Human beings are often described as pattern-recognizing creatures. We find faces in the clouds, Mother Mary in a peanut butter sandwich, lottery numbers in the New York Times crossword puzzle, a picture of Jesus in a vanilla wafer.
|Get thee behind me?|
A more plausible accusation against cultural apologists may be that we have too much imagination.
Here, for example, a fellow named Daniel Mumby lists "50 Films that you wouldn't think are Christian, but actually are."
Some of these alleged parallels seem far-fetched, to put mildly. As one person puts it, half the "Christian" films, are films a Christian shouldn't be watching. Eyes Wide Shut? Clockwork Orange? And I think Mumby badly overrates Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in which Johnny Depp channels Michael Jackson. Skeptics on PZ Myers's page take this list as an example of the stifling Christian tendency to ruin good pagan fun by reading our redemption story into it ("I guess everything looks Christian to a Christian.") Dune? Isn't that full of Islamic motifs?
And how about Bladerunner? This Harrison Ford movie might be what we call “pre-evangelism:” repent, or LA will get the weather of Forks, Washington, you’ll have to order your lunch from holograms that speak garbled Japanese, and psychopathic robots will find novel ways of disembowling you after love-making. (Or is that An Inconvenient Truth?)
And where on this list (I growl) is that great Christian parable, Groundhog Day?
Are we guilty of too much imagination? Is that where Christianity came from? Did Jesus' first followers read too much into the Old Testament, and extract a long series of "prophecies" that were originally meant to be nothing of the sort?
Yet there ARE such things as hints. Actions can have symbolic meaning. Promises can be made and kept.
And alongside the ability to find patterns, humans also have a corresponding talent, sometimes, of overlooking them. It is possible to be a hypochondriac, and it is also possible to ignore symptoms until one is half dead. Scrooge didn't want to see Marlowe on his door knob. Some people are too suspicious, and others too gullible.
In some ways, Christian theology is the search for a pattern that makes sense of human, and even cosmic, history.
Atheists do the same thing -- they call it "evolution."
We may agree that the slow unfolding of natural events is part of the creation pattern. But we also recognize a deeper pattern of entering and transforming: "the divine Logos, the Word made flesh."
One can see Harrison Ford as the product of 3.8 billion years of evolution, along with his brother the cobra hissing at him in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
One can see him as an image of God, fallen, but who sometimes plays roles that remind us of our need for a Savior, for a divine, Herculean hero who risks his neck on behalf of the rest of us. (And isn't the ark a symbol of God's presence?)
It's easy to get carried away! I don't see faces on vanilla wafers, and don't want to, anymore than Scrooge wanted to see Marlowe on his door knob. But I think history does have meaning, and I think Isaiah did prophesy the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. (And so, perhaps, did Lao Zi.) Fulfillment operates on different levels, with overt prophecies, implicit promises, accidental parallels, and even patterns of nature, like the rebirth of corn in the spring, that find new meaning not just in the long, slow story of creation, but in the story of Jesus, who changes the meaning of history.