Student spotlight #14: A Saviour from the East

Today’s essay continues our theme of contemporary messiahs, or super saviours, which we’ve explored over the past few days. What makes this one a little different though is that the super saviour figure appears in a Japanese animated fantasy film, Princess Mononoke (more details here), rather than the more typical Western superhero brand. The author of this fab essay is Isabelle Steinman, who hails from sunny Hawke’s Bay. Isabelle is studying a Bachelor of Arts and Science conjoint, majoring in mathematics, physics, and philosophy. She hopes to carry on to do postgraduate study and likes the idea of working in academia one day. She took our Bible and Pop Culture class because, although an atheist, she has always been interested in religion, particularly religious art and architecture, and is fascinated by the impact that religion has on everybody’s lives, regardless of their personal beliefs.

Although I’ve never seen Princess Mononoke myself, Isabelle’s essay has made me want to watch it – so, whether or not you are familiar with this film, I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading what she has to say.

Princess Mononoke– a Story of Gods, Demons and a Cursed Messiah

Isabelle Steinmann

mononokeMessiahs are everywhere in pop-culture. Characterised by a selfless passion for justice, a black and white moral code, extraordinary powers and an outsider status they maintain a strong connection with divinity or spirituality whilst remaining human. (Reinhartz, 2009). These Christ figures appear not only in Western culture but also in the East as is demonstrated in Hayao Miyazaki’s 1997 animated film, Princess Mononoke.

 After being cursed while killing a demon that was attacking his tribe, Ashitaka is forced to cut his hair, leave his people and journey far to the West in order to meet his fate. He arrives in a land caught in a struggle between the humans of Irontown and the gods of the forest. As he is able to move between the warring sides, he befriends both San, the ‘daughter’ of the wolf god Moro, and Lady Eboshi, the mistress of Irontown. Ashitaka possesses many Christ-like qualities. He is set apart from other characters by his unusual ways and his extraordinary strength and he is driven by a commitment to justice for which he eventually sacrifices himself and is resurrected.

Throughout the film, Ashitaka ‘otherness’ is emphasised. His unusual origins and extraordinary strengths distinguish him from other characters. Often referred to as ‘stranger’ or ‘outsider’ (Miyazaki, 1997), it is clear that the other characters do not see him as one of them. Ashitaka comes from the marginalised Emishi tribe that was believed to have been eradicated hundreds of years earlier. Separated from the culture that was advancing towards a technological future, the Emishi people are portrayed as the ‘guardians of ancient wisdoms of the forest’ (Bigelow, 2009). Unlike the other humans in the film, Ashitaka grew up with a strong connection with and respect for the natural world. We see this when Ashitaka saves two men of Irontown, carrying them home through the ‘forbidden forest’ (Miyazaki, 1997). While the men are terrified of the ethereal kodama (tree spirits), Ashitaka trusts the spirits to guide them through the forest saying that they are ‘a sign this forest is healthy’ (Miyazaki, 1997). Ashitaka’s unusual origins give him a different perspective to other characters in the film. He is not worried about wealth or power but has a deep-seated interest in nature and the preservation of life.


Ashitaka is also separated from other characters by his incredible, but still very human, strengths. The nature with which he returns the men to Irontown grants him a mixed reception. While the townspeople are grateful that their men are alive, they do not wholly trust this strange man who managed to travel through the taboo forest with two badly injured men; it is something they would not have dreamed possible. Ashitaka’s strength and fighting abilities seem almost unnatural to the other characters. ‘You fight like a demon’ (Miyazaki, 1997), one character tells Ashitaka. This emphasises both the magnitude and nature of Ashitaka’s powers. His strength, determination and archery skills, while god-like in measure, are human powers in essence. Ashitaka is only human and he does suffer under human hardships. This is important as, in order to be a relatable, and therefore successful, messiah he must have ‘the same limitations and weaknesses as an ‘ordinary’ and finite human being’ (Deacy, 1999).

Despite his humanity, it is still through a screen of suspicion that the other characters respect Ashitaka for his strengths. Mysterious, powerful, and therefore potentially dangerous, Ashitaka must be ‘othered’. It is this outsider status, which is common for messiah figures (Kozlovic, 2004), that allows Ashitaka to move between worlds and act in a messianic role. Messiahs, as semi-holy figures, must represent desirable values whilst being set apart from the rest of us. They are figures that we should aspire to be like. Human, and familiar enough to be relatable while being separate enough to revere.


Ashitaka’s incredible strength is balanced by his incredible love and respect for life. He is driven by a desire for peace and committed to his beliefs in justice. When these two values come into conflict, Ashitaka suffers. He wants to end violence but often must use violence to do so. When we first meet Ashitaka, he is protecting his people from a terrible demon. The creature seethes with writhing, black worms but even so Ashitaka first tries to reason with it. ‘Calm your fury, oh mighty lord’ (Miyazaki, 1997), he pleads. However, when the beast threatens some villagers, Ashitaka is forced to take decisive action, killing the demon with his bow and arrow. Ashitaka knows what is right but he still struggles to enforce it. He wants to protect the innocent and fight for the weak or ashikta 2marginalised but it pains him to take life and he does this only when there is no other option. We see this again when Ashitaka reflects on killing two samurai who were brutally attacking another village. ‘I was wrong to fight in that village’, he says, ‘two men are dead because of me’ (Miyazaki, 1997). Although he knows his actions were justified and that his skills gave him a unique power to help the defenceless villagers, he still feels a ‘reluctance to use those skills to do harm’ (Kraemer, 2016). Ashitaka’s complex moral code separates him from classic messiah figures. He does not rationalise the violence he uses but instead feels the weight of every life he takes. He is cursed not only with the mark on his arm but also by the guilt of the violence he must use.


Ashitaka’s desires are different from all other characters in the film resulting in him not taking a side in the conflict. It is not any particular victory that he wants but an end to violence. When questioned what it is that he desires, he says ‘What I want is for the humans and the forest to live in peace’ (Miyazaki, 1997). The other characters see the forest and the town as completely divided, different and unable to mix. But Ashitaka does see not the division between them. To him, all life is simply sacred. No matter what you must ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12:31). When San and Eboshi become involved in a vicious fight, Ashitaka intervenes and delivers a stirring sermon. His curse manifests itself as black, swirling tendrils as he shouts to the shocked and terrified crowd, ‘This is what hatred looks like! This is what it does when it catches hold of you! (Miyazaki, 1997). Ashitaka fight is not against against humans or gods but against hatred and it is his ‘willingness to meet violence with love’ (Kraemer, 2016) that is his greatest weapon.


Ashitaka’s image as a messiah figure is cemented in the other-worldliness of his resurrection and in his sacrifice. Miyazaki is careful in the way he portrays Ashitaka in these scenes. Although they are rich with godly powers, Ashitaka’s humanity is emphasised. As a messiah figure, Ashitaka is human touched by divinity. He is not a divine being himself but he is influenced by the gods and demons that are present in his life. This is epitomised in his resurrection. After Ashitaka is shot, San takes his lifeless body to a sacred island in the middle of the forest. She places a small plant above his head, a life to take in return for his. After she leaves, we see the forest spirit approach and revive Ashitaka in a strange, dream-like sequence. During the day, the god, who duty is to ‘give life and take life away’ (Miyazaki, 1997,) takes the form of a deer like creature with many antlers and humanoid face. We see flowers and plants bud, bloom, wilt and die under the creature’s feet as it walks. The forest spirit looks upon Ashitaka and the plant as the leaves of the plant wither and drop. In the morning, Ashitaka’s bullet wound is healed but the cursed mark remains. Although Ashitaka undergoes what is definitely a divine resurrection, it is not any divinity of his own that saves him but his pure heart. It is the forest spirit who, deeming Ashitaka worthy of resurrecting, saves him thus ensuring Ashitaka remains fully human.


In the stunning climax to the film, Ashitaka sacrifices himself to atone for humanity’s wrongdoings. Eboshi and the other humans have shot off and taken the forest spirit’s head. The ghostly shell of its body spews out deadly black liquid and long arms which search for its head. Ashitaka catches the carriers of the head and demand they give it to him to return before everything is destroyed. ‘Human hands must return it!’ (Miyazaki, 1997) He shouts. Humanity as a whole has sinned, they have turned their back on nature and committed the ultimate atrocity; killing the ‘very heart of the forest’ (Miyazaki, 1997). Messiah figures feel a duty to ‘take on the sinfulness of those around them’ (Kozlovic, 2004). Ashitaka must, therefore, act as a representative of humanity and sacrifice himself for their transgressions.

PM7As he and San hold up the head for the god, they become covered with cursed marks. They are sure of their deaths but stand strong and true. With their sacrifice, they save not only themselves but all living things as a wash of new life spreads over the ruined land. Ashitaka not only possesses many of the characteristics of a messiah figure, his life and death also mirrors that of Christ in many ways. Just as Christ’s death gave humanity ‘forgiveness of sins’ (Ephesians 1:7), Ashitaka’s sacrifice saved the world. His resurrection and sacrifice mark him as a clear messiah figure.

PM8Messiah figures in film are used as symbols to exemplify the characteristics and values that filmmakers want to promote (Deacy, 1999). In Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki teaches us a respect for life, as he said in a 2004 interview ‘We should treasure everything because there is a kind of life to everything’. He uses Ashitaka to convey a message of peace and environmentalism. Although Princess Mononoke is not explicitly religious, it does draw from Shinto mythology and beliefs and reflects many of the tenets of Western religion. Shinto faith ‘stresses relation and connectedness’ (Bigelow, 2009). This is an important theme that develops through the film as the characters realise relationships they were not previously aware of. In one of the last scenes, one of the townspeople comments ‘I didn’t know the forest spirit made the flowers grow’ (Miyazaki, 1997). As Christ literally gave a blind man sight (John 9:11), Ashitaka metaphorically opens the peoples’ eyes to the interdependent relationship between the town and the humans (Kraemer 2016). Although Miyazaki’s messiah may be more implicit than those typically found in Western culture, the ideals he teaches of love, peace and respect are essentially the same.

