Nobody Puts Babies in the Corner

Have you ever met one of those people who hates children? You know the type. They insist that every child that walked the face of the Earth is born of Satan. That children are urchins, brats, and disgusting. I bring up child-haters because they are here and there are many. Some people don’t like that children are not born with social norms already in hand. Some don’t like that their reasoning differs from adults. Many don’t like that they act out in public, or talk a lot, or cry, or make noise. That’s funny to me, since once upon a time, we all went through those SAME EXACT STAGES. When did we become so intolerant of our vulnerable population?

And I get it. Sometimes my kids drive me nuts as well. It takes a great deal of education, learning, experimentation, and failure to raise children. It’s damn hard. As we talk about these struggles, I can’t help but think about the health of populations. What does our apathetic view of children mean for a secular apocalypse? I read once upon a time, a long time ago, that the health of a population was only as good as that care received by its most vulnerable members. If that is the case, I would say that we’re not doing a very good job considering how we treat children. Maria Montessori once wrote, 

      “In their dealings with children adults do not become egotistic but egocentric. They look upon everything pertaining to a child’s soul from their own point of view and, consequently, their misapprehensions are constantly on the increase.”

I believe that Montessori was on to something. Why are adults so hardput to understand children? Perhaps it’s as simple as perspective.

Having said that, I am still shocked on social media when I see hatred spread concerning our youngest generation. I’ve spent a great deal of time teaching and researching children. I do happen to love kids. Perhaps for me, being on the other side, I am being unfair to call out the child-haters of the world. Let’s for a moment though dig a little deeper into why the phenonmenon of child-hating bothers me to my core. Stick by me for a few and let’s think.

Our two most vulnerable populations are our children and our elderly. They are entering and ending their lives, respectively, which puts them in an at-risk state. As children are born, they are helpless and innocent. The world around them decides how well they will be treated regardless of their cries. As the elderly leave our world, they also have once again become helpless in many cases as aging takes its toll on the body and the mind. We will have lengthy discussions on the elderly, but for this article we’ll focus on our children. Regarding children, there are a few topics to cover. I would like to bring to light the issues of abuse and trafficking, eclipsing childrens’ rights by adult rights via the movie Children of Men, and take a critical glimpse at our future.

ABUSE and TRAFFICKING

I would like to bring you a ton of statistics on child-trafficking and child abuse, but as an underground movement they are honestly hard to track. The majority of crimes go unreported or uninvestigated. To give you some ideas, however, nearly 700,000 children are the victims of abuse every year in the United States. Of those 700,000 nearly 2,000 lose their lives to their abusers.[1] Now that is just an estimate of those proven to be abused. 3.5 million cases are investigated each year. I can tell you from experience, some of those cases that are set aside, also have indications of abuse. Our system is overburdened. 15% of these children suffer from multiple types of abuse – physical, negligent, and sexual. 7% are sexually abused by someone they know. That means, approximately in any given year, 50,000 are sexually abused in the United States, while 105,000 face multiple forms of abuse. The Chicago Public School district alone has 355,000 students. Think about that, the entire school district of kids doubled.[2] If your heart didn’t just sink, then I think we best have a deeper discussion together. I would like to believe, that most of you are feeling disgusted and mortified – me too.

Trafficking is another distinct way that children are exploited. The Polaris Project alone assisted 22,000 people (adults and children) who were the victims of human trafficking last year.[3] The statistics for trafficking are even more difficult to come by. What we do know is that children under eighteen suffer the highest rate of sex trafficking. Traffickers see children as easy prey, particularly children who come from abusive or negligent homes.

