Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Good News of Dr. Strange: God, Man, and the Redemption of Finitude

This post is going to discuss some of the plot elements of Marvel's Dr. Strange. Spoiler Alert:

One might not think that Dr. Strange has any real relevance to Christianity, considering it takes a pretty hostile tone with it, under the surface. Dr. Stephen Strange is a neuro-surgeon who is a thorough going materialist. He becomes one of the most powerful superheroes in the Marvel-verse because he drops this attitude and becomes, essentially, an Eastern mystic, vaguely drawing upon elements of Hindu chakras and meditation, with a dash of Chinese Daoism. He is awakened by the Sorcerer Supreme into a world of spirit, where one may reshape matter, perform astral projection, and travel time and space.

The world of Dr. Strange is one where there is not merely a universe, but a multiverse (connecting the Yogis with pseudo-Scientific mysticism) There are an infinite sea of worlds, an infinite set of possibilities, of which Humans possess a contradictory place as both capable of immense power, but severely limited, most being reliant upon their silent guardians, the Sorcerers.

Now here is where it gets interesting: there is a problem in this multiverse. A malignant demiurgic type god seeks to destroy, envelop, all worlds. His name is Dormamu and the plot revolves around Strange stopping some of his zealots from bringing Earth into his clutches. The promised destiny for which his followers fight is the possibility of immortality. Dormamu's realm offers timelessness, an eternal now, in which decay, corrosion, and ultimately death, is banished. The promise is eternal life, for the zealots and for all of Earth, an absorption into the One. As a supposedly pithy monologue informs us, however, this eternal life is a curse; death gives life meaning.

The language the film uses sounds to be distinctly against the offers of Christianity. But I'd argue that the film rightfully attacks a perverse theology that has a long strand throughout the Christian tradition. I'd say Dr. Strange attacks a form of Platonic Christianity that rhetorically offers the same promises of Dormamu. But, as the dark visage of the evil god shows, this is a deal with the Devil, a horrible fate to befall man.

The Sorcerer Supreme, in reflecting upon time and her impending death, quotes Psalms. Time, she says, teaches us to number our days for they are short. And it is this very concept that Dr. Strange defeats Dormamu with, bringing time to bear upon the timeless, and trapping the god in an infinite loop. Dr. Strange closes the abyss and saves the day. Humanity, finitude and all, is preserved.

This is exactly what the Bible is about. Human finitude is not the problem per se, and not because of some doctrine of an autonomous immortal soul that merely flies off after death. Finitude is a created condition, and one that is not intrinsically bad. The Bible nowhere points this out. What Scripture says is the threat of Death is the enemy, and this is a nuance. Death is not merely a terminal point, an end, but a violent eruption on Human life. The problem isn't eternal life or finitude, but on how those terms are defined.

Rather than imagine our souls fly off to a timeless, spaceless, abode above, the Gospel's proclamation is that the Son of God took on Human flesh, died, and rose from the grave. The One who is truly immortal and timeless entered into time in order to save time. The hope for creatures is not that they will cease to be creatures, but that they will be perfected by their Sovereign Lord. This is really what the Eden story tells us. Humans were made good, in the image of God, but they had not reached perfection, for the garden-sanctuary was to be tended, defended, and expanded. The whole creation was set to be cultivated into revealing and praising the glory of God. Christ, from incarnation to ascension, completed this task. It is in such that the Christian is supposed to walk, treading over scorpions and snakes.

Dr. Strange's defeat of Dormamu might be a fantastical figuration of the Harrowing of Hell. Man, namely the Son of Man Christ Jesus, defeats the Devil through dying, destroying his power and claim over the Human race. While Dr. Strange does not bring the resurrection, and thus not a full salvation, he does, in effect, save the Earth. In Christ, however, finitude is not only protected, but redeemed. Eternal life thus is the salvation of time, the translation of things into a new age, where the boundaries of creaturehood have been taken up and restored by the Infinite, Creator, God.

Ironically, like the doctrinally corrupt Christianity above, Dr. Strange is no friend to the Eastern mysticism that the film rips off. The promise of the eternal Atman returning to the sea of being, the Nirvana of being a candle snuffed out, is considered the dark gospel of Dormamu. The only story that makes sense in Dr. Strange is the one where creation's integrity is maintained. This is only truly possible with the resurrection of the Son of Man.

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