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Religion and Popular Culture

A Hyper-Real Testament

Series:

Adam Possamai

Popular culture can no longer be exclusively seen as a source of escapism. It can amuse, entertain, instruct, and relax people, but what if it provides inspiration for religion?
The Church of All Worlds, the Church of Satan and Jediism from the Star Wars series are but three examples of new religious groups that have been greatly inspired by popular culture to (re)create a religious message. These are hyper-real religions, that is a simulacrum of a religion partly created out of popular culture which provides inspiration for believers/consumers. These postmodern expressions of religion are likely to be consumed and individualised, and thus have more relevance to the self than to a community and/or congregation. On the other hand, religious fundamentalist groups tend, at times, to resist this synergy between popular culture and religion, and at other times, re-appropriate popular culture to promote their own religion. Examples of this re-appropriation are Christian super-hero comics and role playing games, Bible-based PC games, and ‘White Metal’ music.
To explore these new phenomena, this book views itself as the ‘hyper-real testament’ of these new religious phenomena by addressing the theories, among many others, of Baudrillard, Jameson and Lipovetsky, and by exploring the use of fictions such as those from Harry Potter, The Matrix, Star Trek, Buffy and The Lord of the Rings.

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CHAPTER 6. Esoteric Knowledge(s) and Popular Culture 105

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CHAPTER 6 Esoteric Knowledge(s) and Popular Culture Introduction In the movie The Matrix, Neo (Keanu Reeves) is a computer scientist bored with the routine of his day-to-day job. At night, he is a hacker of international reputation who tries to discover what the Matrix is. The Matrix is at this stage a type of secret knowledge from the cyber-world so well hidden that, like a type of cyber-Eldorado, one wonders if it really exists. One night, in his home office, messed up with a vast array of computer equipment and with a few books scattered around — one written by Baudrillard — exhausted by his illegal activities, he is invited to a discotheque by a woman revealing a tattoo of a white rabbit an her shoulder. This scene is a metaphor of Alice following the white rabbit down the hole and getting to Wonderland; another world beyond the limit of our reality. After a few scenes with some mysterious law en- forcers, Neo meets Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne); the man with the allure of a Zen master who possesses the key to the Matrix. After a quick discussion in a run-down room, Morpheus offers Neo to choose between two pills. The red will give Neo the key to the Matrix and all the answers he has always wanted to know, the blue will prevent him from doing so and will allow him to get back to his everyday life un- changed. After a few moments of hesitation, Neo takes the red pill...

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