Friends and Readers – Sorry we have been MIA for so long, between dissertation chapters Seth and I were lost somewhere between Narnia and Dorne. We’ll always come back to you though, just like Percy Jackson’s sword, Riptide.
One of my other jobs, a job that I love more than all the others – except parenting – is teaching undergrads. I’ve had such great experiences with them as they learn to discuss and challenge theological concepts. When we begin a semester, there is always one or two students who believe that my class is going to require or involve an element of faith. This may be more true of those in divinity schools, but in an academic department we teach the systematic components of belief systems. Most of the time it involves less spiritual or meditative practices and more in the way of reason and logic. This does not mean that many (most?) of us don’t practice what we teach or don’t find it exciting when a student makes that deeper spiritual connection. It just means that we can take a particular approach to theology that involves scrutiny and methodology. Even in teaching the spirituality of the ascetics, for instance, the act of teaching that is logical and systematic rather than practicing the contemplation that the ascetics practice themselves. Having said that, the hallmark of a good theologian is being able to connect this theoretical framework and system to a grounded reality as it is needed, ultimately coming back full circle to practice and praxis.
One of my favorite, all-time favorite, series is BBC’s Sherlock. I have been an avid Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fan since I was a wee kid. I love mystery, I love puzzles, and I love logic. I love the logical world and how everything fits so harmoniously and beautifully. It was only natural that in watching the series I began to think about any connections between it and theology or theological principles. In this case, with no overt theological tones staring me in the face, finding that theological piece was harder than I had supposed or hoped. Not that it is always necessary to have theological themes, but I tend to believe and see threads in most every sphere of life.
In this case, rather than looking at a specific episode of Sherlock I wanted to look at it as a whole body of work, one which I very much respect. The character of Sherlock Holmes is based, both in the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the BBC rendition, on a person steeped in deductive logic. The “minutia” of the world becomes unimportant to Sherlock unless it pertains in a direct way to a case or his work. He is hyper-focused and this results in his lack of care towards, what I would call, the niceties of life. Sherlock tells Watson that it is his work that matters. Sherlock, however, is an extreme case. While he claims to not care if the sun rotates around the moon or vice versa, he has his moments of pause. In “The Great Game,” he and Watson have this exchange while looking up at the stars under the Vauxhall Arches :
Moffat is a masterful writer in being true to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character in that Sherlock, though focused on his deductive work, is not unappreciative of the natural world or even beauty.
Theology, as well, as much as it relies on experience and affect, has almost always employed the use of reason, knowledge, and rationality as the human-only means of seeking and attempting to understand God. The likes of Plato and Aristotle set the foundation for the rational in the works of Augustine and Aquinas. God created an ordered world and so we, as humans, participate in that order as reasonable beings. While our experiences allow us to be in relation with God, our reason is the compass that points the way. In a sense, Sherlock is the extreme case of a principle in which we all function.
This brings me to stress again that science and theology ought not to be strangers, but complementary to one another. Do you like Sherlock? Me too. Try some Aquinas. Read the Treatise on Law or the Soul, you may find yourself caught wanting to know how the story ends and how humans can possibly work the way they do. It’s all there waiting for you. Watch out, however, you might find yourself addicted to something new.
Game of Thrones better hurry up because True Blood is over!
I know, Eric and Sookie, we’re upset too.
In our last True Blood article, we talked about hope and the purpose of belief in something, even if that something is not organized religion. I know I will probably not make too many friends by saying this, but there were parts of the True Blood series finale that I actually liked… a lot.
I mean, let’s face it, endings are hard to write, even harder to write so that everyone is happy. Endings to a seven season series on vampires, fairies, werewolves, demons, witches, shifters, and all other manner of mythical being – yet harder still. The truth is that no one really wants to leave Bon Temps, so having any ending is not going to give you the warm fuzzies. Stick with me here and I will explain why I found the ending to be, theologically at least, acceptable.
It only makes sense that when we talk about theology in an overt way in True Blood that the Reverend Daniels almost always has something to do with it. He is a “man of God” afterall. This time, however, it’s not Sam, but Sookie, that seeks his advice. See Sookie has a huge choice to make and it’s a choice that echoes to days past – “to be or not to be?” The origin of that question harkens to days past to another writer who constantly challenged his characters in their decisions. Sookie’s predicament, not unlike Hamlet’s, revolves around acceptance of an unfair life versus becoming… well nothing. While Sookie is not looking to kill herself, she is contemplating getting rid of an essential piece of herself. Should Sookie aid in Bill’s death and ultimately render herself powerless – a normal human being?
I am not going to tackle the “to kill” or “not to kill” ethical dilemma here, which would be made even more complex by dealing with an already dead vampire. Rather, I want to talk about Sookie Stackhouse, who she is, what she is, and her decision about what to become.
Sookie lived few decades of her reality not knowing, in name, that she was fae. She knew she was gifted, as did everyone around her, and knew that that made her different. While she didn’t have a word to put to her gift Sookie had a center – a piece of self, recognized by herself, that she held at her core. Maybe it was her soul, maybe it was just her essence, the being of Sookie Stackhouse. In fact we all have that piece, the evidence that makes us recognizable to ourselves as ourselves. Sometime through abuse, trauma, and tragedy, that piece can get damaged, but it is always there – still – at the heart of the self. Sookie, in her decision, risked losing that vital core. On the other hand, she loved Bill and sometimes sacrifice is also vital when helping and caring for those you love. She contemplated sacrificing herself for his demise. Sookie sought out the Reverend Daniel in order to get some advice on the subject.
Sookie: Do you believe that God made us all as He meant us to be, or… do you think that some of us are just… mistakes?
Sookie: But what if I just want to lead a normal life? What if I’m tired of being what I am? Am I sinning against God if I decide not to be?
Rev. D: Now hold– hold on a second. Are you saying that you can un-fairy yourself? Oh, that’s another story, then, because, yes– yes, I believe we are all as God made us, but I also believe He doesn’t have to lead our lives and He doesn’t have to walk in our shoes. What I’m getting at is God wouldn’t have given us these amazing brains we’ve got if He didn’t expect that, at some point, we were gonna start using ’em to make our own decisions, to exercise our free will.
