Making a paganism from pop culture

Another level of New Age syncretism:  Going to a Star Wars filming location to await the Mayan apocalypse (scheduled for tomorrow) because “the force is strong here.”

At the center of the rebel base where Luke Skywalker took off to destroy the Death Star and save his people from the clutches of Darth Vader, Guatemala is preparing for another momentous event: the end of an age for the Maya.

Deep inside the Guatemalan rainforest stand the ruins of the Maya temples that George Lucas used to film the planet Yavin 4 in the movie “Star Wars,” from where Skywalker and his sidekick Han Solo launched their attack on the Galactic Empire’s giant space station.

This week, at sunrise on Friday, December 21, an era closes in the Maya Long Count calendar, an event that has been likened by different groups to the end of days, the start of a new, more spiritual age or a good reason to hang out at old Maya temples across Mexico and Central America.

“If it is the end of the world, hopefully Luke will come and blow up that Death Star,” said Alex Markovitz, a 24-year-old consultant and Star Wars fan from Philadelphia, looking out over the site of Skywalker’s rebel base. “I see why they shot here. It doesn’t look real. It looks like an alien planet.”

Once at the heart of a conquering civilization in its own right, the ancient city of Tikal is now a pilgrimage site for both hard-core Star Wars fans and enthusiasts of Maya culture eager to discover what exactly the modern interpretations of old lore portend.

In the 1960s, a leading U.S. scholar said the end of the Maya’s 13th bak’tun – an epoch lasting some 400 years – could signify an “Armageddon,” though many people trekking to the old temples believe it could herald something wonderful.

Discovered in 1848 when locals unearthed human skulls whose teeth were studded with jade jewels, Tikal draws tourists from around the globe. Visitors this week said they felt a powerful presence in the blue skies above them.

“The force is strong here,” said Jimena Teijeiro, 35, an Argentine-born self-help blogger. “The world as we know it is coming to an end. We are being propelled to a new age of light, synchronicity and simple wonderment with life.”

Maya scholars and astronomers have dismissed the idea the world is on the brink of destruction but mystics and spiritual thrill-seekers have flocked to feed off Tikal’s energy. Park guards said they had to throw out 13 naked women who were dancing and chanting around a fire pit near the temples last week.

“Something big is going to happen,” said the president of Guatemala’s Star Wars fan club, entrepreneur Ricardo Alejos. “The Maya were an incredibly precise people. Something big is going to happen and we’ll find out what in a few days.”

via Maya apocalypse and Star Wars collide in Guatemalan temple | Reuters.

The next paganism currently being constructed may well combine mysticism with pop culture, which has become our main medium of  thought and sensibility.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Pete

    “Something big is going to happen and we’ll find out what in a few days.”

    12/25 – commemoration of something really big. Incarnation.

  • Pete

    “Something big is going to happen and we’ll find out what in a few days.”

    12/25 – commemoration of something really big. Incarnation.

  • Michael B.

    Though apocalypticism is also a central belief in Christianity and goes back to its beginning. That is, thinking that our times are the end times. According to the Pew Research Center, roughly as many Americans say Jesus Christ will return to earth in the next 40 years (41%) as say he won’t make an appearance by 2050.

  • Michael B.

    Though apocalypticism is also a central belief in Christianity and goes back to its beginning. That is, thinking that our times are the end times. According to the Pew Research Center, roughly as many Americans say Jesus Christ will return to earth in the next 40 years (41%) as say he won’t make an appearance by 2050.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Oh brother….

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Oh brother….

  • Tom Hering

    Some visitors to Tikal are New Agers, some are Star Wars fans, and some are both. I don’t, however, see how any of that suggests a paganism based on pop culture may be forming. Perhaps culture warriors just need to find (or make up) new things to take aim at. To expand on the title of one of Chris Hedges’s books, war – including culture war – is a force that gives us meaning. ;-)

  • Tom Hering

    Some visitors to Tikal are New Agers, some are Star Wars fans, and some are both. I don’t, however, see how any of that suggests a paganism based on pop culture may be forming. Perhaps culture warriors just need to find (or make up) new things to take aim at. To expand on the title of one of Chris Hedges’s books, war – including culture war – is a force that gives us meaning. ;-)

  • dust

    there’s a reason they call pop stars idols :)

    cheers!