PM9In conclusion, Ashitaka acts as a messiah figure to spread a message of peace. Miyazaki sets Ashitaka apart from other characters with Shis strange customs and extraordinary powers to make him able to move between warring sides. He is not the fully-assured messiah we see all too often in the West, but a saviour racked with guilt and uncertainty about how should carry out his mission without just creating more violence. Like Christ, He is fully committed to his beliefs and ready to sacrifice himself for them. In Princess Mononoke, Ashitaka not only learns to ‘see with eyes unclouded by hate’ (Miyazaki, 1997) but also teaches us to do the same.



All Biblical references are from the New International Version

Miyazaki, Hayao. 1997. Princess Mononoke. film. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Produced by Studio Ghibli. Toho.

Bigelow, Susan J. 2009. “Technologies of Perception: Miyazaki in Theory and Practice.” Animation: an interdisciplinary journal 4 (1): 55-75.

Deacy, Christopher R. 1999. “Screen Christologies: An evaluation of the role of Christ-figures in film.” Journal of Contemporary Religion 14 (3): 325-337.

Kozlovic, Anton Karl. 2004. “The Structural Characteristics of the Cinematic Christ-figure.” Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 8.

Kraemer, Christine Hoff. 2016. “Between the Worlds: Liminality and Self-Sacrfice in Princess Mononoke.” Journal of Religion and Film 8 (2).

Reinhartz, Adele. 2009. “Jesus and Christ figures.” In The Routledge Companion of Religion and Film, edited by John Lyden, 420-439. Taylor and Francis.


Student Spotlight #13: In the Name of Our Lord Beysus Christ

Today’s essay stays with our contemporary messiah theme, but looking at it a little differently. Rather than considering fictional characters in film and literature through the American Monomyth lens, today’s author, Emma Waymouth, considers the phenomenon of celebrity messiahs in popular culture, focusing in particular on the iconic figure of Beyoncé. Emma has lived in Auckland most of her life, and is currently studying for a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English Literature and Psychology. She hopes to work eventually in mental health, focusing particularly on child health, and plans to begin volunteer work with Youthline next year. She is also looking forward to taking part in the University of Auckland’s 360º exchange programme in order to do part of her degree at the University of North Carolina. Emma took our Bible and Pop Culture course after a few friends recommended it to her, and she was interested to learn more about the subject.

This is an amazing essay – enjoy!

In the Name of Our Lord Beysus Christ: Beyoncé, Fandom and the Messiah figure

Emma Waymouth

BeyismBeyoncé, the mononymous pop star, is one of the most famous and recognisable people in the world. Due to her immense talent as an artist and performer, unrelenting work ethic and excellent construction of her public image; Beyoncé has amassed a fan base, known as the Beyhive, which worships her in a fashion that is almost religious. In my essay I will be exploring this claim by discussing the ways in which Beyoncé exemplifies Lawrence and Jewett’s (2002) criteria for a messiah figure, and how that coincides with celebrity theory; exploring the reverence the Beyhive show her; and finally, by exploring Beyoncé’s own religiosity and her resulting refutation of her divine elevation.

According to Pete Ward’s (2011) definition of ‘celebrity’, Beyoncé is a true celebrity as she is known by a mononym, and is highly profitable due to that name and the fame it is associated with. Although, she has also transcended that category, moving in to the realm of “pop icon” wherein Ward states that “a star has to become a religious figure, to develop their own personality cult and to recruit followers”. This theory of celebrity ties in closely with Lawrence and Jewett’s theory of the American monomyth, wherein they emphasise how this figure minimises the complexity of humans, creating a dream world in which “no humans really live”. Thus, the Beyoncé we interact with, both as celebrity and messiah figure, is simply a symbolic rendering of the ideal human.


Beyoncé as a Messiah

The most vital aspect of Lawrence and Jewett’s criteria is the possession of “extraordinary powers”. Beyoncé has consistently proven her talent in the realm of music, both in her ability to effortlessly sing her way through songs of varying genres, and in her holistic artistic vision as showcased in Beyoncé (2013) and Lemonade (2016). Her dancing and acting ability are also much respected. Beyoncé herself, in a video diary leaked to the public (Reekz DC, 2010) refers to her musical talent as a “gift” that “God has given” her. This conveys that she herself is just as aware of the power and sanctity of her ability as her followers are. This gifting from God could be compared to the gifting of a prophetic path He gave to the prophet Moses, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jeremiah 1:4-9). A resulting sense of nervous inadequacy is also a similarity between Moses and Beyoncé.

Beyoncé at the Grammys, 2017

The second criterion is that of “unusual origins”. In Beyoncé’s case this would refer to the way in which she was effectively bred for stardom. This manifested in the extensive training she undertook as a child, primarily in the form of singing lessons (Lopez, 2015); as well as competing in talent shows that she regularly won (UnbornSuperstar88, 2013). Once she eventually did achieve professional success with girl group Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé herself was still effectively a child being only fifteen years of age. This origin story posits her as one of the lucky few who not only have talent but also the dedication to succeed in the competitive entertainment industry.

beyAnother requisite of Lawrence and Jewett’s is that the figure remains ‘divinely competent’, something which is described as “deny[ing] the tragic complexities of human life”. This is an aspect of the messianic criteria that couples perfectly with the idea that superhuman infallibility is integral to the celebrity image. Something which Ward describes as celebrities representing “paradigms of the possible. As such they may be regarded almost as religious figures in that they present ideal forms of the self”. This manifests through Beyoncé’s carefully considered image, wherein she allows her art to speak for itself, giving few interviews and thus few chances to show weakness, or even ordinary human imperfection. Though, contrarily, relatability is also integral to celebrity, so there have been moments of vulnerability where Beyoncé has shared her struggles with miscarriage (Daily Mail, 2013) and unfaithfulness in a partner (Brennan, 2017). These admissions, and the way in which it has coloured her music, serve to humanise Beyoncé and allows fans to form a more intimate relationship with the star; this, in turn, contributes further to her elevation as a superhuman figure.

beygood-haitiAnother vital feature is that of a ‘selfless zeal for justice’. Beyoncé is involved in many philanthropic efforts; she heads her own charity called ‘Bey Good’ which the icon uses to fundraise for various relief efforts, support African-American students through a scholarship fund, and champion the achievements of women through regular blog posts featuring successful women and their stories (Beyoncé, 2017). She has recently, like Jesus the primary biblical messiah did in Matthew 14:13-21, returned to her native Houston to feed those who are without food due to hurricane Harvey. She has also routinely shown her support for the #BlackLivesMatter campaign by showing the hashtag during a video montage that paid tribute to the many Black Americans murdered by police in 2016(Peterson, 2016). She has also shown support to the mothers of these victims by having the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown appear in the Lemonade film.

The final criterion I’ll discuss is that of ‘renouncing sexuality’. This is part of the criteria as it removes the messiah figure from base human desire, elevating them above the animalistic urge. This is one aspect that Beyoncé does not fulfil, and the fact that she doesn’t is a powerful thing for her fans. Existing as a black woman in show business, Beyoncé has been scrutinised for her appearance and sexuality due to racist beauty ideals. Thus, the fact that she actively embraces and celebrates her sexuality in her music is powerful for her fans as it allows them to believe that they, too, could be (and are!) sexy and beautiful even if they don’t fit Eurocentric standards of beauty.

Coupled with these criteria for a messiah figure, Beyoncé also has a large fan following that shows her support and reverence, further casting her as a religious figure. These fans have congregated in to a fandom, described by Gray, Sandvoss and Lee Harrington (2007) as “a collective strategy, a communal effort to form interpretive communities”, meaning fandom could be interpreted as an active state of communal worship.

Fandom as Religious Worship


Beyoncé’s fanbase, commonly referred to as the ‘Beyhive’, are another contributing factor to Beyoncé’s messianic elevation. Lawrence and Jewett refer to fandom as forming a “new form of religious community”; with Ward echoing Ellis Cashmore’s continuation of this notion, even going so far as to trace the root of the word ‘fan’ to the Latin ‘fanaticus’, meaning ‘of the temple’. Thus, through fandom Beyoncé is moved from the realm of the profane to that of the sacred. This manifests primarily through the use of religious language and imagery when discussing Beyoncé, as evidenced by the affectionate nickname, ‘Beysus Christ’, and a popular meme wherein Beyoncé’s head is photoshopped on to an image of the Virgin Mary. There are also various other memes wherein Beyoncé is referred to as a saviour of the people. This role of saviour is one that is prevalent within the Beyhive, with many fans purportedly claiming that Beyoncé saved them from poor self-image and from mental health issues such as depression (Hill, 2017). This healing is messianic in the way that Jesus, too, healed people; “Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them” (Matthew 12:15).

Due to the vocal nature of the Beyhive, the fandom’s reverence of Beyoncé is well known both publicly and by the star herself. Beyoncé is a highly religious woman, a practicing Christian who is devoted to God and has a large belief in prayer (The Jesus Network, 2017); thus, it is no surprise that Beyoncé does not wish herself to be seen as divinity. This resistance is showcased in the line, ‘God is God and I am Not’, that appears in Lemonade. The monosyllabic nature of the line portrays, rather blatantly, that Beyoncé does not wish to be viewed as a divine figure. Though, interestingly, she does not give a description of what she ‘is’ – perhaps, still, she is more than human. The importance of this sentiment is reinforced through the issuing of the latest Beyoncé merchandise where the line appears multiple times (Beyoncé, 2017).



