Showing posts with label christianity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label christianity. Show all posts

Friday, February 16, 2024

The Unexpected Theology of Vivienne Medrano's Hazbin Hotel

 

There’s occasions where I watch something and it moves me enough to think about it in excess. Hazbin Hotel is one such show.

 


The general conceit of the show is one of a deep desire to be redeemed out of habitual sin. It begins following the aftermath of a yearly purge (a la The Purge film franchise) wherein the angelic host of heaven descends into a Dantean like Hell to cull the population of demons that have begun to overcrowd the region. (Fantasy notwithstanding, I was already interested with the idea from a theological perspective, wondering if this was some form of delayed annihilationism.) Charlie Morningstar, the daughter Lucifer Morningstar (Aka Satan), having witnessed this for the umpteenth time, is moved to action and decides to establish a halfway house for sinners desiring salvation. And, of course, there’s lots of singing.  

What I found really remarkable about the show, developed by Vivienne Medrano, was the honesty and authenticity of the characters. In the same vein as her previous YouTube series, Helluva Boss—despite what I, a white, Christian male may think about the character’s choices or actions—there is something inherently magnetic about Charlie’s altruism, Vaggie’s cynicism, Angel Dust’s deviance, and Husk’s standoffishness. They are real and relatable, which, honestly, is the true objective of any kind of creative writing, and the result is fantastic. And while the overtly crass language is unrealistic and distracts from what can be transpiring in the episodes, the overall substance underneath I found compelling.

 

Theologically speaking, the writers of the show ask very thoughtful questions about the nature of life, or justice, of forgiveness. For instance, in episode 2, when Sir Pentious (essentially cobra commander anthropomorphized as a full sized cobra in steampunk attire) is caught in the act of trying to sabotage the hotel, Charlie encourages him to ask forgiveness. In the musical number that ensues she says “… it starts with ‘sorry.’ That’s your foot in the door. One simple ‘sorry’… The path to forgiveness is a twisting trail of hearts, but ‘sorry’ is where it starts.” Even when Vaggie (Charlie’s girlfriend) and Angel Dust, indicate that they would rather succumb to their desire to just kill Sir Pentious, Charlie insists, “but who hasn’t been in his shoes?” It’s easy to dismiss the show as “satanic” and “depraved” as conservative critics are undoubtedly saying, but as we are all made in the image and likeness of God, our deep inner propensity to want forgiveness and salvation is startlingly on display throughout the show.

 

In a subsequent episode, “Masquerade,” Angel Dust’s sexual abuse is discussed, where it’s implied that, despite being proud of his overtly erotic disposition, the life that he has been sold into is demeaning and exploitative. Like many of the unknown actresses and actors that work in the adult film industry, His only recourse is to forget his trauma through heavy substance abuse. Although the musical exposition between himself and Husk seems to undercut the same need to reform that Sir Pentious expresses earlier, their conclusion is still something remarkable: that they are damaged and exploited people that need each other to get by in a brutal and desperate world.

 

My favorite episode, “Welcome to Heaven” was by far the most theologically developed. Charlie and Vaggie are allowed passage in to Heaven to argue their case in an angelic court as to whether a soul can be redeemed out of Hell. When asked what the criterion is for salvation, Adam (of Genesis 3 fame) rather ineptly suggests that it’s to, “act selfless, don’t steal, [and] stick it to the man.” When Angel Dust demonstrates these moral acts mere moments after, it begs the question: what actually earns a soul a trip to heaven? The assumption that it is by some formula of good deeds and virtuous living that allows a soul to migrate to Heaven after death is nothing new. We seem to naturally justify—or wish to justify—that what we do matters. I think that this is because our mortality compels us to make a mark on this world so that our memory outlives us. I myself want to write books, to be incorporated into the cannon of Western Literature. But we are taught by both the Bible and recorded history that this aspiration is the height of folly. The list of famous and well to do figures, forgotten by the passage of time must be staggeringly large, just as 99.9% of all the species that have gone before us are now extinct. That Hazbin Hotel seizes on this ambiguity regarding the requirements to go to heaven, is remarkable, if only because it encourages discussion around the worthiness of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and why something like it would distinguish itself so much from the competing ideologies around justification. It just makes me happy that people who may, or may not, know God have come so far and has expressed a desire to try something different.