Similarly, in a flashback to Gran, Gran told Sookie in reference to having a “normal” life and family,
“Stop it! I don’t want to hear you talking like that. You can have any kind of life you want. You can persevere. Anything you want, Sookie, you are entitled to it. There are no limits on you if you don’t put them on yourself.”
In the end, Sookie couldn’t do it. Giving up her light, her essence, was too much, she had to be herself.
Aside from the conversation with Reverend Daniels, there is a theme running throughout the series from Lafayette to Steve Newlin that God makes, God creates, as God sees fit. In other words, God doesn’t make mistakes. On the surface that could be a problem, would that indicate that we should never seek to change any part of ourselves, physical or otherwise? Well, no. Many theologians have written on the gifts that God gave to humans to be able to come to know and love themselves and others. It is reasonable – reason being one of those gifts – for someone to feel that their essence is one way or the other. Sookie felt that she was a fairy, she also felt that she wanted a family and what she deemed a “normal” life. I don’t feel that Sookie was defined by her choice, her pregnancy, or her family life. I don’t feel that the writers threw everything away for the standard American family in this instance or that, when she wants to be, Sookie is any less of a badass fairy than she was before. I do feel the need to acknowledge Sookie’s choice and the affirmation of what she wants, even if she is only a character, as that choice is essential to being human and to affirming the self that God created. I would be equally supportive is she had chosen to become a lesbian and live in a hippie commune with Ginger, but that was not her choice – at least not as it was presented to the audience.
The importance of this episode can be summed up in three steps.
- God created us – no mistakes, no deficiencies.
- God also gave us free will to screw up when we choose or to be true to ourselves, or any combination.
- No one has the right to decide anyone else’s core, being, self, or interior light.
That’s the beauty of our life with God – always loved, always free, always true.
Peace out Bon Temps.
 Shakespeare, Hamlet
Utilitarianism, Darwinism, Principles of Proportionality. All these concepts have been used, experimented with, and abused at some point in human history. Over time, they have been combined with various doctrine in different religions. The initial discussion here is about the fact that we do use concepts, like those mentioned above, to make the world go ‘round whether it is in the public or private sector, the government or religious systems. It is true, however, that at times we are not consistent with the application of these principles, sometimes we disagree on these principles, and sometimes people take initiative to use these principles in the name of the greater good… without consulting the greater good. **coughREBECCAcough** Ahem…
For example, while the principle of proportionality, which in its most basic form states that the violence and force used in a war must be proportionate to the attack that will be suffered, is one of the criteria for Catholic Teaching’s Jus ad bellum, it is not applied in any other area of Catholic Teaching. The principle of proportionality does not only have to be used in time of war or violence, there are other areas where this could be applied. The choice, because it is a choice, to apply this principle in one area of Catholic Teaching, but not other areas has, of course, historical ties. All I think we should take away from this, since I am not at this point writing on Jus ad bellum specifically, is that at different points in history there is a proposed need to use different philosophical, political, and religious methodologies to deal with the problem at hand. While I may, now, disagree with how proportionality is used, I do accept that the concept when applied to a historical war may have been appropriate for that time.
Ok, tangent over, let’s look at some of the concepts and principles I brought up.
Utilitarianism – Morally right action that produces the greatest good for the greatest amount of people. Example: I hate ricotta cheese, but damn it all, everyone else wants it in the lasagna so we put it in.
Darwinism – Loaded term since it has been hijacked many times over. For our purpose let’s call it survival of the fittest. Example – May all the lactose intolerant perish on this ricotta-filled lasagna for their inferior genes.
Hedonistic Utilitarianism – Classical Utility meets selfish pleasure (arguably Bentham and Mill were not hedonistic because of a hierarchical view of normative good associated with pleasure) so the greatest amount of pleasure that I can get for me… crossing over into egoism. Example: Screw the ricotta, we’re using mozzarella because I want it.
Proportionality – As previously discussed. Example: The ricotta went bad, BUT I should serve it anyway to the ricotta lovers because that cheese is evil and in order to have a purified cheese state they (sadly) need to perish for the greater mozzarella good. (Or something like that.)
Got it? Truth here – I really do hate ricotta, and I’m Italian.
Ok then. So WHY am I bringing all this up?! Thank you for asking.
UNDER. THE. DOME.
REBECCA…. grrrrrrrrrr (growl with me here…)
**Spoilers… but for a few weeks ago**
Setting – you are under a dome and you have limited resources with disaster after disaster hitting. Eventually, with no point in sight of the dome lifting, there is a good chance you will run out of food and die. Obviously the leaders, any leaders, at this point have to make tough decisions. No one wants a population to starve. SO let’s talk about what happened specifically with Rebecca and Jim.
Let me start with Rebecca by saying that it’s easy to hate her following this episode. She has since redeemed her crazy-self a little, but I don’t forget Swine Flu Roulette very easily. Rebecca, aside from her personal Dad issues (“Sometimes there are no answers”, right?) takes a stance that she is going to play the part of nature/God and thin the population via a strain of swine flu. **Pan to shot of Harriet’s baby, Alice ** As her sinister plan unfolds we, the helpless audience, realize that this means potentially killing off people we love – Harriet, Alice the second, Andrea! – and the already traumatized and beleaguered residents of the dome. With the support of Big Jim, Rebecca goes to unleash the virus in the holy water in the church. **Pan to shot #2 of adorable cooing baby Alice**
In fairness to Jim, he was duped. Rebecca convinced him that he was the one that was in control and had to release the virus even knowing that he wouldn’t do it. Rebecca, in the end, also stops herself, though her reasoning is the strength of the virus and not the people of the town.
Jim “You want me to play God?”
Rebecca “You said you wanted to see who could carry their own weight. This is how. It’s not God… it’s, it’s Darwin! It’s survival of the fittest.”
Two questions arose instantly for me:
- Who the hell does she think she is?
- How do you adequately measure the worthiness of lives to save?