Celebrity is a construction that allows for, and encourages, an almost religious worship of a public figure. In keeping with Lawrence and Jewett’s theory of the monomyth, both phenomena require a certain dehumanisation of the figure in question. Beyoncé most definitely is a star that fulfils these criteria, as someone who has been elevated from the realm of the profane, garnering an almost religious sense of worship and adoration from her fans. She is both a true celebrity, and an almost messiah.

bee messiah

 Works Cited

All references to Biblical texts are from the NRSV.

Beyoncé. (2017). BeyGood. Retrieved from:

Brennan, A. (2017). Jay-Z suggests he really did cheat on Beyoncé. GQ. Retrieved from:

Daily Mail Reporter. (2013). ‘It’s the saddest thing I’ve ever been through’: Beyonce opens up about her miscarriage for the first time. The Daily Mail.

Gray, J. & Sandvoss, C. & Harrington, C. (2007). Why Study Fans? Fandom: Identities and communities in a mediated world. (pp. 1-16). New York, New York: NYU Press.

Hill, C. (2017). Beyoncé Saved A Fan From Depression, Because That’s What Beyoncé Does. Retrieved from:

Lawrence, J. S. & Jewett, R. (2002). The Myth of the American Superhero. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

Lopez, K. (2015). Meet the man behind Beyonce’s incredible voice: He’s looking for next big star. WGNO ABC. Retrieved from:

Peterson, A. (2016). Beyoncé is a powerful voice for Black Lives Matter. Some people hate her for it. The Washington Post.

Reekz DC. (29 December 2010). Beyonce – Why Did God Give Me This Talent (LEAKED). Retrieved from:

Rojek, C. (2007). Celebrity and Religion. In Redmond, S. & Holmes, S. Stardom and Celebrity: A Reader. (pp. 171-180).  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.


UnbornSuperstar88. (9 November 2013). Beyoncé at 7 Years Old Performing “Home”. Retrieved from:

Ward, P. (2011). Gods Behaving Badly: Media, Religion and Celebrity Culture. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press.

Zeichner, N. (2016). Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown’s Mothers Made a Memorable Appearance in Beyoncé’s Lemonade. The Fader. Retrieved from:



Student Spotlight #12: Harry Potter – GenZ Messiah

Carrying on our conversation around the pop culture figure of the ‘super-saviour’, today’s essay tackles one of the most popular figures to be identified as a modern messiah: Harry Potter. The author of this most fabulous essay is Saiyami Mehta, who is an Indian-born NZ student who has just completed her third year of study here at the University of Auckland. Saiyami is majoring in Geography and History, and plans to continue towards a PhD in environmental degradation and indigenous community involvement. She opted to do our Bible and Popular Culture course because she was intrigued to learn more about the Bible’s significance as a cultural text within contemporary contexts.

Saiyami has written a stellar essay here, focusing on J.K. Rowling’s novel series, so I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Harry opening image

The trials and tribulations of ‘The Boy who Lived’: Harry Potter’s GenZ struggle with his messiah complex

Saiyami Mehta

The dichotomy between good and evil has been a pervasive aspect of literature for eons. The Bible itself constantly addresses the age-old difficulty of differentiating one from the other, imploring mankind to “be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil (Proverbs 3:7).” It is this persistent struggle between the two that in antiquity led to a requirement in humanity for a powerful emissary – a messiah, or saviour figure – that would lead them to political or earthly salvation. The crucifixion of Jesus however, led to a transformation in the status of a messiah as becoming a bringer of redemption. Originating from the Hebrew word mashiach, meaning “anointed or chosen one”, the term has consistently been used as a template for saviour-figures in pop culture texts. None however, have melded into the twenty-first century messiah-mould (as characterised by the American monomyth) as fluidly as Harry Potter. This essay addresses the unusual origins, eventual desire for vengeance, and resistance to temptations of The Boy Who Lived as he, often unwillingly, took up the mantle of super-savior in the wizarding world to face Lord Voldemort. Alongside this, there are parallels drawn between the characters and events of the Harry Potter books with the biblical books of Genesis and Exodus.

harry vs voldemort
Harry and Voldemort

Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces led the discussion on the archetypal storyline for heroic exploits in time-honoured tales during the late 1940s, and till date sets the scene for the plot of any cultural texts’ heroes. The Campbellian monomyth asserts that the hero travels from his own world into one of otherworldly facets, encounters dark forces that require resistance, emerges victorious and returns as a super-saviour figure for his people (Lawrence and Jewett 2002, p.5). This structure vaguely fits the template for the Harry Potter books, but the relationship between the protagonist and antagonist, Lord Voldemort, is far more complex than what is established in the classical monomyth, and represents the values of the more contemporary American version. Harry’s origins for example, are shown to be tied very early on in the books with Voldemort, resulting in his orphan (and thus unusual) status. Similarities between the Bible and Harry Potter are consistently displayed in the text and movies, particularly with the presence of temptations.

(c) Manchester City Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
John Spencer, Eve Tempted (1877)

The Book of Genesis discusses the Garden of Eden, and how Adam and Eve, despite being warned, ate from the Tree of Knowledge, spurred on by the serpent, and as a result, “the eyes of both were opened (Genesis 3:1-7)”, meaning that they became aware of themselves and as such, incurred the displeasure of God. Temptations are frequently presented in front of Harry, often with Voldemort as the instigator. In The Philosopher’s Stone, Voldemort (through Quirrell) tempts Harry with promises of resurrecting his parents in exchange for the stone, asserting that “there is no good and evil. There is only power, and those too weak to seek it” (p.211). Harry, unlike Eve, rejects the temptation, thus establishing himself from the first book as a protagonist who willingly renounces mortal enticements for the greater good.

phoenixThat is not to say that Harry possessed the otherworldly level of renouncing his desires as other messianic characters like Jesus. Certainly, it can be argued that in many instances, Harry put his own desires over the well-being of others or himself, such as his period of visions regarding the Department of Mysteries in The Order of the Phoenix, where ultimately the combination of curiosity and urgency to save Sirius Black led to the latter’s death. Nevertheless, the overarching understanding of a messiah is that the trials and tribulations they face often hurt yet strengthened them for the ultimate task of fighting the ultimate evil (Neal 2007, p.108). The Bible habitually dwelt on this crucial aspect of a messiah’s character development, stating that the sufferer must “consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance (James 1:2-4).”

The eventual development of Harry’s messianic status is further cemented however, gobletthrough his continued renouncements of temptations in later books, such as in The Goblet of Fire when he gives his prize winnings to the Weasley twins (pp.635-6). Nothing could further cement his messianic quality of being above worldly desires however, than the statement Griphook makes vis-à-vis Harry’s character: “If there was a wizard of whom I would believe that they did not seek personal gain, it would be you, Harry Potter” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, p.394). This serves to show why Harry Potter can be granted the messianic status in the wizarding world.

The construct of social hierarchy provided a considerable support for how the wizarding world and Harry interacted. The creation of followers is a predominant aspect of a messiah figure, but in the case of Harry, the undertaking of the role as leader appeared to have persistently chafed. Interestingly, the decision to refuse the proverbial ‘call to greatness’ was made well before Harry had any capabilities to answer. When Sybil Trelawney prophesied that a child born at the end of July would be able to defeat the Dark Lord (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,p.741), Harry’s parents went into hiding until they were slain, which again hints at the digression taken by this messiah from the traditional path to greatness (Lytle 2013, p.29). This act of resistance of the title of leader remains a constant attribute hallowsof Harry’s innate nature, but by the final confrontation with Voldemort, Harry displays his messianic qualities by accepting that it has to be him. The gradual development of followers for Harry Potter provides further evidence of his messianic status in the wizarding world. This didn’t derive out of any quasi-divine powers on part of the protagonist; Harry’s entire existence indicated to many who studied or came into contact with him that here was someone who could bring about change. Ari Armstrong argues that it is Harry’s determination to keep his friends (and eventual followers) safe in all situations that ultimately generates faith in him amongst his peers (Armstrong 2011, p.52).

The Book of Exodus provides a similar account of Moses, who was disturbed by the treatment of his fellow Jews at the hands of the Egyptians, and began to lead them to the promised land, albeit unwillingly. Many parallels can be drawn between Moses and Harry, specifically their disinclination at becoming any sort of leader. Moses almost ceaselessly restates to God his inability to convince the Jews (Exodus 4:10-13; Exodus 6:9-12). Hermione has to explain to Harry why he is needed to start Dumbledore’s Army: “Harry, don’t you see? This… is exactly why we need you. We need to know what it’s really like facing him… facing Voldemort” (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, p.293). Harry’s courage is what eventually helps his followers and himself to gather and put their energies into following through with the plans constructed by Harry and Dumbledore, even if they don’t always see the benefits. Alongside this however, is the method by which Harry produced support for his cause during times of adversity.

In the Order of the Phoenix, Harry secretly gives an interview to Rita Skeeter about stoneVoldemort, inciting many, like Seamus Finnigan to conclude that “he believes him” (500-514). The American monomyth explains that the followers of the super-savior often consist of women who require a white dominant male to lead them, but the Harry Potter saga steps away from this idea and combine the formidable power and intelligence of many female followers of Harry (Lawrence and Jewett 2002, p.8). Both Ginny and Hermione prove time and time again both their loyalties to Harry and their own talents. Ginny stands up for him in the second book against Draco Malfoy, while Hermione has frequently aided the Chosen One with notes from classes. The overall argument therefore can be made that while the messianic figure of Harry Potter generated considerable support, despite his reluctance, there was not as much of a depiction of him as a sole leader, all pervasive and powerful, but rather a well-chosen hero who had followers that provided him with advice.

