’s favourite sports team, for example). Chidester further emphasizes the validity of the similarities between baseball and the institution of the church towards the end of the article as he explains that, just as Europeans extended familiar religious metaphors to the indigenous, apparently religion-less populations they encountered in order to better understand their practices, we can extend our own religious metaphors to areas of popular culture. This effectively re-contextualizes baseball, Coca-Cola, and rock ‘n’ roll as religions in themselves. Though many readers may be left skeptical regarding this re-contextualization, Chidester uses his three theoretical models successfully to make us think about his central question: why should these elements of American popular culture not be considered forms of religion?

Works Referenced

Chidester, David. “The Church of Baseball, the Fetish of Coca-Cola, & the Potlatch of Rock ‘n’ Roll: Theoretical Models for the Study of Religion in American Popular Culture.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion LXIV/4 (1996): 743-765. Web. 6 Oct. 2010.