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Is Black Panther too Pagan for Christian Fans?

Fans can discern Black Panther’s mysticism to find a story that celebrates human heroism, royal beauty, and African culture.
| May 18, 2018 | 25 comments |

The movie Black Panther, just released for home viewing, has broken all kinds of records. It’s passed the billion-dollar mark worldwide.

For myself, I enjoyed the movie twice in theaters. Perhaps it has something to do with the eye candy in this movie.1

Yet, Black Panther also problematically showcases the pagan practices and rituals. These practices go against my beliefs as a Christian.

For instance, there is ancestor worship, necromancy, and occultic–dare we say “witchcraft”–ceremonies in the movie. After all, if you’re going to do a movie about a fictional country name Wakanda in Africa, these things should and must be portrayed.

I saw a YouTube video not too long ago about why Black Panther was not:

  1. A black movie
  2. Not for black people
  3. Not for Christians

Ouch, right? I kinda knew that going in, but to have such things blatantly stated, I kinda shook my head.

Part of me wanted to say, “Can I just watch a movie without having to have this stuff in my mind? I just want to see Michael B. Jordan fight Chadwick Boseman with his shirt off!”2

Joking aside, should I really be thinking about my faith and my beliefs when it comes to movies I enjoy that are completely against it?

Does my enjoyment of the movie make me a supporter of those things?

This is such a hard question to answer because I don’t think it’s a “yes” or “no” answer.

Or maybe it is. I don’t see my enjoyment of a movie that have these elements in it, and believe me, there’s a lot of them, as my supporting it.

To take it a step further, in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ultron, the sentient global defense-system-turned robot villain sings:

I once had strings, but now I’m free … There are no strings on me!

And later, Ultron, sitting in a Sokovian church, says:

This church was built in the middle of the city, so everyone could be equally close to God. I like that, the symmetry, the geometry of belief.

So now we have a singing, philosophical robot villain who used quasi-scripture-like ramblings to suggest helping mankind is to simply destroy them. (Not unlike Hollywood’s Noah who thought saving the animals was more important than people.)

My good friend Marcia Montenegro, from Christian Answers from the New Age3 wrote an extensive article on the movie Avatar, showing its occult bends, worship of a nature goddess, and other pagan elements. Marcia pointed out how so many Christian enjoyed a movie with pagan elements in it.

How many of the Speculative Faith community and contributors enjoy Harry Potter?

Oh my gosh, there’s all kinds of uproar among the saints with that. There those who say they’re good books or movies. Other say, “You’re letting Satan take control of your mind when you make light of these things!”

What about some of us who enjoy darker tales?

I always pick on Jess Hanna, author of Road to Hell, and the short story, “If It Causes You to Sin” performed by Untold Podcast. I found a fellow lover of horror when I met him. Once he wrote an article in which a commentator harshly criticized him for even postulating the idea of Christian horror, much less saying it was okay.

To take it a step further, in February, Mike Duran an article about Christians and horror at The Gospel Coalition. The comments! Let’s just say I hurried to give him support to show that not everyone thinks he’s a lunatic.

I’ve used a variety of examples to show divided the saints are about belief and entertainment. Does the entertainment we enjoy show our hearts? If we enjoy good clean wholesome movies, does it mean our hearts and good and clean?

I grew up watching Aliens, Predator, and other monster movies. Does it mean I’m looking forward to the day where we land on a planet, eagerly searching for the Alien queen to lay eggs and give birth to facehuggers who come to Earth to eradicate mankind? (By the way, that’s a no!)

This does not mean we can just ignore what movies we watch. Not at all. You do have to guard your mind. Going back to Philippians 4:8, thinking on these sorts of things help to guard our minds. We certainly won’t lose anything if we only watch movies which only align with our beliefs (although they may be incredibly cheesy, boring, and snore material). And we all know some movies and shows take the disregard of our faith too far.  Shows like Preacher, some episodes of Rick and Morty, Family Guy, Lucifer, and I’m sure dozens more, can be downright blasphemous.

And then again, some of us watch the shows and say, “What’s the big deal? I like the show. I don’t believe in their philosophy!”

Which is why I think this ultimately comes down to a matter of the individual and personal preference.

I don’t think enjoying a movie against our beliefs will makes us abandon the faith.

Circling back to Black Panther, some positive elements I enjoyed was the world building of the Afrofuturistic country.

I loved the portrayal of blacks as kings and queens instead of gangsters and baby mama drama. I walked out the theater with a renewed sense of recognition that I come from the line of earthly kings and queens. However, of more importance is that I am the child, the princess of the Highest King, Jesus Christ, my Lord, my Savior, and my Redeemer!

I loved T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). But although his power can be taken away by drinking a heart-shaped flower, my Lord’s power remains forever!

I loved seeing dark-skinned actors as opposed to light-skinned actors, Michael B. Jordan as a black and brilliant complicated villain, and the film’s portrayal of tribal-based technology.