  • dust

    there’s a reason they call pop stars idols :)

    cheers!

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    Nothing new about this phenomenon, I had friends in college who believed they were Jedi.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    Nothing new about this phenomenon, I had friends in college who believed they were Jedi.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Tom –

    war – including culture war – is a force that gives us meaning.

    Yes! Unfortunately.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Tom –

    war – including culture war – is a force that gives us meaning.

    Yes! Unfortunately.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com John

    Jade covered teeth? Naked women dancing? Sign me up for a vacation…

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com John

    Jade covered teeth? Naked women dancing? Sign me up for a vacation…

  • CRB

    Can’t help but wonder, if Tolkien were still alive, what intriguing novel(s) he could make of this!

  • CRB

    Can’t help but wonder, if Tolkien were still alive, what intriguing novel(s) he could make of this!

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t believe the world was going to come to an end. Seems to be central o all religions and philosophical views. Eschatology is the favorite past time of man. I think there is a certain sense that there is an inborn desire for it to come to an end. we many enjoy life, but we know this world isn’t right. Some perhaps have a harder time justifying belief that the world isn’t right, but I do find atheist friends moaning that what goes on in this world is wrong. My favorite ethicist, Thomas Nagel, is an atheist. And he more or less cops to this dichotomy. At times I t hink the decline of Christianity in the west is due in large part due to currents in eschatological thought infecting the church. The Amillenial view point is just boring. Somehow people enjoy the sensationalism of Premillenialism, the christian version of a horror movie. It is really a sick expression of the nature of man. Yet postmillenialism is pure escapism a willful denial of reality, which perhaps has its own secular counterpart in Newspapers declaring 2012 to be the best year ever, and in many ways supported by many myths that surround belief in evolution, which is believed more in the face of facts and sound reason than it is believed because of any facts. Mendel’s theories of genetics were denied up to thirty years after his death because they were seen to contradict evolution, for instance. (whether they actually do is perhaps another question.) So perhaps one of the bigger problems with Christianity is that it affirms what everyone knows, the world is going to come to an end, yet refuses to say when and so denies man’s desire for the sensational.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t believe the world was going to come to an end. Seems to be central o all religions and philosophical views. Eschatology is the favorite past time of man. I think there is a certain sense that there is an inborn desire for it to come to an end. we many enjoy life, but we know this world isn’t right. Some perhaps have a harder time justifying belief that the world isn’t right, but I do find atheist friends moaning that what goes on in this world is wrong. My favorite ethicist, Thomas Nagel, is an atheist. And he more or less cops to this dichotomy. At times I t hink the decline of Christianity in the west is due in large part due to currents in eschatological thought infecting the church. The Amillenial view point is just boring. Somehow people enjoy the sensationalism of Premillenialism, the christian version of a horror movie. It is really a sick expression of the nature of man. Yet postmillenialism is pure escapism a willful denial of reality, which perhaps has its own secular counterpart in Newspapers declaring 2012 to be the best year ever, and in many ways supported by many myths that surround belief in evolution, which is believed more in the face of facts and sound reason than it is believed because of any facts. Mendel’s theories of genetics were denied up to thirty years after his death because they were seen to contradict evolution, for instance. (whether they actually do is perhaps another question.) So perhaps one of the bigger problems with Christianity is that it affirms what everyone knows, the world is going to come to an end, yet refuses to say when and so denies man’s desire for the sensational.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Bror, the force, strong with you, it is!

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Bror, the force, strong with you, it is!

  • C. Randal

    Interesting point in your last paragraph about mysticism mixed with pop culture. I don’t want to give away any spoilers but Trey Parker and Matt Stone seem to agree – at least if you consider what they are communicating in The Book of Mormon.

  • C. Randal

    Interesting point in your last paragraph about mysticism mixed with pop culture. I don’t want to give away any spoilers but Trey Parker and Matt Stone seem to agree – at least if you consider what they are communicating in The Book of Mormon.

