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Jesus and Vampires and Werewolves and Time Travel

Remember the movie Groundhog Day? Phil Connors (Bill Murray) must relive the same day, over and over. The mechanism is never explored or even brought up—he simply endures the drudgery and pleasures of reliving the same day, hundreds of times, until he gets it right.

The many mechanisms of time travel

That’s time travel of a sort, but it’s a very different kind than we see in Back to the Future. Here, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is accidentally thrust back in time so that he becomes a classmate of his parents-to-be, but he must tread delicately to avoid damaging his own timeline.

The crew of Star Trek IV goes back in time in a captured Klingon warship to retrieve extinct (in their time) humpback whales by going really fast. Superman (in Superman: The Movie) goes back in time to save Lois Lane from dying by spinning the earth backwards. And in the upcoming About Time, a few people can time travel by going into a dark place, clenching their fists, and thinking about when they want to go to. The father, an experienced traveler, assures us that multiple futures and the Butterfly Effect aren’t problems.

It works like this in religion. Religion A says that one god is in charge. Next, religion B says instead that it’s a pantheon of independent gods. And religion C says that it’s a Trinity of gods who are actually one. As with time travel, different fictional domains have their own view of what the magic is and how it works.

Fictional creatures

Partisans of this or that interpretation of time travel might argue for the logic of one approach and laugh at the idiocy of another, but you’ll probably find more spirited debate among the fans of various fictional creatures—vampires, werewolves, and so on.

For example, are vampires simply nocturnal, with no particular vulnerability to sunlight? Do they die or explode when touched by a single ray of sunlight? The vampires in the television drama True Blood burn on exposure to sunlight and can quickly recover if the exposure isn’t long. The vampires in the novel Twilight avoid sunlight simply because their skin reflects it like diamonds, which would reveal their true identity (why artificial light doesn’t do the same isn’t discussed).

What about garlic and crosses? What about wooden stakes and silver bullets? Do they cast shadows or make reflections in mirrors? Are they hideous or attractive? What are their vulnerabilities, if any? Different fictional worlds have different answers.

There’s no authority. It’s not like you make a claim about the mythological with the fear that real vampires will make themselves available to prove you embarrassingly wrong.

Religion

The same is true for religion. It’s is a worldwide Comic-Con. Some people take things very seriously and get dressed in character, while others take a more light-hearted approach. Some people are fans of this TV show or that movie character or some other comic book hero.

Scientology can claim that the galactic tyrant Xenu attempted to solve his overpopulation problem by destroying hundreds of billions of frozen people in volcanoes on earth using hydrogen bombs. Or the LDS church can claim that God the Father was once mortal but attained godhood, and believers can do the same.

There’s no authority to reject these stories. No authority, that is, except common sense and our well-established understanding of how things actually work. Christians can say to the Scientologists or Mormons, “Hold on—you’re breaking the rules,” but then they break the spell and acknowledge that they are doing the same. They can’t awaken someone from their dream without being awake themselves.

You can ignore reality,
but you cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.
— Ayn Rand

Photo credit: Filmonic

About Bob Seidensticker
  • GubbaBumpkin

    Some people take things very seriously and get dressed in character, while others take a more light-hearted approach.

    The best religions are the ones with the funny hats.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      and long robes. And magic wands.

      Oh–sorry! I was thinking about Harry Potter.

      • Jason

        On a related note, it always amazes me how many Christians dismiss astrology, witchcraft, magic, and monsters in everyday life and popular culture but seem to wholeheartedly accept talking snakes, cherubim, Moses doing magic in front of Pharaoh, turning 1 piece of bread into 4000, turning water into wine, and of course the encore, rising from the dead.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Maybe they’re so adamant because they don’t tolerate any encroachment on their view of magic.

    • trj
    • RichardSRussell

      I always thot the snake handlers and poison drinkers were the truly sincere ones, which all the others should emulate if they really believed all that crapola.

      • wtfwjtd

        And not just Any Old Snake will do, they must be venomous. This tests your sincerity and shows you have lots of faith. The higher the toxicity, the greater your level of faith (of course).

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          And I thought the White Queen was impressive: “Why,
          sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

    • wtfwjtd

      And don’t forget chants! To seriously be the one of the best, we must have several (funny) chants!

  • Jason

    Nice analogy. I think it raises a lot of important points but I’ll add my two cents: like religion/god, explanations for werewolves and vampires are often rational. In other words, the explanations do often attempt to use logic (e.g. Since vampires are evil, crosses should scare them; since vampires drink blood at night, they must sleep in the day, etc). The problem is that the logic is based on a whole host of assumptions that rest on no verifiable evidence (e.g. that vampires exist at all, that vampires are evil, that they drink blood, etc). This is one reason why religious theology can appear to be intelligent. The theologial ideas are a complex web of often logical inferences. To follow them you have to be pretty smart. But those logical inferences rest on a bunch of assumptions that most people never question. Using Aristotle’s logic to argue for God (think St. Thomas Aquinas) may sound smart but it’s logic in the absence of empirical evidence.

