Friday, May 26, 2017

Even the Demons Believe, and Tremble: Alien: Covenant and Space Puritans

This is a reflection on themes in the new Alien movie. There will be spoilers, but kept to a minimum.

Ridley Scott is a really awful theologian. His Kingdom of Heaven revealed a complete lack of respect for not only history, but for Human motivation, collapsed into two-dimensional portrayals of greed and blind optimism. Of course, this is what makes the Alien franchise so compelling, because Scott's portrait of Humanity is so dumb and incoherent, that it draws a stark contrast with his misanthropy. And for anyone who is familiar with the franchise, Alien is pure and simple Satanic and pours contempt of mankind. But for those of a Biblical mind, one knows that even Caiaphas was prophetic, even as he wickedly condemned the Lord of Glory. The Devil and his minions unwittingly reveal features of the truth.

Thus, the newest installment deals with this themes much more bluntly than any prior. This film is about origins and endings, or more precisely, creation and consummation. The android David (Michael Fassbender), who we find out is self-named from Michelangelo's art, is the architect of the life's end. Well, not quite. Without giving too much away, we discover David is the creator of the Xenomorph, who tinkered with a predatorial contamination to the point of manufacturing a beast that is the perfect killing machine. The Alien is the life to end all life, reflecting David's own self-realization that he is, in fact, superior to his maker. Mortality must be put to rest, while the new immortals, the android and the race of Xenomorphs, will succeed them. This is a twisted variation of St. Paul.

And this is intentional, for David is the anti-Christ. The film begins with a Renaissance painting of the Incarnation, Michelangelo's David, and Wagner's Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla, which Weyland (Guy Pierce), the corporate CEO and creator of David, critiques the android's rendition of it. All of these together reveal the shape of things to come. David is immaculately born, without Humanity's frailty. He is perfect in form, like Michelangelo's contemplation of King David's naked body (though he mistook Byron for Shelley). And, per the opera, the supposed paradise is a necropolis. This latter theme is key to the whole film, though my limited knowledge of Wagner prevents further explication.

While these themes dominate, there is a subtle context surrounding them, and that is the sense that the movie is offering a black parody of the Puritans leaving for America. There are, of course, subtle clues. The name of the ship is Covenant. While this is a biblical phrase, English Puritans adopted the Reformed recovery of this biblical datum, but translated it into a new form of Christendom. The Puritans who set sail for America believed, like their brethren still on the Isle, that they could forge a godly society in covenant with God, blessed for obedience and cursed for sin. They lifted (or, more properly, Judaized) the Covenantal monarchy from Israel and applied it to their own times.

Like these pilgrims, the crew and colonists of the Covenant came in spousal pairs (rather unusual for our day and age). They land on a strange new world, and find themselves retreating to a city built on a hill (led there, of course, by David). The acting captain of the ship, Chris Oram, (Billy Crudup) is a weird, bland "believer", who drops cut-and-paste biblical allusions into his speech, while also trying to pass himself as pure rationalist, for fear that the crew will consider him a fanatic for his faith. Of course, the point is not whether he resembles anything like actual Christian beliefs, but he does represent a vanilla, empty, vessel-like, representative of a Protestantized theology of glory. Oram maintains a shaky faith-in-faith, a hopeful expectation for Human flourishing according to Human righteousness. He overly fixates on infractions of his crew, feeling a corporate responsibility.

Oram boasts to David, after killing a proto-Xenomorph, that when he was a child he saw the Devil. He tells this to David, who is horrified at the death of the creature, as if to boast. Oram proceeds to trust David to tell him what is going on. David then leads Oram to a facehugger egg, where Oram becomes the first victim and incubator for Xenomorph. This is the key point I want to focus on.

If Oram is the face (pardon the pun) of these neo-Puritans, his theology reveals perhaps, in a symbolic shape, the harsh critique and vile hatred Scott pours upon Humanity. Oram, like the Puritans, held a belief that a new start is possible. Seeing the Devil in the proto-Xenomorph, Oram thinks he knows evil, not appreciating that it is David that is the bringer of death and annihilator of life. He echoes the Satanic maxim in the prior film Prometheus, to the effect of: "Isn't it the dream of all children to kill their parents?" Oram doesn't recognize this and his shallow heart provides fertile ground, quite literally, for the dark anti-creature to be born.

It isn't that this form of Calvinistic theology was that stupid, but the assumptions of righteousness can be utterly blinding, mistaking the puppet for the puppeteer. Of course, the history of Puritan New England is mixed, with some blessings and some evils. But considered in types, it represents the dark vortex of the fiction of rebirth by Human initiation. It signifies all attempts to wipe the slate clean, start over, and do it right. David understands this, and finds it pathetic. As he comments, Humanity is trying to resuscitate itself because it is dying. This is contemptible and Mankind doesn't deserve the chance. Instead, it deserves total annihilation, the springboard for something else.

For Ridley Scott, it is clear that this is what he thinks Christianity is. But, per the typology, this is a theology of glory, the frail Human hand reaching upward, thinking it can usher in God's kingdom. This mistakes the fact that when the Word took flesh in This World, He was crucified. As Jesus never tired of reminding His disciples, this meant that in This World they would suffer His fate: misunderstanding, persecution, reviling, and death. They became, per the holy words of the Apostle, the filth, the excrement, of the World. Christians are not mere onlookers, as Christ was fully in the flesh, transfiguring Human nature. But in This Age, Christians, joined to the Word by grace through faith, will bear His marks.

New England Puritanism, like certain forms of Reformed theology, represents a theology of glory. Monergism and predestinarian emphases does nothing to ward against this. American Calvinism became a shell that Rationalism burst out of, after feeding on its intellectual entrails for generations. It was from this that the merchants of death of American capitalism emerged. Southern chattel slavery was nothing without New England ships and capital. I will leave this condemnation of American history here, but there are disturbing parallels. The Satanic philosophy of Masonic anti-Creator mirroring dances through the aether of the American air we breathe, even today. It is the same root that gives us the modern desperation to export Human generation and sexuality to artificial wombs and machine birth. This is only different in degree, but not kind.

As I've said elsewhere, a focus, yea even an obsession, on the cross does not mean one understands its logic. Substitutionary atonement, passion plays, hymns to the cross, none of this necessitates a theology of the cross. The world of Alien only sees our bondage and laughs cruelly. As we wither, our attempts at immortality will only bring about total destruction. We create gods to uplift and magnify us, but this results only in Human degradation and abasement. Weyland creating the Android in a pursuit of immortality only ends with the Xenomorph, sin crouching at the door. But even so, Christ became sin, crucified, so we might become the righteousness of God, being risen in His likeness. The universe of Alien rages against this truth, throwing Humanity's collective sin and hubris in our face. But what of it? Where Christ is so shall we be, trampling death by death and bringing life to the tombs.

We need not fear, for the Demons know the truth, and they tremble.

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