  • Julian

    Not to nitpick with Bror’s comment regarding postmillenialism (well, actually it’s pure nitpicking, but that’s one of the things I do best) – it isn’t the doctrine itself that’s ‘pure escapism’; some of the most Calvinistically-pessimistic preachers of the Puritan era were staunch believers in this eschatology. The brilliant theological minds of men such as Owen, Edwards, Wesley, the Hodge brothers, etc. would hardly have embraced something that so completely misconstrued the true nature of humanity. It’s just that postmillenialism is one of the more easily twisted doctrines in the Christian encyclopedia; strip the Reformed understanding of God’s sovereignty from it, and it becomes putty in the hands of ‘social-gospel’ lovers. Why Wesley accepted it, who knows. He was probably afraid of getting beat up by George Whitefield if he didn’t.

  • Julian

    Not to nitpick with Bror’s comment regarding postmillenialism (well, actually it’s pure nitpicking, but that’s one of the things I do best) – it isn’t the doctrine itself that’s ‘pure escapism’; some of the most Calvinistically-pessimistic preachers of the Puritan era were staunch believers in this eschatology. The brilliant theological minds of men such as Owen, Edwards, Wesley, the Hodge brothers, etc. would hardly have embraced something that so completely misconstrued the true nature of humanity. It’s just that postmillenialism is one of the more easily twisted doctrines in the Christian encyclopedia; strip the Reformed understanding of God’s sovereignty from it, and it becomes putty in the hands of ‘social-gospel’ lovers. Why Wesley accepted it, who knows. He was probably afraid of getting beat up by George Whitefield if he didn’t.

  • Tom Hering

    And Luther held to a sort of post-millennialism. He believed the 1000 years after the writing of Revelation was a literal millennium, when Satan was bound and the Church enjoyed relative peace. But after that, Satan was loosed, causing all sorts of woe, especially the Muslim threat. According to Luther’s calculations, we in 2012 have about thirty years left until the return of Christ. (Note that “about.” No one knows the exact day or hour.)

  • Tom Hering

    And Luther held to a sort of post-millennialism. He believed the 1000 years after the writing of Revelation was a literal millennium, when Satan was bound and the Church enjoyed relative peace. But after that, Satan was loosed, causing all sorts of woe, especially the Muslim threat. According to Luther’s calculations, we in 2012 have about thirty years left until the return of Christ. (Note that “about.” No one knows the exact day or hour.)

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Tom,
    Luther didn’t have the time of day for the book of Revelation, he was not post millenial,, a position rejected in the Augsburg Confession which he supported.
    And Julian, those are not great theological minds that you mention. Sorry, I just don’t care for the reformed.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Tom,
    Luther didn’t have the time of day for the book of Revelation, he was not post millenial,, a position rejected in the Augsburg Confession which he supported.
    And Julian, those are not great theological minds that you mention. Sorry, I just don’t care for the reformed.

  • Tom Hering

    Luther didn’t have the time of day for the book of Revelation … (@ 15)

    From his final (1530) preface to Revelation:

    Since it is intended as a revelation of things that are to happen in the future, and especially of tribulations and disasters that were to come upon Christendom, we consider that the first and surest step toward finding its interpretation is to take from history the events and disasters that have come upon Christendom till now, and hold them up alongside of these images, and so compare them very carefully. If, then, the two perfectly coincided and squared with one another, we could build on that as a sure, or at least an unobjectionable, interpretation.

    Sounds like he had some time in the day for it to me.

    … he was not post millenial … (@ 15)

    I said he held to “a sort of” post-millennialism. Unlike the Pietists, who believed the return of Christ would follow a future millennium, Luther believed the millennium was past. He believed the world would exist for a total of 6000 years – 2000 empty, 2000 of the Law, and 2000 of the Messiah, with that last 2000 composed of a 1000 years of relative peace for the church – a literal millennium – followed by 1000 years of woes (or tribulation) before the return of Christ. That’s the time he lived in (about midway through it), and the time we still live in. Concerning Revelation 13 he wrote:

    Here, now, the devil’s final wrath gets to work: there in the East is the second woe, Mohammed and the Saracens; here in the West are papacy and empire, with the third woe. To these is added for good measure the Turk, Gog and Magog, as will follow in chapter 20[:8]. Thus Christendom is plagued most terribly and miserably, everywhere and on all sides, with false doctrines and with wars, with scroll and with sword. That is the dregs, the final plague.

