Lately, I have had a belated crash-course in the Tantric foundations of the myth-making of our media-driven culture. Today, I am especially interested in the redundant retelling of the myth of the “hero” with which I am surrounded.
All one has to do to find this hero myth is look at the IMDb synopsis of Green Lantern and there is it again:
In a universe as vast as it is mysterious, a small but powerful force has existed for millenniums. Protectors of peace and justice, they are called the Green Lantern Corps. A brotherhood of warriors formed by the different races from entire universe sworn to keep intergalactic order, each Green Lantern wears a ring that grants him superpowers. But when a new enemy called Parallax threatens to destroy the balance of power in the Universe, their fate and the fate of Earth lie in the hands of their newest recruit, the first human ever selected for the Corps: Hal Jordan.
Hal is a gifted and cocky test pilot, but the Green Lanterns have little respect for humans, who have never harnessed the infinite powers of the ring before. But Hal is clearly the missing piece to the puzzle, and along with his determination and willpower, he has one thing no member of the Corps has ever had: humanity. With the encouragement of fellow pilot and childhood sweetheart Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), if Hal can quickly master his new powers and find the courage to overcome his fears, he may prove to be not only the key to defeating Parallax he will become the greatest Green Lantern of all.
Christians generally think this story-telling is just innocent fun. But it is also philosophy. It is propaganda. It is worldview shaping. And if one would like to have a robust Christianity that is not consumed by the power of ascendant myths, then it should be seen as an alternative religion. The hero myth calls for faith. It is mainly faith in determination and willpower, in finding the courage to overcome one’s fears and master newly-discovered inner powers (with the help of your soul mate) – and to be the savior.
Jeffrey Kripal, in his book: Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion, talks about the man who popularized the invasion of this hero myth, Joseph Campbell. Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey begins “with a Tantric parable from The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Campbell tells the story of a vegetarian tiger cub raised in a flock of goats who has to be shocked into his own tiger-identity by another tiger, who forces him to transgress his own conditioned feelings of disgust and social propriety in order to eat meat. Campbell summarizes the moral of the parable as the secret of his entire lifework. The moral of the story is, ‘that we’re all really tigers living here as goats. The function of sociology and most of our religious education is to teach us to be goats. But the function of the proper interpretation of mythological symbols and meditation discipline is to introduce you to your tiger face.’”
Kripal summarizes Campbell’s criticism of all religions that claim absolute, exclusive or literal truth. “A conservative Hindu’s belief in the actual existence of Krishna or an orthodox Christian’s belief in a literal resurrection are just as misplaced and mistaken as an orthodox Jew’s or Muslim’s claim to an exclusive monotheism (or the land of Israel). They are all goats fooled by their social systems, not tigers awakened into their deeper human-driven natures through transgressive acts.” The original trailer for Green Lantern shows how the writers were faithful to this idea and the foundational hero myth more clearly than what the movie ended up being.
I am trying to find ways to talk about these things with the people I know and meet. Most of them are not dashing out to read the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna any time soon. But then, they don’t have to, since his teaching is being transmitted through every media outlet. The “transgressive act” that is usually recommended is to slough of the goat-training of Christianity and become one’s Green Lantern-like tiger self. We are taught that the true religious community is not gathered around the Savior, Jesus, it is a gathering of all the heroes from around the cosmos who are protecting the universe from being subsumed under some exclusive power (in Green Lantern, it is Parallax). You can see where this goes; Jesus becomes another Hinduized Green Lantern, if he is anything.
I want to talk about this some more, because I think a lot of my loved ones have a religion that is going Tantric under the influence of this incessant propaganda. Myths with which they are unfamiliar are being presented as “new” or “evolved.” Their faith in Christ is seen as “old” or “undeveloped.” Without some decent awareness and some healthy dialogue with the big voices of the media, it is easy to be swept away into their fantasy land. Test out what I am saying when you are watching whatever you watch on a screen in the next month (especially cop shows). See how many times you encounter Joseph Campbell’s “hero.” See how many “goats” become “tigers.” Count how many times the word “hero” is mentioned in relation to the 9/11 celebrations. Ponder the training of those famous Filipino inmates.