The contemporary figure of Harry Potter provided its generation with a figure that certainly showed messianic characteristics, but not one that attached itself completely to the template of the American monomyth. The trials and tribulations of The Boy who Lived served to show both Harry and his friends the fruits of resisting temptations, and this was a key aspect of his depiction as a messiah for the wizarding world. The fact that an eleven-year-old orphan was capable of putting aside hopes, even false ones, about meeting his lost parents in order to do what was right showed that while he may not have chosen to be raised on a pedestal and followed as a leader, it was this reluctance and keen sense of equality with his followers that perhaps made Harry Potter an effective messiah of a cultural text.

hp GIF


All references to the Biblical text are from the New Revised Standard Version.

Armstrong, Ari. “Religion in Harry Potter – Do J. K. Rowling’s novels promote religion or undermine it?”. Skeptic Magazine Volume 17 Issue 1, December 2011.

Lawrence, John Shelton and Robert Jewett. The Myth of the American Superhero. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2002.

Lytle, Amy. “Defense Against the Dark Arts: Harry Potter and the Allegory for Evil.” Honours Thesis, Regis University, 2013.

Neal, Connie, W. Wizards, wardrobes and wookiees: Navigating good and evil in Harry Potter, Narnia and Star Wars. InterVarsity Press, 2007.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1997.

Rowling. J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2000.

Rowling. J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2003.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2007.


Student Spotlight #11: A Matrix Messiah

Continuing our theme of modern messiahs today, we turn to that fabulous classic movie, The Matrix, which intrigues not only moviegoers, but also theologians and scholars of religion, who have long recognized some fascinating engagement in the film with religious themes and tropes. One of our Bible and Popular Culture students, Minolie Rajapakse, spotted some connections between The Matrix and the American Monomyth, and wrote a marvellous essay about the film’s protagonist Neo as a modern messiah/supersaviour figure. Minolie hails originally from Sri Lanka, but has lived in New Zealand (Auckland) most of her life. She is doing a BA/BSc conjoint degree majoring in sociology and psychology. She hopes to pursue a career in psychology, particularly clinical psychology. Minolie took our Bible and Pop Culture course to discover some of the many ways the Bible influences pop culture and to learn more about the Bible’s stories and theologies.

So, whether you are a Matrix afficionado or not, we hope you enjoy Minolie’s fab essay.

Neo the great Messiah of The Matrix

Minolie Rajapakse

Matrix poster

Hollywood appears to have an obsession with ‘The American Monomyth’ culture, especially when it comes to religion. The American Monomyth allows for the portrayal of a hero in desperate times of need. These ideas may possibly stem from ideologies surrounding the bible, in particular with Jesus. This is arguably seen in the film, The Matrix (1999). The main protagonist Neo is an ordinary man who gets plunged into a computational world were machines rule and the previous known reality is rather a stimulation called the matrix. Neo can be viewed as a popular messiah figure because of his status of being “The One” in relation to his similarity to Jesus Christ. This is portrayed through his divine extraordinary powers, his representation as a saviour to his people embodying the American Monomyth superhero figure and lastly his purification through his death and resurrection.

The American Monomyth, as discussed by Jewett and Lawrence (2002), is a popular theme in thousands of movies; it frequently portrays, “a selfless superhero [who] emerges to renounce temptation and carry out the redemptive task”. The central protagonist has the sole ability to save the rest of humanity from evil. The heroic character often learns a greater knowledge and understanding about him/herself, which allows them to access their full power and abilities, allowing them to save their civilisation. With this storyline being represented numerously in films, it is often common to see the main protagonist being associated with biblical connotations such as being a divine saviour or messiah figure such like Jesus.

The Old Testament defines the messiah as “the anointed one” representing a holy or divine leader, elected and given authority for a specific task or reason (Bible Study Tools). Messiah figures come when times are desperate and a hero is needed. Arguably Neo can be seen as an example of this in The Matrix films as he is represented as a sacred and powerful man who is the only person capable of destroying the Matrix, giving him the status of being “The One”.

neo spoon

Parallelism between Jewett and Lawrence’s (2002) characteristics of the American Monomythic hero having “extraordinary powers” is represented through Neo’s character. In the beginning of the film Neo is presented as a common human, going by the name Thomas Anderson who is plunged into a world of dystopia. He is taken outside of the Matrix reality aided by his mentor Morpheus, where he is rebirthed into “the real world” and is renamed Neo. Significantly Neo is an anagram for one, a clever play on words by the directors, the Wachowski brothers, to reinforce Neo’s almighty status. Morpheus initially tells Neo that he believes Neo is “The One”- the one who can destroy the matrix simulation and save humanity. Neo’s extraordinary powers are clear in an early scene where he and Morpheus have a fighting training session. It is obvious to the audience and the other characters in the film that Neo has strengths like no other; Neo’s ability to quickly and easily learn makes him a competent opponent to the advanced Morpheus, even allowing him to overpower Morpheus. One character even exclaims, “Jesus Christ he’s fast…way above normal”. These extraordinary powers and abilities elevate Neo to a messianic status as he continuously proves himself worthy thus embodying his title of being “The One”.

Neo and Morpheus

Furthermore the final fight between Neo and Agent Smith (the film’s main antagonist) is a pivotal moment that depicts Neo as a messiah figure through his gifted extraordinary powers. This particular fight scene was considered legendary to cinematic viewers. This scene portrays Neo accepting his destiny and finally believing that he is “The One”. At that moment, his abilities are enhanced as he exhibits superhuman strength and power, which become unmatched compared to Agent Smith, and so Neo defeats him. Sutton and Winn (2001) note how commonly there is a representation of violence in the final confrontation between supersaviour and antagonist: “violence is an essential component of the monomyth.” This may act to reinforce ideas of power and strength which are typically associated with superheros and reinforces the final epic battle. Neo’s use of violence symbolises his extraordinary powers used for good, again epitomising him into a superhero/messiah figure as it reinforces his abilities and individuality compared to everyone else. I believe this makes him powerful and heroic in the eyes of others around him, reinforcing his special status as “The One”.

bullet gif
Neo’s extraordinary powers

Neo’s representation in The Matrix can also be viewed as an allegory to Jesus Christ. For example, Paul Fontana (2003) writes that, “In ancient Israelite tradition there was an expectation that a great military leader would arise…this person was referred to as the messiah”. Furthermore he writes, “When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem the people hailed him as a king”. Arguably these parallels between Neo and Jesus reinforce Neo being a popular messiah figure, which is enhanced by Neo being “The One,” creating symmetry between him and Jesus. Moreover both Neo and Jesus displayed divine powers that made them seem of a higher celestial status compared to everyone around them. Neo’s extraordinary powers can be compared to that of Jesus’ miracles. In Matthew 9:1-8 Jesus performs the miracle of giving a paralytic the ability to walk again and in John 2:1-11:1 Jesus turns water into wine, again exhibiting divine extraordinary powers, which set him apart as an almighty individual, and a powerful messiah. These extraordinary powers and abilities resonate with the figure of a superhero, which idealises qualities such as mightiness, strength and confidence. These qualities are still deemed desirable in popular culture, which may be why Neo is arguably hailed as a popular messiah figure.

bullet gif 2
Special powers and miracles

Neo’s portrayal as a messianic figure can also be exhibited through his representation as a self-sacrificing saviour – another criteria of the American Monomyth according to Jewett and Lawrence. In one scene, Neo meets with the Oracle, a wise woman whom the characters confide in to learn more about their future. The Oracle tells Neo that he is not “The One” and that a time will come when he will have to choose between saving his own life or the life of Morpheus. Later on in the film, Morpheus is captured by Agent Smith and is held hostage. Neo makes the brave decision to give his own life to save Morpheus, thus exhibiting his first sign of self-sacrifice and leadership. This saviour presentation is a common portrayal using the American Monomythic theme of a noble saviour stepping up and fulfilling his/her duty by making a sacrifice to save others. This representation of Neo also acts to categorise him as a selfless hero, a quality Jewett and Lawrence identify as being part of the American Monomyth.

The Matrix

Arguably Neo’s selflessness resonates with the qualities of a messiah because it reinforces his devotion to help others, in this particular case Morpheus. Neo’s self-sacrifice to save Morpheus (as he thinks he has to die for Morpheus to live, as the Oracle prophesised) creates symmetry with the American Monomyth theme of sacrifice. Jewett and Lawrence discuss this in terms of redemption: “the combining elements of the selfless servant who impassively gives his life for others”. Thus again, Neo can be viewed as a popular messiah figure because of this quality; his selflessness defines him as a saviour.

badass morpheus

Neo’s sacrificial role in the film is enhanced through his death and resurrection, which ultimately represents a form of purification and enlightenment for his character. In the film, after rescuing Morpheus, Neo is still trapped in the matrix, left alone to fight Agent Smith. However as Neo is just about to escape, he is shot multiple times and dies. Back in the real world, Trinity declares her love for Neo and kisses his body, representing the kiss of life. Neo then takes a breath and wakes up, symbolising his acceptance of his status as “The One”. He is then able to see the Matrix and its manipulations and has the ability to control it, becoming all-powerful. He becomes purified through his strength and power and destroys Agent Smith. Rising from the dead and fulfilling his destiny and fate to help others ultimately reinforces Neo’s messianic status. His death and resurrection can be compared to that of Jesus’, as both died trying to save others – Neo for Morpheus and Jesus for the sins of humanity. Furthermore a similarity is seen between Neo and Jesus in terms of how both of them first encounter women when they are resurrected from the dead (Milford 2010). Neo first sees Trinity watching over him and Jesus meets Mary Magdalene according to the Gospel’s of Mark 16:9 and John 20:14. These similarities aim to reinforce the resemblance of Neo to Jesus, thus outlining Neo’s own representation as a messiah who dies but is then resurrected. After their resurrections, these two messianic figures appear to become purified and enlightened, through recognition of their status as “The One” and also through the love and loyalty of their followers.

trinity kiss
Trinity kisses Neo back to life

One reason why Neo became such a popular messiah figure is because, by embodying the American Monomythic hero, he becomes a role model for the way some viewers would want to be themselves, someone they admire. Neo is selfless and brave in a frightening world, where computers and machines basically control the known reality. This would have been a very topical subject back in 1999 when the film premiered, as technology was beginning to boom and was changing society, which raised many anxieties within the general population. As Lang and Trimble (1988) suggest, “The hero came to represent the needs of the masses”. Blizek (2011) also notes that people turn to religion in times where there is worry or hardship, thus “religion reassures us in times of trouble”. Thus perhaps Neo came to represent a powerful saviour and hero amidst the culturally growing uncertainty and anxiety surrounding the future of technology (Szollosy 2017). Neo offered audiences a human saviour who could protect them from the dangers of technology. Thus he was morphed into a cultural messiah figure becoming a character people could relate to and identity with.

