Sunday, April 3, 2016

Reflections of Religion through television

Many television shows. books, and movies force us to evaluate some aspect of ourselves as we connect with the various characters that run across our screens and pages... at least the good ones do. I would like to share some aspects of my life that have been impacted or reflected upon because of a book, movie, or show.

This post I will focus on FAITH through the lens of the show, Lucifer, with a few add ins from the book series of Harry Dresden.

To begin, I will describe Lucifer (the show and characters).
The show is based off of the comic book series Lucifer by Mike Carey which was based loosely on John Milton's Paradise Lost.

In the first episode we learn that Lucifer Morningstar is living in Los Angeles, CA after getting bored and "quitting" Hell five years earlier. He runs a bar called "Lux" and his bartender is his demonic protector Mazikeen (Maze). He is able to influence any person he chooses to act on their deepest desire and is subsequently able to get that desire out of any he wants. One day he meets Detective Chloe Decker, a previous actress from a nude movie, who is able to completely resist him. We also learn later that Chloe is also able to injure him. His brother, Amenadial, the angel sent to watch over Hell in Lucifer's absence will do anything to get him back there.

The show brings up some interesting aspects within the show: Temptation, justice, morality, religion, belief, redemption, humanity, divinity, and evil. What is most interesting is that Lucifer, the devil, is not some crazy nut bag who gets off on the pain of the innocent. Yes, he influences people to act upon their desires which are often against his Father's plan and guidance but he does not go about killing innocents or torturing puppies. He views his job as punishing the wicked, that is the role that God gave him. Lucifer has a strained relationship with his Father, doing whatever he can to spite Him, which is hard to do when one is never sure what was orchestrated by Him and what wasn't.

Lucifer is rebellion. He fights against predestination and holds to his own moral code of conduct, a code which is both foreign and uncomfortably familiar to viewers. Lucifer also never lies. Of course not lying is definitely not the same as telling the truth (at least all the truth) but it still sits as a major disconnect from the "Lord of Lies and Deceit" image of the devil I grew up believing.
Analysis of Religion relating to Lucifer
It feels odd to analyze faith and religion when writing about a show with the devil as its main character and namesake, although in a strange way it also makes perfect sense. 

In the first episode, Lucifer expresses that his reason for "retiring " was that he was sick of playing a part in his Father's "play" and felt disrespected (and thus had an equal right to disrespect Him). This is an interesting statement to someone who is religious or knows of religion because if you think of it, Lucifer isn't wrong. In order for God's plans to occur, the devil/tempter/etc had to exist. Without him, none of the grand plans could occur, just as without Judas there could be no resurrection. Perhaps modifications would have been made and everything would go off without an issue, but as events went, Lucifer fell so that God could use him. As he asks Amenadiel in the first episode, "Do you think I am the devil because I am inherently evil or just because dear old Dad decided I was?" This implies two things. First, that our concepts of right and wrong are created by others. Second, there is, potentially, a force of evil that is beyond the devil, which could imply that good and evil are both forces outside of the deities that exemplify them. Amenadiel never answers Lucifer's question in the show, which makes me believe that, at least there, Lucifer is the devil simply because God decided he should be.

In Mormonism (I cannot say for other Christian religions), Lucifer opted for a plan that was akin to predestination/forced obedience to God but wanted the praise of men to be his. When he lost he rebelled from Heaven and was cast out. How did a being wishing for all to follow a plan without choice become the result of all choice, the one who leads people into choosing? Perhaps he desires to destroy God with his own plan? "You gave them the ability to choose now watch them choose me over you."
Chloe is an interesting soul in the show as she is completely immune to Lucifer's influence and is the only one (I am assuming) other than Amenadiel who can hurt him. What intrigues me most about Chloe is that she isn't a fully righteous, faithful, sinless person who is one we would assume would be able to resist the devil. When she was younger (probably barely 18 or so) she starred in a nude movie. She is a bit rough, not religious (not atheist but not filled with belief), and is currently separated from her husband. Not exactly the poster child for resisting the devil. On the other hand, she also refuses to allow her personal morals to be compromised and stands for righteousness in her life and in her work. She is completely pure in her job as a police officer and never breaks moral law.

She honestly reminds me of Sasha from Dresden Files. A Knight, a pure soul despite her beginnings.

She is also the show's way of saying, "See, you don't have to be a saint to resist the devil. Just be a normal good person who stands for righteousness and you're good." She is a direct contrast to the Christian idea that you need to be religious to resist temptation or be saved. It is enough to just be and to try.

There is a reason that the coin is in the middle of the show analysis, it is so interesting, beautiful, and dangerous to Christian theology in this show. 

