When Religious Pluralism goes Mainstream

…it finds its way – not accidentally – into every sphere of culture, which includes once benign comic book-based movies like the upcoming ‘X-men: Apocalypse.’ The trailer (here) depicts the title character, Apocalypse, as having gone by the names Yahweh, Krishna, and Ra, saying, “I’ve been called many things over many lifetimes.” Also in the trailer, Apocalypse employs the help of the ‘four horsemen.’ In response, one character says, “he got that from the bible,” and another, “or the bible got it from him.” So, what one can reasonably assert from having seen the trailer is that, 1) various gods of different world religions are portrayed as the same god, and 2) the one ‘god’ being portrayed, named Apocalypse, is the villain.

It remains to be seen how this theme will play out in the (yet to be released) movie, but the trailer not only smacks of religious pluralism, but also of what Christopher Hitchens has called antitheism. And although the spread of antitheism is a very recent development spurred by the New Atheists, religious pluralism (the view that all spiritual paths have the same destination) isn’t new. However, it is only in recent decades that this view has become popular enough to be considered mainstream. And among those who do not hold this view or even consider it absurd or indefensible, few seem to be bothered by it. I believe that one important reason that this is so, is that these belief systems have been transmitted through media entertainment; and also why I’d like to say just a few things about the manner in which film and television lull consumers into (at least passively) accepting false beliefs and destructive ideologies.

Movies and television shows have a sly way of inculcating ideologies and values; a way of forming one’s beliefs and assumptions without the media consumer really noticing it, because they are packaged inside of compelling narratives. It’s similar to the way in which anesthesia allows a person to undergo surgery with no memory of the procedure – except the procedure exacted by media consumption is lengthy, slow, and requires very little anesthesia (although I’m sure binge-watching has sped the process along a bit, let alone smart phone/social media consumption). Movies and television shows hold the potential to change the way I see the world by presenting a grand message, or to shape my identity, as I envision absorbing certain on-screen characters’ personalities and beliefs into my public persona. As early as age seven, I can recall roaming about my neighborhood looking for Russian communists with toy guns after having watched Red Dawn; or becoming skeptical of the criminal justice system as a teenager after watching The Shawshank Redemption; or even the current inexplicable feeling that G.E. is a great company, simply because of my fondness for Jack Donaghy and his mentor, Don Geiss, on 30 Rock. The point here is that films and television shows are powerful, and to an extent that is not immediately apparent.

The transmission of ideas and sentiments is a significant transaction between the screen and the consumer, and one that is not always a bad thing. What is important to note is that it is a thing. The film industry certainly knows it. Consider this short that documentarian Errol Morris made for the 2002 Academy Awards. Obviously, it intends to cast the film industry in good light, but the point still holds up. This is all the more reason, when a destructive, heretical ideology is presented (as it appears is the case in ‘X-men: Apocalypse’), to point out the sway of film of television and their ability to shape who we are.



One thought on “When Religious Pluralism goes Mainstream

  1. Gavin,
    This reminds me of almost every nature documentary I’ve ever watched, how they ultimately sell and push the theory of evolution as matter-of-fact. Repeat it often enough and people start to accept it as fact.

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