Gods & Monsters

My little monster in front of the train station a couple of blocks from our new home.

If you had told when I was in Jr. High that in the year 2010 I would be flying in a jetson's-like spaceship and having robots doing my housekeeping I completely would have believed you.  If you had told me that in the year 2010, I would be living in Germany and watching the 1958 movie "the Blob" on my laptop computer with my 7 year old son---because HE WANTS TO WATCH "the Blob"----I never would have believed you.  Alas, things in the past are not that different from things in the future.

Marco has been really interested in monsters lately.  His problem is he doesn't want to see scary monsters which leads him to ask me to find monster movies from the 1930's, 40's, and 50's. So all of a sudden--out of nowhere---I'm becoming an expert on old Dracula films, Frankenstein, the Blob, and Jason and the Argonauts.  Man alive, kids throw such curve balls at you.

We watched Jason and the Argonauts the other day.  Ever since Marco was very young, I've shared with him other religions' myths.  This is a child that grew up walking past Buddhist statues, Hindu Temples, Muslims prostrating on the ground as they pray to Allah---and we have both always wanted him to understand the world around him---not run from it in fear.

Ever since he was young, he could identify key ideas in myths and link them to Christianity.  Whether its Star Wars or an ancient Greek myth, he finds the parallels and can contrast/critique it against Christian ideas.  I've always felt that if our ideas are so strong and true, then they shouldn't cower in fear in the face of other religions or beliefs which is why I wrote my first book Passport of Faith: A Christian's Encounter with World Religions; the book I am still the most proud of.

The religious stories and myths that people tell do help them makes sense of the world and often reflect past events.  The Ancient Greek myth of the minotaur (half man half bull) and the maze where he killed his captives reflected the suffering that the Athenians had suffered under the brutal invasions of the dominant Cretans that captured Athenians and sacrificed them.  The minotaur story was a way of demonizing their enemies and asserting their power through story.

Even a monster as goofy (but super-cool) as Godzilla helped a society understand its past and form its future.  Godzilla was a monster created as the result of nuclear radiation.  This giant lizard creature comes out of the sea and wrecks havoc on Tokyo--making trains and buildings look like pathetic little toys.  He inflicts massive carnage on Japanese cities.  What's up with that?  Well, he entered the Japanese consciousness less than a decade after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were completely disintegrated by American Atomic bombs.  Godzilla was a way for Japan to deal with the trauma of having two cities completely obliterated.  Think of how 9/11 has scarred the United States.  Now imagine Houston and Denver just disappearing from the Earth in a blink of an eye.  That is something that needs to be processed.  And that's what Godzilla did for Japan.  In following movies he became a defender of Japan against other terrible, destructive monsters.

In the Bible, there is a story about a funny, strange prophet named Jonah.  It was written in a time of insecurity. As always, Israel was surrounded by hostile bigger powers and these foreign peoples were demonized.  But as is often the case with the Old Testament (Jewish literature), what looks like a typical, traditional story is actually subverted and taken in a completely different direction.

The way the story should go is that the prophet Jonah should go preaching to the people of Israel to follow their God.  Instead God asks the prophet to go preach to the evil people of Ninevah.  But they are not the chosen people and they are evil, so Jonah flees.  As we all know, his attempts to escape are futile and he is even swallowed by a whale who pukes him up on a beach.  When Jonah finally gets to Ninevah, the people actually obey him (as opposed to Israel which often does not), and Jonah then pouts about it. He's NOT happy that people listened to him and will be saved from destruction.  He was hoping for a Godzilla-like ending, a Tokyo-smashing finale.

The attempt at creating myth to demonize the other is totally subverted in the Jonah story.  And that is often how the Bible works--it parallels the ancient myth structures and then completely takes it into a different direction.  And of course, they are often far more layered than traditional religious stories and myths.  For instance, Jonah very obviously foreshadows the arrival of Jesus who also will spend 3 days in the belly of the Earth before having his message widely accepted by Gentiles, thus bringing the act of God's redemption for all peoples into a more concrete and expansive phase.

Marco now will be living in a city with every kind of religion imaginable--and lots of people that completely ignore religion.  So we (he and I)  learn about Gods & Monsters and the way they point toward a deep, human need to understand truth and have a concrete moral compass upon which to base one's identity and choices.  So there's a place for Perseus, Medusa, Jason, and Godzilla.  We don't demonize because that would be violating the spirit of the Book of Jonah.  We are not called to run toward Tarshish with our fear, and condemnation, and demonization, but to go toward Ninevah with a great message--a hopeful message.

Now if only we could find deep, existential meaning in the ideas, philosophies, and behavior of "the Blob."