I do not, however, bring up these statistics just to alarm or make you see your lunch one more time. No, I bring this to light because with these given statistics, knowing full well that our children face abusers every single day, most of us do absolutely nothing. Abuse takes place across socio-economic status, across colors, across cultures. It does not descriminate its victims. In a time where we are very concerned with how our adults are treated, we still, as a whole, DO NOT seem to be concerned with the welfare of our children. When we’re told of the death of a child, the murder of a child, our reaction is to feel sad and say, that poor baby, that poor family. It seems that our emotional stirring is the extent of our movement on this issue. When Joette Malone, a vibrant two year old, was murdered in Hammond, Indiana there were no protests to find her killer.[4] There were no lootings in her name. A toddler who will not get to her next birthday because our adults do not care for the children around them. One year old Sincere Gaston was shot on the way home from the laundromat with her Mom, while Mekhi James, three, was shot and killed sitting in his father’s car. As our adults rally for their freedom from abuse, from scandal, from brutality, our young ones get murdered. How about AJ Freund who was brutally abused and attacked by his parents? AJ was five and repeatedly hit and abused in a cold shower until he was dead. Perhaps we should discuss the most recent execution of Cannon Hinnant, also five, who was shot at point blank range while riding his bike? How many more children are we going to watch get murdered by violence, neglect, and abuse? How many more have to endure situations the likes of which we adults are now saying of ourselves, “NO! You can’t do that to me because I matter!”

Those children look to us to say they matter because they are too young to say it by themselves, they need their hand in ours.

We should be ashamed.

ECLIPSING RIGHTS – CHILDREN OF MEN

My best guess is that by now some might say to themselves that I just don’t understand the power of movements or I am being unfair in the amount of care we give to our children. 

For most families, I would say that you’re absolutely correct. I do not see the majority of our families in the United States as abusive or uncaring. What I do see is that while we do well to care for our own children or our kin, we do not have a united front on behalf of children who are not in some sort of relation to us.

I would also say that our interests as adults get easily hijacked by causes that are more bold, ambitious, rewarding, and pertinent to our lives as grown people. For instance, while I support the movement of women and men coming forward as being sexually abused, for that MUST end as well, imagine being raped at six. What about twelve? What if it’s a family friend or neighbor – you get my drift. Children who are victims of this type of abuse are in desperate need of advocates on their side. There is no trivialization of sexual abuse, ever, on my part. I do, however, believe we need to accept and realize what segments of the population require extra protection as well as our help in processing their victimization.

The 2006 movie Children of Men brings to light some interesting issues concerning our topic. It is an apocalyptic, dystopian, movie that glimpes into a world where the youngest living person (who soon dies) is eighteen. For eighteen long years women have been unable to become pregnant or to carry any children. The world faces a crisis of a dwindling population in light of no births. As depression and futility set in, the main character Theo looks for signs of hope on his journey. His hope comes in the form of a refugee named Kee. Theo is told that Kee is important, but in a particularly striking scene, standing amongst livestock in a manger-esque style, Kee reveals her pregnant belly to Theo. Ahhh, hope.

In a world of despair, the tiniest member is the source of hope. In our world religions, most  have a healthy understanding of children as hope of the future. Their life is held in the highest of regard not because others don’t matter, but because without our help they may not continue to live. Children are born requiring complete assistance from their care-givers in order to continue living. Without us, we face a world without them.

The struggle for Theo to save and protect Kee, and ultimately the child, is daunting. In a world more concerned with who belongs in which country, who is rich, who is starving, which adult is getting what they want, the life of a pregnant refugee woman hangs in the balance. SPOILER ALERT! Kee successfully gives birth to a baby girl whom she names after Theo’s dead son.

There are two main reasons that I bring up Children of Men in reference to our themes of secular apocalypse and the lives of children. First, I would say that it is striking to watch a movie where the devastation does not revolve around a monster, plague, or meterological situation. The apocalyptic theme here is the loss of children. That stands in stark contrast to other recent apocalyptic films where the apocalypse is brought on by supernatural or otherworldly forces. The loss of a child to death is, as I understand it from others, the most painful experience a parent can go through. In the film that loss is experienced by the world, not just singular people. As an apocalyptic movie, it is interesting that it is also a not-so-overtly theological movie. It is a movie about faith and hope and love and kindness. From the manger scene with Kee to Theo’s very name as a relation to god(s) the movie is full of theological themes. As you may have read in some of our other articles on secular apocalypse, the interesting thing about theological apocalypse is the element of hope. For one aspect of Children of Men, children are hope.

