Is Doctor Strange Dangerous For Christians?
I went to see Doctor Strange when it opened Friday.
Does that mean I’m a bad Christian or I risked my spiritual life by setting foot in the theater for that particular movie?
Doctor Strange hasn’t even been out a week, and already the clash has begun. Will watching Doctor Strange open the door to the occult, to dangerous Eastern mysticism and New Age beliefs, to things Christians should never associate with?
Then again, maybe not.
I don’t mean to turn this post into a debate of verbal fisticuffs. The discussion among Christians about what counts as quality entertainment has already made its rounds more times than a Star Trek spacecraft circling a planet.
But the fact that said debate exists begs the question. Where do we draw the line? Clearly Christians are divided on this topic. I happen to fall into the “read Harry Potter, Marvel is awesome, take me to a magical fantasy world” camp.
I believe there’s room for that without excluding a Christian worldview, and that those whose insistence falls solidly on the other end of the spectrum may be missing the point.
As I sat in the theater, entranced by the visual spectacle before me, the “dangerous influences” tossed out at me didn’t pass over my head. They went right in.
And that’s a good thing.
Not because I’m now off to Katmandu to learn magic or join an occult group. Rather, because the emphasis should be on paying attention to the content you’re taking in and engaging your mind through the process.
The movie itself is fascinating, stunning, riveting. This isn’t a review so I’ll leave it at that. I’m more interested in the philosophical, worldview aspect. Ted Baehr’s Christian review site gave Doctor Strange a hearty smackdown, with a -4 “Abhorrent” content rating. Mainly due to the magic, occulty stuff.
It’s a valid concern and one I don’t want to ignore. That’s a real danger for people. Yet I think in most cases such concerns are overemphasized or misemphasized.
The question I wonder is, “Is this need for Christians to bash magic and all other forms of less-than-pure content actually indicative of a problem?”
From my experience, us Christians who promote magical stories and the like are viewed with skepticism, as if our worldview is flawed. Perhaps that’s framing the issue from the wrong angle. What if it’s the opposite? Not due to a compromised worldview, but because of an unshakable worldview, we can watch movies like Doctor Strange and not rush headlong into occultism.
It’s not due to spiritual blindness or apathy that we don’t flee from these “dangerous stories.” It’s because our eyes are open, because our minds are actively engaged with and processing the content of we take in. We don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.
If the pillars of our beliefs are anchored in the solid foundation of unwavering truth, then astral projections, multiple universes, or magical powers become not a crack that undermines our foundation but aspects of a particular story and world. A world that, though reflecting ours, is not our world.
That’s a key distinction to make.
Last time I checked, our world doesn’t have an Avengers team. We’re not endangered by interference from Asgardian demigods. So while many elements are mirror images, the story is just that—a story.
Viewing it as such, we can be more objective.
- What parts of the story can we enjoy for the sake of being entertained, having our imaginations sparked, and our minds stimulated?
- What parts do we see as presenting dangers, yet not something that can ultimately ruin our faith?
The story included plenty of positive elements, even though not presented from a Christian standpoint. It also included the suspect stuff. Guess what? So does life. Stories that deal with the full spectrum of experiences, beliefs, opinions, thoughts are more grounded in reality. More believable.
We don’t face issues like occult practices by burying our head in the sand or saying it’s untouchable. Granted, stories take place in a fictional setting, but a story done well reflects reality in meaningful, moving ways.
Someone may not agree and prefer to avoid Doctor Strange and such magical things. It’s not for us to judge. As soon we take a step down that road, we’re no better than the people we call out for imposing the thou-shalt-not rules of entertainment on us.
Returning full circle to the original question: Is Doctor Strange dangerous?
Not from my perspective. However, two dangers do exist.
- Condemning it for everything you disagree with, thus removing the ability to enjoy an excellent film and ponder the thought-provoking questions it raised.
- Throwing your mental arms wide and accepting everything without discernment.
Do you think Doctor Strange presents a danger to Christians?
I don’t see Dr. Strange as any more or less dangerous than reading world mythology. I had to read (and watch) The Ramayana for school. For those who don’t know what that’s about, it’s basically the Indian/Hindu version of the Illiad, but without the dishonorable conduct, Achilles whining, and the sex. Throughout the the animated film I watched the music sang the praises of Ram, who is considered a god. Was I in any danger? No, because I viewed the whole thing as psudo-history and fairy tale. It can be done, if you go in there armed with your world and life view, and the knowledge that it’s not real.
Listen, it’s really simple… those Christians that feel that they shouldn’t see this movie shouldn’t see it, and those Christians that feel it’s okay to see it are free to. (Or not.)
We are free in Christ, and last time I read through the Scriptures I’m pretty sure this is not an essential to our salvation.
