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Sex and Religion! (Now that I have your attention…)

19th Century conception of a Roman orgy

Title and image aside, I have no intention whatsoever of prurience in this post.  Rather, I want to discuss an issue that has been bouncing around my mind in thinking about certain common themes in Gnosticism, early Christianity, and modern “new religions”.  It occurred to me that a certain framework of viewing these themes might be particularly useful.  I’ll get to that framework in just a bit.  As to the themes themselves, the main one is indeed sex, or rather accusations of sex.  What do I mean by that?  Read on!

Very early in Christian history–perhaps during the lifetime of the Apostles, but certainly within less than a century–divisions arose in the early Church.  These divisions principally centered around the interpretation of the meaning of Jesus of Nazareth, the things he taught, and authority in the Church.  One group claimed to hold to authority passed down in an unbroken chain from the Apostles themselves through their successors, the bishops.  This group later codified its beliefs in the Nicene Creed.  The vast majority of modern Christian Churches–Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, most Protestants, and some others–descend from this group.  In speaking of the early Church, scholars sometimes refer to this group as the “proto-orthodox”.  The proto-orthodox group of Christians stood in opposition to various other groups of “sectarians”, “partisans”, or to use the Greek term, “heretics“.

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Aliens and Angels

COINCIDENCE??!!  I think NOT!!!

In all seriousness, I think there is a logic here, but of a more subtle sort.  I touched on just the barest aspects of this similarity (though without mentioning angels) back here.  Today I want to go into greater detail on this topic, and in a slightly different direction.  In all seriousness, I think there are some striking similarities, and that’s what we’re going to look at.

I’ve written about angels before, so I will just give a brief rundown of the characteristics traditionally attributed to angels in the Western (Jewish, Christian, and Islamic) tradition (though I will emphasize the Christian, since the Christian theology of angels is the one with which I’m most familiar):

  1. Angels are immortal by nature.  Not only do they not die, they cannot die nor be killed or destroyed in any way (except by God, who could annihilate anything if He so wished).
  2. Angels are pure spirit, or pure mind (which is another way of saying the same thing).  They thus lack bodies and are not composed of matter in any way (but see here and here for dissenting views).  As a corollary to this, angels do not need to eat, drink, or breathe.  The general interpretation is that they refuse to do these things (see Judges 13:15-16) or that when they appear to do so (see Tobit 12:17-19), it is an illusion.
  3. Angels are not all-knowing (omniscient)–only God is–but what they do know they know perfectly and without confusion.  This is because, not having bodies, they are not subject to the frailties inherent in brains and physiological phenomena, and also because they know directly through the ideas (in the Platonic sense) infused into them at their creation by God.  Thus angels are, as noted above, more intelligent than humans and less prone (if at all) to error.*
  4. Angels are not usually asserted to be able to read human minds; but since they are more intelligent and understand human behavior perfectly, they can often infer what a human is thinking.  They can telepathically send suggestions to humans, though, thus being able to send thoughts, though they can’t receive them.
  5. Angels can travel instantaneously anywhere in the cosmos.  This is symbolically represented as “flying”, but being immaterial, angels do not fly, walk, or move in any way we understand.  They just pop up wherever they want to be.
  6. Angels are immensely more powerful than humans.  Though they are not made of matter, they are capable of interacting with matter.  They are thus able to perform acts (technically referred to in theology as “preternatural” acts) that are far beyond what humans can do, and which appear to humans to be miraculous.

That summarizes the properties of angels.  Let us now move on to aliens.

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Joining MST3K Fandom and a Bit About Joel and Mike

Joel and Mike

This is a follow up to my posts here, here, and here.  This one will be much shorter, and will be talking more about the show itself, and not so much about its archetypal meaning.

I’m a likely and yet improbable fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  Having been born at the cusp of the Boomer Generation and Generation X, I’m in the target age group.  As a male and a science fiction fan, I’m certainly in the target demographic.  Despite this, it took me a long time to become an MST3K fan.

I remember running across it a few times in the early 90’s while looking for something to watch.  I couldn’t figure out what it even was at first.  After watching a few snatches of it, I originally thought it was something like What’s Up, Tiger Lily?  This was an early movie by Woody Allen in which he took a standard-issue Japanese spy drama, and dubbed it in English with totally new dialogue that turned it into a farcical spoof about the search for a secret egg salad recipe.  I had seen that as a kid and liked it; and when I first saw MST3K, I thought the voices of Joel and the bots were an overdub as in Tiger Lily.