It is clear to see how Neo from The Matrix embodies the messiah figure as he is depicted as having similar characteristics as both the American Monomyth ‘supersaviour’ figure and Jesus. Neo’s extraordinary powers and abilities portray him as an almighty and powerful being, elevating him to a divine status (‘the One’) compared to others around him. His illustration of being a sacrificial saviour for his civilisation reinforces his selflessness and devotion to others, and his death and resurrection act to purify and enlighten his divine being. These portrayals of Neo, aim to epitomise him as a powerful messiah in a dark dystopian future, perhaps to reinforce that there will always be a hero, a saviour, a messiah to help and guide others and save the day even in the most terrifying moments or times.

Matrix cool image


References to the Bible are taken from the NRSV edition.

BibleStudyTools. Messiah. Retrieved from

Blizek, W. L. (2011). Finding Religion in Film: A Methodology for Religion and Film Studies. International Journal of the Humanities9(7).      9bfc560b850c%40sessionmgr120&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#AN=91798207&db=hlh

Fontana, P. (2003). Finding God in The Matrix. In G. Yeffeth (Eds.), Taking the red pill: Science, Philosophy, and Religion in The Matrix (pp. 159-184). United States of America: Independent Publishers Group

Jewett, R., & Lawrence. S. J. (2002). In R. Jewett & J. S. Lawrence (Eds.), The myth of the American Superhero (pp. 3-8, 47-48). Retrieved from       496124

Lang, J. S., & Trimble, P. (1988). Whatever happened to the Man of  Tomorrow? An examination of the American monomyth and the comic book superhero. The Journal of Popular Culture22(3), 157-173. doi: 10.1111/j.0022-3840.1988.2203_157.x

Milford, M. (2010). Neo-Christ: Jesus, the matrix, and secondary allegory as a       rhetorical form. Southern Communication Journal75(1), 17-34.   

Silver, J. (Prod.), Wachowski, A,. & Wachowski, L. (Dir.) (1999). The Matrix  [Motion picture]. United States of America: Village Roadshow Pictures

Sutton, D. L., & Winn, J. E. (2001). “Do We Get to Win This Time?”: POW/MIA Rescue Films and the American Monomyth. The Journal of American Culture24(1‐2), 25-30. doi: 10.1111/j.1537-4726.2001.2401_25.x

Szollosy, M. (2017). Freud, Frankenstein and our fear of robots: projection in our cultural perception of technology. AI and Society, 32(3), 433-439. doi 10.1007/s00146-016-0654-7



Student showcase #9: Superheroes and Supersaviours

One of the most popular subjects we cover in our Bible and Popular Culture course is the American Monomyth (Lawrence and Jewett 2002) – the hugely common trope of the ‘modern messiah’ or ‘supersaviour’ in popular culture. Over the next few days, we’ll share some student essays on this topic, which consider the messianic credentials of fictional figures in film and TV. Starting us off, we have a marvellous essay by Alicia Lou, who considers the character of Matt Murdock (aka superhero Daredevil) as a contemporary messiah. Alicia comes from Christchurch, but has lived in Auckland for over 10 years. She is studying a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts conjoint, majoring in Criminology and Politics. She hopes to eventually work in the legal profession or in foreign affairs. Alicia took our Bible and Popular Culture course because she is curious about the roles that religion plays in the world and everyday life.

So sit back and learn a bit more about salvific superheroes!


“Do you believe in the devil, Father?”

Matthew Murdock: Messiah, Anti-hero and the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen

Alicia Lou

In the Tanakh, the Messiah is the saviour who will defeat evil and lead their community into a new life (LaCocque, 2015). The Messiah is also closely associated with Jesus in the New Testament. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is a parallel to the secular Western hero in the American Monomyth- the tale of a hero who saves his community from evil. Matthew Murdock, present in Marvel’s Daredevil (2015-) and The Defenders (2017-), satisfies many features of both a Christ figure and a monomythic superhero. His mysterious origins, zeal for justice and self-sacrifice resemble that of a saviour. This essay will analyse how Matthew both fulfills and rejects the Messiah role by becoming an anti-hero who refuses to play by the book and operates according to his own paradigm.

Matt Murdock as a child (Netflix)

Matthew is depicted as a Messiah figure through his mysterious origins and extraordinary powers. As a child, he suffered a chemical accident that led to his blindness. As a result, he developed heightened superhuman abilities that allow him to gain an awareness of his surroundings. In 1×11, Matthew referred to his senses as ‘God’s will.’ He believes that God made each and every person with a purpose; a reason for being. Similarly, in John 6:38, Jesus also states that he is here to do the will of God. This connects to Lawrence and Jewett’s idea that a hero is often ‘aided by fate’ (2002, 6).  Matthew sees this as a sign from God that he was destined to use his abilities for the greater good. As Jesus used his powers to heal people in Matthew 8, Matt also uses his senses to save innocent people from criminals.

mm injured

This is a distinctive feature of a Messiah; the willingness to protect others from harm.
This relates to the monomyth as being ‘a selfless hero’ is part of the criterion. Matthew is a selfless hero as he fights crime every night to save people, risking his life in doing so. Lawrence and Jewett state that the hero’s fist is often irresistible and that his body is incapable of suffering fatal injury (2002). We see that this is not true for Matthew as his body is often beaten and bruised. Matthew’s injuries are analogous to that of Jesus in his mission. In Isaiah 52:14, Jesus is stated to be “so disfigured beyond that of any human being.” Additionally, Matthew’s wounds bare a close resemblance to the ‘Five Holy Wounds’ that Jesus received from his crucifixion (Vogt, 2009). Time and time again, Matthew’s wounds continue to re-open and he comes close to death on several occasions. His suffering is greatly emphasised, which humanises his messianic qualities and gives his actions a more important purpose. Matthew’s refusal to give up until the threat is eliminated symbolises his selflessness and ability to put others before himself just as Jesus did. This similarity makes Matthew a perfect replacement for Christ in a secular age.

Wilson Fisk, kingpin of Hell’s Kitchen (Netflix)

In the Monomyth, the hero has a redemptive task to accomplish. With Wilson Fisk and a criminal organisation named ‘The Hand’ as an outside evil, normal institutions like the police and the legal department are unable to contend with these threats (Jewett & Lawrence, 2002). Matthew recognises that Fisk is above the law and that ‘The Hand’ are not visible to the public, so he takes it upon himself to rid the evil and bring his enemies to justice. This is also a feature of a Messiah; being motivated by a zeal for justice. Matthew’s motivation comes from growing up in Hell’s Kitchen. It is the place where his dad was murdered, a city full of crime and vice since before he was born. Matthew has personally witnessed the oppression and injustice in Hell’s Kitchen, as a son, as a lawyer and as a crime-fighter at night. This injustice is what motivates Matthew to seek redemption for his home. He states that he “needs to be the man this city needs” (1×5). This is similar to Jesus in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 where he “will overthrow the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming.” Like Matthew, Jesus also witnessed inequity and corruption; he too was motivated to overthrow evil by his own zeal for justice.

DD in action
Daredevil in action (Netflix)

Matthew differs from a biblical Messiah by rejecting the standard good and evil paradigm. In Matthew 5:21, Jesus states that one “shall not murder…whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” Matthew abides by this rule as his Catholic faith prevents him from taking a life. However, Matthew is no Saint. He operates on his own methodology, which is in “shades of gray rather than in black and white” (Jewett & Lawrence, 2002, 48). Matthew often breaks the law and resorts to violence to achieve his means. He is frequently punching and torturing people until they are bleeding and begging for mercy; behaving in ways that are not Christ-like. Lang and Trimble state that the hero often partakes in “some violent act that the rest of society is incapable of performing” (1988, 166). Although violence may seem extreme, it is deemed necessary because lives are often at stake and innocent people will die. Matthew may commit wrongdoings but his intentions are genuine, thus his violence is purified. This makes his violence morally DD fightingjustified because it fulfills a greater purpose (Arnaudo & Richards, 2013). Ultimately, this delineation between right and wrong, good and bad is sometimes a blur. This is evident in Matthew as his lawyer-half represents the good while ‘Daredevil’ represents his darker alter-ego. The two halves cause Matt’s understanding of justice and vengeance to become twisted that he cannot separate them. He can only operate to his own methodology; a middle-ground between what Matthew believes is right and wrong. Matt’s inability to adhere to a standard black-and-white paradigm makes him an anomaly compared to a typical Messiah.

Frank Castle, DD and Elektra Natchios
Frank Castle, Matt Murdock as Daredevil, Elektra Nachos (Netflix)

In the Monomyth, the hero must withstand temptation (Lawrence & Jewett, 2002). This also applies to a Messiah. In Matthew 4, Jesus was tempted by the Devil to use his powers. Eventually, “the devil left him,” which indicates that he overcame temptation. Matthew is also lured into temptation, but not in the conventional sense. Matthew has the temptation to kill. Frank Castle and Elektra Natchios are people who execute without remorse and are constantly tempting Matthew to kill. In 2×3, Frank urges Matthew to kill but Matt resists, stating that “I don’t kill anyone.” Matthew has a conflicted sense of self because he wants to succumb to this temptation but he knows that killing is wrong. Elektra appeals to his darker side by assuring him that “this is who you are, Matthew” (2×7). This is what Matthew is most afraid of; that he is a killer at heart and this makes him no better than the same criminals he condemns. It is this thought that conditions Matthew to renounce his temptations for most of the series.

