Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Irony of Sleepy Hollow : Where is God in the Apocalypse

In all great myths and legends there is the hero in his/her quest against and opposing force that seek to stop the hero's eventual success. But what if the hero's battle is against the dark demonic forces that are sent to bring about the end of the world? You know, those apocalyptic tales where the end of the world is the event that is to be stopped. Well, September 16th 2013 was the commencement of the pilot of Sleepy Hollow. For those who do not know the american mythology of Sleepy Hollow the short story is that riding around the town of Sleepy Hollow is a headless horseman that hero Ichabod Crane seeks to defeat. The original story by Washington Irving “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” has been updated as Ichabod Crane has been magically brought to the modern era. His is a quest to stop the end of the world from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse one of which is the headless horseman of Sleepy Hollow (Reiter, 2013 : np).

This is not the first or the last television series or movie that will show the apocalypse in one form or another. Joss Whedon's Buffy and Angel fought end of the world demonic forces every season. The angel and demon fest that is “Supernatural” took till the fifth season for brothers Sam and Dean Winchester to confront the apocalypse. Sleepy Hollow begins with the apocalypse and has just enough of the blurry demon in the mirror to tantalise you. Also by bringing Ichabod Crane from the eighteenth century serves as a link to the times when the supernatural was more evident (RDPULFER, 2013 : np). That last line about supernatural being less evident today is questionable as in a post-modern age are not all things up for grabs? Tom Mission who plays Ichabod Crane is a history professor, speaks multiple languages, a spy for George Washington who also believes. Like Fox Mulder in the X-Files Crane is a believer, wide-eyed, on a search for the truth that is out there. This is a character has grown from crackpot to hero in the last few decades (Jensen, 2013 : np). For this reason the concept that the supernatural is less believed in appears to be come from a modernist perspective than a post-modern one. And as the number of apocalypse stories grow in the media it makes one wonder, what this plethora of end of the world scenarios will do to the eschatology that christianity holds? Or, has popular eschatology created such a complicated cluttered mass of conjecture that it cannot respond because it is so conflicted?

Horror and fantasy is rarely critically analysed by Christians, Father Grunow's shock toward's Ichabod's use of a Mohecian totem because it is more effective than the cross, rather is rare. His affirmation of Bram Stoker's Van Helsing's use of the cross is even more of a rarity. Gunrow also attests to the paucity of such examination of the genre which concludes it either being irrelevant or a scandalous gateway to hell. Though his conclusion is that such naivety is problematic. In his mind christians should be writing tales such as Sleepy Hollow because through Christ's revelation the nature of evil and good are both revealed. Without a knowledge of good and evil stories like Sleepy Hollow fail in being compelling. The issue that horrifies Gunrow is that the cross and its power is devalued because the story of Jesus and the great biblical story of salvation and the future eschaton has not been told. Or has been told by others, which is worse (Gunrow, 2013 : np). Though lack of communication when it comes to Jesus is somewhat true, when it comes to eschatology and the end of days it is not the lack of communication but the comical nature of its prediction that causes the greatest horror.

The prediction of 2011 by Harold Camping for the coming end of days was an incredible misfire and one of many. Atheists replied with a billboard quoting Matthew 24:36 “No one knows the day or the hour...”(Wilson, 2011 :np). Camping has since apologised and asked for forgiveness from those who spent a lot of money promoting Campings prediction (Burke, 2012 :np). Campings mea culpa is rare. Often the continual failure of these prophecies results in rearranging the scheduled date and declaring those skeptical of the prophecy oppose the Word of God. The other response involves claiming arcane knowledge removing any need for objective criticism enabling any fantasy to be used. What occurs in any possible prediction like this is that once the interpretation becomes canon then there is no need to involve the believer in a political, social or environmental change. What is most problematic is that the symbols within the text of Revelation are contextual to the time and the people it was written to. Interpretation of events unexamined leads to a tribalistic or nationalistic hermeneutic that causes more damage. This leads to a situation where even trying to help people could create a causality that could prevent God's plan for the end of the world (Kirk, 1987 : 48-50). Such a view can be seen in a tweet by Mark Driscoll where he (hopefully?) mocks the eschatological affirmation that to be ecologically unsound is Godly in bringing about the coming apocalypse (Pyle, 2013 :np). It can also be seen in the recent Government shutdown by the Tea Party representatives of the Republican party (Millhiser, 2013 : np). These ways of using the apocalypse and predicting it are far from salvation and the great biblical narrative Gunrow wants to see in the media. In fact what can be seen if one looks close enough at the narrative of both Sleepy Hollow and Supernatural is that the apocalypse has to be averted. The end of the world is not God's planing it is Evil that seeks this end of days. Perhaps the repetition of prophetic failings and hellfire preaching about people going to hell has created a cultural blockage to the positive view of the apocalypse?

