The Tantric Propaganda in Green Lantern and Elsewhere

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.

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About Rod White

Pastor for Circle of Hope. Graduate of Fuller Seminary, PhD in MFT from Eastern University.
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4 Responses to The Tantric Propaganda in Green Lantern and Elsewhere

  1. Pingback: David Bazan and the Dialogue about Lost Faith | Rod's Blog

  2. Sophrosynes Limits says:

    I read this blog for the first time this morning and was supremely fascinated. The message included is wildly relevant at this moment in our society, and struck a nerve that is deeply, thoroughly personal. I look forward to burning through additional posts in this blog. Pardon the grammar/spelling etc. in my response, I pounded this out on a school computer library to kill some time between a class. I am not sure if this blog is intended to be void of any Christianese or designed to be ultra sensitive to the secular forum, in the case that it is, or if any reader finds my response offensive, untrue, or otherwise misguided to their perception, I cherish the feedback and genuinely mean no disrespect.
    “It is propaganda.” That is the short and sweet of it for a concise, direly needed blog topic that you shared, a stirring proclamation for those of us who feel the very real crunch caused by our inevitable failures as a potential savior of the widening brokenness around us. As you mentioned, I think there is much more to that statement on propaganda that would be beneficial to wrestle with. Beyond propaganda, the mainstream media as I perceive it, is a very complex social engineering unit, or rather social programming unit(The manipulation of worldview that you alluded to). I’ve listened to friends consumed by conspiracy theory confidently claim that the majority of modern films are government sanctioned tools to “control our minds.” I personally do not follow this track, though part of it could be perhaps be true, I feel no need to wrestle with something that’s unlikely to be proved or expanded on due to the lack of available data.
    The mechanics of how our world views are modified is quite simple. All of the advertising that we’re exposed to is calculated sequences of neuro-associations (Tony Robbin’s lingo). Here’s our product, here’s how you will feel. Product, happy, product, happy. Competitor product, sad, competitor product sad. So within these movies they have you drowning with sequences that associate a flood of positive emotion with whatever behavior or quality that they would like to reinforce. In the case of Green Lantern, you have the chemicals reeling in the tide of pleasure for the chance to likewise become a hero. These scenarios while obviously not our own, are no doubt aimed towards a serious vicarious element.
    Though not a part of this discussion, as we’re talking about more covert methods of alternative religion, it should be noted that this same method applies directly to items of sin such as promiscuity. Plenty of movies show the sequence, promiscuity=pleasure, no consequences, promiscuity=pleasure, no consequences. I sometimes crumble with frustration when it comes to the delicate balance that’s required to ride between the waves between legalistic and overly liberal behaviors. This is especially the case when it comes to movies. Is it ok as a disciple of Christ to watch movies like Kill Bill, Pulp fiction, Casino, or even more seemingly less insidious films such as Wedding Crashers? Though I grind my teeth at the phrase, “What would Jesus do?” Would Jesus watch these movies or endorse his disciples watching them?
    I think the entertainment industry leans towards the concept of earth being ruled by “the spirit of the air,” and the fact that the more seducing the story, the greater the emotional impact, and the greater the chances that the film would earn money. And money I believe, speaks for itself. Another tool that while not independently evil, fosters destructive behaviors in respect to the pleasure that it is expected to generate, pleasures which are further programmed through the passive entertainment industry. Maybe, or perhaps unquestionably, some form of darkness is literally and directly subduing the process of these films, films of which that do not seem directly dark, but are rather “ The devil disguised as an angel of light.” After all, the hero of green lantern was “doing good, fighting evil,” so what’s wrong with that? You have explained that well enough in terms of the hero complex, which I’ll get back to in a moment.
    I had an extended vacation this summer where communing with suburban friends was largely geared around watching movies. I attempted to set boundaries, but everyone hovered to them, they had such a brilliantly magnetic component. I had mostly fasted from movies the summer before, because it was the easiest, least thoughtful response to having to set complex boundaries of what specifically I would watch. Towards the end of this summer I became complete overwhelmed, as well as disgusted by some of the more mainstream movies.
