“He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.”
– Mark 12:27
In the newest Marvel movie, Thor: Ragnarok, the God of Thunder finds himself on the planet of Sakaar competing in gladiatorial battles. Before each match, he is introduced as the “Lord of Thunder,” only to mutter the correct title under his breath. It was a running joke throughout the movie (one of far too many for my taste, at least for a Thor movie). Nevertheless, despite the film’s campy and generally lighthearted tone, affirmation of godhood is a major theme, be it Thor’s own or that of the villainess Hela, the goddess of death. Thor and his supporting cast exist in a world in which gods and goddesses have always existed and always will.
The storyline for Thor as a superhero, originally created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, drew heavily from Norse mythology, which Kirby, in particular, was fond of. This is nothing new in comics, of course, as Norse mythology has been in several iterations of superhero/villain battles. So too, have many others, including Babylonian mythology, Celtic mythology, and Greek mythology, featured most recently in the mega-hit Wonder Woman. Mythology is used almost liberally in genre films and superheroes have never been an exception, to be sure. And yet the words “god” and “goddess” have always had a connotation that, upon hearing them in television and film, sometimes gets me thinking.
Don’t ask me why, but in college, I attended an episode of “Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher” being filmed at the University of Washington. Among Maher’s usual panel of guests was an ultra-conservative evangelical Christian gentleman who was no less extreme than Maher in his points of view. At one point in the conversation, after the umpteenth mention of the name “Jesus,” Bill, a staunch atheist, said to the gentleman, “You know the idea of rising from the dead is nothing new, right? It was even done by Osiris, the god of death, resurrection and transition in Egyptian mythology. Many others have done it, too.”
Maher was right. Osiris did, and Osiris wasn’t alone. Persephone, Adonis, Dionysus and others in Greek mythology did so. Heck, there’s even a “Dying and Rising God” page on Wikipedia, which lists examples as well as patterns of these stories found all over the world. I’ll admit, to my eighteen year old mind, it was a compelling argument.
“Ah,” countered the man, “but why has no one ever heard of these guys? Why have they disappeared over the course of history? Because they weren’t real.”
This exchange was for me, quite simply, an affirmation of something I always knew but had never framed this way when it came to my faith: a lie disappears after a while, while the truth always hangs around.
“The Da Vinci Code” was all the rage when first published in 2003, and the movie no less so in 2006. It was the topic of TV specials and publications galore, not to mention youth group discussions all over the country. To capitalize on its popularity, James Cameron even made a documentary about archeologists supposedly finding the “real” body of Jesus Christ buried somewhere next to the “real” body of Mary Magdalene, thereby debunking the Christian story forever! How popular is the “Da Vinci Code,” nowadays?
It was a story so big and so massive, so earth-shattering that it is now….!!!!
… nowhere. That’s because it is not true.
I hate to break it to people but if the Resurrection story of Jesus Christ has not disappeared by now, it probably never will. Just saying.
Christianity spread like wildfire in the Roman world under the most adverse of circumstances, and against impossible odds (for humans anyway 😉 )! First, the initial witnesses to Jesus’ Resurrection were women, whose testimony was not even permissible in court or anywhere in public. Second, through the first four centuries, Christians were worshiping in tombs and catacombs for fear of being slaughtered during persecution. In reality, it wasn’t very beneficial (at least physically) for one to be a Christian. Lastly, according to the story, the Apostles who had seen Jesus saw him ascend to heaven a mere forty days later! The Lord did not wander the earth all the way to a ripe old age for people to see him in the flesh and thus prove His victory over death. He left it to the faith of each individual, something which He still does to this day. One would think this would be an easy way of debunking a conspiracy, yet the testimony of twelve fishermen was not seen as something crazy. Instead, it changed the world forever.
As unsavory or strange as it may be to see “gods” and “goddesses” who were once worshiped featured in popular culture today, a perception that some may perceive as being extreme, the truth is it makes no difference if they are called such or not. Even the word “myth” has a connotation of being something that isn’t real. Personally, it affirms in my mind, yet again, that truth endures, and that falsehood does not.
I should also say at this point, in case anyone was wondering, that if any religion in the world still exists today, it means there are probably pieces of truth in that faith, hence the preeminence of Abrahamic faiths in the world today. From the Orthodox point of view, even a little salt can preserve a lot of meat. How we encounter and dialogue with these faiths to promote the truth of the Resurrection is a different matter.
I don’t recall what Maher’s response was to the Christian gentleman’s statement of mythological figures dying away, but at that point in my mind, it no longer mattered.
Truth endures, bottom line.
“I am the Lord… apart from me there is no God.”
– Isaiah 45:5