I won’t spend much time on question one because you all can answer that for yourselves. Question two, however, is interesting. We can’t say that Christian principles have never made room for killing or “letting die,” but from the camera shots of the baby Alice’s life, to the final battle ground of the virus being in the church, it seems that the “Christian” thing to do and Rebecca’s “Saviors for Science” stand on opposing sides. It is true that Harriet is overheard saying,
“Sometimes there are no answers, Tom, try to have faith. We’ll get through this together,”
but isn’t that exactly Rebecca’s point? She wants solutions, not pandering. There are, however, fine lines here that Rebecca is crossing.
Nature, if the dome is not lifted, will deal first-hand with the population problem through starvation. People will naturally get sick, people will naturally die. All of the above will happen whether Rebecca plants the virus or not. Her argument of mercy takes each person’s free will and plucks it out of their hands by another human being deciding that they will take population control into their own hands.
Rebecca could indeed call it Darwinism or even Utilitarianism since she is apparently trying to save at least a portion of the population from starvation. While these principles in other cases in time may have worked, was it right for Chester’s Mill?
Nature, God’s creation, has the ability to sift through populations without human interference. To Harriet’s point, we as humans are unable to understand fully the divine cosmic order. Many theologians have written and discussed analogical imagination, metaphorical speech, cataphatic and apophatic language – all these being ways that human beings, unable to understand on God-Term can interact and know the divine. For those who would identify as believers, the mystery of suffering, death, love, and of God is something we strive to accept gracefully.
The language used throughout the episode Revelation that speaks of Big Jim as God, of deciding mercy, of Darwin versus the church, points to the town under the dome as a potential new creation. It is it’s own context, away from the outside world. A context in which God can be buried and resurrected in the form of Big Jim. Julia, is clearly in favor of democracy, though her plan seems to be flawed as well with people revolting. It will be interesting over the next few weeks to see how the balance shifts and to see the new Revelations to come.
 See David Tracy, Elizabeth Johnson, Augustine, etc.
When we take a closer look at the 1990s, the years in which Knauf created and wrote Carnivàle, we must seek out the catalyst for this revolution of the apocalyptic mind. For many, both the mainstream Christian and fundamentalist groups, the catalyst in the 1990s was the Persian Gulf War. This military was believed by many to mark the beginning of the end while for others it was an example of America’s systematic political failing. In either case, it triggered a series of visions, ideas, and worries on apocalyptic events. Similar to John’s Revelation, when our social infrastructures fail us, when fear and imminent danger enter our lives, we move to express these manifest fears; for Americans, media is a powerful resource. If our social and political structures will not save us, we must create the Messiah who will, or live without hope of redemption.
Since the Gulf War in the early 1990s, there have been numerous studies on the effects that the war had on everything from religion to economy. A large number of studies have also been done on the apocalyptic vision produced as a result of the Gulf War. Approximately 15% of America’s population felt that the Gulf War I was a sign of the beginning of the end. This aggravated bad blood between many Christian and Muslim people. A Time Life article, written in 1991, immediately relates the looming Gulf War I to the apocalypse,
“Rather, the “mother of battles” (as Saddam Hussein likes to call it) is about the fulfillment of biblical prophecies regarding the imminence of Armageddon.”
Some Christians felt that the Anti-Christ could be Saddam Hussein. It was in this world that Knauf created his world of Carnivàle; a world, which would be fraught with the ultimate battle between good and evil. In Knauf’s tale of Revelation, however, things are distorted and the lines between good and evil are blurred. He harkens the same sentiments that many people experienced with Gulf War I; perhaps they were fooled as to who represented each side. After Gulf War I had ended, many fundamentalist Christians felt that this was a false-peace and that a second war would erupt.
The culmination of global wars, social imagination, media technology, and literary motif made a singular impact on Carnivàle, its story, and its timeline. Kirsten Thompson, author of Apocalyptic Dread, explains that this combination led to American cinema starting in the 1990s to bear such heavy apocalyptic themes. Thompson also discusses the Gulf Wars to be prime material to create apocalyptic frenzy. When political structures crashed, the public released tensions and fear through media outlets. This phenomenon is more noticeable now that the internet has become an increasingly popular way to express fear and anger, criticism or praise for events that seem insurmountable.
In 2005 HBO decided that ratings were too low to continue with Carnivàle, which was supposed to include at least one more season. It had been almost five years since a major tragedy on American soil and seemingly as Americans began to gain hope, they lost interest in the end of time. Secular images, however, of apocalypse or apocalyptic prophecy show up at times in American cinema and culture. Even today there are always news stories about something that may or may not destroy the world. Most recently the prophecies have focused around the Large Hadron Collider or the Mayan Calendar ending in 2012. These events continue to shape our apocalyptic imagination. The word “apocalypse,” in and of itself, is an important key to understanding the inherent difference between the religious idea of apocalypse and the secular idea of apocalypse. When we speak of apocalypse in religious terms, we refer to the revelation of narrative in a framework in which God will ultimately liberate God’s chosen from the oppressors. The eschaton in Judeo-Christian theology is a bringer of hope for God’s people, not a senseless and despondent event. In contrast, when the term “apocalypse” is used in a secular way, the idea of hope is lost because there is no God, no creator-being who will save the chosen in the end. In nihilistic fashion, the world simply ends without hope in a destructive way that imbues terror amongst the world’s population. The secular apocalypse rejects the theological basis for the eschaton that allows the religious apocalypse to be liberating rather than a violent destruction. In some ways, the secular apocalypse aims to liberate itself from the fundamentals of religion, rather than the fear and permanence of a death without hope. Many of the wars fought are in part due to religious intolerance and difference, and many scandals have shaken the foundations of the churches. As a result people are turning away from the theological frameworks that once provided them hope. Carnivàle is an example of art in which the lines between good and evil are blurred; this is becoming more common within secular apocalyptic media. The common theme of end-of-life destruction will continue as a main theme in both religious and secular apocalypses. The difference, however, is whether or not there is the hope of life after death that the religious apocalypse holds dear. For those who have turned away from religion, for whatever reason, the secular apocalypse has no established hope for ever-lasting life; death is a permanent and inevitable trap.
