Dr. Strange and American Spirituality

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, November 30, 2016 3 comments

by David Odegard

I viewed Dr. Strange last week and it is my new favorite Marvel movie. (Do they have all the money in Hollywood yet?) This movie does illustrate very well the “mythos” of contemporary culture. Let me explain what I mean by mythos. Mythos is the stories that convey our values to one another. It is a way to exaggerate the human condition or human problems and the solutions. Superman, for example, illustrates a value that we all hold to be universally true: justice. Superman is all about justice for all. No one has real supernatural powers like flight or laser vision, but we do believe in the justice that Superman represents. The myth of Superman conveys who we are or how we want to be. One can see how important Superman was to the WWII generation who were fighting against Hitler to save the world.

Dr. Strange is a myth that conveys our values, too. The movie provides an excellent commentary on America’s transition from modernity to post-modernity, atheism to an unguided spirituality.

Dr. Strange is a highly skilled surgeon, the top of his field. He is a genius, witty, rich, and possesses a pair of incredibly skillful hands, but is quite low in compassion, humanity, and wisdom. He is the personification of modern man. This part of the myth is a commentary on what is good and bad about our modern life. Why is it that we possess such technology that we can communicate with anyone on earth in real time, we are only hours away from any spot on earth, but we still have so much tragedy and suffering? For all of our abilities, we still are not very compassionate.

Dr. Strange learns this for himself after he has an accident that ruins his hands (this is as close to a spoiler as I get, but it happens within the first 15 minutes, so we’re cool). He spends all of his money to no avail. He calls on other surgeons to help, but everyone says there is no way that he can be made well and no one is willing to risk their own reputation to help him—just like Dr. Strange has acted. Finally, out of desperation he turns to a mystic source of healing.

He confronts a mystic healer and says, “I don’t believe in Chakras and all that crap.” Dr. Strange only believes in the material universe—just like a good atheist. But he is confronted by the reality of a spiritual universe.

At this point, Dr. Strange throws away his atheism and begins to believe in a supernatural world. The spirituality presented in the movie is a mixture of Hindu, Christian, Satanism, and pagan spirituality that lends to a very occult flavor (but that’s Disney). This captures the current mood in America as well. As a nation, we have a weariness with atheistic naturalism and a desire for a dramatic supernaturalism; whether it is Christian makes no difference to a lot of the people on the street.

Humans are spiritual beings, and we have an inner longing for spirituality that cannot be explained in completely rational ways. That is why we have always liked stories of dragons and wizards. It reaches into a place in us that longs for something more than the mundane world. This is natural to us.

Modern man tries to ignore the spiritual nature of human beings. But even if we assert that there is no supernatural world, our spirituality will still come out sideways. That is what happens to Dr. Strange.

Dr. Strange is a very post-modern movie. What I mean by post-modern is that it has thrown away the idea that there is only one ultimate truth. It embraces the idea that there are many competing truths that are equally valid if it makes sense to someone. That is why in Dr. Strange’s spirituality, there are elements from all the major world religions except Islam. In a post-modern view of the world, it doesn’t matter if you pick and choose from the different spiritual ideas as long as it helps you tell your story. That really is what mythos is all about, but Christians have always realized that in addition to the smaller stories that help to make sense out of our own lives, there is one overarching story that is based on ultimate reality.

Once we discard the notion that only the material world exists, we have to sift through all of the available spiritual models of the universe to discern which one best accords with reality, not our personal preferences. They cannot all be equally true. Christianity stands in a spiritual tradition that is at least 6000 years old. I will spend the next few blog posts comparing Christianity to other available spiritual worldviews.

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Jamie Easthom said...

Could've upped the nerd-cred and pointed out that he rolled a natural 20 on intelligence, and failed his roll on wisdom - hence the quest ;)
I agree, the movie was well done and had some powerful social commentary. I loved how quickly they established the character's nature and set up the dominoes for him to go seeking help - and his immediate rejection of said help before being shown why he needed it, which reminds me very strongly of 2 of my favorite Christian writers - the apostle Paul's intimate meeting with Christ, and C.S. Lewis's stubborn refusal to bend until he found himself with no other options that could meld themselves with reason

Worldview Warriors said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Odegard said...

"Nerd-cred" perfect. I remind people often that intelligence and wisdom are two different things, as are knowledge and intelligence. Thanks for the post.