Zoom Meeting Sermon December 18 2022

 

Topic: The Messiah Archetype in Fiction

The messiah archetype is present everywhere: In movies, books, even video games. Most of the time the characterization as a savior is deliberate, done to varying degrees of success, although sometimes the messianic connection seems accidental. We are going to be talking about that archetype as it is presented in four different stories, two movies and two books. The movies are Robocop and The Matrix, and the books are A Creed for the Third Millennium by Colleen McCullough and Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. (Both of those books are recommended reading for followers of the Path.) You do not need to have seen the films or read the books for today’s sermon to make sense, as I will offer a synopsis of each story before we discuss the messianic characterizations. I am also focusing on deliberate messianic associations rather than those that appear to be accidental.

In Robocop, the primary protagonist is a police officer who is almost killed but is brought back to life as a cyborg. Then he turns on his creators when he discovers that they arranged for his “death.” Robocop is actually an interesting case study of the messianic archetype, because the savior character dies at the beginning of the film, before he is ultimately resurrected. He also is not so much presented as a savior of mankind, but more as a savior for the police department; the entire story is told from a law enforcement perspective.

For those of you who may not have seen The Matrix or need a recap, it is about a man who finds out that not only is the entire world a computer simulation, but it is his responsibility to save all of mankind from the machines that secretly run the world. He is actually referred to as “my savior… my own personal Jesus Christ” early on in the first film, so there is no question that the messianic association was deliberate. When the primary protagonist dies, he does so in a cruciform position, hanging from the machines he was supposed to save us all from. The Matrix is ultimately dystopian; we learn that there have been several saviors, that the cycle of rebellion and oppression has been going on for centuries, which renders Neo’s eventual and inevitable sacrifice basically pointless.

The novel A Creed for the Third Millennium by Colleen McCullough is a science fiction novel about a psychiatrist, Joshua Christian, who is discovered by a government agent who is deliberately looking for somebody to present to the public as a savior. He publishes a book and then goes on tour, where he gradually assumes the characteristics of the messianic archetype. He eventually goes mad and crucifies himself, but not before helping millions of people struggling with adverse circumstances to find peace and solace. His message comes through as one of love and acceptance, and the character genuinely cares about the people he interacts with.

Stranger in a Strange Land is another science fiction novel, this one by Robert Heinlein. The primary protagonist is Mike Smith, who was born on Mars, raised by Martians, and then brought back to Earth as an adult. From the Martians, Mike learned how to do things like astral projection and how to take control of his own sympathetic nervous system. He also learned to “grok,” which basically means to take into yourself, to make something or someone a part of you. This book is also where we get the phrase “All that groks is god” which hangs on the wall here in the Path temple. In the end, Mike is murdered by a mob in retaliation for that very statement.  

The Messiah character in fiction almost always dies at the end, either sacrificing themselves for the greater good or killed at the hands of their own people. It is part of the story arc. But they also spark the beginnings of massive social change. The Messiah character often challenges or questions established authority, much like a trickster archetype. But unlike the Trickster, the Messiah character is portrayed first and foremost as a selfless being, one who only acts for the greater good, hence the ultimate sacrifice at the end of the story.

The messianic story arc works for a multitude of reasons. Both A Creed for the Third Millennium and Stranger in a Strange Land are recommended reading for followers of the Path, and the primary protagonist of each book is a patron saint in the Path pantheon. In real life, however, a few politicians and other prominent figures have been placed on that particular pedestal, and none of them have lived up to our expectations. I think it is time we realized that nobody is coming to save us; we must work together to save ourselves.

Have you observed the Messiah archetype in any other fiction? Did you find that story compelling?

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