As 21st century viewers of Carnivàle, we know that the prophecies of Alamogordo will come true. The atomic bomb was indeed tested and used against civilians. Regardless of the unresolved cliff-hanger ending, Daniel Knauf seems to have given his answer that we will eventually be the means of our own destruction. Again and again in American apocalyptic films the Church fails us, religion is weak or corrupted, and perhaps even God has abandoned us. While secular apocalypses retain the imagery of the Book of Revelation, they speak a very different message. The veil they lift is upon the inescapable bleakness of our future, and until the secular apocalyptic imagination finds a replacement for the hope that God brings within the religious apocalypse, the end of all things will simply imply the beginning of nothing.
Co-Authored By: Erica Saccucci and Seth Alexander
 In lieu of the fact that we will be discussing both the 1990 Gulf War as well as the 2003 Gulf War, we will call them Gulf War I and Gulf War II respectively.
 Wojcik, Daniel. The End of the World As We Know It. (New York: New York University Press 1997) 156.
 Time Magazine. <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,972285-2,00.html>
 Wojcik, Daniel. The End of the World As We Know It. (New York: New York University Press 1997) 157.
 Ibid.. 158-9. Wojcik interestingly enough wrote this book in 1997 before Gulf War II began.
 Thompson, Kirsten Moana. Apocalyptic Dread: American Film at the Turn of the Millenium. (Albany: State University of New York Press 2007) 1.
 America Online. July 6, 2008. Mayan Calendar, <http://news.aol.com/story/_a/thousands-expect-apocalypse-in-2012/20080706152409990001>.
The Tech Herald. December 8, 2008. Large Hadron Collider, <http://www.thetechherald.com/article.php/200850/2583/End-of-the-world-claims-set-to-resume-with-summer-LHC-reboot>.
We come to you this week with a short, but important, second segment on Carnivàle. The sides of light and darkness have each been chosen, though the lines are arguably less clear throughout the series. In one of Knauf’s more brilliant moments, “light” creatures and “dark” creatures are never a cartooned version of themselves. In other words, they each exhibit and inhibit essential qualities of the other. Ben has a dark side just like Justin has a light side. Humanity tends to like paintings with broad strokes, essentializing and sometimes demonizing qualities of the other when in actuality we should be talking always in a multi-dimensional dynamic way about each other. Read on readers and see what unfolds in Knauf’s tale of Apocalypse!
As season two opens, the audience is brought back to the story with the words of Brother Justin: “As God has tested Job, so too have we been tested brothers and sisters.” Knauf explicitly uses biblical references for his second season opener. This imagery of suffering, and of Job’s tragedy, re-centers the audience with an apocalyptic mind set; the end is coming. Knauf brings out the suffering of this time period well. As this opening episode, “Los Moscos, NM”, of season two progresses, the audience witnesses Ben in one of the nuclear bomb tests at Alamogordo, NM. When the bomb historically detonated, it was compared to something like the creation of the world or the second coming of Christ. As the bomb explodes in the series, everything is obliterated, but as the dust settles, Ben’s and Justin’s crouching figures remain. This scene serves not only as an apocalyptic tag for the series, but also creates a map within the storyline as Alamogordo will be Ben’s next destination. The result is the link of Ben’s journey toward Alamogordo, a place fraught with man-made peril, and ultimately one step closer to Justin, who represents the ultimate end. As Ben comes out of his vision, a character yells to him that he cannot run from the inevitable fight or millions will die.
Knauf also expands the apocalyptic and biblically related characterizations underpinning Brother Justin and Ben during season two. Justin, whom the audience first comes to know as a holy man, is rapidly changing into a demon. Uncertainty surrounds Justin’s true nature, however, until he addresses his ministry in a sermon,
“I now realize that you are not here to hear the words of other men. You are here for me. So that I am not alone in the garden. ”
After the bishops try to regain control of their rogue minister, Justin takes a stand and declares himself the snake to the people of Eden. Knauf has fully revealed Justin as the antagonist and the beast in his own Revelation.
The association of Justin as devil and Ben as savior is not only carefully written within each episode, but also works masterfully with the progression of three specific episodes in season two. Rodrigo Garcia, the director of Carnivàle, says of the two characters,
“Obviously one of the main themes is the conflict between good and evil… Another extremely interesting theme is the theme of identity. Both leads — Ben Hawkins and Brother Justin — they’re haunted by their powers, by their dreams. ”
The epic battle between Justin and Ben takes place in a cornfield in New Canaan. Both of the characters – Ben armed with a dagger, Justin with a scythe – draw blood from one another. Ben plunges the dagger fatally deep into Justin. Ben, also wounded, is soon dragged away by the carnival troupe for a quick getaway. As they pull away, Sofie walks into the field. The shot pulls out, and the audience sees the cornfield rapidly dying around her. In the final scene, Ben lies unconscious in Management’s trailer. Knauf’s final vision for Carnivàle leaves the audience with many questions. Sofie, who discovers her own ability to heal by touch, chooses her fate and heals Justin. Ben, who has no one to heal him, suffers in the trailer. There is no conclusion as to whether or not Ben lives. Does Knauf intend to show that the battle between good and evil goes on indefinitely? Is there hope for a new tomorrow? Clancy Brown, the actor who portrays Justin, summarizes the thematic heft of Carnivàle in an interview,
“This is the story of the final confrontation, between these two entities, the final battle between God and Satan, for the soul of man. And, well, we are the products of that battle. So, you decide, who won or who lost. Are we creatures of light, or are we creatures of darkness? ”
The ultimate ambiguity leads the audience into a frenzy of unknowing.
Co-Written by: Seth Alexander and Erica Saccucci
The apocalypse has different meanings to different communities, but these beliefs have become so engrained in the American psyche that there is now a sense of the apocalyptic even for those who do not necessarily hold to other religious beliefs. What American film history shows developing, beginning particularly in the late 1960s and up to the present, is the idea of a secular apocalypse. The short-lived series Carnivàle (2003-2005), created by Daniel Knauf and originally crafted as a feature film is aAn archetypal tale of good versus evil, the series periodically sat in a drawer and was edited and reworked until, ultimately, HBO decided to produce it as an episodic series after the new millennium. If you have not seen the series, we would implore you to watch, it just might save your soul.
