Rev. Steve Sanchez

Rev. Steve Sanchez
Swedenborgian Minister

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Repetition of Biblical Themes in Movies fills an Intrinsic Need In our Psyche

In seminary my class was given the assignment to write a paper on our personal theology. In response to my paper the professor said that I had a ‘Star Wars’ theology. I suggested to him that “I think it is the other way around; Star Wars got its ideas from the Bible”. I believe Biblical themes have an intrinsic place in the human soul and psyche, and it is fascinating to observe how this comes out in stories and film. What follows below is not by any means a scientific survey of the subject, but simply the observations from an average man’s engagement in pop culture.
 The most moving theme of the Bible, and also of life, is redemption; redemption is the central theme of the Christ story, and all the other themes circle around it. Whenever we hear a story of true sacrifice for love, honor, or the life of another we can not help but be moved deeply; it is a basic response of the goodness in the human soul to honor true sacrifice - and deep down I believe this universal response comes from the Lord within us. A good example of this is in superman: as the military captain flies the ‘package’ into the world engine (to destroy it) he says, “a good death is its own reward”. This affirms the spiritual value of honor, and giving one’s life for another. On this point Swedenborg writes:

Every citizen or subject is united to his king by obeying his commands and precepts; and more so if he endures hardships for him; and still more if he suffers death for him, as men do in war. In the same way friend is united to friend, son to father, and servant to master, by acting according to their wishes; still more by defending them against enemies; and more yet by fighting for their honor. Is not one united to the maiden whom he is wooing when he fights with those who defame her, and contends even to wounds with his rival? It is according to an inherent law of nature that they are united by such means.

(The word King, which was appropriate for Sweden in the time of Swedenborg, could be replaced with ‘nation’ or ‘community’). The principle Swedenborg expresses above relates to the Lord saying in the Bible: “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep. Therefore doth My Father love Me” (John 10:11- 17). The depiction in stories and movies of heroes that are willing to sacrifice themselves and save the world evoke the intense love and bond that comes with the acknowledgement of the heroes deeds, know-how, and skill. We are moved to tears by their skill and deeds even if we have seen the same story a hundred times, and even if it is not great art. There is perhaps nothing more internally compelling to a child then a father or mother who cares for them so much that they will die for them. And everyone of us still has this child inside that yearns for this care, and hopefully is willing to do it for another. Here are some examples in movies: In the movie ‘Armagedon’ there is the self sacrifice of the Father Figure (Bruce Willis) who forcible takes the place of his future son in law so his son in law can live and marry his daughter; he is left behind on a meteor by himself to ignite the bomb that will save the world; in the Matrix there is the wondrous skill and spiritual mastery of ‘The One’ (Keanu Reeves) that saves the world. In ‘Signs’ the young girl helps save the world because she has been intuitively led to leave water cups around the house (and it turns out that water destroys the aliens); also the young man in ‘Signs’ saves his family with his prodigal skill for swinging the bat; in ‘Independence Day’ the drunk, worthless father sacrifices himself by flying into the power source of the alien ship; There are similar themes in the Terminator, The Fifth Element, Iron Man, The Avengers, Captain America, Men In Black, and many others. There are also great stories of personal sacrifice in more life-like stories. In these stories we are deeply moved because of the battle we all go through to find ourselves, overcome hardships, and see meaning in our lives. We see this in movies like ‘Shawshank Redemption’, ‘Lone Survivor’, ‘The green Mile’, and thousands of others. These stories so often center around Military and police men and woman, because they are the ones most often in harms way, and most of them have dedicated themselves to the honor and safety of their country or community, and are willing to sacrifice their lives for others. When we hear the story of the soldier that jumped on a grenade to save his companions we cannot help but feel love and honor for the man and his deed. How much more are we moved to honor Jesus Christ - for He from his own might saved all humanity from eternal darkness.
It may seem odd that I am bringing comic book stories, fantasy, and pop movies into a study of the Bible. But it is really not so odd. G.K. Chesterson wrote a long time ago an essay called, “In defense of Penny dredfuls”. (Penny dreadfuls are stories for adolescents that can be compared to pulp fiction in America.) In it he writes: “The simple need for some kind of ideal world in which fictitious persons play an unhampered part is infinitely deeper and older than the rules of good art, and much more inportant. Every one of us has constructed such an invisible dramatis personae. Literature is a luxery; fiction is a necessity”. He argues that common novels that engage these themes are invaluable to the imagination and inner development of youth and adults wether they are well written or not: “That is to say, they do precisely the same thing as Scott’s Ivanhoe and Lady of the Lake, Byron’s Corsair, Wordworth’s, Rob Roy’s Grave, Stevenson’s Macaire, Mr. Max Pemberton’s Iron Pirate, and thousands of more books…It is the modern literature of the educated, not of the uneducated, which is avowedly and aggressively criminal…The vast mass of humanity have never doubted and never will doubt that courage is splendid, that fedelity is noble, that distressed ladies should be rescued, and vanquished enemies spared. There are a large number of cultivated persons who doubt these maxims of daily life.”
Although circumstances have changed when Chesterson wrote this, the spirit of what he is saying very much applies today. In a later essay called Orthodoxy he extends his argument to Christianity and attempts to explain the immediacy that continually fuels the inner need to engage Biblical themes:

All Christianity concentrates on the man at the cross-roads. The vast and shallow philosophies talk about ages and evolutions and ultimate developments. The true philosophy is concerned with the instant. Will a man take this road or that?...The instant is really aweful: and it is because our religion has intensely felt the instant, that it has in literature dealt much with battle and in theology dealt much with hell. It is full of danger, like a boy’s book: it is at an immortal crises. There is a great deal of similarity between popular fiction and the religion of the western people (Jacobs, 124).

