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Regrettably, I spent a small fortune to watch this movie:

The movie did not even have the chance to impress me with its only strength – visual effects – before it became very clear that I was being told another story of the  Übermensch:

“But when Zarathustra was alone, he spoke thus to his heart:…God is dead!”

“When Zarathustra arrived at the nearest town…[he] spoke thus to the people: I teach you the Übermensch. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?”

(Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche)

Immortals claims to be the story of Theseus of Greek mythology, but this reinterpretation by Vlas and Charley Parlapanides holds little more than Theseus’ name and a few landmarks in common with the legend of antiquity. What I found was closer to a postmodernist ode to atheistic hedonism. I was offended for the Greeks. At least Homer had the courtesy to attribute most of the senseless immorality in his Iliad and Odyssey to the Olympian misfits, and allow his human characters a sense of honor. Scoundrels though they were, I am far more sympathetic towards Patroclus and Hector (I have no patience for Achilles) than Aphrodite and Zeus.

Instead, we are told from beginning that both our protagonist (Theseus) and our antagonist (Hyperion; notably the name for the ancient sun-god in Greek mythology) are atheists. “God is dead!” is screamed with Nietzsche from both ends of this film.

And who can blame them? The gods that do exist are hardly immortal, hardly worthy of praise. As much screen time is devoted to the execution of gods and goddesses as is to that of human soldiers.  The gods of Immortals seem to derive their authority simply from occupying a higher altitude in space and nothing more.

To whom then must we look to for our salvation, what with God being dead?

Man, of course. “I teach you the Übermensch” is the chorus where “God is dead!” is the verse. It is the constitution following the revolution. The immunization following the infection. The punch line to the joke.

Übermensch can be translated as Superman or Overman. It is what man should be, but isn’t. It is what militant members of the “new atheism” like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens pray to when they write their books and hold their lectures. There have been times when I also have visited the service, sang the hymns. I know the temptation, the draw. Can’t you understand it also? The burning glory of the individual toppling the Divine Oppressor, building a tower of our own making. Alister McGrath in The Twilight of Atheism speaks of the toppling of the towering Bastille, the French Revolution of 1789, as the the monument in history that signifies the brilliant dawn of this worship of the Übermensch, “Atheism was the Promethean liberator, which alone could guarantee the initial success and subsequent triumph of the Revolution.”

But where does this leave us? The end of Immortals shows us: two egomaniacs wrestling atop a mountain of crumbling treasures and a hurried apotheosis.

But a society of Übermensch-worshippers doesn’t really have the stomach for this. So we construct something glorious, yet palatable; majestic, yet kind to our ears. We construct a New Mythology.

In G.K. Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis of Assisi, the stage is set for St. Francis by introducing the course of paganism in the ancient world. Chesterton
describes paganism as the sensual, hedonistic nature-worship that preceded the austerity of the Dark Ages (associated with celibate monasticism), preparing the landscape (in Chesterton’s brilliant and forgivably-biased mind) for the entrance of a wonderful little monk named Francis. My following summary can hardly do justice to actually reading  (at least) chapter 2 of Chesterton’s biography. Chesterton describes ancient paganism as “a very high civilisation,” adding, “It would not weaken our thesis, it might even strengthen it, to say that it was the highest that humanity ever reached. It had discovered its still unrivalled arts of poetry and plastic representation; it had discovered its own permanent political ideals; it had discovered its own clear system of logic and of language.”

History, I feel, will undoubtedly consider ours to also be a season of “high civilisation.”

Chesterton proceeds, however, to point out the error of paganism: “the mistake of nature-worship.” That is, the worship of what is created.

Don’t our people, our academies, cinemas, senates, and concert halls also bow before the creature?

Chesterton beautifully elaborates on the abysmal depth of this mistake, “The truth is that people who worship health cannot remain healthy.” Man began to turn in on himself, as only a crooked thing can. And the result was the corruption of the nature that was worshiped, “…the whole world was coloured by dangerous and rapidly deteriorating passions; by natural passions becoming unnatural passions. Thus the effect of treating sex as only one innocent natural thing was that every other innocent natural thing became soaked and sodden with sex.”

Sin ate everything up.

Ghouls and shadows was all that eventually remained of this nature-worship, “The Early Church called the gods of paganism devils; and the Early Church was perfectly right. Whatever natural religion may have to do with their beginnings, nothing but fiends now inhabited those hollow shrines. Pan was nothing but panic. Venus was nothing but venereal vice.”

What is left at the godless shrine?

I propose that we are witnesses to a New Mythology, a New Paganism, wherein the creation is worshiped and the Creator disdained. Where we would subject ourselves to the winds and waves before we would subject ourselves to the One who calms them. Where we would praise the power of words before we would praise the power of the Word. Where we would confess the championship of death before we would confess the Resurrected One.

We enthrone idols and ignore the King.

“Nothing,” declares Chesterton, “could purge this obsession but a religion that was literally unearthly. It was no good telling such people to have a natural religion full of stars and flowers; there was not a flower or even a star that had not been stained. They had to go into the desert where they could find no flowers or even into the cavern where they could see no stars.”

We have One that has come out of the desert.

“Christianity had entered the world,” Chesterton maintains, “to cure the world; and she had cured it in the only way in which it could be cured.” The ankle broken in impassioned sprinting required setting; or as we read in Hebrews, “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (12:12).

We have one Healer.

Chesterton recognized this dislocated limb in the human, “There is a bias in man like the bias in the bowl; and Christianity was the discovery of how to correct the bias and therefore hit the mark…the glad good news brought by the Gospel was the news of original sin.”

This world does the same old cartwheels. The accuser does the same old magic  tricks.

There is still One who says, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

daniel

(The art included is by the incomparable Peter Howson)