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5 Pop Culture Institutions That Make Great Religions

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I grew up in a non-religious household, and while that's made me somewhat out of step with a lot of America I don't really feel like I've missed anything of note. Sure, I lack a traditionally organized set of rules and norms and possibly a sense of community, but I've picked up on the whole not killing, not stealing thing pretty well and I tend to be anti-social so I don't mind not having a building to meet other like-minded people in on a given Sabbath.

I mostly I don't bother with organized religion because over the years I've reached a deeper spiritual bond with pop culture than I ever could have with the message of Jesus Christ or Buddha or, I don't know, the Scientology guy. It's where I draw my strength from in times of need, and where I find the lessons that make up my morality. So if you're not the church-going type have you considered...


The religion of Batman himself is hotly debated, but I'm not weighing in on that. There are two spiritual lessons that that can constantly be learned from the 70+ years of history regarding the Caped Crusader. The first is as simple as it is challenging as it is rewarding. Namely, that with enough force of will you can confront what you're afraid of and make it fear you in turn.

The second is the most important, do not transform into what you hate. You can't kill a killer without becoming a killer yourself. These important tenets, combined with Batman's never-failing dedication to making the world a better place earn him at least sainthood in my opinion.

Neil Gaiman

The comics and novels of Neil Gaiman top any religion by being all of them. Every... single... one. He took the entire span of human belief, including not believing in anything at all, said, "Yep! That'll do," and forced readers to enter a world where you have to accept that just because your belief is right, it doesn't mean the other person is wrong even if they believe the exact opposite.

More than that, Gaiman teaches us that religion is a two-way road. The gods may be the masters and we may be their puppets, but the strings pull both ways. Pull with enough force, and you change existence itself. His work holds men accountable to the gods they make and worship, something a lot of people could stand to learn.

Final Fantasy

Fourteen testaments and counting, nothing helps you open an inner world like delving into the long-running epic fantasy series of video games. Sure, the early ones are simplistic, but so are a lot of early religions. These days players are greeted with grand tales, deeply nuanced characters, plots that may or may not make any sense, and the experience of living through a time of magic and monsters.

Like Gaiman, the games lift heavily from the world of mythology, harnessing the archetypes of different religions to their tales to the benefit of both. I can't prove that anyone discovered Kabala through deciphering Sephiroth's name and meaning, but I wouldn't rule it out either. If any pop culture vehicle can be said to tackle the Bible in length and scope of majesty, it's Final Fantasy.

Rocky Horror

I performed in Houston Rocky Horror for ten straight years without a significant break, and because of it I understand highly ritualized and orthodox religion perfectly. There is a certain power in reciting the same words and movements over and over again. It forces you to continuously interpret the meaning and message of each of them, until you draw your own personal and unique reinforced understanding from them. You inhabit the characters you play, finding fault and virtue in them, and by association yourself, accordingly.

Plus, hey! Lots of sexy people without a lot of clothes, yelling, screaming, and throwing things, with a vague moral lesson about excess at the very end. Hypocrisy built in!

Doctor Who

And then there is the Doctor. The show is coming up on 50 years of history, some of it good, some of it bad, but all of it worth the running.

I've never known anyone that wanted to be the Doctor. All they ever want to be is a companion, someone that gets whisked away from everyday life and problems to see the wonders and horrors of the universe at the side of a being with god-like power over space and time.

And the reason is simple, as much a companion needs the Doctor, he needs them more. The loneliness of centuries and a detachment from everything has left him lost on his own. Even a man that can master the universe cannot master his own heart(s).

That's a comforting thought, that a supreme being needs us, and wants us to share his adventures. Everything doesn't always turn out all right. People die, people leave, even the Doctor himself must give way to new form, but if there is a better analogy for the connection a person feels between himself and the mysterious answers behind reality, I haven't seen it yet.

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