Daniel Knauf uses the cataclysmic events of the 1930s to form the beginning point of his good-versus-evil epic, blending imagery and events from the Book of Revelation to drive home the point that the work is an apocalypse, but a secular one. Knauf’s work is rife with religious overtones, including his own construction of a dualistic cosmology, but the final outcome is that humanity is responsible for the light and darkness in the world, and if there is an eventual end of the world, it will be at the hands of humanity, who have “traded away wonder for reason.” Carnivàle is a concrete example of American apocalypticism in the 21st century: it encapsulates the development from a religious idea to a secular belief in end times, with a focus on the human causes of the final act in Earth’s history.
The opening monologue in the pilot episode of Carnivàle sets the apocalyptic tone for the entire series. Samson, the leader of the carnival troupe, looking old and battered in a close-up of his face, addresses the audience:
“Before the beginning, after the Great War between Heaven and Hell, God created the Earth and gave dominion over it to the crafty ape he called Man. And to each generation was born a creature of light and a creature of darkness. And great armies clashed by night in the ancient war between Good and Evil. There was magic then; nobility and unimaginable cruelty. And so it was until the day that a false sun exploded over Trinity, and Man forever traded away wonder for reason.”
The protagonist of this drama is Ben, a poor farmer who has lost everything in the Dust Bowl. He comes into contact and ultimately joins a traveling carnival troupe, peopled with a cast of colorful characters, including Samson, the second-in-command to the mysterious unseen figure known as “Management”; a catatonic seer, Apollonia, who is only able to communicate through a mediator, her daughter Sophie; Jonesey, the manager of the roustabout, maintenance crew; Lodz, a blind prognosticator. Two other important characters who are not connected to the troupe are Brother Justin and Iris Crowe, siblings who lead a Methodist church community in Mintern, California, far from the carnival’s Midwestern meanderings.
As Season One of Carnivàle progresses, the stories of Ben Hawkins and Brother Justin Crowe parallel in their respective searches for meaning in life and exploration of mysterious, unexplainable powers. The two characters only intersect in their cryptic dreams that they share, despite being strangers to one another. Ben is led in his journey by clues about his past from members of the troupe. He discovers and harnesses a supernatural ability to heal by touch. Justin, meanwhile, must follow the visions of his vocation that he believes are sent from God. Initially his visions seem to be impelling him to start a new ministry for the migrant workers who are pouring into California from the Dust Bowl affected states looking for work. Brother Justin later gains celebrity by partnering with a popular radio personality and strikes a deal with him to broadcast his sermons. He also begins to give into the dark side of his nature. What began as a vocation to minister to the migrant workers becomes Justin’s building of a personality cult and a virtual army of those who are “wandering after him” and his Temple of Jericho ministry. His powers of dark omniscience, which at first plague him, are embraced and utilized to further his goals. Both characters’ situations lead them in polar opposite trajectories: Ben toward the light and Justin toward darkness.
Knauf’s structure of the cosmos for Carnivàle is Gnostic: in each generation a creature of light and a creature of darkness are born. The history of the world up until the time period in which the dramatic action takes place has been characterized by an overall balance of the two opposing principles. This theme of balance is integral to the continuation of the world, appearing in the light character’s ability to heal and give life only if they take energy or a full life from something else.The tension within Carnivàle, symbolized within the very name of the program, is the overturning of this balanced order, which endangers the perpetuation and well-being of the world. Throughout the two seasons of the program, the central question becomes whether Ben Hawkins will be able to hold the balance in place, or if Brother Justin will triumph and bring about an age of darkness, sending the world into a cataclysmic oblivion.
Co-Authored By: Seth Alexander and Erica Saccucci
 Carnivàle, Season I, Episode 1, 2003.
I happened to catch the series premiere of EXTANT a day late (our nun friends caught it on time,) but it was well worth the wait. They were also accurate in their initial reaction of EXTANT being odd for all the reasons I discuss below. It’s a good thing I love odd. We normally post weekly on Tuesdays, but everyone gets an extra post this week because of the premiere!
My primary branch of interest within theology is reproductive ethics, so you can only imagine that I was as wide-eyed as my daughter spying a cup of gelato while the pilot unfolded in front of me. This is going to be fairly short long since there is only one episode to discuss and realistically I actually have more questions for viewers than comments – at least at this time. (Side-note, that time was 30 minutes ago before I started writing. Things change.)
Let’s break this down into three main themes that I think everyone may want to watch as time goes on. These themes, for me, bring up essential questions within the realms of moral theology, reproductive theology, and basic human existentialism. I would imagine based on the pilot that these will continue to be points of development for each character.
Moral theology. We have talked a little about moral theology before in different ways. It is actually a large subset of theology and itself encompasses many different topics. In a most basic sense, moral theology discusses how we develop a sense of “right” from “wrong” and how we form ethics, rules, and law based on that function. EXTANT seems to be indicating early on that the moral and ethical realm will be visited quite frequently. Not only is there the questionable moral development of Ethan, the Woods’ humanoid robot son, but also an overarching storyline of what was done to Molly, who knows about it, and why they are keeping it a secret.
We will get to Molly in a moment though, let’s first talk about Ethan. Dr. John Woods, Ethan’s father, is a robotic scientist who created Ethan after he and Molly were not able to have children of their own. For all intents and purposes, Ethan is a robot. There was no indication that he had organic human material, which would make him a cyborg, so he was built in the image of human beings, but not made of the same material. In Christianity, the belief is that humans are created in the imago dei, the image of God. So to make other human beings, particularly in Roman Catholic ethics, goes against what the Church would say are the laws of nature. Similarly, in creating a robotic child, that child cannot take the place of organic life, which is solely created by God via male-female sexual intercourse. John is the creator of his son, built in his likeness. John treats Ethan no different than a human child. He believes that Ethan will learn right from wrong in the same way that a human child would and could – to John it is a matter of process. Ethan is programmed with the same moral process that a human would develop when they encounter problems. John does not seem to prescribe to a religion, as far as can be told from the pilot, so having a robotic child is a non-issue… or is it? So what is the issue and why does Ms. Femi Dodd get all huffy as John presents Ethan to the board at Yasumoto Company?
Femi: What is the protocol in the event your… experiment… fails? Do you have an emergency plan for their shut down?