It is inevitable that Biblical themes are told by our most creative people. Pop culture is market driven. Whether the writers and producers of these movies are Christian or not, or whether they are conscience of the source of these themes, they know what moves people inside – they know what sells to the masses.  Sex sells, but so does the deep inner desire for redemption by superheroes. Carl Jung made a big point of revealing story tellers that wrote genuinely from the creative imagination; he made the distinction of stories that were archetypal from the collective unconscious, and thereby had universal appeal to people, and those that were conscious creations (more manipulative). This is certainly an important point, but I don’t think we have to concern our self laboring to identify this quality with each book or movie. Rather, for our purposes we can go by the receiving end, that is, what is continually compelling to people in the market place.
In regard to the subject of the Bible and myth I think Carl Jung missed something essential; he seemed to believe in Christ as a real man, but not as divine. To my knowledge he treated the Bible as Myth, and psychologized it. He believed in God within the individual but not in God as both within and without, and that He is the creator of all things. C. S. Lewis was also a master of myth, Medeival literature, fantasy and loved these kinds of books. In the early part of his life he considered himself an atheist. But unlike Jung, he gradually come to the conclusion that the Bible was true history, not myth, he had to come to intellectual terms with the Bible as history. This made all the difference for him. C.S. Lewis became a passionate Christian while retaining his love of myth and fantasy. He strove to live the Christian values.
Most people assume that C. S. Lewis wrote his stories, especially the Narnia Chronicles, with a conscious intention to create Christian allegories (as I did). But he writes over and over again that it was not this way; in regard to the Narnia stories he writes:

Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collected information about child psychology and decided what age group I would write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out “allegories” to embody them. This is pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way at all (The Narnian, Jacobs, 244).

Lewis strove to do something far more risky, courageous, and self revealing in these stories. He wrote: “It is better not to ask the questions (what allegories are god for children) at all. Let the pictures show you their own moral. For the moral inherent in them will rise from whatever spiritual roots you have succeeded in striking during the whole course of your life”. This is very profound to contemplate. Lewis biographer, Alan Jacobs, writes about this:

The moral inherent in them will rise from whatever spiritual roots you have succeeded in striking during the whole course of your life”. This is terrifying, or liberating: liberating in that one need not expose oneself to the sanctimonious drudgery of drawing up lists of Christian truths…But terrifying because as those images rise from your mind you discover what you are really made of…Trusting the images, you find out who you are” (Jacobs, 244).

In the spirit of these ideas below in my next bog I will attempt to identify themes from movies that are likely Biblical in origin.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Interpretation of the movie 'Interstellar'