  • busterggi

    “Superman (in Superman: The Movie) goes back in time to save Lois Lane from dying by spinning the earth backwards.”
    Yes, that’s what I’ve always heard but I think that’s wrong. Its not that the earth stopps spinning forward and then spins backwards, rather it shows Supes himself speeding up enough to break the time barrier & go backwards. Hence its not the earth that travels backwards. just Supes.
    That’s been bugging me since the movie came out.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      It’s possible that Superman doesn’t turn back time for the earth but just goes back in time himself (going faster than light?). But the earth does indeed go backwards in the movie. Maybe you’re saying that we’re simply seeing time go backwards as the earth spins (apparently) backwards, from Superman’s standpoint. If that’s it, they didn’t help clear up that ambiguity in the movie.

      • busterggi

        Exactly what i’m saying. But as I’m the only one who sees it that way you’re right about them being ambiguous.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Not that this is that big a deal in the greater scheme of things, but I have to thank you for that interpretation. Only as I composed my reply did I understand your point. Interesting.

          To have the earth actually spin backwards as shown (1000 mph to 0 to –1000 mph in about 5 seconds) would cause all sorts of havoc.

        • RichardSRussell

          No, I interpreted it the same way you did.

        • Kodie

          In the part just before he flies around the earth, he gets sad that he couldn’t save Mr. Clark. The reason the scene makes sense is because it comes from comic book physics. He is an alien with super powers, he can fly ffs, he can fly in the air, shaped like a person with no mechanism to do so but fists, a cape, and an aerodynamic spandex costume. He doesn’t go back in time to save his father, or save Krypton, or kill Lex Luthor before he commits his first scheme. He turns the earth in the other direction causing the reversal of a couple minutes and when he stops flying, time goes forward again and he makes it in time to save Lois.

        • busterggi

          Awright, now there’s three of us against the world!

        • Kodie

          Ok, so he doesn’t go back in time. He forces the whole earth to turn in the other direction so everything unhappens to the part just before Lois dies so he can be there in time to save her. I am pretty sure that’s not what happens if the earth spontaneously turns the other way a couple minutes’ worth. He wasn’t flying back in time, he was causing a slight time reversal by changing the direction of the earth with his powers.

    • OverlappingMagisteria

      Thanks. I came down here to express the same thought. Its a pet peeve of mine when people misinterpret the ending of that movie.

      Superman flies faster than light and starts traveling back in time. We, the audience, are watching him as he travels backward, so we see time go in reverse, which includes the Earth spinning backwards (and also rocks falling up, and water gushing backward).
      He never pushes on the Earth to reverse its spin.

      • busterggi

        Exacta-mundo as it were.

  • Kellen Connor

    In the novel I’m working on for Nano, I have my own version of the vampire mythos that was partially inspired by Darwinism as explained in Dawkins’s Climbing Mount Improbable.

    … No point, I just really wanted to say that.

  • RichardSRussell

    Anyone with a serious interest in time travel needs to read Paul J. Nahin’s excellent 2001 book Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction. In it he summarizes pretty much every time-travel theme ever used in SF, with those chapters alternating with accounts of the real science behind the fiction.

    I confess that I have not (yet) read his follow-on to that, 2011′s Time Travel: A Writer’s Guide to the Real Science of Plausible Time Travel, but it’s on my to-read list.

  • Ron

    Speaking of trinities and getting dressed into character, here’s a documentary of some real-life Buffy the Demon Slayers:

    http://www.vice.com/en_ca/Fringes/teenage-exorcists-full-length

    The charade unravels starting at the 22:26 mark.

  • wtfwjtd

    Unlike organized religion, the idea of time travel is a fairly new one to mankind I believe. From the 19th Century we get an early glimpse of the idea from Charles Dicken’s Christmas Carol(1840′s). This one was apparently by supernatural means. Then, we get Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee (1880′s), who achieves going back in time via a (big) bump on the head. Next up, we have H.G. Well’s Time Machine (1880′s-1890′s) , where the time journey is accomplished by the ingeniousness of a man-made machine.
    Now, of course, it’s a much over-done cliche’ (like religion itself) which helps obscure the origins of the idea in the mists of time. To lots of people though, this makes it even more believable!

  • DavidMHart

    The same is true for religion. It’s is a worldwide Comic-Con.

    …with an emphasis on the ‘con’, presumably.

    Ba-doum ksssh.


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