    I don’t deny that Lutheranism has been amillennial. But Luther wasn’t. The date of the Augsburg Confession was 1530. The date of Luther’s Supputatio Annorum Mundi (“Chronicle or Calculation of the Years of the World”), wherein he lays out a theological history of the world from creation to 1540, was 1540/41.

    Read about Luther’s eschatology here:

    http://www.lutheranwiki.org/The_Apocalyptic_Luther#Living_at_the_End_of_Time

    Read Luther’s introduction to Supputatio Annorum Mundi here:

    http://www.lutheranwiki.org/Luther%27s_Chronicle_or_Calculation_of_the_Years_of_the_World

  • Tom Hering

    Luther didn’t have the time of day for the book of Revelation … (@ 15)

    From his final (1530) preface to Revelation:

    Since it is intended as a revelation of things that are to happen in the future, and especially of tribulations and disasters that were to come upon Christendom, we consider that the first and surest step toward finding its interpretation is to take from history the events and disasters that have come upon Christendom till now, and hold them up alongside of these images, and so compare them very carefully. If, then, the two perfectly coincided and squared with one another, we could build on that as a sure, or at least an unobjectionable, interpretation.

    Sounds like he had some time in the day for it to me.

    … he was not post millenial … (@ 15)

    I said he held to “a sort of” post-millennialism. Unlike the Pietists, who believed the return of Christ would follow a future millennium, Luther believed the millennium was past. He believed the world would exist for a total of 6000 years – 2000 empty, 2000 of the Law, and 2000 of the Messiah, with that last 2000 composed of a 1000 years of relative peace for the church – a literal millennium – followed by 1000 years of woes (or tribulation) before the return of Christ. That’s the time he lived in (about midway through it), and the time we still live in. Concerning Revelation 13 he wrote:

    Here, now, the devil’s final wrath gets to work: there in the East is the second woe, Mohammed and the Saracens; here in the West are papacy and empire, with the third woe. To these is added for good measure the Turk, Gog and Magog, as will follow in chapter 20[:8]. Thus Christendom is plagued most terribly and miserably, everywhere and on all sides, with false doctrines and with wars, with scroll and with sword. That is the dregs, the final plague.

    I don’t deny that Lutheranism has been amillennial. But Luther wasn’t. The date of the Augsburg Confession was 1530. The date of Luther’s Supputatio Annorum Mundi (“Chronicle or Calculation of the Years of the World”), wherein he lays out a theological history of the world from creation to 1540, was 1540/41.

    Read about Luther’s eschatology here:

    http://www.lutheranwiki.org/The_Apocalyptic_Luther#Living_at_the_End_of_Time

    Read Luther’s introduction to Supputatio Annorum Mundi here:

    http://www.lutheranwiki.org/Luther%27s_Chronicle_or_Calculation_of_the_Years_of_the_World

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Tom,
    I have no idea who “Lutheran Wiki” is, but after reading that article and checking a few footnotes, well lets just say I’m even more skeptical about getting my information from a wiki.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Tom,
    I have no idea who “Lutheran Wiki” is, but after reading that article and checking a few footnotes, well lets just say I’m even more skeptical about getting my information from a wiki.

  • Tom Hering

    Bror, Lutheran Wiki is an online project of The Institute of Lutheran Theology, Minneapolis MN. Of course, I got this information about the wiki from the wiki, so I’m sure you’re not sure about it. :-D

  • Tom Hering

    Bror, Lutheran Wiki is an online project of The Institute of Lutheran Theology, Minneapolis MN. Of course, I got this information about the wiki from the wiki, so I’m sure you’re not sure about it. :-D

  • Tom Hering

    Ha! It’s Brookings SD, not Minneapolis. I got all my search results mixed up.

  • Tom Hering

    Ha! It’s Brookings SD, not Minneapolis. I got all my search results mixed up.


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