    What finally alarmed me was the movie “Limitless.” It was a man who could take a pill which would allow a temporary IQ increase into “the 4 figures.” That is saying at least an IQ of 1000, or potentially higher. Though it hardly matters, for a frame of reference persons with the IQ of about 130-135 through the Weschler IQ test, compose the top 1% of the population in terms of intelligence. He goes on at one point to kill a woman as a side effect of the drug, but later recovers from the ill side effects, and ends up tapering off of the drug while still maintaining much of its benefits. The benefits were astounding, with anything from being well loved socially, easier access to promiscuous sex encounters, writing a best selling novel in a period of days, or even generating millions of dollars in the stock market within days. There were no real consequences other than a temporary, potentially life threatening reaction to the drug. The murder was never addressed, he goes on to become a successful politician. It tangoed with your imagination, sending a clear message as to the potential for the redemption of self, by self (and a make believe drug), an ascendancy as you say. All of the movies seem to do the same, painting incredible stories that leave the perceptions of our own lives as entities that inevitably come up lacking. Beyond hero stories, the romantic movies directly tamper with relationship expectations, and largely serve as a form of emotional pornography.
    Worse yet is the availability of movies to feed these mistruths. Netflix, redbox, amazon instant video, on demand, blockbuster Netflix, youtube, bit torrent, cable television. Watch them on your tv, you tablet, your phone, your computer, the list does not seem to end. I feel as though I cannot escape them, that if I had no self discipline that I would spend the majority of my freetime transfixed upon a plastic picture making box, a device that literally presents an immensely crisp moving picture, that in terms of physics is an exact representation of a “potential event.” This moving picture ultimately imitates reality, it is a literal illusion, a form of magic. Not all illusions or magic is wrong, but here you have the illusion being painted by the decisions of strangers who heed only the call of profit. Stranger yet, with the advent of CGI you have the ability to forge a completely, utterly imaginary moving picture, which although can be ultimately, consciously distinguished as a fabrication, the subconscious and animal mind may not employ the same faculties to distinguish it from reality. Perhaps our subconscious, and definitely our animal mind, sees these pictures as truth. This fabrication also is neutral, with the capacity for great good, for stunning empowerment.
    I think it’s equally important to harp on an additional, well discussed issue at hand when it comes to hero stories. We each have a very personal, continually present understanding that the world is broken. That fact, is the one thing that the majority of us can agree on. Someone who cannot come to terms with that fact is simply delusional, and must proffer an alternative, logic defying reality. The media rarely comes out and exclaims that explicitly, it always seems to be a vague portrait of disconnected destructions. Mostly it’s fear mongering, perhaps an intentional programming developed to plant seeds of fear, which further stoke anxieties, anxieties which ultimately begin to interfere with our capacity for intimacy. Intimacy aught to be the core of our human experience, with God, and with man, interchangeable to degree. So the news at least, beyond the inevitable spin it endures before presentation, can harbor a very unique destructiveness in its ability to attack the freedom of movement within our abilities to relate to each other. It’s not that the news is in any way evil when it’s accurate, it’s that the ratio of good/bad, can be grossly misrepresentative.
    When it comes to the media’s presentation of a broken world, it rarely seems to highlight the fact that the entire world is broken. There never seems to be an explicit rendering of a world so off course, so deeply damaged, where every human participant is likewise broken to a degree. I think it was spelled out well in Blue like Jazz that we long for drama in our lives, because ultimately we are in the midst of a drama that ends with the final destiny of our souls. This brokenness has invaded our reality, and there should be no wonder why we crave and are captured by stories of redemption. The eternal destiny of a person with infinite value, surely is the greatest drama of all, in our case coming to a close with the most unexpected ending that could ever be proposed. Here, a righteous God sends his Son to die on behalf of undeserving men. The mode of redemption in the case of the entertainment industry, looms heavy with great reason. For it is “an alternative religion.” Like all sin, it is a distortion of something that is otherwise designed for good. We long to fight against this darkness with good reason, it is a wonderfully healthy response. The approach is what has been distorted.
