Tag Archives: spiritual beings

Magic And Miracles (1)

Moses Delivering the Ten Commandments by William Hawkins
The Temptation of Christ by Ary Schefer, 1854

As an educator and as a casual observer of popular culture, I believe that our society is overly dependent on passive entertainment. We view more than we read. We assume more than analyze. Don’t get me wrong. If you’ve read very many of my posts in the past, you know that I love some of the entertainment that’s out there. My concern is the degree to which we are dependent on it.

In the biology courses which I teach, I emphasize the scientific method of thinking, its limits, and how this relates to our perception of reality. We currently have a problem with scientific literacy in America, but arguments which merely appear more scientific are given more widespread credibility.  I call this faux intellectualism the “culture of the scientific.” It’s more a statement of style than of content.

Additionally, our emotions influence our perception of reality. We believe in things we want to be true. Conversely, we disbelieve things we don’t want to be true. From this perspective, truth is often perceived as inconvenient, but consider the alternative. Ignorance can hurt or even kill us, and denying the existence of something doesn’t prevent it from affecting us if it’s real.

Finally, there is what sociologists term the “social construction of reality.” We tend to believe what those whom we identify with believe or what the majority of people believe, and that can sometimes get us into trouble. Metaphorically, the blind can lead the blind. Truth is not established by majority vote, and history is replete with cases involving individuals who went against the status quo and were later vindicated.

I have described a cultural mash in which our shared perception of reality is affected by at least four factors: our desire for and orientation toward entertainment, a “culture of the scientific” among the scientifically illiterate, emotional preference, and the social construction of reality. Within this context, society has grown increasingly incredulous about the existence of spiritual beings and the occurrence of miracles. This has been accompanied by a general drift away from the tenets of Judaism and Christianity. Historically, the two most prominent lines of thought in the development of western civilization have been the Greco Roman and Judeo Christian traditions.

Gods of Olympus, 1534-35 Giulion Romano
Gods of Olympus (1534-1535) by Giulio Romano
the-ascension-1801
The Ascension by Benjamin West, 1801
SchoolAthens
School of Athens by Raphael
The last supper
The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

Ironically, western culture has shown an increased sympathy for Islam (with notable exceptions) and an increased interest in magic, paganism, and witchcraft even as it discards Judaism and Christianity as being irrelevant, superstitious, or worse. Please note what I am not saying. These are trends among diverse individuals who happen to exist in significant numbers. They are not the product of widespread, monolithic group think.

christianhinduspagans

Okay. This is my teaser. I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this, but I’ll pick it up again next week.

The Modern Pantheon: Introduction

Characters from Avengers: The Age of Ultron, directed by Joss Whedon
Characters from Avengers: The Age of Ultron, directed by Joss Whedon

Since I like to create my own mythologies in the books that I write, I am fascinated by a modern pantheon that has really caught on in popular culture: the Disney Marvel franchise. For this next series of posts, I will limit my comments to what has been revealed in these movies up to this point in time. It would be foolish of me to reveal my woeful unfamiliarity with the actual graphic novels. The films are a bit of an anomaly for the superhero genre in that they feature outstanding writing, production, directing, acting, AND special effects. They work on several levels.

Characters from Thor, directed by Kenneth Branaugh
Characters from Thor, directed by Kenneth Branaugh

 What I would like to key on are some of the mythological elements in these productions, especially certain god-like characters. It could be argued that, while abnormally powerful, they are not portrayed as full-fledged spiritual beings, but this is not a foregone conclusion. Though they are somewhat “scientifically” explained, the Marvel characters I will mention in later posts are not unlike the members of the Greek pantheon. These gods were physical enough that they sometimes procreated with mortals to produce demigods. Nor is this concept of embodied spirituality foreign to Judaism and Christianity. In the book of Genesis, there is a description of Abraham entertaining angels, who actually ate the food he offered them. In the New Testament gospels, we can read of the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In these and other cases, the boundaries between the spiritual and the physical are described as rather fluid.