Of course, this isn’t a show about Jesus, or why we should be compelled to accept his grace and forgiveness. The cosmology of Heaven and Hell is all wrong. The motivation behind why someone may take part in heaven, or willingly chose hell, isn’t accurately described. The hierarchy of demons, sourced from the Lesser Key of Solomon (based on the Testament of Solomon), is not sourced from the canonical books of the bible, but from dubious extra biblical sources that cannot be reliably dated. And yet, those who wrote the show and brought it to life, are people with dignity and respect, being made in the image and likeness of God. Even though I may not agree with the conclusions, the questions asked are valid and demand a response.

I think it behooves us as Christians and non-Christians to dialogue about these kinds of things more frequently, and it encourages me that someone like Medrano could voice them so creatively and compellingly. I would highly recommend a watch. Be advised however, and understand, that this is certainly not Veggie Tales, but a show about very real people who are closer to the Kingdom of God than they realize.

Friday, November 24, 2023

So I've Been Listening to Christian Radio Again...

 

My journey through Premier Christian Radio continues.

“Me? Listening to Christian radio?” was something I never thought I’d say, if I can be honest, on the principal that it tends to be hopelessly out of touch and lame, where apologists lean back in their armchairs to participate in the theological equivalent of a circle jerk. But Premier Christian Radio, a British radio station, complete with a programming line and numerous non-Christian guests, continues to surprise me.

I’m listening to the “Unbelievable” podcast with Justin Brierley, which features guests of different faiths (or non-faiths) to discuss the differences between their views and Christianity. Typically these are dialogues, not debates, something that I think is important to distinguish. Each speaker shares their background, their faith, and throughout the discussion points of distinction arise. What I like about this model is that, if we assume that Christianity is the only path to God (ie. The “best” religion), then the orthodoxy and orthopraxy will speak for itself, and there’s no true purpose to developing an argument or debate.


The idea of wanting to mutually understand one another, I think, is something that is relatively new. In times gone by, resource scarcity motivated us, and there is something to be said about hope (namely, in the afterlife) being one such thing everyone contested. If person X said something that contradicted person Y’s metaphysical framework, the end result was a destabilization of an important resource to Y’s life. Today, our needs are mostly met by the institutions we have erected. (Perhaps this is why the marginalized have always been more orthodox than the middle and upper classes?) So our institutions lessen the blow when someone questions the source of our hope. In fact, most of us probably put our hope in things other than the metaphysical, whether intentional or unintentional.

As I write this on Black Friday, I’m reminded of a quote that I can’t rightly place where I heard it. “Where religion failed, capitalism took over.”


I suggest that the good feelings at Premier Christian Radio on the Unbelievable podcast are probably symptomatic of this overabundance of resources, metaphysical or otherwise. Or maybe the Existential has supplanted the Metaphysical? Christianity has always been offensive in some aspect, whether implied by Jesus’ claim of exclusivity or because of the misguided zeal of those too impatient to wait for the Holy Spirit to work on His own time. (This may be why most of the New Age guest speakers on Unbelievable insist that “it’s all the same thing,” because the full measure truth is too threatening and mired in the toxicity of institutionalized religion influencing geopolitics.) But few draw blood on the program, and it’s refreshing that Justin, the Christian moderator, is the one that endeavors to lead the conversations away from that. He even aspires to ask the hard questions of the Christian speakers, anticipating the objections an Atheist might raise. The argumentation, consistently made in good faith, is so rewarding as an American to hear, compared to the spiteful and, oftentimes, courtroom spirit of debate that I’m constantly exposed to in the USA.

At the end of the day, I remind myself once more that Christianity speaks for itself. It is Truth manifested through the Hope of the Resurrection of the Son of God. While Apologetics is important, and must be studied to acquire a “thinking faith,” the core of our hope comes from our relationship with God and how we talk to Him. And our Hope in God, evident by our actions and disposition, is the best evidence for Him we could wish to have. 

Happy Thanksgiving!