The God Tube
Uncovering the Hidden Spiritual Message in Pop Culture
Beginning with a chapter on The Simpsons and ending with two chapters on The DaVinci Code, this book explores philosophical and religious themes raised by some of the most popular works in contemporary culture. Each of these works offers alternative perspectives on the human condition to both the standard religious orthodoxies and purely secular scientific approaches. The selected works thereby provide the popular imagination with new visions of reality. In The Simpsons Movie, Homer Simpson has to be dragged from his couch to church on Sunday morning. But when faced with a family and social crisis, he is guided by an Inuit Shaman woman into a spiritual experience that offers him existential and moral truth. George Lucas, commenting on his preparation for his Star Wars saga, says that he distilled fifty books on the history of world religions into his concept of "The Force," and then, he says, "I played with it." In the movie version of Dan Brown's best seller, The DaVinci Code, Robert Langdon ponders the traditional alternative of religious orthodoxy: "Why does it have to be human or divine? Perhaps the human is the divine." In each case, as well as in the other works examined here, the standard alternative of orthodox ("fundamentalist") religion and scientific secularism is bypassed for an inventive "third way."
The ten chapters present salient texts, episodes, and summaries from The Simpsons, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Woody Allen's film Crimes and Misdemeanors, The Matrix, Star Wars, and The DaVinci Code. Implicit or underlying philosophical themes are highlighted and brought into relation with what might be called the Platonic trend in philosophy, which in modern times includes the works of Kant and Hegel. A consistent "spiritualist" philosophical orientation from Plato to Hegel is therefore developed, which gives theoretical substance to works of popular culture that might otherwise appear purely fanciful. Like Homer Simpson, Socrates was sometimes visited by a spiritual force which he called his daemon. The Platonic philosophical framework and argumentation offers systematic theoretical support for this kind of unorthodox quasi-religious experience. Kant and Hegel, both of whom criticize a narrow "religious" orthodoxy, defend such a "spiritual" orientation as consistent with a deeper understanding of the origins of the Christian religion as well as with the most advanced sciences of modern times.
James Lawler is Associate Professor of Philosophy at SUNY Buffalo. He is the author of The Existentialist Marxism of Jean-Paul Sartre (1976) and Matter and Spirit: The Battle of Metaphysics in Modern Western Philosophy before Kant (2006).