A Conundrum of Conscience

Tonight I watched the new “Clash of the Titans” movie. Growing up in the eighties, the original had been something of a cult classic and had made an impression on me as a child. Sadly, the remake while boasting better special effects is nowhere nearly as good in story line and acting as the original. That however, is not why I am writing about it here. I came away from watching this movie filled with immense ambivalence and a disquiet in the soul. I am used to seeing the Gods poorly portrayed, or used as egregious plot devices and I understand that fiction is fiction. To some extent such things are the prerogative of the story teller. Usually it doesn’t bother me over much. Watching this movie tonight, however, I found myself growing more and more disturbed.  I found the movie incredibly offensive in the incredibly disrespectful way that it presented the Gods. Even that I could have excused save that I think it may also have been blasphemous.

Blasphemy is not a word that I often use and it’s certainly not a word I use lightly. I think perhaps it is one of which our ancestors would have had far greater understanding than we. We have forgotten how to respect the Gods. We certainly have forgotten how to fear offending Them. Had this movie just fictionalized the Gods, that would have been one thing, but it glorified man’s defiance of and disrespect to the Gods, and presented these things as a virtue to be emulated (in addition to presenting the Gods in an incredibly negative light). While I seriously doubt whether a movie presenting the Judeo-Christian Deities would have crossed that line, it was not this injustice which so offended me. It was the glorification of hubris. Holy Powers are Holy Powers and I can’t help but think it is ill met to encourage such disrespect.

Watching this movie left me with a conundrum. I deplore censorship of any sort, but I was utterly horrified by the message it offered. Moreover, I found that upon watching it, I felt unclean. I felt morally and spiritually polluted.

When I was in seminary, one of the required courses dealt with Buddhism. In this course, we learned about several traditional precepts including the Eightfold Path. One of the precepts of this path is that of right mindfulness. In part, this means directing your thoughts and attention to spiritually wholesome endeavors, focusing on those things which will enhance one’s spirituality. I took the class, found it interesting and passed all requirements and until recently gave little more thought to this concept. Now, however, more and more, I begin to see the wisdom in governing one’s thoughts and eyes and actions.

This is a discipline of the heart that leads to a disciplined and mindful spirit. Whether we want to be or not, we’re influenced by the things we see every day. An entire field of business – advertising- is based on this. I can’t help but think that there is wisdom in governing what we randomly expose ourselves too as much as we can. Nine times out of ten, this may not be an issue but for those things that insidiously encourage us to spit in the face of the Gods by word, deed, or inaction I am coming to believe that perhaps some personal self-regulation and care is warranted. We are impacted, shaped, and formed by the decisions we consciously choose to make, even the little ones. Even the choice of a movie.

Learning respect for the Gods, learning what constitutes right action and right relationship with the Holy Powers is difficult enough in our contemporary world. We don’t have many role models and we don’t live in a world that values such things, or even recognizes them as healthy and possible. Why make things harder on ourselves? There are plenty of people out there to encourage our disrespect and lack of mindfulness. We need all the help we can get to counter that because, in the end, we are influenced by our environment, even when we’re least aware of it.

Maybe I’m making too much of a movie. All I know is that it made me think about all the little ways in which I can actively work to bring my daily life into alignment with my spirituality until one reflects the other. I don’t want to support those things that don’t nourish me spiritually. I don’t’ want anything to diminish my relationship with my Gods and to my mind, indulging the pleasure of my relaxation in ways or with things that dishonor the Gods I love beyond breath isn’t a worthy step in that direction.

I don’t know what others think on this. It was only the deep sense of personal disgust and spiritual pollution that made me think of it tonight. I do know that I”ll be thinking about it, considering it, and trying to make better choices from here on out.

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  • Years ago I was told that the original Clash of the Titans was about the illegitimate son of Hera and I refused to see it for years because I felt that was horribly blasphemous. Of course, that turned out to be wrong, Perseus is portrayed as the son of Zeus in the film.

    That initial feeling of revulsion never left me though, and I’ve never had any desire to see the original film or the remake. It’s a curious thing, I have no problem with humor regarding the Gods. The jokes I make about my Gods wouldn’t fly in other religions, but I also am very careful not to be blasphemous. It’s a strange fine line and after reading your post I find I can’t articulate the distinction.