When I was saved I was a part of the punk scene. Sex Pistols, Dead Boys, Ramones… the whole nine yards. The music spoke to me on a certain level. When I accepted the Lord (over 25 years ago now) I tried really hard to listen to Christian music that people were giving me instead. Man…
It was rough. Real rough. I tried and tried, but no matter what I did I couldn’t settle into it. It didn’t speak to me. …So, 25 years later I still listen to al lot of that stuff.That portion of the music that is blatantly anti-Christ I don’t, but the style of punk still speaks to me. …Yeah, I’ve heard all the arguments about devil music and Satan using the beat against my soul. Blah. Blah. Blah. But when you come down to it, I am free in Christ to listen to Rancid AND Chris Tomlin. I am free, and I love the Lord.
There is a tendency in those who like to draw those lines to try to force others into the box they’ve made for themselves. Well, listen… Christians ought to love God’s freedom too much to allow themselves to be hedged in by another’s dogma. We have one Lord, one God, and yes, one Holy Spirit.
Praise Him, and let Him guide.
Zachary, with respect, I think you may be asking the wrong questions. Before I address that, let me say I am also, like you seem to be, tired of the Christian who comes out with a metaphorical shotgun and attacks anything that contains the word “magic” in it (and who usually does so quite inconsistently). It’s more than tiresome, it’s a bit crazy. And I have never supported that point of view, that all magic is bad–I instead have blogged about how to use magic in stories in a positive way: http://travissbigidea.blogspot.mx/2014/08/7-ways-to-deal-with-problem-magic-poses.html
(Though, full disclosure, I have ALSO blogged about the potential the fantasy genre has to promote real-life Paganism at times. That post is also visible on my blog, but I won’t link it here.)
Also before asking some questions you did not pose, let me answer the question you DID ask. Is Doctor Strange dangerous for Christians? My answer is the same as yours. For Christians grounded and established in their faith, no, it isn’t. Not at all, in my honest evaluation.
But please permit me to ask another set of questions: Does Doctor Strange provide positive public relations for the Occult as a brand? Is the movie “image” of Doctor Strange in effect to the Occult what the Marlboro Man was to cigarettes? Is the movie thus indirectly promoting the Occult among NON CHRISTIANS (indirectly because the film does not actually teach one how to perform magic)? Is therefore the price of the movie ticket spent to see Doctor Strange supporting the success of the exact opposite of the Christian world view I espouse? So would it make sense for me to say that I should not see the movie even though it provides no hazards to me personally?
I personally would answer every question I just gave with a “Yes,” though ironically I can’t be entirely sure without watching a film I think it would be a mistake to watch. So I certainly cannot be dogmatic about what I believe is true, even though I think my reasoning is sound.
Summed up, those questions I posed provide a reason for me not to watch the film that has nothing to do with the question you asked. If my reasoning is correct, that’s grounds for ANY Christian to refuse to watch it.
Though I would say my reasoning, while I think it’s correct, is certainly debatable. Therefore, I really wish Speculative Fiction would ask the question–“Does Doctor Strange promote the Occult as a brand among non-Christians?” I think THAT would be a worthwhile discussion.
However, I should also disclose that as much as I feel there is at least a potential case to be made against Doctor Strange on the grounds of refusing to support a film that gives good PR to the Occult, I must admit I don’t even want to watch it anyway. It’s an entirely separate issue from what I raised, but the special-effects-laden superhero movie is getting a bit old with me in general. So even if I had no concerns about Doctor Strange promoting the “Occult brand,” I wouldn’t be too eager to watch it. Which is, of course, an entirely personal choice which I would not push on other people. But FYI.
Slight tangent: I’m having a problem with “Occult” or “New Age” as a catch-all term. Because they are not terribly specific and often don’t really mean anything on a functional level beyond “goth aesthetic” and “stuff that hippies like.”
I doubt that “White Appropriation: The Movie” really gives a good look at what is actually involved in beliefs around qi/chi. I do hope it’s smarter than that, if only because I like better writing than “we need some plot-babble to give direction to the special-effects crew.”
Hmm. Occult is a bit catch-all. New Age can be too, but if someone tells me they are into New Age stuff, I pretty much know what they think. Not in extremely precise terms, but I know generally. Crystals, reincarnation, some Transcendental Meditation perhaps. Not much else.
The Occult, vague as it is, is certainly more precise that “stuff hippies like.” We are not talking tie-dyed t-shirts here. It DOES refer to seeking supernatural power in a way that does NOT include Christianity (or the other Abrahamic faiths for that matter, unless we delve into beliefs outside the mainstream of those faiths). A lot is under that umbrella, from seances, to tarot cards, Ouija boards, transcendental meditation, outright Neopaganism and Witchcraft (and more). Yes, including some Eastern philosophy concerning the chi. But I would have to rather disagree that it doesn’t mean anything at all.