While I would love nothing more than to end on that note of children being hope, I cannot. While I believe strongly in the message of the movie, as a whole, I also believe that within it lies a cautionary tale. Towards the end of the movie there is a scene after the birth of baby Dylan that is striking. In the scene, there is bombing and shooting and military skirmish happening all around Theo and Kee. Shrapnel is flying, debris is getting blasted everywhere as Theo tries to get Kee out of a building and to safety. No matter who was in the scene fighting, as Kee walked by with baby Dylan, they immediately stopped and put down their guns. The blasting halted as mother and child safely exited the building. Some men and women were crying. They were all struck by awe of a living child, a sign of hope. As Kee passes them and you witness the change, you are filled with hope for the future. A new baby is so very exciting in a world where no births have happened for eighteen years. After Kee is gone, the fighting, skirmish, and hatred begins again immediately. Hope was a passing glance.

This is a cautionary tale because if the world can stay hopeful with the coming of new life, with the renewal of a love of children, and the protection of children, then the world truly has something to be hopeful for. However, if our hope in the future, in children, in creation, in pure goodness, is nothing more than a passing glance because we are too busy thinking about our adult problems and causes, then hope passes us by and we will no longer be able to crawl out of our rabbit holes. Maria Montessori’s prophetic words of egocentric adulthood have been fulfilled and the apocalypse carries on.

The choice is up to you.

ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS

Where do we go from here? 

Should you stop protesting in what you believe in because I’m telling you to pay attention to children? No, don’t be silly.

Should you stop worrying about sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, and exploitation of adults? NO! They need our help as well.

My concern is not that you stop working on other causes in the name of them not being important. My concern is that you remember some of our most important members of society because they cannot fend for themselves. These children need our help and our attention. 

What I will say is that while we are out rallying for a better world, don’t continue to allow it to be a world where children are being killed daily and we are silently complacent about it because we’re busy doing other things.

Be Theo. Look up and see new life. Dare to give it your all to protect it. And hope.


[1] https://www.nationalchildrensalliance.org/media-room/national-statistics-on-child-abuse/

[2] https://www.cps.edu/about/stats-facts/

[3] https://polarisproject.org/myths-facts-and-statistics/

[4] https://abc7chicago.com/$10k-reward-offered-in-toddlers-shooting-death-in-hammond/6368767/

Antichrist Superstar

The identity of the Antichrist is legion. Through the centuries religious communities have associated this apocalyptic figure with figures as diverse as Roman emperors, popes, and collective identities of heretical groups as a whole. All this to say, Christians have offered a wide variety of interpretations for evil personified over the last 2000 years. Our contemporary society has shown no lack of effort in this regard, though the trajectory seems to have changed a bit. In fact, because of the ease with which media and ideas are disseminated via the internet, apocalyptic material has the potential to be more prevalent now than ever before. This speed of transmission has led the eminent scholar of apocalypticism and mysticism, Bernard McGinn, to opine that we are living in “the most apocalyptic time of the last 2000 years.” Despite this continued interest in the end times, in this exploration of apocalyptic themes I will be focusing on the figure of the Antichrist and his evolution between the Middle Ages and our contemporary world. I will briefly examine two popular depictions of this figure in contemporary film with an eye to how it is different than his handling by medieval authors. Lastly, I will propose some current Antichrist-type language being currently deployed.

While belief in the literal Antichrist does continue to this day in certain religious communities, by and large the figure of the Antichrist has receded in the religious imagination since the Enlightenment. That said, the antichrist, as a symbol of utter evil with some form of human cooperation, continues to capture the imagination of creators of popular culture through film, television, and novels (just to name a few forms of media). Two very recognizable depictions can be found in the films from the late twentieth century (which were significantly rebooted in the early twenty-first century) are Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Omen (1976). The reboots of Rosemary’s Baby came in 2014 as a television mini-series and a new feature film of The Omen premiered in the summer of 2006. For the purpose of this article, I will be focusing on the “original” films rather than the reboots — though a side-by-side comparison of the source material with its reinterpretation for a generation 30+ years later would be likely very illuminating.