John: To preserve their power? Absolutely. It’s called interlude mode. ::to Ethan:: Do you mind?
Femi: Excuse me Dr. Woods, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for the resting mode, I meant for their termination.
John: To kill them.
Femi: That wording is a bit inelegant, but yes.
John: Do you have a child?
Femi: I have a daughter.
John: Do you have a plan to kill her?
Femi: My daughter’s a human being.
John: I don’t understand the difference.
Femi: Well for starters, she has a soul.
John: With all due respect, Ms. Dodd, there is no such thing as a soul.
A few moments after this exchange, John explains his position to Femi. He feels that those who believe that there is anything inexplicable by science, are idiots. Femi responds that she, then, is an idiot. Clearly it went downhill from there. Stepping back and examining their heated exchange, Femi Dodd provides the perspective that the element of unknown, in this case represented by religious belief, is ever present. There is no science to explain the soul in the way that religion/theology understands the soul. The soul, the essence of the person that exists, regardless of their physical birth and being, is also connected philosophically speaking to the conscience, which in turn guides a person morally.
What seems on the surface to be a question in EXTANT of either believing in a soul or believing in science, is actually asking on a deeper level if morality and learning to be moral are based only in process or in essence. John, of course, would argue that morality is taught as a process and therefore with the right programming anyone/thing that has the intelligence can learn to be moral via human connection and experience. This is why John calls his project “Humanichs.” Femi, obviously, is arguing that there is, by design, an essence and conscience in the human being that cannot be replicated via process or mechanics. The status of the Humanich would have to be affirmed socially before a decision on killing a humanich could be made. Similarly to other sci-fi stories, the struggle between science and religion play out nicely.
But let’s complicate this. Molly.
Molly, being unable previously to bear children, finds herself pregnant after returning from a solitary space mission aboard the “Seraphim.” Incidentally, “Seraphim” is also the name of a hierarchy of angel-like creatures. They are not only messengers at times but, more importantly, the ones that maintain purity and help God to maintain order. Remember that little insight!
During her mission she found herself face to face with her ex, Marcus, and proceeds (we can assume, I would say) to have some type of physical exchange. Molly blacks-out during this time. Upon reviewing the camera footage after she wakes up, she sees that she is alone, there was no one else there – or at least, no one that can be seen on film. There is no indication whether her child is human or alien, but it is a life growing inside her. Molly is now facing the dilemma of having to tell John that she is carrying a baby-something-or-other that is not his. Oh, and by the way, conception happened while she was completely alone other than a ghostly hallucination. If little Marcus-geist turns out to be a baby alien, will John love it because he can teach it a moral process?
In the meantime, Molly fights with both Ethan and John about Ethan’s bad behavior. For Molly this is an indication that Ethan is not a “real” child in the sense of a human child. This is the point where I started to look around for Gigolo Joe’s entrance. Molly tells John that loving, for Ethan, is a process and not a human bond. John, again, believes that if the process to love is there that is what matters, even if the material is different. During Molly and Ethan’s fight, Molly chases after him and finds him standing over a dead bird with blood on his hand. Molly recoils, Ethan says he found it that way. Ethan then, quickly, moves to compliment Molly’s hair. Is Ethan telling the truth? Is the process to turn to flattery a way to disarm the situation?
So we have a ship named after an order of heavenly beings, a conception of unknown origin (perhaps not immaculate, but certainly peculiar,) the spirit of a dead lover asking for help, and the argument over sources of morality and conscience in created beings including a Humanich child. Molly is certainly left in a hard place at the end of the episode. Not only does she have to establish for herself whether or not her robo-child actually has the capacity for real love and morality, but she also has geist-child to contend with.
Did a scientifically superior species impregnate Molly or was it a miracle? Should robots have the same rights as human beings even if it is unknown whether or not they have the same moral capacity? Stay tuned for our next episode of EXTANT inquiries.
By: Erica Saccucci
 EXTANT, Mickey Fisher. Pilot, July 9, 2014: CBS.
 I really want to point out to Molly that if she lived in Bon Temps, this would be a completely explicable phenomenon.
Makes sense that a blog on theology + POP culture would frequently turn to the subject of faith. For those in theology, who are used to dealing with specifics and minutia, “faith” is a sobering, yet broad, term. It doesn’t describe in entirety a belief system, a method, or the interpretation of sacred doctrine. Faith, rather, is understood from the standpoint of the being, in this case a human and shape-shifter, who seeks a God, gods, and something to believe in. I plan to discuss more on this in later articles, but some theologians and scientists, sometimes even working together, are trying to bridge the gap between philosophy/theology and science. But we’ll get to that later, for this article, let’s focus on the unknown, the unknowable, and the unseen – the problematic (to some!) concept of faith.
True Blood this past Sunday, true to form, had some surprising twists. **SPOILERS AHEAD! – LIKE RIGHT NOW…** Alcide dies, Mrs. Fortenberry dies (oh darn…), and Sarah Newlin’s new love guru dies. Tara only recently died and everyone, including our beloved dog-shifting Sam Merlotte, is still reeling from finding the town of St. Alice decimated. Even the supernats, who are in the thick of it like Sam, are having trouble coming to terms with the chaotic chain of events that have unfolded.
Sam: “You take the simplest most everyday thing you do. These people, these people just sat down for a frozen pizza dinner. What if that was the last thing you were ever gonna do? Because life is supposed to add up to something, not some half eaten slice of pizza. They got my fiancé, Reverend, my fiancé and my child. My life was just starting to head up to something.”
Sam: “Reverend, they had Jesuses everywhere. They had Jesuses on the walls, they had Jesuses on the mail, and every single bedroom – they had faith. What good did it do them?”
Rev.: “What good would not having it done them?”
Sam: “I don’t know, at least they wouldn’t have been blind to the fact that the devil’s coming.”
Sam, in his time of need, does what any self-respecting southerner in Bon Temps would do and turns to his Reverend. During their heart-to-heart, Sam explains to the Reverend Daniels that all the faith in the world did not stop death, or the devil in Sam’s words, from ravaging the people of St. Alice in their, seemingly, normal frozen pizza eating existence. So what does faith buy anyone but empty hope?