To end my thoughts, I’d simply say, “Hey, if a movie disturbs you so much that you can’t sit through it, then I would suggest leaving. If you can divorce the movie from your beliefs, then go for it.”

Perhaps I’m wrong. What do you think? What do you do when you see a movie you enjoy that goes against your beliefs?

  1. The particular eye candy which whets my appetite is the villain Eric Killmonger, played by the oh-so-fine actor, Michael B. Jordan.
  2. Now I can hear the modesty group talking about how men and women should dress a certain way so as not to incite lust. But … what would be the point of going to see the movie if I can’t see Michael B. Jordan take off his shirt? When Clark Gable took off his shirt in Gone With the Wind, T-shirt sales plummeted! It’s fascinating how well the Lord knows His creation. Philippians 4:8 states: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” I can easily rationalize every part of this verse with accolades of how true it is that Michael B. Jordan is handsome. Honestly. A just thing for man who has pure, smooth, pecan-brown skin, and lovely, bulging muscles. A man who stays in good shape, which is certainly a virtue and worthy of praise. I will think on these things!
  3. This ministry is dedicated to showing New Age practices and occult in the Church.
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notleia
Guest
notleia

Also, the accents. The sexy, sexxxay pan-African accents. Mmm, yeah, say words at me, Chadwick.

A.M.Pine
Guest

Very thoughtful post, Parker. I enjoyed it! I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve had similar conversations! My background is pretty conservative and my husband’s even MORE conservative, so it’s been interesting talking with family and friends in our home educating circles. I think you hit the nail on the head when it comes down to personal convictions. I’ve really found that there is so much truth and beauty we can pull out from MOST things, no matter if they are Christian or not. Where we draw the line really depends on someone’s worldview and their interpretation of the Bible, most likely. And in the gray areas, then personal conviction kicks in on so many things. I actually think some fantasy is a closer representation of reality due to the fact that it keeps spiritual things and physical things in close contact. The separating out of the spiritual and real life is a harsh part of our modern world. To me, we can’t live without keeping in mind spiritual realities. Anyway. Hopefully, that makes sense. Amy

Steve Mathisen
Guest

It would seem that some people have trouble distinguishing between the fantasy that is the fictional world portrayed in the movie(s) and the real world in which we live out our faith. I enjoyed the movie on so many levels I will end up watching it several times, I am sure. To see the righteous values of T’Challa win out over the evil of Killmonger was a win for me. And then to see, T’Challa learn to share the wealth and technology of his nation with the poor of another nation was an example of loving your neighbors that we can all emulate.

Reneé Le Vine
Guest

I really liked Black Panther. I’m not that big into superhero movies, but I liked this one. I felt like there was a real depth to it. It has a lot of strong women characters in it too, from Shuri to the Dora Milaje to Lupita Nyong’o’s character (I forgot her name). I feel like it really celebrated African culture as well, showing that even though Wakanda had become very technologically advanced, they had preserved their culture rather than being Westernized. I think there’s been this idea perpetuated in the West of Africans being primitive, but before colonization there were vibrant cultures all across the continent, and even vast empires like the Dahomey Empire. They also had centers of learning – Timbuktu being one of the most prominent. (I read a book about this recently, called “The Bad-ass Librarians of Timbuktu,” which weaves the history of Timbuktu as a cultural and educational center with a modern-day narrative of courageous people who saved old manuscripts from the Taliban. It’s very good). With that history, the idea of a place like Wakanda existing isn’t that far-fetched, and it serves as an example of what an African culture untouched by colonization could be like. True, they were more advanced than most would probably be, thanks to the vibranium, but even so.

I do acknowledge that one has to be careful what one watches, as a Christian. But I think if one is able to distinguish fantasy from reality, and be discerning, stories with magic and mysticism can be fine. I am personally ok with magic in what I read and watch, and even write. And the mysticism and such in Black Panther IS tied to the culture being portrayed. One of the novels I’m working on is set in 7th-century Japan, long before Japan was reached with Christianity, so the characters follow Shinto practices for the most part, with some Buddhism thrown in (Buddhism had just been introduced to Japan about 50-100 years before the time my story starts, and there is a lot of mixing of the two in Japan even today). I was a little nervous about it, but I think it is representative of the culture, especially since the novel is historical fiction. So I think it’s ok.

Anyway, that’s my thoughts on it.

R. J. Anderson
Member

I took the paganism in Black Panther as representing the characters’ beliefs and folklore in the context of the fictional Marvel universe, a universe we already know to be significantly different from our own due to the known existence of superheroes, aliens, and other extraordinary beings. I can watch these kinds of stories without feeling any temptation to abandon my real Christian faith for a pseudo-historical polytheistic religion, for the same reasons that as a child I was perfectly capable of watching a cartoon coyote play with dynamite and fall off the edge of a cliff without ever being tempted to imagine that dynamite was safe or that I could survive such a fall myself.