Before examining the 20th-century film versions of the Antichrist, it is important, I think, to briefly discuss how the Antichrist and the Book of Revelation from which he emerges have been handled by Christians prior to the (Post-)Modern world. Early Christian commentators on the rather obtuse last book of the Christian canon, such as Victorinus (early second century), interpreted the events of the end times recorded in the book as literal prophecies of what was to come. However, as Christianity become more aligned with the Roman state, biblical exegetes such as Jerome discarded this type of hermeneutical lens for one that found the value of Revelation to be more allegorical. The focus by Jerome and later commentary authors down through the Middle Ages was recapitulation. Jerome stresses a timeless and ecclesial reading of the book, and in doing so removes a sense of immanent cosmic cataclysm and replaces it with the recurring problems facing the institutional Church.

For Jerome and authors like him, the Antichrist was at the same time the persecuting emperor(s) of pagan Rome, but also any enemy of the Church who spread error or strife amongst the people of God. As E. Ann Matter explains, through this lens of recapitulation “the Apocalypse presents a series of typological events recurring in sacred history from the time of the patriarchs, through the unknown future of the Church on earth, to the parousia.” As such, while the Antichrist could be associated with any number of singular figures, many times Christians ascribed a collective interpretation of Antichrist to groups in enmity with the Church, such as the heretical Arians and other various heresies, and, later with rival religious communities like Muslims with whom Christians came into direct warfare for centuries. Alongside this exegetical tradition of the apocalypse however, there were still traditions of texts wherein Christian authors awaited the coming of the Antichrist and enumerated ways in which to be able to identify him. The most famous medieval text of this kind can be found Adso of Montier-en-Der’s tenth-century De ortu et tempore Antichristi. It is also shown to be a concern in the “Antichrist tables” found in the eighth-century Beatus Apocalypse, which could be used to examine the names of the Antichrist and interpret their number (whether it resulted in a tally of 666).

Common to all of these interpretations of the medieval understanding of the Antichrist, whether of bloodthirsty emperor of the past, a heretical body of the present, or a depraved pontiff of the future, the figure is always one of a human being given completely over to evil. As Adso writes to Queen Gerberga in the tenth century, “[The Antichrist] is a man, he will still be the source of all sins and the Son of Perdition, that is, the son of the devil, no through nature bu through imitation because he will fulfill the devil’s will in everything.” This interpretation of the figure of the Antichrist is fully coherent with the bigger picture of understanding of the Book of Revelation for medieval authors. The Antichrist is a fully-human cooperator with the devil. He fulfills a role in apocalyptic scenarios, but it is a temporary one. The Antichrist’s time to plague the Church is short, he will ultimately be overthrown, and Christ (and the Church) will be triumphant. It is on this point that there is stark departure from medieval depictions of the Antichrist and those that we encounter in contemporary fiction.

Returning to the twentieth century, the Antichrist who emerges from the films Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen is one quite different than Adso’s Son of Perdition. Both films offer a literal interpretation of the figure of the Antichrist. In Rosemary’s Baby it is ultimately revealed that the titular baby will, in fact, grow up to be the Antichrist, while in The Omen, the protagonist comes to realize that his adopted son, Damian, is the Antichrist, and must be destroyed. In both films, the Antichrist is not a human in full cooperation with evil, but is in some way a perversion of the hypostatic union of humanity and divinity that is unique to Christ in Christian theology. The figure of the Antichrist in these films evolves from an evil human being to a somehow supernatural force of evil. Furthermore, divorced from a more comprehensive understanding of the Book of Revelation, the Antichrist figure in these films will not assuredly be defeated and the salvation of the world by Christ is not something the characters in the narrative receive, leaving viewers with a sense of dread. This is a complete inversion of the original aim of apocalyptic literature, which was to reassure believers that troubled times would eventually come to an end. For viewers of Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen, the diabolical children in the films are a promise of possibly unfettered violence yet to come.