    In all of the references to the darkness of the religion of ascendency presented by these movies, I think we should stop, and rehearse the truth. It should be certain that our brains have the ability to only focus on one item at a time, and with this, “We become the center of our attention.” Whatever we focus on most, we become. Christ pounded this out in very clear terms,“Where your treasure is, there also is your heart,” and “Seek first the kingdom and all else will follow…”. One of the greatest lessons I learned from an atheist friend was through his observation that, “What amazes me most about some Christians, is that instead of focusing on what they can do, they invest all of their energy into what they cannot and or are forbidden to do.” So I attempt to focus and redirect the energy to say that, true religion comes through the ascendency of a crucified and risen Lord. Shouldn’t this be harped on most of all so that our perception is not skewed in the form of a negative?
    I once interned for a mental health agency as part of an undergraduate psychology degree. One of my assignments was to work one on one with a young man who had been diagnosed with something called ODD or Opposition Defiant Disorder. The definition is nearly as direct as the title. The boy was always out of control, and I found that no amount of redirection or correction could change the outcome of his decisions. I ran this past the attending psychologist, who hammered one of the most simple, powerful points possible. He said that the boy had probably spent his entire life being corrected, and that there was very little praise coming from his home situation. I was instructed to denounce only when absolutely necessary, and instead to shower him as much praise as possible. So simple, so effective. While there was no miraculous turn around after the implementation of this plan, there was clear and measurable change for the better.
    Towards conclusion here, my favorite line you shared:
    “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.”
    Interestingly enough this willpower seems to be a distortion of something very real, very good, which is discipline. It has it’s value to a point, but it becomes very clear that the magnitude comes to pale limits as it has been sabotaged by sin.
    What also piqued my attention about this blog was the lack of prescription, a form of instruction which many people find offensive. This seems to be more exploration than anything, for some reason I expected some type of harsh warning. I think depending, a dialogue for many will drive the point further than a form rigid command. Instead you say:
    “…then it should be seen as an alternative religion…
    …Test out what I am saying when you are watching whatever you watch…”
    And in all of my condemnation of the entertainment industry I do not mean to judge all parts, or anybody participating in it, because I foremost on occasion have been seduced by many of the myths it has projected into my heart and mind. I still, and may always if even to a minute degree, will require the exertion of serious energy to overcome some of the more negative consequences developed by my seduction to it. I think I would taper the conversation as you had, challenging myself to, if watching these movies, digest them carefully, and to think critically, to discuss with each other the true affect these sequences of motion illicit within our lives. I had a professor in college once who pounded against the desk which alarming force at the end of each class with the instruction to ensure that our recreation, was not instead passivity, but rather the re-creation of something, an active, creativity consuming activity.
    So, as an alternative to the energy required to shield are selves from a false religion of personal ascendancy, I would also attempt to relish the adventure afforded through relationship with Christ, to participate in the re-creation offered in untangling the fitful cord of obscurities presented by the media, and make room in my heart and mind for the Hero of Christ, the son of God, “Who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” Having been consistently and undeservingly pursued by the Creator, I am now exponentially more entranced by the possibility of confronting this drama as a participant, who wielding the affirmation and Spirit of a living, and ever loving Savior, Jesus Christ, can move forward in this battle against darkness under the ascendancy of One who has ultimately conquered.

  3. goethean says:

    If you read the Gospel of Thomas (and since canonization was a highly political, compromised process, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t), it could be argued that Jesus’ spirituality was rather tantric, too.

    • Rod White says:

      You aren’t right about canonization, if you are just casting aspersions. The Gospel of Thomas was left out because it was a subversive gnostic tract (and still is). Gnosticism could be called rather tantric.

      A tantra can include almost anything, in an exclusive kind of way. Jesus does not “have” a “spirituality.”

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