Friday, July 12, 2013

Jesus and the Giant Monsters

Pacific Rim is about giant robots punching giant monsters in the face. If any movie deserved the "shut up and take my money!" treatment, it's this one. My wife and I saw it opening day, and we sat right in front because my inner 12 year-old demanded we sit up close to the action. There are times you listen to that 12 year-old, and if this isn't one of them, I don't know what is; if there's one movie about robots punching monsters that you see on the big screen, it's this one.

What the grown-up side of me enjoyed was the exploration of that world and its culture. The movie takes place about a decade and a half after these giant monsters (Kaiju) have started showing up and doing to our cities what rock stars do to our hotel rooms. Once the initial shock wore off, the presence of Kaiju became a normal part of the world. People learned to adapt to the reality that giant monsters from another dimension would occasionally rise from the ocean depths and try to kill us. What the movie didn't have time to explore in depth was just how much this changed society.

We see a little of it. The Kaiju have their fans, as people would get tattoos of their favorite monsters and collect all their action figures. A demand for Kaiju body parts created a black market, and many people made a living, if not a fortune, harvesting and selling every part of these creatures. All other political issues took a backseat to the Kaiju problem, leading to a united global effort that put many other political arguments on hold, leading to entire industries built for the purpose of fighting the creatures or protecting the population.

What we didn't see that much of, and perhaps this will play out more in either a sequel or expanded universe material, is the effect these Kaiju had on religion. Right now the concept of extra-terrestrial life is just an abstract theological argument, something we debate alongside whether Batman could beat Samson in a fight. (The answer to that is yes, by the way.) It's a thought experiment, but what if it wasn't. What if we had definitive proof that there was life elsewhere in the universe? How would that play out?

I'd like to consider how Christians in the Pacific Rim universe might have reacted to the Kaiju. I can imagine preachers and evangelists taking to their pulpits, the streets, the airwaves all of them declaring that we now have proof that Hell is real. I can imagine the churches packed to overflowing as pastors wagged their fingers, declaring "I told you so. This is God's judgment, now repent."

Televangelists would be raking it in. Never letting a disaster of Biblical proportions stand in the way of making a buck, they would dominate every second of airtime they could fine. "Are you worried about being eaten by Kaiju? Send me your money and God will protect you. Repent, send me your money, and God will make sure you are spared." Many televangelists and other flim-flam artists would promise to protect people from the Kaiju, much like Moses protected the Hebrews. And if the Kaiju did eat you, well that meant you were a dirty sinner and deserved it.

Other Christians would see the Kaiju as heralding the End Times. The Bible is full of references to monsters, Leviathan, and other non-human creatures. I'm certain Christians would quickly conclude that those verses were referencing the Kaiju. Many Christians would either see these Kaiju as demons that Satan was sending against us and/or the Great Beast from Revelation.

As we grow to understand these Kaiju, though, some Christians will begin to ask a much different question. Are these creatures intelligent? Do they come from a world full of intelligent beings? Do these beings have souls? Did Jesus die for them as well, and should we be fighting these creatures or trying to evangelize them? Should we try to forgive them for destroying our cities? Do we need to preach the Gospel to the Kaiju?

After 9/11, many Christians struggled with how to feel about the terrorists who attacked us and the ones still out there. Yes, Jesus taught us to forgive, but many of us found it very hard to do so. Many still do. Multiply the death and destruction by ten-thousand and then talk about forgiveness. It would be a tough sell for Christians, let alone the rest of the world. Many Christians would argue that forgiveness and Grace only extends to humanity.

Christians in the Pacific Rim universe would have to wrestle with that question. Whether or not to forgive, love, and preach to the Kaiju would split churches and be a far more divisive topic than gay marriage and abortion combined. Some Christians would consider how to be missionaries to the Kaiju universe, and others would argue against killing these creatures, advocating for a loving, more non-violent approach.

This would lead to a very thorny theological question. Did Jesus die for humans only? Is Christ's Grace literally limited to humanity, or does it apply to all intelligent beings throughout the galaxy? Growing up, my wife used to listen to a Christian radio program called Sunday Night Live that featured a segment called "Missionaries in Space." (Insert a Muppets or Mel Brooks joke here.) These missionaries would go to other planets and evangelize the locals about Jesus.

It was a corny Garrison Keillor knock-off, but again it raises a tricky question: did God send His Son to other planets or dimensions, or was it just ours? Jesus told His disciples to take the Gospel to the ends of the Earth, but does that mean we stop preaching when we leave Earth? What happens when we leave Earth and meet aliens? Do we need to tell them about Jesus or do we leave it alone because God's Son came to their planet and died for their sins as well?

Yes, all these thoughts came straight out of a movie about giant monsters and robots. It's the way my geeky Christian mind operates. I don't have answers to any of these questions, and I doubt I ever will. Some questions aren't about finding the right answer, they are about making us think. That's the point of good art, it is thought-provoking and challenging. I wholeheartedly recommend Pacific Rim, not just for the monster-punching action, but for the discussions and debates that could follow. I've just barely scratched the surface, and I'm confident you'll find your own unanswerable questions about what's in this movie.

But the question of whether Batman would win in a fight against a Kaiju isn't one of those unanswerable question. Batman wins. Batman always wins.

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  1. Also: giant robot pilot or Iron Man suit?

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