DD and Electra
Elektra’s death (Netflix)

It is not until Elektra’s death that Matt finally breaks his code; to avenge her by killing the man who murdered her. Matthew sabotages the monomyth by letting the temptation to kill consume him. He proves not to be a traditional Christ figure, but an anti-Messiah who tries to do the right thing and does not always succeed. Yet, Matt does not completely reject the messianic role; he merely adapts it. Matthew’s violent nature and tendency to make mistakes attributes to a modernised Messiah figure that is imperfect and deeply flawed.

Matthew’s mission ends when he achieves redemption and recedes into obscurity (Lawrence & Jewett, 2002). As a Messiah figure, Matthew can only achieve redemption through self-sacrifice, which parallels to Christ’s atonement in the Christus Victor theory. DD3It states that Jesus’ death was a sacrifice to atone for the sins of others and to free humanity from evil (Noble, 2013). In Isaiah 53:5, Jesus was “pierced for our transgressions…and by his wounds we are healed.” Matthew realises that the only way he can prevent New York from being destroyed is to kill The Hand’s secret weapon: ‘The Black Sky,’ an ancient evil using Elektra’s body as a human vessel. He blames himself because if he had saved Elektra, the ‘Black Sky’ would not have been resurrected and lives would have been spared. This leads Matt to make the decision to stay behind as The Hand crumbles; to ensure that the evil is eradicated and to be with Elektra one last time. Matthew sacrifices himself to atone for the sins of humanity- the exploitation, injustice and barbarity residing in Hell’s Kitchen- and to atone for his own sins; the violence he inflicted, the evil he unleashed as ‘Daredevil’ and for allowing Elektra to die. Like Christ, Matt was a martyr for his faith. He was the sacrificial ‘lamb’ who took away the sins of the world (John 1:29). His death was the decisive victory that restored “the community to its paradisiacal condition” (Jewett & Lawrence, 2002, 6). In the end, Matthew is seen in a Church; bloody, barely moving but alive, signalling that he has been reborn. The sacrifice, death and resurrection of Matthew is directly akin to that of a biblical Messiah.

MM resurrected
Matthew resurrected after his sacrifice (Netflix)

Matthew Murdock adheres to the Monomyth through his mysterious origins, selflessness and redemptive mission. Although there are many parallels to Jesus, Matt is not a classic biblical Messiah. He rejects the standard black-and-white paradigm and is an anti-hero; a paradoxical Christ figure that chooses to create his own path. Matthew adapts the traditional Messiah into a popular Messiah by showing that a saviour does not have to be a perfect monomythic hero. Matthew is flawed, broken and human, which only makes him a more relevant and absolute Messiah in popular culture.

DD gif


All references to biblical texts are from the NIV.

Arnaudo, M. (2013). The Myth of the Superhero (J. Richards, Trans.). Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Goddard, D (Creator). (2015, April.10-present) Daredevil. New York, United States: Marvel Television, ABC Studios

LaCocque, A. (2015). Jesus the Messiah. In Jesus the Central Jew (pp. 15-42). Society of Biblical Literature.

Lang, J. S., & Trimble, P. (1988). Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? An Examination of the American Monomyth and the Comic Book Superhero. In Journal of Popular Culture (Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 157-173).

Lawrence, J. S., & Jewett, R. (2002). The Myth of the American Superhero. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Noble, T. A. (2013). Christian Holiness and the Atonement. In Holy Trinity: Holy People (pp. 128-157). James Clarke & Co Ltd.

Petrie, D., & Ramirez, M. (2017, August. 18- present) The Defenders. New York, United States: Marvel Television, ABC Studios

Vogt, P. (2009). “Honor to the Side”: The Adoration of the Side Wound of Jesus in Eighteenth-Century Mordvian Piety. Journal of Moravian History, 83-106.


A throne fit for a messiah: Daenerys Targaryen as a contemporary Christ

Today’s advent essay comes from Joanna Fountain, one of the students who took our Bible and Popular Culture course (THEOREL 101) earlier this year. Joanna has just completed her third year of studies towards her Bachelor of Arts degree, double majoring in history and classical studies. After university she hopes to become a published writer, encouraging future generations to get off their screens and read a book instead. Joanna enroled in Theorel 101 out of interest, and assures me that she  thoroughly enjoyed taking the course – and would highly recommend it!

Joanna’s essay touches on one of our more popular themes in the course – modern messiahs in pop culture. So read on, and enjoy.


Protector of the Realm, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons: Daenerys Targaryen as a Christ Figure in Game of Thrones


Joanna Fountain

“This Mother of Dragons, this Breaker of Chains, is above all a rescuer.

-Tyrion Lannister, A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire Book 5)

As Bruce David Forbes says, “religion appears not only in churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples; it also appears in popular culture” (2005, 1). Often appearing in the fantasy genre of literature and visual media, including film and television, is the common trope of a messianic protagonist who is very much the hero of the story. In George R. R. Martin’s fictional world of Westeros, there is no one singular protagonist, but in the character of Daenerys Targaryen are numerous indicators of a Christ figure. Such a figure appears in popular culture again and again, subsequently creating the concept of the American Monomyth (Lawrence and Jewett 2002, 6). In many ways, Daenerys Targaryen provides an implicit parallel to the biblical Christ as a secular counterpart. The circumstances surrounding multiple events in her life, the messianic symbols attached to her character, and her perceived image by others as a liberator and a powerful contender all bear a close resemblance to the Biblical narrative of Jesus Christ as told in the New Testament Gospels. This essay will seek to explain how Daenerys Targaryen both fulfils and sabotages the notion of the American Monomyth in the way that she is a messiah figure who operates outside the standard black and white paradigm, rather operating within shades of grey in her characterisation. Because this essay will discuss plot details of both Martin’s book series A Song of Ice and Fire (1996-present) and the HBO television series Game of Thrones (2011-present), spoilers will follow.
game-of-thrones-daenerys-dragonFig 1: Daenerys hatches three dragons in “Fire and Blood” (1.10)

According to the writings of John Shelton Lawrence and Robert Jewett, the American Monomyth secularises “the Judaeo-Christian dramas of community redemption”, creating a character who embodies a combination of the ‘selfless servant’ who sacrifices their own needs for those of others and the ‘zealous crusader’ who triumphs over evil (2002, 6). The American Monomyth therefore serves the function in which a character in popular culture serves as a secular replacement to the Biblical Christ (ibid). What also is indicative of this supersaviour or the popular messiah is their justification for their use of violence for the greater good (5). These figures operate under a paradigm of black and white; the supersaviour is the light and good hero pitted against the bad villain. In terms of Daenerys’ character, she befits these prerequisites, but she is not wholly ‘good’ in the way she is portrayed. The constant use of warmongering imagery in her use of military might to free the slaves in Essos, and her unapologetic sexual appetites present her more as a character who operates in between the black and white paradigm, as a somewhat ‘anti-messiah’ who uses violence to fulfil and justify her noble task of freeing slaves. Constantly associated with Daenerys are the words ‘fire and blood’; words that do not necessarily match her with the image of the ‘perfect’ biblical Christ. But perhaps this is because Daenerys modernises and humanises the Christ figure of the American Monomyth concept. Therefore, this brutal side to her character is woven into the messiah rhetoric as a way of presenting a Christ figure who is flawed, humanised and relatable, thus shedding new light on the messianic individual of popular culture.

got2Fig 2: The Red Comet, seen in “The North Remembers” (2.01)

Robert Detweiler argues in his article ‘Christ and the Christ Figure in American Fiction’ that often in modern fiction the allegorical Christ figure offers the symbolic potential of Christ without the added implication of commitment to Christian faith (1964, 118). The likening of Daenerys Targaryen as a secular Christ figure is done implicitly in the way that the signs and symbols of the biblical messiah are translated into signs and symbols of Daenerys, the popular messiah. The first, and most obvious, of these is the Red Comet that appears in the sky soon after Daenerys successfully hatches three dragons from stone eggs (a ‘miracle’ in itself as the species were previously extinct). She even says herself in A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire Book 2): “[the comet] is the herald of my coming”. Such treatment of a comet signifying her “coming” immediately bears resemblance to the star that proclaimed the birth of Jesus Christ in the New Testament Gospels (Matthew 2.2-10, Luke 21.25). Additionally, both Daenerys and Christ are descended from a line of kings (Matthew 1), and both undergo a “resurrection”. As highlighted in Luke 24.46, there is the emphasis that the death and resurrection of the biblical Christ was foretold in the old teachings long before the coming of the messiah. Such a prophecy of the messiah has a similar treatment in the world of Game of Thrones. Mentioned numerous times in the books and in the television adaptation is the prophecy of Azor Ahai, also known as “the Lord’s chosen” and very much the Game of Thrones’ version of a prophesied messiah. According to Melisandre, a red priestess, in A Dance with Dragons, the coming of the prophesied Azor Ahai will be signified “when the red star bleeds” and this saviour will “be born again … to awake dragons out of stone”. All three of these signs occur in short succession with Daenerys walking into a burning pyre, only to be discovered the next morning sitting amongst the ashes of the fire, alive, and holding three baby dragons (fig 1), while the red comet (fig 2) appears very soon after. Though it has not been confirmed in either the books or the television series if Daenerys is in fact the prophesied Azor Ahai, she has nevertheless fulfilled these three parts to the prophecy. Regardless, the fact alone that the symbols associated with the biblical messiah are translated to symbols of Daenerys therefore provide the implication that she indeed represents a secular Christ within her own narrative.