And I thought I had said pretty clearly that I didn’t think Doctor Strange would really teach anything about how the Occult really works (pick your brand, Eastern or Western, I don’t expect you will learn much about it from this movie). I think though it makes what I called the Occult–let me define that as seeking supernatural power in a way other than seeking the God of the Bible–seem sexy and interesting. I think that’s a bit hard to disagree with me based on me using the term “Occult.” The phenomenon is there, whether I used the right word to define it or not. Or so it seems to me.
Well, at least you listed some specifics to work with, i.e. the tarot and the Ouija. On the other hand, I think you give Neopagans and Wiccans (I’m guessing you mean Wiccans) too much credit, because all the ones I vaguely internet-know are the nature-y hippie type.
Wiccans themselves say they practice “Witchcraft”…so it is not an error to use that term. (I can prove what I just asserted, if you would like me to. There are books written by Wiccans which clearly indicate what I just said.)
I give the Wiccans and Neopagans too much credit? How so? By saying they seek supernatural power by means other than through God? (By the way, I never said they can do fantastic mind bending magic–but they DO cast spells, they DO seek supernatural power.)
What I said is FACTUAL. It does not matter if the Wiccans you have known were nature-y and hippie, Witchcraft involves praying TO the binary male and female spiritual powers and the powers that reside in nature…well, praying isn’t quite the right word, nor does “casting spells,” quite get the idea across correctly, because that implies they have a lot more power than they do. But it is fair and accurate to say that they “seek supernatural power” by means other than God. That is what they DO. It’s not my opinion.
And while Neopaganism is to a degree a fringe movement, there are no good numbers available to count the total number of adherents. They are generally a far larger group than you think. (My older sister, by the way, is heavily involved in Neopaganism and she provided me some of HER books to read some years back so I would understand “her faith” better. And I do understand it better–and see it as a genuine competitor to Christianity in the world today.)
Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention, there are Neopagans who are not hippie types at all. A certain flavor of Neopaganism is even favored by Neonazis…
I prefer “Wiccan” for specificity, because it means the current, western-culture hippie-dippy type and not the other various kinds of witchery that people have been accused of across time and geography.
Though that leaves out for-real Vodou witches, but I don’t even know if they style themselves as witches.
TL;DR is that my liberal-arts training wants better words for more specific categories.
Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention, there are Neopagans who are not hippie types at all. A certain flavor of Neopaganism is even favored by Neonazis…
Oh, I do know about the for-real Neonazi pagans. Racist buttbags gonna racist, I guess, but don’t drag Thor into that.
Though I’ve yet to see the film, I agree with you on all but one point. No this isn’t our world, but yes, occult forces do exist and too many people dabble with it because they see it in the movies. And it’s dangerous. And it’s very real. So then that makes me wonder if it actually is better for Christians to watch things with magic than it is for those who don’t have a solid foundation. Perhaps they are the ones that are most vulnerable to adapting it to their worldview. I’ve known too many people who dabble in witchcraft, ouija boards, fortune telling, etc. I think you’re right that Christians can watch such things and not necessarily become sucked in…but what about those Christians who don’t have a solid foundation? What about those in the world who don’t have the truth at all? How do we address that? Those are just some of my thoughts. Thanks for the thoughtful and insightful post!
In an interesting twist on all of this, the director of DOCTOR STRANGE is an outspoken Christian who believes in using the horror and supernatural genres as a way to explore spiritual conflicts and Biblical themes. See this interview with RELEVANT magazine, for instance: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/culture/horrors-most-influential-filmmaker-committed-christian
I was resolved never to touch DOCTOR STRANGE with a ten-foot pole as a comic-reading kid, because I had been taught to believe that any fictional depiction of anything even remotely like the occult was an enticement to Satanism. Even when the movie was first announced, I thought to myself, “Well, there’s a Marvel movie I won’t be seeing.”
But when I found out that Scott Derrickson was a Christian and that he would be directing the movie, I sat up and took notice. Not to say that just because one professing Christian thinks something is OK makes it OK for everyone, or even OK for anyone at all — but because the things Derrickson was saying in his interviews made sense to me. I did not get the impression that this man was interested in handwaving evil or making it seem appealing, and I also had the strong impression that he was actually trying to subvert the more occultish aspects of the magic used by Strange and other “good guy” magicians.
Of course, I may change my mind about that after seeing the movie. I may well conclude that Derrickson didn’t do a good job, at least in the moral and spiritual sense, of handling Doctor Strange’s story. But I have decided that I am going to see it at some point, because I want to see what Derrickson is doing and make up my own mind about it.
I haven’t seen the movie yet so I’m reserving judgment but I can tell you right now that the “editorial review” on Ted Baehr’s site looks suspiciously like it’s based on the trailers rather than the movie itself… which makes sense if you’d already made up your mind.
Titus 1:15 To the clean in heart all things are clean: but to those who are unclean and without faith nothing is clean; they become unclean in mind and in thought.