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Pop Culture Tricksters

L-r:  Pee Wee Herman, Joel Hodgson, Mike Nelson, Weird Al Yankovic

L-r: Pee Wee Herman, Joel Hodgson, Mike Nelson, Weird Al Yankovic

I posed the question, “Could Joel or Mike on MST3K have been a chick?” (to be flip) over here, and answered, “No.”  On the way to justifying that answer I looked at the archetypes of the Trickster and the Holy Fool.  Now let’s bring it back to pop culture and apply it.

I think the host/captive on MST3K is really just a specific example of an archetype that occurs very commonly in pop culture.  Two other exemplars are Pee Wee Herman and Weird Al Yankovic.  There are others that spring to mind–for example, Rob Schneider, Chris Farley, and Ringo Starr have embodied aspects of the Trickster/Fool persona in movies and music–but the four I’m considering here are the best examples.  They are all about the same age and were at their peaks at approximately the same time.  More importantly, they all have embodied the archetypes more fully and consistently, and as a bigger part of their public persona, than the other actors and singers mentioned or for that matter than almost anyone else in pop culture.  There are also interesting parallels in their careers that I want to look at.

As one important proviso, I want to point out that when I speak of these worthies, I am speaking of their public personas, not their private lives, unless otherwise specified.  Thus, I’m not particularly interested in Paul Reubens or Joel Hodgson, but I’m very much interested in Pee Wee Herman and Joel Robinson, their on-screen characters.  Mike Nelson and Weird Al used their real names, but I am equally interested in their personas, not in them as individuals.

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Holy Fools

In my last post, which deals with the archetype of the Trickster in pop culture, having been prompted by a discussion of who should host MST3K, I mentioned, in addition to the Trickster, the Holy Fool.  I didn’t describe the Holy Fool beyond merely mentioning the term, so I’m using this post as a brief detour to discuss the Fool archetype.

The Holy Fool or Fool is in a sense the Trickster in a religious context.  What one might call the spiritual-but-not-religious form of the Holy Fool is the Fool.  We’ll distinguish the nuances soon.  In any case, the Holy Fool emerges from the very definition of religion.  Religion–from the Latin re-ligio, or “binding back” (to the Absolute)–ultimately seeks to connect us to the Absolute, however we may conceive of that (God, Brahman, the Universe, etc.).  In short, it seeks to take us beyond the realm of day-to-day existence; it seeks, in short, transcendence.  The question is, how does one describe transcendence in the language of the day-to-day world?  Mystics–those who claim to have had experience of that transcendent level of reality–are in an even more difficult position.  Having experienced the transcendent, how to you convey that experience to those who have not had it?  It’s like trying to describe color to the blind or music to the deaf.  It is like the man in Plato’s cave who, having experienced the exterior world, is looked at as insane by his fellows still locked in darkness.   Not surprisingly, the mystic is indeed often looked at as insane by larger society.

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Tricksters, Fools, and MST3K

Tricksters Fools Joel

Some decade and half ago or so, I was having a conversation with a friend about Mystery Science Theater 3000.  He was a big fan, and though I’d always avoided it in the past, he’d managed to get me into it, too (that’s a long story in itself, and for another time).  We were discussing one of the big topics of MST3K fandom, namely Joel vs. Mike, and who might make a good third host should Mike leave and the show continue.  This was in the Mary Jo Pehl days, when she had replaced Trace Beaulieu as the main nemesis, playing Pearl Forester, the ostensible mother of Beaulieu’s Clayton Forrester (I guess I should note here that parts of this post are going to be very much “inside baseball” and that non-fans may need to go Googling some of this stuff).  My friend suggested the possibility of a female lead, putting forth Pehl as an example of the type of comedienne who could do so.  I disagreed.  I need to emphasize that I am all for equality and am proud to call myself a feminist.  However, there are some differences, obvious (men don’t bear children) and subtle (women are better at verbal skills, on average, men at spacial perception).  I didn’t have anything so exalted in mind here, though, and though I was adamant that it had to be a male in the lead role for MST3K, I couldn’t quite say why.

I thought about it on and off, and came up with some tentative thoughts on the matter, but never pursued them.  I even saved the original template of this post, since I thought the subject would be interesting, but never could quite come up with a clear exposition.  Finally, a few years ago I encountered the fascinating and excellent book The Trickster and the Paranormal, which had been suggested to me by Chris Knowles at the Secret Sun blog.  The book revolutionized my views on several things.  One of the less important, but still interesting, such things was the question of who should host MST3K.  Specifically, I now could articulate clearly why I thought, against my feminist impulses, that the prisoner on the Satellite of Love would have to be a guy.  The short answer, the unpacking of which will encompass the rest of this post, is that a girl would not fit the necessary Jungian archetype for the role.

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