The coin is exactly what it appears, an old relic with the devil on one side and the Christ on the other. The fallen and the savior. Two complete opposites. In the show, they are a lot less opposite than they are in the Bible. Yes, Lucifer still wants all the glory, but that is beginning to change, he is begging to change. While Lucifer still wants nothing to do with his Father, he is beginning to think of others before himself (not all the time but he is trying). He is becoming more selfless.

Lucifer, as portrayed in the show has so much potential to be anything. He could easily become their savior-like persona, someone who rises up and lives again (and how the episodes are going, it is quite possible that Lucifer will be killed and rise again). This is of course where good, God-fearing Christians will cry blasphemy and boycott the show and sue Fox. I would see this development as a very positive message. We are drawn into this show and begin to fall in love with this characterization of the devil, a child-like, driven, relentless personality trying to navigate humanity. This is a character who is unforgivable, whom we should hate but we don't because we see ourselves in him. Lucifer is a reflection of us, our baseness, our desires, our faults. There is also a sense of otherness to him, a sense of his divine beginning that he denies but cannot extinguish. 

When we look at Lucifer, as opposed to Amenadiel, there is more divinity within him. Amenadiel is selfish, vengeful, angry, tempered, and willing to act immorally to get what he desires, to serve himself (bringing back a corrupt cop from the brink of death to have him murder Lucifer so that Amenadiel can stop dispensing God's justice as new ruler of Hell). Lucifer is also selfish and angry and acts immorally and vengeful but he never acts to harm an innocent. He might lead them to drink, have sex, and act on their desires, but he never harms. And when innocents are harmed, Lucifer is angry and seeks justice. The dichotomy between Amenadiel and Lucifer reminds me of the song quote, "I used to think that justice was the same thing as the law", the two are often miles apart. 

It is quite possible, in this show, for Lucifer to be/become their Mosiah-like persona. It is possible for him to rise up and be a beacon, protector, seeker-of-justice for the creations of God. No he will never be a pure soul, uncorrupted, but he could become something just as important: an angel of justice here on Earth, a beacon of hope.

Of course, maybe I am reading too much into it and Lucifer will be wacked off back to Hell in the last episode when the show is cancelled.

The story arc surrounding Lucifer's wings was a good one, showing the two aspects of Lucifer that are at war. One part of the character is still filled with the divinity of an angel. The other is the more base aspects of the devil. What is truly interesting about the wings is that, while Lucifer had them cut off, he still cherished them. It wasn't until others began to take notice of his wings, Amenadiel and his therapist, implying that they were the passage back to God that Lucifer decided to destroy them.

The show brings up a good conflict there, that goes back to the coin, and really the key of the show: rebellion, falling, redemption. Lucifer fell, He was cast out of Heaven to rule over Hell. He burned his wings so that he could never rise again, seeing it as the ultimate "up your's" to his Father. And yet, despite his choice to burn his wings, Lucifer has been doing more good recently than previously. He is not only punishing and enacting justice on the wicked but also seeking justice for the innocent and the victims.

Lucifer burned his wings so that he would not be reminded of his options. He doesn't want to rise, he doesn't want to fall. He wants to be, to live, to experience. He is like a child, in a way. What he doesn't see is that by living and experiencing he is becoming closer to what he has always fled: his Father's approval and blessing. It is through his decision to remain fallen that Lucifer will ultimately rise.

Truly I believe that it was near the end of last night's episode that really exemplifies why Lucifer is such a popular show. It evaluates some of our deepest desires, faults, dreams, and humanity as experienced by someone who is both relatable  and forbidden. The show also digs into some of our deepest doubts, angers, and fears in regards to the unknown and unseen forces. God is real in this show, real in a way that is again familiar and foreign, we feel closer to Him but are not always sure what we are getting into through this closeness. God's plan is considered to be a bit more like a play thing than something set to improve us. This is a fear that many have had, that the plan doesn't care/exist/whatever.

In all, the show is somehow both cynical to religion while also being extremely religious, pairing free sin and limitless choice of a God who really doesn't care with Priests, predestination, redemption, and innate divinity. It is filled with opposition somehow works to bring the whole thing together into one cohesive piece. I think it is these conflicting emotions, which follow so closely to our own, that draw us to the ideas within the show. When Lucifer ranted toward Heaven wondering what the point is when there is no winner, when terrible things happen to everybody, most often people who aren't terrible themselves. I know that this is a sentiment that I have felt and the scene really drew me into the character as I heard my own anger, confusion, and questions asked of God by the devil... and it made me hope that someday, I know enough or believe enough or live in a good enough world where I no longer require an answer.

"Was this all part of Your plan? It's all just a game to You, isn't it? Eh? Well, I know punishment and he did not deserve that. He followed Your stupid rules and it still wasn't good enough! So what does it take to please You? Break Your rules and you fall! Follow them and you still lose?! Doesn't matter whether you're a sinner! Doesn't matter whether you're a saint! Nobody can win so what's the point? What's the bloody point?"

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