Fig 3: Daenerys proclaimed ‘mhysa’ (‘mother’) by the freed slaves of Yunkai in “Mhysa” (3.10)

Just as the biblical messiah’s noble task was to be a saviour to humankind, Daenerys Targaryen is again portrayed in a similar light in the way that her task to free all slaves in Slavers Bay makes her a saviour to many as a result. The aforementioned symbols of Daenerys as the popular messiah adds further justification to her role as a saviour. With three dragons in her possession, Daenerys becomes a powerful contender to those she considers her earthly enemies, in this case the slavers, and is able to wage war on them for their slaves’ freedom. In fact, this contempt for slavery is a common ideal in the Christ figure (Gunton 1985, 137, 143). This may be due to slavery often having strong connotations to sin in the Bible, particularly in the way that Jesus says in John 8.34 that mankind is “a slave to sin”. Therefore, it can be argued that Daenerys’ preoccupation with ending slavery takes a rather more literal interpretation of the biblical messiah’s task of liberating humankind from their sins. Daenerys’ resulting reputation as a saviour is best highlighted in the final scene of Game of Thrones’ third season in which she is proclaimed ‘mhysa’ by the freed slaves of Yunkai (fig. 3). The cinematography of the scene arguably bears some similarity to Jesus entering Jerusalem, declared a king (Luke 19.28-40). This image of Daenerys being surrounded by grateful slaves who declare her their “mhysa”, or “mother”, therefore provides the best visual justification as the “Breaker of Chains”, a liberator, and a saviour from “sin”.

got4Fig 4: A slave of Meereen beholds one of the many unlocked collars that Daenerys has catapulted over the city walls to show that all who follow her are freed in “Breaker of Chains” (4.03)

Hebrews 2.14-15 speaks about how Jesus Christ “shared in [mankind’s] humanity” so that “he might break the power of him who hold the power of death … and free those … held in slavery”. Therefore, Daenerys Targaryen is an equally human messiah with added flaws, and exists within the “grey areas” of the good/bad paradigm whose noble task is her attempts to liberate slaves in Essos, thus earning her a reputation as a saviour to those she frees. What further develops Daenerys as a popular messiah figure are the numerous implicit parallels of her character to the Biblical Christ of the New Testament Gospels, including messianic symbols and experiences. As a result, Daenerys Targaryen arguably serves as a secular counterpart to the Biblical Christ. But in the wide world of popular culture, Daenerys Targaryen is only one of many popular messiahs according to the American Monomyth (Lawrence and Jewett 2002, 3-5). This is perhaps because in a world that is becoming increasingly secular, popular culture is one of the ways that a secular audience may engage in religious themes. As Detweiler argues:

With the shift of interest away from religion and the relocation of values from the divine to the human sphere that have characterised the past one hundred years, the traits and mission have been transferred to man, so that for some writers the nature and intentions of Christ can be observed in any good, moral, or heroic person. (1964, 3-5)

Therefore, the American Monomyth serves to initiate a dialogue between religion and popular culture, so that readers of modern literature may learn about Jesus through a secular counterpart. Daenerys as the (theoretically) prophesied Azor Ahai parallels the Biblical prophesied messiah, just as her noble task to end slavery is a very literal adaptation of the Christ as a liberator of everyone who is a slave to sin. This is why Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen makes a great fictional, popular messiah to a secular culture seeking a saviour from the many growing tensions apparent in contemporary society.




All references to biblical texts are taken from the NIV.

Detweiler, Robert. ‘Christ and the Christ Figure in American Fiction’. The Christian Scholar 47, no. 2 (1964): pp. 111-124.

Forbes, Bruce David. ‘Introduction: Finding Religion in Unexpected Places’. In Religion and Popular Culture in America: Revised Edition, edited by Bruce David Forbes and Jeffrey H. Mahan, pp. 1-20. University of California Press, 2005.

Game of Thrones. Television Series. Created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. New York, NY: HBO, 2011-present.

Gunton, Colin. ‘“Christus Victor” Revisited: A Study in the Metaphor and the Transformation of Meaning’. The Journal of Theological Studies 36, no. 1 (1985): pp. 129-145.

Lawrence, John Shelton and Robert Lewett. The Myth of the American Superhero. W. B. Eerdmans, 2002.

Martin, George R. R. A Song of Ice and Fire. Bantam, 1996-present.






Spotlighting student work 3: Dear Lord, it’s Harry Styles

A special treat to end the week with – another essay from one of our Theology 101/G students, this time focusing on the theme of contemporary messiahs, or supersaviours. In particular, this essay considers the messianic qualities of Harry Styles, singer in the band One Direction and all round pop icon and hearthrob. The author of this fabulous essay is Courtenay James. Courtenay has just finished up her second year of a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Auckland, majoring in History and minoring in Ethnomusicology. She will spend her third and final year on an study abroad exchange to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. An enthusiastic and unapologetic boy band fan, she spends most of her time thinking about her one true love – Harry Styles.

So, sit back and enjoy Courtenay’s essay on the heavenly Harry.

harry with cross

Thou shalt worship no other God: Unless he’s Harry Styles

by Courtenay James

According to Rolling Stone, Harry Styles is ‘the boy of the year of the girl’ (Sheffield, 2014). Genetically blessed with deep green eyes, just-rolled-out-of-bed hair and legs a supermodel would envy, Styles has a Jagger-esque aura about him, gliding coolly around in gold leather boots, too tight skinny jeans and his signature crucifix strung around his neck. One quarter of the uber boy band One Direction, Styles is undoubtedly the most popular, the most praised and in many ways, the most significant member. The phenomenon of teen worship of celebrities is nothing new, however recent cultural changes and Styles himself have changed the way celebrity idolatry works in society. It has even been suggested that ‘perhaps fame is the new religion, and celebrities our Gods’ (Abane 2009, p. 1). For many teen girls, Styles is in fact, their God/Jesus/Saviour/Messiah or any other religious figure that accurately embodies their adoration for him. Despite the Book of Exodus explicitly stating that there shall be no others before God, girls (religious or not) have disregarded this statement, elevating their own personal God, Harry Styles to the status of super saviour (Exodus 20:2-6; 34:14).

Harry at prayerThe phenomenon of ‘fandom’ is not a new concept, however the following that Styles and his fellow band mates have amassed has taken on a distinct identity.Teen girls are arguably one of the most powerful demographics on the planet – collectively, they have the ability to influence popular culture, set trends and have purchasing power worth billions of dollars each year. Teen girls are wirelessly connected, shaped by social media and shaping its development in return. Social media is a space ‘in which to engage in a practice (fandom) that has been ridiculed, dismissed and scorned by the dominant adult culture for decades’ (Mitchel and Walso 2007, p. 284). Despite their collective power, more often than not teenage girls are seen as the polar opposite of powerful; governed by emotion and controlled by what’s ‘hot or not’, teenage girls are assumed to be guided by emotion rather than logic, heart over head, an assumed trait that is viewed negatively in society.

A major part of Harry Styles’ appeal is his ability to validate the otherwise disregarded feelings of the teen demographic that worships him so dearly. The One Direction fandom views Styles as their almighty leader, a figure who creates a safe and supportive environment for fans to express emotions and passions. This imagined community is created through various means, whether it be the music the band produces, attending concerts or interacting with fellow fans on social media platforms such as Twitter or Tumblr.

harry cute

The elevation of Styles to supersavior status is in part due to his unwavering crusade to empower young women. From the band’s first single “What Makes You Beautiful” to the track “Girl Almighty” off their most recent album, One Direction has made it their ‘core mission [to sing] to girls about how excellent they are’ (Sheffield 2015). “Girl Almighty” is a 3 minute and 21 second devotional from One Direction to their fans. The use of religious language in the lyrics is clear, with words such as saviour, light, believer and the title itself, “Girl Almighty”. One key lyric is repeated throughout the song, ‘I’d get down, I’d get down, I’d get down on my knees for you’. The song makes clear that the band members have not only fallen in love with the Girl Almighty, they worship her. “Girl Almighty” uses the same logic that Styles does in his attempts to make young women feel powerful, so much so that the song was used in a fan organized charity drive for Women’s Aid, ‘a charity that helps to support women and children suffering from domestic violence’ (Maximum Pop 2015).

friendly harryHarry Styles’ ability to make girls feel important is one of the key factors in his elevation to the position of modern messiah. When performing, usually to tens of thousands in large stadiums, ‘every limb of his body is an instrument he uses to express to girls how happy he is to bask in their presence’ (Sheffield 2015). Styles is an enigma, encompassing all the boy band stereotypes (the ladies’ man, the baby, the dreamboat and a little bit of the bad boy) while at the same time completely rejecting them and forging his own identity.

harry he for sheAware of his supersaviour status, Styles uses the phenomenon of celebrity worship to campaign for social justice, using his fame as a call to action to raise awareness of various causes. The importance he places on female empowerment is shown through his involvement in Emma Watson’s #HeForShe campaign, a movement for gender equality that has a strong presence on social media. Styles tweeted a photo of himself holding a sign with the hashtag #HeForShe, with the caption ‘”I’m supporting @UN_Women and @EmWatson in #HeForShe As should you..”, which garnered almost half a million favourites on Twitter. Styles consciously uses his immense influence on fans to raise awareness of philanthropic causes. The phenomenon of celebrity worship often results in fans imitating what their idols do, say or think, adopting various aspects of the celebrity’s identity in a way to feel a greater connection with them, in a similar way to religious devotees who aim to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. Styles takes advantage of this devotion on social media, in interviews and in concerts.

