Sunday, July 27, 2014

Christ Images In Pop Culture

The image of Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected, is a powerful one. And it has influenced western culture in ways we can't begin to imagine. I am attracted to characters, story lines, and images that reflect the Gospel, as I find them to be incredibly useful teaching tools, and helpful in explaining why the Gospels are revelatory of God and truth. Here is a small sampling of some of my favorites (that I can call up at the top of my head).

Frodo, Gandalf, and Aragorn from THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy- I wrote an entire Bible study focused on how these three characters reflect different aspects of Jesus Christ within the films. Each character has a dying and rising scene, and each in his own way rejects the temptation of the ring. When watching the film, these are the elements that let you know you are seeing a Christ image. Frodo is "The Least Who Is Greatest", who by his meekness and simplicity is the most resistant to the power of the ring. It is this meekness that makes him the only one capable of bearing it. Gandalf is "Christ The Miracle Worker", whose dying and rising scenes are most reminiscent of the Gospels. Aragorn is the "The True King", who reluctantly gives up his place as a common man to use his kingship to unite all of mankind. I could write entire blog posts about each character.

Luke From the STAR WARS trilogy- Luke doesn't really come into his own as a Christ figure until the end. Luke ultimately saves the universe not by his power, but by his willingness to give up power. It is his suffering and his humility that inspires his father to turn against the emperor. A man using self-sacrifice to turn evil's power against itself. Sound familiar?

Adam Warlock from MARVEL COMICS- Adam's early years were dominated by Christ imagery. In fact his first big adventure was a replaying out of the Gospels inspired by JESUS CHRIST: SUPERSTAR. This is a character that was literally crucified at one point in his life. But beyond the overt early stories, this character has been defined by being called by the universe to self-sacrifice. He dies and rises over and over again. Resurrection is literally one of his powers. It is not for not reason that he's playing the Jesus role in the LAST SUPPER art piece I've commissioned.

John Locke and Jack Shepherd from LOST- These characters formed two poles around which the entire show spun. John represented pure faith, and Jack pure reason. Yet in the end it was John's vision that won out, and was affirmed by the show's creators. And at various times, both men ended up playing a Christ role in the film. So powerful and overt was the imagery that the show literally put out it's own version of THE LAST SUPPER that had John playing the Jesus role.

Emma from ONCE UPON A TIME- While the first season of this television show was more Gnostic than Christian, there is enough overlap between those two movements that the first season of the show all but demanded that I make it into a Bible study. Which I did. At the center of it all is a child, sent away by her parents so she could be the savior of their world, by being the living embodiment of true love that she was meant to be. In the end, that is what really makes Emma a Christ image: the fact that she gains her powers from True Love.

Superman from DC COMICS- Superman's Christlikeness has been more or less pronounced at various times in his history. But in the films, at least, that image has dominated. The outline of the story is all but a pure Christ parable. A boy that has the power to save is sent by his father to earth, and hides as the meekest among us as he goes around and saves us from those cosmic forces that threaten our existence. The image was made all the more pronounced by his dying and rising to life again in the nineties. In the end Superman is the vision of a secular Christ, that embodies specifically American values. But it is the choice by Superman to limit himself, to respect human freedom and to live within the bounds of a love for humanity, that touches on a deeper and more classically Christian meaning.

Starbuck (Cara Thrace) From BATTLESTAR GALACTICA- Cara is an interesting figure, in that she never is fully comfortable with the vulnerability she seems called to by life. In her heart of hearts she knows that love is what she wants to be and what she is called to be, but she fears the vulnerability it brings with it. Yet Cara Thrace ends up dying and rising again. And after that she starts to fully give herself over to destiny and the call of God. She is the one who brings humanity to salvation, and within her is contained both a Moses and Jesus image.

Neo from THE MATRIX- This one has become so well-known and almost trite within Christian culture, that I was almost loathe to mention it. But the simple fact is that list like this one is incomplete without Neo, who is a deliberate Christ parable in the gnostic drama that is THE MATRIX.

Benjamin Sisko from STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE- Sisko played an overtly religious role throughout much of the series, though that role slowly become more and more pronounced as the show progressed. But it wasn't until the seventh season that real Christian overtones became apparent. We learned that Sisko was actually engineered by the cosmic gods known as The Prophets, and his mother conceived him under the influence of one of them. And the final episode included a full death and resurrection scene, with Benjamin clearing the way between the Prophets and the people of Bajor. It is all so very Revelation 12.

...So those are the ones I can think of just off the top of my head. I know there are many, many more. I invite you to list some of your favorites.

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