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Saturday, 29 October 2016

Magic And Dr Strange: A Review From A Christian Perspective

This time, every year, Christians around the world have to make an interesting choice. To engage, or not to engage, in the costume parties and trick-or-treating of Halloween. For myself I choose not to contribute to the funds of companies which use Halloween as another commercial gimmick. I also recognise that the history of Halloween lies in the Celtic festival of Samhain, during which participants would ward off evil spirits with masks and bonfires. Hence where the traditions of parties and Jack O'Lanterns stem from.

Many modern Christian celebrations have come from festivals appropriated from pagans, however, and Halloween falls around the same time as All Saints Day. Indeed, the word Halloween comes from two words meaning together 'Holy Evening.' In other words, Halloween has roots in both pagan and Christian traditions.

Dia de los Muertos, the day of the dead, further occurs on November 2. This is a day in which many countries remember those who have died, following the events of Halloween and All Saints Day. For many this is also known as All Souls Day.

Why did I include this information? In order to consider the true meaning that is often lost on those who want to enjoy Halloween as a 'fun' time. This has been a time in which traditionally it was believed that the veil between the supernatural world was weak and where ghosts, ghouls, witches, wizards and all kinds of undead beings would walk the Earth. It has also been a time in which people gathered to pray for the Saints and for the souls of all loved ones. It has many deep and spiritual connections and meanings.

I am a mega-fan of fantasy and have been from the moment I first picked up The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit and then The Lord of the Rings. I have devoured hours of time reading widely in this genre and as a result have views that differ from what is widely believed to be the best fantasy. I currently hold the position that Brandon Sanderson is the current king of epic fantasy for instance. It is a genre in which I myself hope to write and publish a novel. Yet, like with Halloween, fantasy is a genre that many believers can become wary about. And like Halloween, I believe it is an area in which we can be redeemers. All of which forms the great prelude into my review of Dr Strange.

Aside from fantasy I also love science-fiction and superheroes, so today Jeanille and I went to watch the latest Marvel film Dr Strange. Unlike the other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Dr Strange is the first to feature proper magic, albeit with an interesting and mysterious explanation due to the entire theoretical idea of multiverses.

It is a film which begins much like Iron Man: the reader witnesses an arrogant and brilliant individual caught up in an incident which leads them on the path to becoming a hero. Unlike Iron Man, the film utilises set pieces which belong in Inception, with the worlds twisting and turning around the characters. The music was likewise incredible and the entire cast added to the feel of what is perhaps the best standalone Marvel film outside of The Guardians of the Galaxy (and with far superior visuals).

Yet, it was the message of the film which touched me the most. I am always looking at films for the positive message, in particular for the ever permeating truth of the gospel. I was reminded last night of the truth that the gospel never changes, try as people have across centuries to change and dilute its message. Interestingly, I found a highly powerful thread of the gospel contained inside the film. Which is explained in this other and better review HERE.

After the film I asked Jeanille if she enjoyed it and she said that she did. She then turned to me and said, "You know I believe that there is such a thing as sorcerers." To which I replied: "So do I." And I do, because they're mentioned in the Bible. Look up Simon the Sorcerer for an example. Or look up the story in Acts 16 about Paul with the demon-possessed slave girl with 'magical powers.'

The demons in these Biblical stories gave people the power to do some simple tricks. Yet read the story in full and you immediately see the greater power of the gospel - the power of God and his Holy Spirit in us to cast out demons and heal the sick. Read Ephesians 6:10-20 and you will see how the Bible clearly reminds us that there is a spiritual dimension in which angels and demons war for souls. A dimension in which, though we live in the natural, we are conquerors because of the gospel of grace - not because of us, but because of God. It is this element of the supernatural and gospel which I found Dr Strange conveyed in a fascinating way.

When it comes to magic, I fully agree that there are individuals out there who practice the occult and dabble in real and truthful magic. However, in media (books, films etc.) the idea of magic has become so synonymous with the ability to do the unusual that I do not take it to necessarily have the same connotation. C.S. Lewis used the concept of magic (good magic and bad) to explain the two sides of the supernatural. J.R.R. Tolkien also wrote similarly (without necessarily calling it magic) and both men were strong and influential believers. I believe the idea of magic when taken and used to describe impossible powers is a great metaphor for the two sides of the supernatural (good and evil).

As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:  "19 Though I am free of obligation to anyone, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the Law I became like one under the Law (though I myself am not under the Law), to win those under the Law. 21 To those without the Law I became like one without the Law (though I am not outside the law of God but am under the law of Christ), to win those without the Law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men, so that by all possible means I might save some of them. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings." I see this in the same way in fantasy - that there is an excellent metaphor that can be used to spread the message of the gospel to those who might otherwise not encounter it.

So should you watch Dr Strange? As an individual who enjoys fantasy and science fiction as art forms and vehicles with the capacity to carry the truth of the gospel I fully recommend it. However, if you have doubts in your faith I also would not recommend something that would potentially weaken that faith. The same thing goes for Halloween. Participate in it if you feel you have a reason, but do not expect others to see it the same way. All have differing levels of faith for such occasions.

Paul also writes in 1 Corinthians 10: 23 '“Everything is permissible,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible,” but not everything is edifying. 24 No one should seek his own good, but the good of others.' The context of this passage is highly important. Paul was telling believers not to eat food sacrificed to idols if it would affect other people's faith. He stated that there was nothing in eating food sacrificed to idols - it is after all still just food - but that the real importance is in what it does to people's faith. In the same way, whatever you choose to do my encouragement would be: 1. to look for the ways in which you can spread the power of the gospel in whatever you are doing. 2. to not participate in watching or doing something if it negatively affects your faith. 3. to look for the gospel in everyday situations - you might just be able to learn something to grow other's faith.

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