Spawn of Mars
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Just Another Guy
God in Supernatural
Monday, January 23, 2017 8:00 pm
Generally I like what Supernatural does with Biblical mythology. Mind you, the writers are only scraping the mythology. They never explore the actual point of this or that story, but only steal from the cultural detritus of a society once Christian, re-purposing folktales they once half-heard in Sunday school.

Take, for example, the arc about the Darkness and the Mark of Cain.

Beware! Spoilers follow.

So, before Creation, indeed before God, there was chaos, a force later called the Darkness. The Darkness was defeated by God and His Archangels and was locked away. The key to the cell containing the Darkness was entrusted to Lucifer (before his fall). Lucifer, having rebelled against God, used the key to corrupt Cain. The key became the Mark.

There have been three possessors, or keepers, of the key: Lucifer, Cain, and now Dean Winchester (one of the two brother heroes of the show, the other being Sam). Dean took on the Mark so that he could wield the First Blade (the very blade used to kill Abel) and destroy the last remaining Knight of Hell. The Knight is destroyed.

The Mark is corrupting, however, and Dean is becoming like Cain, the King of Murder. Sam conspires with a witch to remove the Mark from Dean. Unfortunately, if the key is not being held, the cell containing the Darkness will be opened. When the Mark is removed from Dean, the Darkness escapes.

No one quite realized what the Mark really was. The business about it being a key was not revealed until it was too late. Even then, given the bond between Dean and Sam (who have literally let the world suffer rather than let the other be ruined or taken away), Sam likely would not have stopped it anyhow.

Now, that is good mythmaking. I love the bit about the First Blade, the mere jawbone of a donkey that, having been used in the first murder, becomes a legendary weapon. I love how the Mark, in magical fashion, is itself a powerful object. And every episode with Cain is just great (the casting of Timothy Omundson, an actor I have otherwise never heard of, was somehow perfect).

You can see, of course, how this arc is not entirely Biblical. Its infidelity to Scripture is not the bothersome part. Nothing wrong — at all — with treating the Bible as a source of folktales to be reshaped in fiction. What bothers me, rather, are the polemical flavorings of the arc.

To begin with, Supernatural says that Cain did not kill Abel out of jealousy. Abel was not being faithful to God; he was worshiping Lucifer. Cain killed Abel to liberate his brother. In other words, Cain was motivated by love. The goody-two-shoes Abel was in fact beholden to the Evil One. Abel, like any other model to the Christian, was actually a deluded hypocrite.

How's that for a retcon? Why, it's only the conventional perspective of any de-Christianized modern.

It gets worse. It turns out the Darkness did not precisely predate God; it is, in fact, God's sister. God, though still the Creator in Supernatural's scheme, is really just a god, one of a two-member pantheon.

And because Supernatural cannot embrace the truly Christian definition of God as, in principle, being incapable of sharing a genus or family with anything, the writers are free to put God in the dock. Or, probably more to the point, intending to put God in the dock, they found it easier to diminish Him.

Ever since the Angels first appeared in Supernatural, back in the fourth season, the absence of God — His failure to help prevent even the Apocalypse, let alone the deaths or ruinations of characters — has been decried. Thematically, of course, God represents the absent Father, which plays off the failures of Dean and Sam's human father. But His absence (which, admittedly, is real enough to the superficial observer of the real world) also grounds Supernatural's judgments against Him.

For a long time I've tolerated Supernatural's take on Angels and Heaven and God. It is conventional nonsense about how following the mandates of Heaven — i.e., the will of God — is a loss of freedom. We are at our best when, like the crowd in Life of Brian, we cry out together, "We are all individuals!" We are better than Angels because we defy God. Supernatural takes this human self-worship to such a degree, that it casts Lucifer's rebellion as a refusal to venerate Mankind.

But again, I tolerated this because, hey, I have a soft spot for the monster-hunting and melodrama.

In the eleventh season, however, God makes an explicit appearance, and this is when the show becomes disappointing. The season itself has some good episodes (I particularly liked the one about imaginary friends), but the resolution of the Darkness storyline entails a rehearsal of every small-minded conception of God the Failure.

See, this is Chuck. He is an anxious, agitated drunk. A loser. In a meta-fictional turn, he writes a series of books called Supernatural. He knows what has happened and will happen to the Winchesters. He, it seems, is a Prophet.

No. Wait. Turns out Chuck is God. Or rather, this is how God manifests Himself. Yet it's not an act. God really is a sad sack. He is petulant and whiny. He doesn't listen to prayers. He stopped intervening miraculously because it was pointless. He is fatalistic. He ran away. Supernatural reduces God to One of Us. In fact Man has surprised and surpassed Him by creating music and nacho cheese. God may be the Creator, but at heart He is Chuck.

Supernatural's contribution to theodicy is that God is precisely as small as you fear that He is. Rather than deal with the problems of evil and suffering as, for example, does the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, especially in its great thinkers like Aquinas, Supernatural finds refuge in the usual, limited conception of God as a guy out of his depth, not much better than another Zeus.

Above all, this is an artistic failure in Supernatural. It is common enough. Supernatural is hardly alone in its portrayal of God; many college sophomores would concur. But it is facile. Imagine, rather, that Supernatural had foregone the Chuckism and dealt with the actual Christian God, the actual God. Artistically, yes, that would have been bad, too, since the previous seven seasons had not been preparing you for such a turn. But if the prep had been good, how much more intellectually interesting everything would have been!

By making God Chuck, the writers took the easy way out and, not so incidentally, allowed themselves to feel superior to the Deity who has so terribly failed us, we who are, despite all our faults, the most wonderful people ever.

Thus the Gospel of the Moderns.
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