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Arrow and the Myth of Redemptive Violence

11 Sep

Violence is the ethos of our times. It is the spirituality of the modern world… [However], its followers are not aware that the devotion they pay to violence is a form of religious piety. Violence is so successful a myth precisely because it does not appear to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It is what works. It seems inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts… If a god is what you turn to when all else fails, violence is like a god.

So says Christian theologian Walter Wink. It was Wink who coined the term, “the myth of redemptive violence.” This is a viewpoint, usually implicit and unnamed, which believes that through violence the problems of the world can be solved and society can be “saved”.

mardk11Wink sees one of the earliest versions of this “myth” in the Babylonian creation story (the Enuma Elish), from around 1250 BCE, in which the god Marduk is asked by a group of other gods to save the day and defeat the evil Tiamat, the Dragon of Chaos. Marduk agrees, but only in return for undisputed power in the assembly of the gods. Marduk kills Tiamat by driving an evil wind down her throat, splitting her skull with a club, scattering her blood and then stretching out her corpse full length, from which he creates the universe.

For Wink, this Babylonian myth is far from finished. This same basic myth can be found in our cinemas, in our comic books and on our TV screens. It is the story of “might makes right” so that good prevails and evil suffers. It is the story of the indestructible good guy who prevails, ultimately through violence and usually in the face of seeming defeat, over the indestructible bad guy who is causing so much chaos in the world. It is the story of Popeye, the gunslinger-hero of the classic Western, Luke Skywalker, Dirty Harry, Jason Borne and most of the superheroes who are currently taking up so much of our contemporary cultural imagination.

arrow-tv-series-posterIn the past few weeks I have been taken aback at how this myth of redemptive violence is being played out so blatantly and unambiguously in Arrow, which is currently showing on TV2 on Thursday nights. Based on the DC Comics superhero Green Arrow, the story centres on a young billionaire playboy, Oliver Queen, who is shipwrecked on a mystery island for 5 years. There he learns a range of impressive skills including martial arts, languages, and most significantly archery. During the shipwreck Oliver promises his father that he will right the wrongs of the Queen family and fight against the evils in society in order to return Starling City to its former glory.

On his return home Oliver proceeds to wage justice, dressed in an Occupy-style hoodie, against a range of corrupt, rich, evil businessmen. His message to each of these bad guys is basically, “change your ways or I will kill you”. Inevitably they do not change, and inevitably he ends up killing them. And that’s the story. Arrow is the classic vigilante story. The general public are passive and foolish, and the law and the police are arrow-tv-showtoo weak to prevail against the chaotic forces in society. What is needed is a messiah, an armed redeemer who will transcend the legal restraints of democratic institutions and save us all from evil.  And we find ourselves drawn in to the myth as we cheer when the villain is violently killed, despite the fact that he is another being who shares out common humanity.

For Wink,

The myth of redemptive violence is the simplest, laziest, most exciting, uncomplicated, irrational and primitive depiction of evil the world has ever known.

The question for all of us is how much it affects us personally in the way we view the world and the evil we perceive in others. It seems to have become a key element in much Western foreign policy which believes we can somehow drop bombs on the evil villains of our day. However, as Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn says,

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of [their] own heart?

Note: A version of this post first appeared in the July 2013 edition of The Gardens

The Wizard of Oz and the Truth About Lies

15 Aug

A version of the following post appeared in the June Edition of The Garden magazine (now The Gardens)…

Oz-The-Great-and-PowerfulOz the Great and the Powerful, released recently on DVD, on the surface has a lot going for it. It’s a “family friendly” movie with a classic story of good versus evil and lessons about friendship and making a difference in the lives of others, as well as the lesson that bitterness will destroy you. It uses the latest movie technology to create an incredible fantasy world rich with colours and fairy tale characters. It is, as one reviewer put it, “eye candy with a soul”. In addition, there is the added element that this is a loose prequel to the classic 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz, where we get to discover the origins of the Wizard.

James Franco plays the Wizard, whose real name is Oscar Diggs and whose real world profession is a second-rate circus magician. He is miraculously transported into a colourful and strange new world (which we come to know as Oz) with the aid of a runaway hot-air balloon and tornado. There he meets a variety of characters and finds himself in a battle between two wicked witch sisters (Rachael Weisz and Mila Kunis) and Glinda the Good (Michelle Williams). He also discovers that there is a prophecy of a long awaited Wizard who will overthrow the Wicked Witch. It seems as though everyone wants to believe that Oscar is the Wizard, which is handily confirmed by Oscar’s use of simple circus magic tricks.

oz3In the final battle scene Oscar has to use all of his magician skills to create the illusion of greatness and power, not only in order to defeat and intimidate the two wicked witch sisters, but also to convince the people of the Emerald City that he is indeed the real thing. After faking his own death, he uses primitive technology to appear as a terrifying and invincible resurrected figure. The sisters flee in fear and intimidation and the people of the Emerald City can rest easy in their belief in the great and powerful Oz.

It is not hard to see Oz the Great and the Powerful as veiled attack on religious faith and belief. And with a storyline that includes prophecy, death, resurrection and the final defeat of evil it is not hard to see Oscar as a Christ-figure who is not really divine but does enough to convince the people that he is. But what disturbs me most about this movie is that the message seems to be that faith/belief, in itself, is a good thing even though it might be based on a lie.

Po2For Slavoj Žižek, the Slovenian philosopher, this is also the message in movies such as The Dark Knight and Kung Fu Panda. For Žižek, in Kung Fu Panda the underlying message is – even though we make fun of the ideology of Buddhism and know it’s not true, “you have to make like you believe in it”. In a similar way, in The Dark Knight the solution comes by Harvey Dent a (false) hero and blaming Batman. The truth is falsified for the sake of moral order. Thus, in a similar vein, society in Oz the Great and Powerful is based on a lie. But that’s ok.

The real issue is that these “religious lies” are found in non-religious society as much as anywhere else – whether Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia or our Western culture of individuality and consumerism. They are powerful and hard to identify, especially when one is part of that society. And for us in the West the constructions of these lies are easier, but yet more difficult to perceive, because of our reliance on technology – which as all of us know, will make us happier and has the potential to defeat evil. And I’m not lying. Honest.

P.S. Here is Slavoj Žižek in action…

More on “Hip 2B Holy” – Canadian Evangelicalism in the Media

29 May

Yesterday I posted about a documentary on Global TV entitled “Hip 2B Holy”. Here is some more info.

First, a summary/background video talking about the making of the documentary. What’s really interesting is the discusion about how the mainstream media views evangelicalism and vice-versa. I love the comment that a standard “media” view of an evangelical was “someone on a farm living outside of Edmonton”. They were surprised by how “urban” the younger evangelical movement was.

Here’s the vid:

And also, here is a link to an article in the Globe and Mail about the documentary.

Canadian v American Evangelicals

28 May

I didn’t see it… but there was a documetary on Global this past Monday called “Hip 2B Holy” by Kevin Newman looking at the growth of Canadian evangalicalism – especially among 20s-30s.

You can read about it here.

According to the article, compared to US evangelicals, Canadian evangelicals (especially younger Canadians):

  • are experiencing double-digit growth
  • are less pushy
  • are more evironmentally sensistive
  • know that they have lost the debate re. gay marriage and abortion
  • define themselves on a broader range of issues than “traditional” moral issues


Whether the above is true or not, it’s encouraging to read a relatively positive take on evangelicals in mainstream media.


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