Rev. Daniels did a fairly fine job of answering Sam’s doubting Thomas pleas, but I’d like a crack at it all the same. The Rev. Daniels said, “What good would not having it done them?” That line made me think back to Pascal’s Wager. Pascal’s Wager is actually a small part of a much larger, and much more complicated work than is given credit, Pensées. Pascal wanted to work on coming up with a rational proof of God’s existence, or at least the reason that people should believe there is a God. For those interested in the intricate version, go here http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pascal-wager/. In short, very very short terms, the wager works like this, it is better to bet, probability-wise, on the existence of God and to have faith in that, than to bet against God’s existence. It is more beneficial to the person to believe in God. Pascal outlines those reasons; again dealing with probability, but also that if you believe in God, and there is a gain (happiness) then you will win it all. If you believe in God and lose, you lose nothing because without God’s existence, there is no happiness unbegotten to be lost – you just live in normal existence, but you live in hope. That is a gross oversimplification, but it will do for these purposes. Sam and Rev. Daniels are standing on opposite paths, but both heading towards the same horizon, death. Sam is not buying into this wager. He sees death around him, coming for people without prejudice or reserve. He sees “Jesuses” everywhere and yet these people still suffered awful deaths. Not only can Sam not see an after-life offered, but also he is consumed by the fear of the present – a place where frozen pizza is symbolic of a pathetic last meal.
Rev. Daniels, on the other hand, tells Sam,
“Now looky here, this ain’t the kinda thing I’d say in front of the congregation, but since it’s just you and me right now – death is a dark and blinding mother-fucker whether you see it coming or you don’t. But a life spent in anticipation of it coming, Sam, well that’s not a life worth living.”
Rev. Daniels’ perception is to wager on what he sees as the most productive, to live in hope and happiness. After all, like Pascal, what does he have to lose? Even if there is no after-life, since it is improbable (though we do have several episodes to go…who knows…) is it better to live without any faith in something or to believe that each moment holds a piece of time that is meaningful in itself, despite a march towards death?
Everyone has their own answer. Scholars of Pascal argue greatly about the specifics of the wager, can it even be used and applied adequately in a general way? I think the point that the Reverend is trying to make, however, is that we can spend each day taking for granted the little moments in search of the big picture, but we would be lying to ourselves if we denied that life is lived in those infinitesimally small bits of time. We love not only on a large scale, but also moment to moment. Whether you believe in God, to a certain degree, may even be irrelevant. The real question of the wager is whether or not you are going to let fear, despair, and blindness rob you of life. If you do, the “devil” has most certainly won, for now you have lost the good stuff that life is made of.
By: Erica Saccucci
 Just for reference, the author (me!) does not believe in a physical devil. No incantations of Satan, Mammon, Beelzebub, Perdition, Lucifer, or Old Scratch have been done to complete this article.
“Captain, you mind if I say grace?” … “Only if you say it out loud” – Firefly, Serenity, and Morality in the ‘Verse.
It took all of my will power, which is actually very little, to wait even one posting to write an article on Firefly. Firefly and its follow-up, Serenity, received both heavy cultic praise as well as criticism on its western-meets-space-meets-Chineselanguage-dystopian-Whedonverse identity. For those who love it already, read on. For those who don’t… well… there is really no help for that, read on anyway.
I could, potentially, write a book on Firefly/Serenity, but since we’re dealing here with ideas in theo+POP, let’s stick to a few key themes, shiny? Being a dystopian sci-fi, Firefly was set after the Earth was destroyed, everyone baled, and then went on to wreck other parts of the ‘verse in an inter-planetary war. Firefly takes place after that war. The revolutionary Browncoats, representative of the outer planets, lost the war to the central planets and the Alliance. That was summarized from my head, so if you want to read the full synopsis, travel here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firefly_(TV_series)
So where does religion and/or theology fit into Firefly? Well, let’s begin with the idea that the themes of theology go beyond the obvious character of Shepherd Book, the wandering overtly Christological figure. Though Book is certainly in the theological trenches, he is not representative of Firefly’s theology in its entirety. As a Shepherd, even one with an unknown and potentially questionable past, Book is about faith and morality. Though he seems, at first, to be the “holy” character, his interests lie more in people finding goodness in their own beliefs than in people finding God in his. Risking a spoiler for all those who are reading this posthaste, at the end of Book’s life, after being fatally wounded by operatives of the Alliance, he tells a perpetually reluctant Captain Malcolm Reynolds, “I don’t care what you believe. Just believe it…” before he took his final breath.  Book, being the gun-wielding preacher that he was, questioned his own Christian morality in its imperfection. It was clear from this scene, however, that he was more concerned with Mal finding his own sense of goodness. Book knew that a moral life was not only about belief in “absolute” principles, but rather the efficacy and commitment of belief in general. In other words, he wanted Mal to find that spark worth fighting for.
Digging a little more deeply into this theme of believer vs. skeptic, while Book makes a good case for believers – being that he is generally a “good” person – the skeptics are not completely misguided in their anti-religious sentiments. After all, River was almost burned at the stake by zealots along with her brother, Simon, for being a witch. Mal was married off in a furtive ritual to Saffron, who we all know turned out to be bat-shite crazy. The religiously zealous can, at times, take beliefs to the extreme. On the other hand, the scientific minds were also convinced of their own greatness and god-like intelligence. They killed off the entire planet of Miranda and in the process created the Reavers – the very worst…and scariest!…of humanity. Though it is understandable that Mal distances himself from these atrocities on both sides, which turns him into a nonpartisan automaton, it only works for so long. Eventually, like Tiresias, he begins to see beyond his blindness. Mal cannot ignore his own moral values rooted in humanity, and so chooses to do what he believes is good for all.
It seems that the word “good” gets tossed around frequently when we discuss topics like saving the world and what is “just.” Justice for the Alliance was indicative of control, order, wealth, and the sterilization of messy humanity. The Browncoats, Mal in particular, fight against the “Big Brother” system so that justice will prevail and ordinary people can live good lives. Where self-interest thrives, it is clear that nothing else can. There is a fragile balance in order that Mal and his tenacious crew seek to restore.