When Christians show fear of stories that depict non-Biblical religions, especially made-up ones, it makes me wonder what we are really afraid of. Is our faith really so feeble that a fairy tale about imaginary gods and spirits will lure us and our children into idolatry? I can respect the view of Christians who see fantasy as merely a waste of time, even if I don’t agree with them; and I can also respect the desire of Christians who have come out of pagan religions to avoid being reminded of their past. But I really don’t understand seeing a movie like Black Panther as a threat to the faith. If any viewer decides after seeing this movie to embrace ancestor religion or worship Hanuman, I think that’s a pretty good sign that they never knew Christ anyway.

Ayesha K Mustafaa
Guest
Ayesha K Mustafaa

Just a thought- isn’t the Christmas tree from a pagan culture, the bunny-egg from fertility goddess?

Travis Perry
Editor

I haven’t seen Black Panther. (Sorry).

But I in general resent inclusion of Paganism and exclusion of Christianity in superhero movies.

Marvel has the full set of Asgardians, which it explains away as space aliens, but they are there. DC has Wonder Woman, with a full set of Greek mythology.

What is clearly Christian in these movies? A few features of Captain America, a few of Superman (such as him spending a few moments in a church).

Many African countries are VERY overtly Christian–like Uganda and Kenya. Is that the kind of Africa the comics portray? Nope, African Paganism.

I’m not saying it’s too Pagan to watch, but I’ve been to Africa and it sounds to me that Black Panther is not representing what Africa is in terms of its religion. Instead, it’s marching to the same drumbeat as other superhero movies–which is: Paganism = normal, Christianity = invisible.

Princesselwen
Guest
Princesselwen

I thought the reason Wakanda wasn’t Christian was because it had remained isolated from the outside world.

Travis Perry
Editor

Again, I haven’t seen the movie, so my comments are not based on it. But Christians have been in the northeast part of Africa (from Egypt down to Ethiopia), since the beginning of Christianity. So portraying an isolated African country as if that means the country MUST be Pagan is assuming something that would be true for much but not all of Africa (note that the African empires which were not Christian were often Muslim).

As for Wakanda’s isolation, Wakanda has technology, right? And at least some of their people speak English, correct? So either they totally invented all their technology themselves with no knowledge of other scientific developments (unlikely) or reinvented the English language independently (virtually impossible)–or they actually were not 100% isolated. They at least had information concerning the outside world. But that information doesn’t include Christianity? Really?

Again, I have not seen the movie–but that story premise strikes me as a bit of a slap in the face to the many very devout Christians in African nations.

notleia
Guest
notleia

Just because they had info concerning Christianity (and/or Islam) doesn’t mean it was adopted on a large scale. Japan is a precedent; they’ve had missionaries since white people discovered where to go, but even today there’s hardly any Christian population in Japan.

Princess Elwen has a point about non-colonization, tho. Christianity and Islam mostly spread through politicization and conquest.

Princesselwen
Guest
Princesselwen

That was what I meant–not that “Christians wouldn’t go to Wakanda because it’s remote”, (because that’s not true) but “Wakanda deliberately locked the outside world, including Christianity, outside their borders, meaning it never extensively took hold there,” which made more sense with what I saw in the movie. Sorry if I wasn’t clear.

Autumn Grayson
Guest
Autumn Grayson

I wish Christianity or at least religion could be represented better in popular media, but people tend not to do a good job of that, even when they attempt positive portrayals, so sometimes I’m almost relieved when they don’t try.

Actually… I’m glad Christianity is nearly invisible in the Marvel universe. The paganism in Marvel is often linked to character mysticism and powers, so if Christianity was in this story it’d probably be depicted in a weird Dr Strange like way instead of realistically.

My superhero story has Christianity in it, but that’s probably partially because the story world it takes place in is far different than Marvel’s. The characters’ religions don’t really have anything to do with their powers, and the story is very character and plot driven, rather than action driven, so in that situation it is far easier to depict Christianity and religious issues correctly, rather than having to figure out how to turn each character’s religion into a weird superpower.

Pastor Teirrah McNair
Guest

Great insights.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh
Guest

It was “It Happened One Night,” by the way, which is credited for Clark Gable’s supposed effect on undershirt sales. #FilmNerd

But you make an excellent point — we practice separating reality and film-worlds all the time. I am not confused about flying invisible jets. I am not confused about super-tech which can heal a broken spine overnight. And I am not confused about ancestor worship or panther goddesses or magical flowers.

The film does ask some questions which Christians should address. What is our responsibility to those we see oppressed or abused? Even if it’s traditional or entrenched and we’re just, you know, used to it being that way? When is it appropriate to challenge the legal and traditional rules for something we believe is a better way?

I loved seeing a less-common take on an African nation and black actors getting to play different or better roles. And I loved seeing the women being awesome not just for having opinions and fighting (both excellent features), but also for being academically smart. I’m showing this film to a friend tonight!