    The best I can come up with right now, is that my religious humor pokes fun at my Gods and religion for what they are and what they do, but blasphemy denies their nature, is false and treats them without honor.

    Cracking jokes about Zeus being a chick magnet is fine, and I adore all the Onion articles on him, as it celebrates his very nature. However, to say he is the son of Uranus, or under the dominion of Hades, is blasphemous to me.

  • Cara Schulz

    This is exactly how I felt about the film. I was excited to see it, shocked and disgusted while watching it, and disappointed and mired in miasma after.

  • Cara, miasma is the perfect work (and I understand the ritual and religious meaning of that term). I wish we had some similar term in Heathenry. I felt in need of purification. I”m gratified to see that i wasn’t the only one having this response. Part of me felt silly: it’s a movie; but part of me was truly appalled and disgusted and remains so.

    Star, I don’t remember the original being disrespectful in anything approaching the same way. I was very small when I saw it, but i seem to recall it followed the traditional story pretty closely (i could be wrong, mind you, I haven’t re-watched it).

    I agree with you too. I don’t mind humor with the Gods. I even show perhaps more familiarity than I should with Odin in some of our interactions, but there’s a definite line between humor which I believe the Gods can appreciate or at least excuse, and disrespect, an even finer one between disrespect and blasphemy.

    I found it really difficult to articulte my response though, much the same as you indicate you did…..

  • Cara, this is what i get for typing a response before I’ve had a few cups of coffee: “work” should read “word.”

  • “All I know is that it made me think about all the little ways in which I can actively work to bring my daily life into alignment with my spirituality until one reflects the other. I don’t want to support those things that don’t nourish me spiritually. I don’t’ want anything to diminish my relationship with my Gods and to my mind, indulging the pleasure of my relaxation in ways or with things that dishonor the Gods I love beyond breath isn’t a worthy step in that direction.”

    Bingo. While there may be little we as Pagans/Heathens can do to make outsiders understand our view of our gods, there is always something WE can do to reflect our own faith in Them, and to nourish a healthy spirituality, as you’ve said. Refusing to partake in things that trivialize our beliefs is one way…and heck, it may actually have an impact if enough of us refuse to spend money on movies and other forms of “entertainment” that perpetrate that viewpoint.

    A great and thought-provoking essay! Thanks!

  • Trivalizing our beliefs…that’s it: this movie did more, it trivalized respect for the Gods. You make a strong point, too, Elizabeth: if we refuse to participate in things that trivalize our faith, then we’re doing our part to stop the perpetration of that viewpoint. That’s a good thing, in my book!

    thanks for your input!

  • David Kilby

    I havent watched the movie. I was going to pay-per-view it, but after reading the above, I won’t waste my $4.99.

  • Thank you, David. It’s really not worth it.

  • Wow. I am home alone this weekend and I was looking at the on demand movies last night. I saw Clash of the Titans on the list and almost watched it. But for some reason something kept me from buying it. After reading this, I am glad I did.

  • Over-reacting, in all the wrong ways. This response, to me, reads like one of those empassioned criticisms of movies like “The Passion of Christ” that we Pagans often deride Christians for.

    Having watched this movie, and the classic, I have to ask – what does this have to do with our religion?

    Galina – I thought you were a Heathen? The single Heathen reference I could find was “Norn Mountain” where the “Stygian Witches” lived.

    This movie was about some guy “Zoose” and a fight with his brother “Haydies”. I couldn’t find a single bit of Grecian myth that was even vaguely accurate. This isn’t a movie about Greek Gods or Paganism, not in the slightest, and to read it as such seems just a tad bit self-righteous and attention-seeking.

    If Pagans are open to the existence of other gods, outside their own mythos / pantheon, and that seems like a fair assessment of what every neo-, meso- and paleo-pagan I’ve ever met believes, then isn’t it a bit arrogant to get all up in arms about someone else’s understanding of the Gods? Sure, it’s not that of the majority of neo-pagans, but frankly, I know plenty of people who believe the Gods act like this. ‘

    For example, one could argue, Galina, that your views on god-slavery are not that different from how the Gods are portrayed in the movie.