The recently launched Action1D campaign, an effort that ‘supports the United Nations’ own 2015 Time for Global Actionharry action 1d campaign to eradicate poverty, inequality and climate change’ (UN News Centre 2015) encourages fans to join together to create change. A promotional video on the Action1D website has Styles encouraging fan involvement, with a short monologue that includes statements such as ‘over the years you have shown us what you can achieve if you rally together’ and ‘time and time again you’ve shown us how incredible, passionate and creative you all are. And now we want to ask you to come together with us and use that to make a change for good (ibid).

Arguably his most passionate philanthropic cause is marriage equality. Unafraid to demonstrate his support for the LGBT community, Styles is frequently seen on stage at One Direction concerts with a rainbow flag draped across his shoulders. Matt Bellassai, a writer for Buzzfeed, proclaimed on Twitter that  ‘@Harry_Styles is the most important LGBT icon of our time we are so blessed to have his prancing, flag-waving presence on this earth’. A 2013 protest by the Westboro Baptist Church outside a 1D concert in Missouri led to Styles tweeting ‘Despite the company outside, I believe in equal rights for everyone. I think God loves all. Thanks for coming to the show though,’ which was retweeted over 200,000 times. His mention of God in his tweet is significant, as both a response to the harry rainbowChurch who labelled One Direction as ‘fag-enabling [and] God-hating’ and as an affirmation of his personal beliefs (Sieczkowski 2013).

Although ambiguous about his specific personal religious beliefs, he has affiliations with both the Christian and Jewish communities. Despite not actually being Jewish, Styles was named number 73 on the Jewish Chronicle’s Power 100 list (Jewish Chronicle 2015). According to the Chronicle, Styles ‘may not be Jewish but he seems very much at ease with a Jewish lifestyle, [wore] a silver Star of David at the Teen Choice awards, hangs out at kosher eateries and is not afraid to throw the odd Yiddish word or two into the conversation’, not to mention his Hebrew tattoos and his mention of Jewish festivals such as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on social media (ibid). His place on the list is most likely due to the 25 million Twitter followers he influences, and is justified by the Chronicle due to the fact that ‘his Jewish knowledge is stronger than one has any right to expect from a 20-year-old boy-band singer from rural Cheshire’ (ibid).

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - AUGUST 11:  Harry Styles arrives at the 2013 Teen Choice Awards at Gibson Amphitheatre on August 11, 2013 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)

In relation to Lawrence and Jewetts’s exploration of The American Monomyth, Styles has qualities similar to the author’s definitions of the contemporary messiah, which are evident in the way he is perceived by fans and in the media. A popular topic of discussion in the media, Styles is often discussed similar to the way the supersaviour is described by Lawrence and Jewett, as ‘utterly cool’ and ‘divinely competent’ (2002, p. 47). The media harry b and wrepresentation of him varies, from tabloid fodder to appearances on best dressed lists. However, the most in depth assessment of Styles’ came in a 2014 Rolling Stone article where he was described as ‘unprecedented’ and a ‘pure enigma’ (Sheffield 2014). Focusing on his charisma and enthusiasm, the author praises Styles for his divine competence, stating that ‘if [Styles] has any inner turmoil, he keeps it to himself… the strain of the pop hustle never leaves a mark on him. He has all the flash, without the neurotic wear and tear’ (ibid). The article later goes on to describe the developing mystery surrounding Styles, as ‘the more famous he gets, the more mysterious he seems’ (ibid). The article’s main narrative is one of praise, and comes to a point where the author states ‘Try to find a photo where he looks weary or bored. You can’t’ (ibid). The Rolling Stone article is a reflection of the way Styles has indeed shown qualities of a contemporary messiah. His philanthropic involvement, unwavering enthusiasm and the air of mystery surrounding him are all self made Messianic qualities, separate from the supersaviour status imposed on him by fans.

harry fireworksA popular topic for British tabloids, Styles has been the subject of various articles since his career began. The most popular topic seems to be his love life, however his philanthropic efforts and occasional ‘healing powers’ also seem to be well publicized. A 2014 Metro article ran with the headline ‘Kiss from Harry Styles gives mute girl back her voice, proves 1D star is basically Jesus’, describing a 15 year old girl who suddenly ‘came out talking’ after Styles moved closer to her during a concert (Yeatman 2014). The article quotes the 15 year old talking about the ‘miracle’, as she states ‘when he blew a kiss in my direction, a scream came out’ (ibid). The article finishes with a final quote from the girl, summarising the power of Styles; ‘No psychiatrist, no speech and language, no doctor or nurse could bring my voice back, but One Direction could (ibid). A 2014 Huffington Post article ran with the headline ‘Harry Styles Comforts Fan Mid-Panic Attack, Restores Our Faith In Humanity’ (Scherker 2014). Alongside media reports of Styles’ saviour-like behaviour, various posts on social media highlight his supposed divine being. A quick search of ‘Harry Styles is God’ on Twitter finds thousands of posts, mainly from the key fan demographic of teenage girls. Examples of tweets include ‘Harry is an angel sent from God to save me’, ‘Yo, God is real I saw him tonight taking the human form of Harry Styles. I’m feeling blessed’ and a personal favourite, ‘not to overreact or anything but Harry Styles is actually Jesus Christ himself’.

harry crucifix

His ever growing hair has caused many fans to compare his looks to the ‘original’ Jesus Christ, with fans photo-shopping an image of Styles into Jesus’ likeness. A major element of Styles ‘supersaviour’ identity with fans is due to his physical appearance, similar to the #HotJesus phenomenon on Twitter. Harry Styles is not immune to sexualisation and neither is religion. As mentioned in the 2014 Rolling Stone article, his growing fame creates a sense of mystery about him (Sheffield 2014). Not unlike Jesus Christ, Styles has devoted followers that would do or say almost anything to be close to him or even harry beardsee a glimpse of their hero. Fans devote money, time and attention and go to extremes to meet him and be in his presence, an encounter which many fans consider to be one of the best moments of their lives. The mystery of Styles causes disbelief that he is actually real until seen in person, on a scale similar to that of the Disciples not believing that Jesus had risen in Mark 16: 9-11, ‘When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it’ and Matthew 28: 16-17, ‘When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.’ Described as the ‘St. Thomas Effect’ in celebrity culture, this fan disbelief is compared to the ‘disciples of Jesus Christ [wanting] to touch him…to prove he was real’ (Lee 2009, p. 82). Comparative fan behaviour is seen in fans mobbing, following and often aggressively taking photos of Styles.

Despite his elevation to supersaviour status and the various characteristics of the modern messiah that Styles encompasses, he is in reality a 21 year old human from small town England, thrust into the spotlight on a reality television singing competition. He is not always prophetic or eloquent when delivering his messages of social justice, for example a recent crusade against SeaWorld was delivered to fans with a simple ‘Does anybody like dolphins? Don’t go to SeaWorld’. However, the dynamics of celebrity culture and the power of the teenage girl demographic have elevated Styles to a level of cultural superstardom, where he is no longer human but rather a divine being. To many, for various reasons (and by many, I mean millions), Styles is a God. And in the true era of 21st century consumerism, where not even religion escapes commodification, you can even purchase a Saint Styles candle for at home worship sessions.

 harry candle

Works Cited


“Harry Styles Prayer Candle. Saint Styles! Great Gift! Premium Handmade 9″ Soy Candle!” Etsy. Accessed October 8, 2015.

“JC Power 100: Numbers 100 – 51.” The Jewish Chronicle. Accessed October 7, 2015.

“One Direction Fans Make ‘Girl Almighty’ Empowerment Song for Women’s Aid. What a Bloody Lovely Idea!” Maximum Pop. April 26, 2015. Accessed October 4, 2015.

“One Direction Launches New Campaign in Support of Action/2015.” UN News Center. July 10, 2015. Accessed October 1, 2015.

Scherker, Amanda. “Harry Styles Comforts Fan Mid-Panic Attack, Restores Our Faith In Humanity.” The Huffington Post. December 12, 2014. Accessed October 1, 2015.

Sheffield, Rob. “Harry Styles: Boy of the Year of the Girl.” Rolling Stone. December 12, 2014. Accessed October 3, 2015.

Sheffield, Rob. “16 Reasons One Direction Are on Top of the Stadium Rock Game.” Rolling Stone. August 6, 2015. Accessed October 4, 2015.

Sieczkowski, Cavan. “Westboro Baptist Church Pickets One Direction Concert; Harry Styles Responds.” The Huffington Post. July 22, 2013. Accessed October 7, 2015.

Yeatman, Dominic. “Kiss from Harry Styles Gives Mute Girl Back Her Voice, Proves 1D Star Is Basically Jesus.” Metro. July 13, 2014. Accessed October 8, 2015.


Abane, Richard. Religions of the Stars: What Hollywood Believes and How It Affects You. Michigan: Baker Books, 2009.

Lawrence, John Shelton, and Robert Jewett. The Myth of the American Superhero. Grand Rapids, Michigan: W.B. Eerdmans, 2002.

Lee, C. J. P. Celebrity, Pedophilia, and Ideology in American Culture. Amherst, N.Y.: Cambria Press, 2009.

Mitchell, Claudia A., and Jacqueline Walsh. Girl Culture [Two Volumes] an Encyclopedia. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Pub. Group, 2007.


@aubrieharmonn. Twitter Post. October 4, 2015, 1:52 PM.

@badlandhemmo. Twitter Post. September 12, 2015, 2:48 PM.

@cailynveronica. Twitter Post. September 12, 2015, 11:50 PM.

@Harry_Styles. Twitter Post. July 19, 2013, 9:11 PM.

@Harry_Styles. Twitter Post. September 25, 2014, 11:45 AM.

@MattBellassai. Twitter Post. September 14, 2015, 12:05 PM.


One Direction, “Girl Almighty,” in Four, Columbia Records, 2014.


All references to the Biblical text are from the NIV.