Real Religion

I want to wind up talking with you about the current series, “Manifest.” [1] I would like to start, however, with a line from Pay It Forward. The line is, “We’re not allowed to pay it back.” I am counting on you to know the story, but I want to highlight “we,” and “allowed.” There is a definitive prohibition of some sort that applies to all the members of some unspecified category. Who allows? Who forbids?

From there, follow me on to Ghost. There is nothing religious at all in Ghost, but we know what happened because Sam Wheat (Patrick Swayze) hunts around after he is murdered and finds out. Then he finds a way to communicate the facts to his girlfriend, Molly Jensen (Demi Moore) by means of a psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg). So we know everything. Sam tells Molly to go to the police and tell them what actually happened and here we run into difficulties. The police have not had access to the information we have and that Molly has and they are forced to treat her report just the way they would treat any such report. They get a lot of reports like this and there would have to be some reason for them to believe this one, while continuing to reject the others. [2]

“Manifest” features an “event” that happens to Flight 828 and that strongly affects 19 of the passengers. We get the information the passengers get. We hear the voices, we see the visions, and so on. We don’t know exactly what they mean—and neither do the recipients—but we know that they are called on to intervene in “normal life” on the basis of this private knowledge they have. That’s difficult.

Ben Stone’s son, Cal, for instance, is being treated for cancer. There is an experimental treatment that shows promise, but it requires that the protocols be followed strictly. That’s the professional part. On the other hand, Cal is linked in some kind of “mind meld” [3] with a Romanian passenger who was stolen from Flight 828 and being used as a guinea pig; high voltage electricity being put into his brain. Because of the mind meld, whatever happens to the Romanian, happens to Cal. That requires the medical professionals to interpret what they are seeing within a completely foreign (and flimsy) frame of reference. They are reluctant to do it, of course.

Really Engaged. Not Followers

When they stop the experiment on the Romanian, Cal improves instantly but, as the doctors say, “Sometimes people just get better.” This isn’t seeing some amazing event beyond your ability to explain it. This is rejecting the professional explanation you trust in favor of a completely wild and unsupported hypothesis based on body snatching and, who knows, maybe aliens.

This is what I am calling “the religious point of view,” not that it is presented as religious in the series. It is transcendent rather than immanent; it requires you to ignore what your training tells you, in favor of someone’s wild-sounding scheme.

There is another presentation of religion, however. We know two things about it. The first is that it is fraudulent from the first moment of its existence. Adrian Shannon was on Flight 828, so he was wherever the plane and its passengers were for the unexplained five and a half years. But they have no sooner landed than he becomes Brother Adrian of the Church of 828.

The second thing we know is that it looks a great deal like a conservative charismatic church. They have a very small liturgy they share, like “Blessed are the children of the returned” They have a representation the the plane that looks very much like a cross. They have the hands in the air style of participation. This is “What religion really is” as far as the presentations the show offers. I am calling in “the institutional point of view.”

Brother Adrian’s “Church”

It is not hard to be disgusted with “the church of 828” but it is very hard to be confident in the “callings” the principal characters—nearly all passengers. We see them “get” the calling or see Cal’s crayon drawings of what is going to happen, but we don’t know what this force is, so our trust is in the people we see.

The church of 828 points beyond itself, but fraudulently. The real “break the frame of everyday life” transcendent religion gives us nothing to believe in. This religion thing…it’s not for sissies.

[1] Certainly one of the cleverest titles I have seen. It is not only that there are several possible meanings, but that the meanings are so very different from each other. The manifest is the list of the passengers on Flight 828. But something also, a transcendent intentionality of some sort, is “being manifest” i.e. “shown.”
[2] Molly gives then a reason like that, information only her source could have had, but the police have no reason to treat it as special.
[3] It’s a Star Trek reference, even though the use of the brain to control limbs remotely is now possible. You do see it every now and then when He meets Her in a bar and their eyes meet across the room and they share the same thought remotely.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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