    I’m going to compare it to another movie that people got all up in arms about, but for a different reason: 10,000 BC. People spent all this time arguing about men co-existing with mammoths and saber-toothed tigers, getting all bent out of shape because of one thing: the title, and the assumptions they made based on that title.

    10,000 BC: Call it ANYTHING else, and watch it with that understanding. Suddenly, this movie “Yaghal” (the name of the tribe) is an engaging and fun fantasy with nuances of tribal life and Egyptian god-kings.

    Similarly, this movie, call it “Krackin’s Doom” or something, is a fun heroic sort-of-epic. It has as much to do with Greek myth as a smoothie has to do with banana – there’s bits in there, but there’s no way in Hel you’re putting them back together again.

    Lastly, I want to offer up the position that it’s actually MORE respectful than a closer treatment of the myths could be – there’s NOTHING in this that approaches reality, so if you’re offended, it’s because you’re reading stuff into it. They clearly went out of their way to make sure this didn’t match anything, so that they can’t be sacriligious or disrespectful.

    The only similarity? Zoose and Zeus sound similar in English.

  • Disrespect to the Gods, is disrespect to the Gods. These may not have been representations of *my* Gods, but that does not mean that the attitude presented in the film was any more worthy.

    And if you think my views on godslavery remotely approach *anything* in that movie, then you haven’t read much of my work or very thoroughly.

  • I wouldn’t promote it as a pagan friendly-film, and even beyond those scopes the movie was pretty abysmally bad. But as much as there may be films or books I do not choose to support, or promote to others because I have issue with them, at the end of the day this was a work of fiction. If it had been portrayed as a religious work, then I’d really be up in arms, as it is the movie is just bad by any definition.

  • P. Suf. Viri. Lup.

    It’s an interesting viewpoint you’ve expressed here.

    However, there are a lot of things that I think should fill a person with a more dire and desperate sense of miasma than seeing a film: seeing a homeless person on the street; knowing there are people being harmed and not doing anything to help; living under a government that does less and less for the benefit of its people and more just for the interests of its politicians. We should all be doing constant Shinto misogi for the next seven-hundred years for the accumulated tsumi of our individual small parts and involvements that everyone in the U.S. has in the oil industry, in light of what’s happened in the Gulf in the last three months.

    All of this to say: just seeing something is not condoning it, particularly if there is no way to stop it beforehand. If you were a Hollywood producer and could have stopped this film, then maybe there would be miasma involved; but you’re not.

    The film did have a positive effect, though, in terms of you seeing it, in that it’s reoriented you to thinking about how you might like to serve your gods better. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. To paraphrase Saul of Tarsus’ little ditty in Romans 8:28, for the just person who believes in the gods, all things work together towards the good; and as Meister Eckhart added in his commentary–yes, even sin. Seeing something that reeks of hubris or miasma does not contaminate you; partaking in that hubristic or miasmic thing, though, does. And you’ve not–and by seeing what you’ve seen, you’ve re-committed yourself to not doing such things. That’s good!

    So, personally, I wouldn’t worry, and would just devote more of your emotional energy on this to serving Odin as well as possible. But then, that’s me.

  • I wouldn’t call it Pagan friendly, either, K.C., but it’s not anti-Pagan to me either. As I’ve said – it’s so far divorced from anything even vaguely close to reality, I can’t consider it even partially based on the myth.

    Zeus came to Danae in a shower of gold, not as an eagle, because she was locked up. Acrisius was told his son would kill him, hence his reason fro throwing Danae and the child into the sea, not out of jealousy of Zoose. The entire reason for getting the head of the Medusa was vastly different in origin and plot.

    I could go on. That movie is not Greek Myth. That movie says nothing about the Gods.

    Reviews are mixed – it’s only opinion whether it’s good or bad. I enjoyed it, and felt no “miasma”. I also don’t take myself very seriously, nor take to heart the opinions / beliefs of atheists or Christians about my Gods. If this movie offends so much, why not Disney’s Hercules? Why not Xena? Why not Hercules: the Series, which places Hercules (“The Glory of Hera”) AGAINST Hera? To get all up in arms about THIS movie – seems like a lot of hoohah to me.