I think interstellar is spiritual, metaphysical, scientific, and has some Biblical themes. It never really mentions God, but has, I believe, a few distinct Biblical themes. The main one is that the lead character and his daughter are called the 'bridge' that brings the knowledge across worlds by means of love that saves the world - that is a pretty strong Christ allegory. In the Bible this is called the Logos, that which makes God accessible to humanity; the logos is one with the divine human - Jesus. The logos brings the love and understanding of God, it brings knowledge of heavenly things to earth, which was otherwise completely lost. Bringing intelligence, and the right information into the unknown is extremely important in Interstellar. At great peril Cooper and Tars, the intelligent robot, bring love and intelligence into the black hole. In a spiritual and metaphysical way it is emphasized that love is the force that will guide them to the answer. When cooper and tars travel into the wormhole Cooper ends up in the presence of his young daughter from the past whom he has been yearning to return to the whole time. By way of science the story says that the quality of one's love leads them to the place they belong in the spiritual world.
It is also Biblical that Cooper, his daughter Murph, and the Hathaway character, Brand, are the 'brokenhearted'. They are racked with grief from personal loss, but submit to the higher need of humanity. Without clear cognitive communication or assurance they are led by a higher power (superior aliens simply called 'they') that guides them to saving the world through a wormhole. This is much the way it is with faith and God in life. We must trust that God has a purpose in spite of the pain and grief we suffer. What also makes this Biblical is the truth from scripture that the 'Shepard will seek and save the one as much as the many'. In the movie the significance of the human drive to do what is right for the whole of humanity is demonstrated, but also the significance of the love of one person is held high as having universal repercussions. In addition, in the end their 'tears are wiped away' when they are saved at the end (it is implied the Brand is saved by love with Cooper).
Swedenborg's principle that love is a container gives a lot of insight to the movie too. He says that contained in love is all the particulars of wisdom that serve that love toward its end use. This is what happens in the movie, the intense love of the main character and his daughter leads them to the information to be the bridge. Tars supplies the data from inside the black hole, transmits it to Cooper, and cooper taps it to Murph who must have the intelligence to receive and interpret the morse code. She struggles with her deep personal pain and bitterness, yet she has the inner drive and love to overcome all the obstacles to understanding, receive, and complete the task. She and her father communicate between, what is called in the movie, the 3rd and 5th dimension. Cooper accomplishes this by taping on the gravity stream that moves the second hand on the watch he gave to her before he left. Allegorically this can be taken as representing the communication that takes place between the natural and spiritual world by what is known as correspondences (See the article in this blog on correspondences). The intense love and admiration between father and daughter carried within it the knowledge and wisdom to accomplish the deed that brought both personal redemption, and the redeeming of humanity on earth. In the end we see the new society built in an enormous space structure that was made possible from the information received from inside the black hole. It is shown that Murph puts together the equation of the great scientist, brands father, and the information from the black hole. She is revered as a sort of savior in the new society.
The movie is remarkable in that it realistically shows the tremendous tole put on human emotion by space travel. This is shown in many ways but most effectively when the Mat Damon character awakens from long term sleep, sees he is with people, and instantly cries convulsively on Cooper's shoulder. He says later how hard it is to go without human touch and presence. This underscores the importance of love and affection, and also represents the universal truth that love and wisdom can be expressed only through a body. The Damon character also demonstrates how the human soul can be broken from lack of love, and seeking only self interest, not the interestn of the whole. He turns out to have some kind of space psychosis. He sets up a bomb in a robot and kills one scientist, and almost kills cooper also.
The biggest weakness of the movie is the way it depicts a pessimistic view of earth's future; this is not consistent with our current scientific trajectory, or with a spiritual view of earth. For a scientific movie, the explanation of how earth is losing oxygen has little realistic foundation. It also makes no sense how poorly prepared people are for the recurring dust storms and loss of atmosphere. Perhaps they are trying to make an environmental point with this; but mostly it seems, it is essential to the plot line that the world is ending, and dust is the vehicle that reveals the gravity anomaly.
Brand makes an important speech in the movie when they have lost all other options and are deciding on one of two planets to go to. In spite of her scientific mind she speaks of love as the transcendent force in nature that will bring the answer. In light of this speech and the events of the movie it will bring great meaning to the movie to reveal a cosmic correspondence that Swedenborg affirms as a truth from the spiritual world: The force of gravity in the physical world corresponds to the force of love in the spiritual world. In the physical world we are subject to time and space, but in the spiritual world there is no time and space, but all is based on ones state of being, or the ruling love on ones soul. In the physical world any body with mass attracts to it other bodies by the force of gravity. In the spiritual world every person gravitates to the society they belong by the like quality of love in that society. Love attracts and holds a person (spirit or angel) in the sphere of that society where they are in great happiness and use to each other.
         There are two other remarkable scenes that emphasize the power of love and how it is expressed through the human body and most importantly that it is the nature of the universe ultimately to serve embodied love . When cooper is in the black hole he realizes and expresses that the 'they' is himself, and that his desire and presence created the structure in the black hole to accommodate his human form to communicate to his daughter. Since love is the internal correspondent of gravity, gravity folded space so that he can be in the presence of his daughter from the past. The subtext in this scenario is that God or the supreme power is providentially creating and guiding them to this point. Formerly this supreme power was expressed as 'they', and now it is scene that 'they' is within him. The second scene that emphasizes this has two parts; Earlier in the movie a presence reaches out to brand and she identifies it as 'they' spiritually reaching out to her; and she, with great wonder and passion, shakes its hand. Later as Cooper is moving through wondrous lights out of the black hole he sees Brand in a spiritual way and holds her hand with love and care. These two moments are one in space folded. Another principle this is showing is that love is pre-conscience, yet it is the true formative power of our life and seat of our being. In spiritual psychology this means that our internal self determines our true state, but we are most often unaware of it; also that God knows our true state of love better than we do. For instance, Cooper's love for brand is awakened in the black hole experience when he touches Brand's hand, but he only fully becomes aware of this consuming love at the end when his daughter tells him to go to her.
         When cooper is behind the bookcase in the black whole he can not directly communicate with his daughter. This is a depiction, or allegory, of how it is between the spiritual and natural world. The spiritual world exists in us in a very internal way, but not in the external except by correspondences. Put in a linear way, there is a discreet degree between these worlds that cannot be crossed bodily or physically, but affection from our soul in the body can be felt. This truth is depicted in the movie by Cooper being called Murph's 'ghost'. Affection or love is the bridge between the physical and spiritual world. The internal state of affection is pre-conscience until our desire and circumstance (God's providence) bring us to the point of integration where our real state of love becomes an awareness, - and this is a very spiritual thing that inherently includes an acknowledgement of God. It is a universal principle of spiritual psychology that all thought is preceded by affection, and that the influx of love and wisdom that created and sustains the universe comes from God.