THE TAKE AWAY
By Kersley Fitzgerald
I think if I were an atheist, I think I would have enjoyed The Da Vinci Code. There's something intriguing about taking the mythology of a foreign culture and wrapping it around your own world in a fantastical way. It's a shortcut to world-building. But I'm not an atheist, and the movie and book in question uses heretical gnostic teachings of my Savior that I can't overlook.
So what do we do with stories such as Thor? He's a superhero adaptation of a pagan god. Is the use of such a god dangerous? Spiritually irresponsible? I don't think so, particularly because no one today (that I know of) lives down the street from the United Church of Odin.* Although there's vague understanding that way back in the long-ago people worshiped Thor, his cult is not a threat today.**
Ideally, Doctor Strange would be in the same camp. The movie is the latest Marvel offering, the story of a brilliant neurosurgeon who loses the finer usage of his hands in a car accident. When medicine can't help him, he follows a lead to Kamar-Taj, a Buddhist-like school of magic in Kathmandu. There, the Ancient One teaches him how to channel energy from other realms in the infinite multiverse to serve his purposes. As he studies, he learns that a previous student has rejected the Ancient One's intentions and seeks to bring in Dormammu, the god of the Dark Dimension who wants to suck earth into his universe and rule over it.
It should be obvious that the spiritual mythology of Doctor Strange is as fictional as the story. I love the idea of the Golden Mean and fractals in nature and art, but they do not harmonize the body to induce healing. Shapes and ratios are not imbued with special power. Chakra maps are not the same as acupuncture meridians which are not the same as full-body MRI scans. The multiverse is a nice intellectual exercise, but you can't draw power from another dimension to create magic in this one.
It should be obvious, but the references are too close to our current culture. Strange reads, among other things, Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception (Stan Lee's character was reading it, too), about Huxley's psychedelic drug use. Strange also reads the Key of Solomon, a pseudepigraphic book of spells wrongly attributed to King Solomon. The main book involved is The Book of Cagliostro. Count Alessandro di Cagliostro was an Italian occultist in the 1700s. He dabbled in psychic healing, alchemy, and scrying. (Or, at least, claimed to have.) The magic the Ancient One teaches Strange is all wrapped up in Hinduism and Buddhism, including astral projections. And the future headquarters for Doctor Strange is called the "Sanctum Sanctorum" — the Holy of Holies.
Entertainment-wise, I thought the movie was cool. Benedict Cumberbatch made a great Stephen Strange. Rachel McAdams was well cast as his coworker at the hospital. Tilda Swinton was flawless as the Ancient One (if some feel her casting was evidence of Hollywood "white-washing," I have no argument). Chiwetel Ejiofor was smooth as ever. The space-bending went beyond Inception to turn buildings into bone-crushing gears of death. The fractal patterns were beautiful.
And there were brief high spots. Strange goes from brilliant, arrogant surgeon to bitter, whiny victim to self-sacrificing hero. And the One Consciousness that the villains are trying to join the world with turns out to not be a pleasant being.
Even so, even though an educated Christian could decide to see the entertainment value of the movie, it's going to have a negative effect on society — and I daresay those who disagree have not seen the types of questions we receive on a daily basis. At its best, the movie is spiritually irresponsible. While walking out of the theater, JT was trying to make the symbols with his hands, and when we asked him if it is okay to use dark power for good purposes (as one character does), he considered and said yes. It's not a movie you can take your kids to without talking about it after. It might even make for a connection to share the gospel with someone. I suspect some of the world-building elements are going to subtly enter the public's consciousness and lead people down paths they shouldn't go.
So, watch it if you want. But before and after, do some research on "sacred geometries," Aldous Huxley, pseudepigraphs, and what the Bible says about trying to use and control magic. Then tuck away the bits that are relevant to the Marvel universe's meta storyline and use the rest to speak truth to a world that is too easily influenced by dangerous teachings dressed in entertaining stories.
* Although apparently there is an Odin Brotherhood, dedicated to pre-Christian paganism.
** And, actually, that's why I don't worry too much about Harry Potter. Kids know they're not going to go to a school for witches and wizards when they're eleven. It's just a fantasy wish-fulfillment.
Tags: Biblical-Truth | Christian-Life | Current-Issues | False-Teaching | Reviews-Critiques | Sin-Evil
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