    Makes you think about the issues of respect and disrespect – that’s great. But otherwise – you’re giving the “godless savages” of Hollywood way too much power over your religion.

    And Galina, actually, I’ve read almost all your works, and your commentary in Raven’s books (who I adore, by the way). I own all the books you’ve written. I don’t even necessarily disagree with you about god-slavery. But the fact is, as you’ve pointed out even in your recent post here, people misunderstand it and take the relationship to be a lot more like those with the Gods in this movie than like the healthy supportive relationship it can be. Like it or not, that’s a case that can be made, and has been.

  • Suf, I agree with you about the misogi. I think that as a species we’ve accumulated more debt then we shall ever be able to repay, which doesn’t excuse us from trying!

    Aiden, you do raise a good point about godslavery…i’m still struggling to find language adequate enough to convey the full nature of that process/relationship/state of being in its complexity, challenges, and joy.

    You’ve both given me much to think about. Right now, I am afraid I have a pile of translation homework awaiting me and little brain power left, so forgive me for keeping this comment short!

  • FWIW, I never watched Xena or Hercules for the same reason. I only watched a few episodes of Charmed and Buffy. Felt slimy to me.

    The cartoon version of Hercules is for kids, and really, it only pokes fun at Hades, and in a way that’s more satire of modern celebrity than it is of the Gods.

    What actually be more telling, is my hypocrisy when it comes to other faiths. I love the movie Dogma, Monty Python’s Holy Grail and Life of Brian, and was singing “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” from Hamet 2 in the car today. I’ve never even considered whether these films would be blasphemous by my personal standards.

    Although, I must say, I couldn’t watch Jesus Christ Superstar. It felt wrong to me, particularly when I saw Judas was played by a black man.

  • Matt Gerlach

    What leaves me most sore concerning media portrayals of the Gods such as Clash of the Titans (also Percy Jackson comes to mind) is that, for the vast majority of people, how often do they find exposure to the Gods? Specifically the Greek Gods, at least once by high school, maybe once in college (depending on the liberal arts courses they are required to take), and then in the larger media.

    That means potentially a third to even half of all the lifetime exposure that the majority of the country has to the Gods, our Gods, is what amounts to unfortunate mischaracterizations at best, slanderous lies at worst.

    It wouldn’t be nearly as disheartening if someone, anyone, were putting out respectful representations of the Gods that aren’t specifically pigeon-holed for Pagan markets (i.e. statuary).

  • It’s sort of funny, Star, because I’ve been in Jesus Christ Superstar–twice!–and was not the only pagan member of the cast (and certainly wasn’t the only queer member)! In the first production I was in, it was produced by the chaplaincy at the university I was attending in Ireland; in the second, it was at the Cork Opera House (also in Ireland). The one done by the chaplaincy was spare, tasteful, and extremely heart-felt, and each night of its week-long run, it was done in the college chapel, and had the character of a mystery play, which was deeply evocative and profound for the audience (and even for many of the actors). The Opera House run was over-commercialized, gimmicky, flashy, and tasteless; and it was the one that got the Free Presbyterians (as well as some upset Catholics) protesting it on a few nights and writing in letters to the local newspapers, etc. It does remain one of my favorite musicals, and I’d be very happy to be in it again in the future if given the chance.

    The late Carl Anderson, who played Judas in the film, is really the star of it, which was the point of the show (i.e. to portray Judas more sympathetically), and not only did I enjoy his performance in the film, but I saw him do it live on stage twice before he died, and got his autograph and spoke briefly with him one time.

    But, different strokes, eh? ;)

  • Sufenas Virius,

    I started watching the film and when Carl first appeared I thought from his opening lines he was Peter and I thought that was cool. When I realized he was Judas I really thought it was racist and turned it off. I’m sure at some point in the future I’ll give it another chance. I have a soft spot for Judas, not because I’m anti-Christian but because I feel his role was the hardest of any of the disciples. A betrayal had to happen. Harvey keitel as Judas in The Last Temptation of Jesus Christ breaks my heart every time.

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