Monday, April 1, 2013

Green Lantern Movie: A Primer on Arianism

This weekend, I finally got around to seeing the 2011 Green Lantern movie. I had been avoiding this due to the bad reviews it received and my own immense distrust of everything Hollywood. Green Lantern has a special place in my heart because my first real exposure to the medium of the comic book came through a bunch of Hal Jordan stories.

I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised, but for a completely unexpected reason, because the reviews were right — this was a deeply flawed movie. The reason (unsurprisingly) is theological: The Green Lantern Movie is an excellent primer on the Christian heresy of Arianism. It beautifully illustrates the basic tenets of its beliefs, what those beliefs look like and, ultimately, its fatal flaw.

Arius famously stated that there was a time when the Son was not. Rather than uniting humanity to the being of God, Christ merely united us to His Will. Now, take a listen to the opening sequence to the GL movie:

The Guardians of Oa are described as immortal — they are the Arian Christ figures of this story. They created Oa as a means to allow access to the most powerful energy in the universe: Will. The rings can be seen as a stand-in for ordination: the GL corp is the clergy of the Arian Church. They go about ensuring that the universe bends to the Will of the GL corp creed:
In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil's might,
Beware my power, Green Lantern's light!
There are two fatal flaws with this cosmology:

The first is magnificently illustrated by the fascistic overtones of the GL Corp led by the charismatic Sinestro: What is evil? In a world where the Guardians are willing to make a weapon like the Yellow Ring and the leader of the GL Corp is willing to use it, evil devolves into the relativism of whoever owns the biggest baddest weapon and is willing to use it gets to determine what is good and what is evil. Historically, the biggest proponents of Arianism were the Emperors for exactly this reason.

The second is wonderfully embodied by the movie’s main villain Paralax. According to the movie, Paralax is one of the Guardians who became overwhelmed by the yellow energy of fear and subsequently became a threat to Oa and the the Guardians themselves. I hope I won’t spoil anything for those who have yet to see the movie, but Paralax is ultimately destroyed by being lured into the sun.

All of this demonstrates the ultimate problem of Arianism. Though they are immortal and grant access to Will, both the Guardians of Oa and the Arian Christ are created beings. Ultimately, this means that they have a beginning and an end. Therefore, we gain nothing by uniting ourselves to them, other than a very temporary access to power. In the end, we all end.

This is why the Church fought so vigorously against Arianism in the fourth century. It completely undermines the true Gospel — God Himself became a human being in the person of Jesus Christ so that we might overcome our end and share in Christ’s eternity.

Therefore, I really liked this movie (despite the fact that in just about every other aspect is was barely average). It goes to show that the politically correct assumption that all religions are basically the same and that those of us who believe in some kind of divine being are all just going to end up in the same place by different paths is itself fundamentally flawed.


ERIC! said...

Wow, what a great observation. Thanks for that. I had been wanting a way to establish a group like the GL's into a campaign setting and I think you have answered it for me.


Anonymous said...

Not often that one sees "Green Lantern" and "Arianism" in the same sentence. While the fathers in Nicea were probably not thinking comic book derived movie, it is an interesting application.

JB said...

Hmm...I agree with your thoughts on Arianism (and your parallel with the GL movie; good work!), but I disagree with your final conclusion, i.e. that the assumption that all religions are basically the same and that those who believe in a divine being are walking the same path is "fundamentally flawed." First off, that's really two assumptions (for example, it's possible to disbelieve the first part of the sentence while disagreeing with the latter...or even vice versa in the eyes of an atheist). Second, the flaws in Arianism doesn't necessarily preclude all other belief systems...or rather, the fact that Arianism isn't "right" doesn't equate to proof positive regarding the fundamental nature of other belief systems one way or another.

Or to put it yet another way: not all heresies are created equal.
; )

FrDave said...

You are right, not all heresies are created equal — some do veer further away from orthodoxy than others; however, the assumption (or assumptions) that all religions are going to the same place is tremendously flawed.

Arians were Trinitarians that believed in the divinity of Christ, accepted the full canon of Scripture that we know today and whole heartedly agreed with the Apostle's Creed. One could assume that they believed everything that modern Christians do; however, as you can see by the criticism above this assumption proves to be completely wrong.

I am not arguing that I cannot respect other beliefs or belief systems. I am arguing that when you answer the question "Who is God?" in different ways, this radically changes anthropology, what humanity is capable of, what it should properly do and where it is supposed to end up.

One of the reasons that the Church struggled mightily with Arianism is due to how similar it answers the question "Who is God?" The fact that they were so similar, and yet the consequences of the difference is so radical demonstrates that radical differences in the way different belief systems answer "Who is God?" are going to result in even more extreme differences.

JB said...

@ Fr. Dave:

Oh, I don't think you're arguing against other belief systems, nor do I disagree in the fundamental flaws of Arianism. I'm just saying that your conclusion doesn't seem to follow. It reads like you're saying:

A) Arianism has fundamental flaws, and
B) Arianism is a different belief system, so
C) ALL different belief systems are fundamentally flawed (or, specifically, that believing a different religious path will take you to the "same destination" is fundamentally flawed).

Sure, Arianism won't do the job, but that doesn't mean another system won't. Arianism doesn't stand as a representative for ALL belief systems.

Not trying to troll...the logic in that last paragraph just made me do a double-take.

FrDave said...

Well, that is not the logic I was intending to use, nor what I meant to say. Rather, that last paragraph is supposed to read thusly:

A) Arianism, despite its similarities to Christianity, posits a radically different cosmology and therefore different goals and a different outcome for humanity.
B) Arianism is therefore a different belief system, so,
C) ALL different belief systems will have different goals and outcomes for humanity.

I am not implicitly claiming that other beliefs are fundamentally flawed, but rather the stance that we can hand wave away these differences as if they don't matter or don't have consequences.