The settings of both films are similar in their theological terrain. Both occur in the Modern world where belief in God, the devil, and the efficacy of the Church are questionable. Yet in both of these decidedly anti-metaphysical worlds comes a beastly, supernatural child who has some connection to a devil everyone seems to have forgotten about. In both Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen rather innocent couples fall into the clutches of a satanic conspiracy to bring the Antichrist into the world. Rosemary and her husband guy are groomed by an eccentric elderly couple to become the parents of a child brought about through Rosemary’s ritual rape by Satan. In The Omen, American diplomat, Robert, and his wife, Katherine, lose their infant son in a hospital fire, only to have him replaced by a human child that was somehow born of a jackal. In both narratives, Rosemary and Robert eventually are made aware of their children’s true identity. In the case of Rosemary, she acquiesces to her role as mother of the Antichrist, and Robert attempts to kill his adopted son to avert cataclysmic disaster — he is unsuccessful and dies in the attempt. Both narratives come to a close with the survival of the Antichrist children and the promise that they will grow to successfully fulfill their apocalyptic roles. In narratives that offer viewers an either non-existent (or at the very least disinterested God) and an impotent Church juxtaposed with a very real devil and sophisticated network of satanic devotees, the reign of the Antichrist seems as though it will go along unimpeded until the end of the world. Both films set out a world that has been disappointed by institutional Christianity and its promise of salvation, and, perhaps because of that, has an even more robust understanding of the reality of evil. From a theological point of view, these films offer no hope, and make a rather forceful statement that we are living in a kind of Modern hellish existence where God is dead and religion offers no succor.

As mentioned above, it would be interesting to examine the context and reinterpretation of both of these films that occurred 30+ years after their original releases. I would hazard a guess that the sense of God and institutional Christianity would not be improved. Further, particularly after the sexual abuse crisis that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church, and, now, in the midst of a 2020 pandemic and widespread civil unrest, it seems that hope from traditional Christian outlets is not a comfort to many. In this very secular twenty-first century and particularly this unprecedented year of 2020, it seems that Antichrist-like language is still being deployed. In this case, we seem to have swung back to a non-supernatural, fully human and corporate identification with evil personified: the police. Since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th, 2020, the righteous anger of the Black Lives Matter movement has not only swept across the United States, but the face of the whole world. As a result of this, centuries long simmering anger about racial oppression, inequity, and violence have spilled out onto the streets. The police, who have often been perpetrators of this race-based violence, have exacerbated that image by strong-arm responses to peaceful protesters in cities across the US. The cry of ACAB (All Cops are Bastards) has become ubiquitous and binary language verging on the very apocalyptic has become common. The corporate identification of cops as a group of personified evil has become mainstream, but rather than a supernatural author of evil with whom they cooperate, it is the very real legacy of institutionalized racism, slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and red lining that this group have been charged with furthering through insidious cooperation. Unlike in the Book of Revelation, the impetus for salvation has not been ascribed to the Risen Christ, but to something he definitely advocated in his earthly life: Justice for the poor and care for those marginalized by a corrupt and ossified society built on privilege for the few.

Sherlock and POP theology!

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,Potterlock 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 :

Sherlock:  “Beautiful isn’t it?”Starsinthesky
John Watson: “I thought you didn’t care about…”
Sherlock: “Doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it.”

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.

get-friend-hooked-on-sherlock-mission-accomplished-thumb

True Blood Series Finale, “Thank You,” You’re Welcome

Game of Thrones better hurry up because True Blood is over! 

True Blood

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?”[1] 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?

 

Rev. D: I heard about all you’ve done for this town, and believe it or not, Sookie, most folks are saying we wouldn’t be here Sookie and Dwithout you. How can you think for one second that you’re a mistake?

 

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 thatPregnant Sookie 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.

  1. God created us – no mistakes, no deficiencies.
  2. God also gave us free will to screw up when we choose or to be true to ourselves, or any combination.
  3. 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.

[1] Shakespeare, Hamlet

Carnivàle: The Apocalypse is Coming / Part 1

theopopcarnivalepicThe 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.”[1] 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.[2]

 

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.

Carnivale

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

 

[1] Carnivàle, Season I, Episode 1, 2003.

[2] ibid.