Book’s dying moment, as described earlier, is essential to the Firefly philosophy. Similarly to Karl Rahner’s idea on the anonymous Christian, Book sees that through conscience and intent of goodness, belief – a most powerful gift – can be found in the most unexpected places.
As Book and River discuss in the episode Jaynestown,
“Shepherd Book: What are we up to, sweetheart?
River Tam: Fixing your Bible.
Shepherd Book: I, um…
Shepherd Book: What?
River Tam: Bible’s broken. Contradictions, false logistics – doesn’t make sense.
Shepherd Book: No, no. You-you-you can’t…
River Tam: So we’ll integrate non-progressional evolution theory with God’s creation of Eden. Eleven inherent metaphoric parallels already there. Eleven. Important number. Prime number. One goes into the house of eleven eleven times, but always comes out one. Noah’s ark is a problem.
Shepherd Book: Really?
River Tam: We’ll have to call it early quantum state phenomenon. Only way to fit 5000 species of
mammal on the same boat.
Shepherd Book: River, you don’t fix the Bible.
River: It’s broken. It doesn’t make sense.
Shepherd Book: It’s not about making sense. It’s about believing in something, and letting that belief be real enough to change your life. It’s about faith. You don’t fix faith, River. It fixes you.”
 Joss Whedon, Serenity. Universal Pictures, 2005. 1:06:52.
 ibid. “Safe,” Firefly. Fox. November 8, 2002.
 ibid. “Our Mrs. Reynolds.” October 4, 2002.
 Joss Whedon. “Jaynestown.” Firefly. Fox. October 18, 2002.
By: Erica Saccucci
Existentialism, nihilism, Christology, just enough big words there to get dangerous when it comes to explaining Rust Cohle in True Detective. See, from the non-theological perspective of those who don’t work with theology for a living, I can understand the urge to move toward nihilism to describe Rust. After all, his outlook is continuously pessimistic and bleak to say the least. “Raw-bone edgy” is the phrase that Marty uses to describe his beleaguered partner. Nihilism and post-modernity, however, do not always reside together within the same house and certainly do not have to walk hand in hand in South Louisiana.
The pivotal point, as Rust narrates it, was the death of his daughter. There is a bold absence of Rust’s narrated life
before the moment of her death. His narration begins with the telling of her story in the small bits and pieces he can choke out through his grounded pain. Very little is said of his mother, or even his first marriage. As audience, we come to find out more about his relationship with Linda, a friend of Marty’s wife, than we do his marriage. It becomes obvious within the first three episodes that his daughter’s death was not only his unraveling, but also the catalyst for his turn away from belief in general. Whether you call his newly formed narrative one of fantasy, reality, pessimism, or nihilism does not really matter. What does matter is that the story is his to tell, encompassed and fueled by his pain and anger, that is where the story begins. So when you claim that the story is about Nietzschean concepts bathed in post-modernity, I’m going to say that it’s much more simple than that. This is the story of a man who experienced ultimate loss and is out to seek redemption.
Now I’m not aiming to go all Christological here either. The references to Christ are blatant enough that if you have seen the first season in its entirety, you can pull them together. Rust wakes up in episode two blurred by the camera as the cross on the wall behind him remains in focus. As Rust sits up, he comes into focus and the cross becomes blurry. In many ways they are currently in opposite states from one another. Rust is seeking forgiveness, not necessarily from God, but from himself. A redemption of humanity, a reconciliation of existence. Theodicy, the attempt to reconcile the evil that happens to human beings with the existence of a loving God, is a common quip to face upon the death of a loved one, particularly an innocent. Rust, through his grief, attempts to reason that his daughter is better off in her blackness, that “yanking” a soul out of non-existence into the “meat” of a body is cruel. He repeats himself in trying to convince those around him, and ultimately himself, that she is better off dead. He describes himself as lucky for not having to raise a child in the world.
At the same time, as he rages against his own pain in humanity, he remains. No constitution to kill himself, reconciled to his nature, stuck in his programming. No matter how he phrases it, he is stuck to life. The detectives interviewing Rust ask him why he even went into homicide after all he had been through. He responded with 1 Corinthians 12:12, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” He needed to remain part of the one body. That is not the position of a nihilist, it’s the position of one seeking the wholeness of humanity.
Despite his brash comments about organized religion, in particular it seems Christianity of the evangelical nature, he is clear in what he finds repulsive. Entitlement, individualism, spoon-fed morality, are the ideas that Rust rallies against. Being a member of one body, which is a Christian theological principle, is a part of his journey to find his own self once again.
In “Form and Void,” the season finale, we watch as Rust is on the edge of death. As he returns to the world he says to Marty that he “shouldn’t even be here,” and that his “definitions [were] fading.” He felt his daughter in the darkness, his father in the darkness, and begins to describe that he felt a part of everything he loved. Looking back to the Corinthians verse, what he describes is coming back to the whole of who he was, to his core. As the final scene between Rust and Marty closes, they go back and forth about the stars. Rust opens with discussing the oldest story of the dark versus the light. While Marty claims that the darkness seems to have a lot more territory as he gazes upward, Rust closes with “Once there was only dark, if you ask me, the light’s winning.”
While some deny that Rust had a conversion and others claim that it could not be anything but a conversion to Christ, there is a middle ground that needs to be explored. First, conversion does not indicate that Rust became a tent-revival preaching Christian. There are philosophical and theological principles in Christianity that do not involve the weaving of fairy tales, nor the charisma beneath a tent. While Rust may continue to be critical and skeptical of organized religion, which we may or may not see in the upcoming season, he certainly experienced something during the season finale that brought him back to life, back into the whole body, and into his own redemption for all those things he suffered during the period of his narration. In short, Rust found, perhaps, the single most essential quality to the Christian tradition, hope.
 Nick Pizzolatto, True Detective, television, Cary Joji Fukunaga (2014; New York: HBO.) broadcast. Episode 1.
 ibid. Episode 2.
 1 Cor. 12:12 NAB
 Nick Pizzolatto, True Detective, television, Cary Joji Fukunaga (2014; New York: HBO.) broadcast. Episode 8.
By: Erica Saccucci