Ark Apocalypse

I get lost in the web. Although my work requires that I remain plugged in to the internet all day long, I confess to feeling lost on the weekend. I don’t know what to browse or where to look for titillating new information. A friend then asked me what I thought of Gabriel’s Ark being sent to Antarctica. I had no idea what Gabriel’s Ark might be and I had to hunt through the corridors of rumor and conspiracy that make up much of the worldwide web to find it. Once I did the story grew incredible and also impossible to verify. Maybe this is why I avoid the web on weekends.

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So the story goes like this: Gabriel, the archangel, gave Mohammed a secret weapon called an ark that would herald the last days. This ark was buried in Mecca. So the story goes, it was unearthed in September and it was the power of that ark that led to the tragic crane collapse that killed over a hundred pilgrims in Mecca last year. Days later the weapon went off again, leading to the death that the media blamed on a human stampede. Wanting to rid themselves of the ultimate weapon, the Saudi officials handed it to Russia. A research ship headed for Antarctica took on the mysterious cargo in Arabia before chugging south. Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church met with Pope Francis, so the story goes, to receive an ancient document to control the ark. The Patriarch then showed up in Antartica to enact a strange liturgy before the trail goes cold on the story.

No major, respected news media carried the story. That only confirms that it is a cover-up in the eyes of many. What is so fascinating about all of this is that those who continue to keep the story alive clearly believe that the end of days is being unleashed not via the Christian apocalypse, but a supposed Muslim one. It’s as if Revelation didn’t deliver, so now we need to turn to some other ancient, obscure document to document the apocalypse. Meanwhile, those who’ve spent their lives learning to read ancient texts by accredited universities scrounge for whatever work they can find. Odd people aspire to very powerful political positions. Money is the only thing that matters. Maybe it is the end of days after all.

War in Heaven

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Van Helsing, about which I’ve posted before, is not a great film, but it is perhaps the closest that modern cinema has to offer for my childhood Saturday afternoon viewing. Vampires, werewolves, and Frankenstein’s monster all appear together in a ménage à trois that Universal would’ve been proud to own in the 1960s. With lines cribbed from some of the Universal originals, plus some less believable chatter from Steven Sommers, the campy film is unrelentingly in dialogue with religion and its monsters. Indeed, the plot revolves around the church’s plan to save humanity from monsters by the employment of the eponymous van Helsing. I’ve probably seen the movie half a dozen times, and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit the this is the first time I’ve stopped to wonder at why, unlike Bram Stoker’s van Helsing, the one in the movie is named “Gabriel.”

It should’ve been obvious at the first viewing, but this time I was watching the movie with the intention of parsing its theology. In medieval Roman Catholic angelology, there are seven archangels. Two of them (or three, depending on whose Bible you are reading) are named in Holy Writ. Gabriel is, of course, one of them. The movie also shifts Dracula from being son of a Wallachian nobleman to being the “son of the Devil” (clearly by adoption). The Devil’s gift of resurrection (with which the movie is rife) comes with the vampiristic curse. And the climax of the film has the leader of God’s army (“the left hand of God”), Gabriel, battling the son of Satan. This is none other than the war in Heaven of which the Bible speaks. The leader of the archangelic army is actually Michael, but having “Mike van Helsing” as your lead just doesn’t carry the gravitas of Gabriel.

The movie opens with Dracula claiming that science has triumphed over God, and yet the mythology of monsters prevails. Frankenstein’s creation is morally pure, being a loving child of science, and the church declares him anathema. Throughout the movie all the monsters claim to want is to live, to survive. In fact, they are already resurrected. The werewolves get the dog’s share of the theology, however. They are infected or cursed rather than reborn. The war in Heaven has come to earth as angels and demons battle for supremacy. In the end, it is the human family chosen by God that goes extinct. I’m not sure all the theology adds up at the end of the film, but again, that is the very nature of mythology. And a film that can bring back a careless Saturday afternoon really doesn’t need to make sense at all.

Religious Reflections

In a stunning display of alacrity, over the weekend I viewed the movie Mirrors only three years after it was released. Since I watch horror films with a view to how they portray religion, I was preparing myself for disappointment when well over halfway through no overt, or even subtle references seemed to have been made to any holy topic. As Ben Carson, security guard, discovers that the mirrors of his night-watch building are haunted, the story seemed to be evolving into the standard ghost movie. When the missing character of Anna Esseker was finally found, I breathed a sigh of relief—she was living in a convent (because there were no mirrors there). What I supposed was a ghost movie was really a demon movie, and I found yet another example of how fear and religion interact.

Since I’m currently preparing a program for a local church on the way that Christianity is represented in the movies, I’ve been rewatching a couple of standard films to gauge the scope of this interaction. So this weekend I also watched Constantine. This has never been one of my favorite movies, but as imbued as it is with Christian mythology it cannot really be ignored. When Gabriel is explaining to Constantine why he is bringing the devil’s son into the world, I realized that the reason coincided with some of my observations. Gabriel notes that humans need fear to appreciate God. By bringing fear into the world, Gabriel will force humans to become more pious. Intertextuality in the movies.

If I might indulge in some theological (that word makes me shudder) speculation that may not have been intended by the writers/producers, both of these movies utilize the concept that demons are trapped by mirrors. This may be a reflection truer than ever intended—we are our own demons. Mirrors reflect the vanity of visual appeal; our looks fade and our true self remains. Is that self an angel or a demon? Christian tradition states they are one and the same. Demons are only fallen angels. I’ve seen enough horror films to know that religion is not a universal element, but it often does appear in the role of producer of both good and evil. In this sense, at least, the movies are very honest.