In his introduction to Revelation Martin Luther considered that it held no weight prophetically, that it did not teach Christ or even have Christ in it (Luther, 1522 : 398-399). If we look at Sleepy Hollow and Supernatural, Buffy and some of the movies about the end of the world there is a figure that is noticeably absent, God. Though it would be safe to assume that Jesus does make a showing in St. John's Revelation; the lack of there being God within these shows, so weighted down with religious and apocalyptic symbolism, is interesting. Supernatural gets points for having angles, even Gabriel shows up. Though he is twinned with the Norse God Loki, Gabriel left heaven because he could not handle the war between Michael and Lucifer (Gabriel, 2013 : nd). It appears that once again post-modernism's ability to take a grab bag of similar things and mash them up into something else that is kind of similar, but not, has happened again. As said above 'some' movies about the end of the world do not have God. Kevin Smith's movie Dogma does have God, and angels, demons, a muse, the Metatron (voice of God), and Rufus the thirteenth disciple who is black. Kevin Smith sees the movie as celebrating his catholic faith, unfortunately the Catholic League did not agree with the Director (Wantabee, 1999 : np). That God is played by Alanis Morisette was obviously an issue but, the way Smith and Morisette portray God as being able to save the day, bring about healing and restoration and then spend time climbing a tree is possibly the best portrayal of God since Morgan Freeman. In Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty Freeman's God is cheeky, irreverent, pedagogical and mysterious. Not once does Freeman's portrayal get child like as Morrisette's but in the Almighty movies the apocalypse does not rate a mention and God works like a clockmaker moving people about so that they learn the lesson he has for them. The issue appears to have something to do with our image of God and his place in relation to the apocalypse. That calamity and tension make a story and if God is in charge bringing the apocalypse about then he is either cheating or capricious.

Historically God was good, generous, unsurprising, his plan was to be accepted and humans lived within the meta-narrative of faith revealed in the scriptures. This God could be worshiped and loved there was security and settledness, you knew where you stood with the God of classical Scholasticism. Then cam Okham and Hobes brining Nominalism to the fore. It is not that these two are to blame because the development of the modern understanding that leads to the post-modern use of the symbols of God and the supernatural occurred over many hundreds of years. Point being is that God changed from this Scholastic view, God became distant. You could not know much about this God, you could barely prove God's existence. Universals were rejected and that meant the narrative too had no end for humanity and creation. It also meant there was no universal good or evil and that God could no longer be fully understood, God could be capricious, therefore there was no certainty or security (Gillespie, 2008 : 24-25). What became as a consequence of this was that the divine attribute of God were shared between Man and Nature. Causality of time and its end is given to nature. The natural causes bring about the predestined end of the world, man is at the mercy no longer of a God who is benevolent but a faceless chaotic nature that we cannot stop (Gillespie : 276).

To this nominalist view of God who is no longer benevolent we include the apocalyptic messages of the New Testament. A God who is coming wether we like it or not, who we do not and cannot understand, the end will come and there is nothing we can do or should do to change this final catastrophic end. Yet within tales such as Sleepy Hollow the tension in the storyline is supplied by a fore-ordained future, one that supposedly cannot be stopped. This anxiety is what keeps us watching it also is what keeps people making predictions and wanting to know when and how does it all end.
There is a desire and revulsion of it “it alarms and fascinates us with its sweet anxiety.” (Kierkegaard, 1967a : 55). Kierkegaard went further in his journals in describing this anxiety that free will brings with plethora of possibilities (holy and sinful) is narrowed when predestination is realised about the future that God has preordained (Kierkegaard, 1967b : 38). This contrasting sense of predestination found in God's future is of course not found in Sleepy Hollow and is certainly not mentioned in Freeman's portrayal of God. However, it does exist in Kevin Smith's God as God is the one who saves the day, bringing the coup de grace that ends the evil angels plans to bring about the end of the world. Still, behind this divine salvation in Dogma there is the nominalism that began with end of the universals one of them being that the world would go on forever.

Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet, but as N.T. Wright argues, this apocalypse was not the same as that which is portrayed in Sleepy Hollow. Jesus' apocalypse was one of restoration and renewal where God will not destroy the world God will bring about justice and peace in the world (Wright, 1996 : np). How we got to the definition of apocalypse that we have right now comes from a few different sources and involves two thousand years of christian history. Suffice to say we cannot take that journey here. What we can cover is that the understanding of the place of the dead or the place of our fathers was latin word inferos the concept was used in the original creeds for Jesus descent after death. This was changed to infernos of hell (Balthasar, 2005 : 180-181). Our final form of Hell and Heaven is sourced from Dante's Inferno and the Jesuit obsession with it as an archetype of the afterlife (Nielsen & Reunert, 2009 : 410-411). An archetype that we have seen in the media from Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress to Sleepy Hollow. An archetype influenced by the nominalist absence of universals and causality of natures eventual chaotic end. One that has to be brought by evil because God cannot be good and allow us to all be killed like that, can he?

There is an inherent irony in shows like Sleepy Hollow and their use of Revelation and apocalyptic literature in that the very end of the world the good guys are trying to avoid is what God wants to bring. The difference is that God brings justice, restoration, redemption and peace, for and in the world. Father Gunrow who called for christians to write tales of the apocalypse forgot one writer who actually did it, C.S. Lewis. In the Last Battle Narnia is at its end, the enemies of Aslan are gathered and the young King Tirian is transported to another land where the Pevensies' and those faithful to Aslan are found. In this land exists all that was good and true, where the adventure continues with Aslan forever (Lewis, 1956 : 120-173). Yes, there is a judgement and the land of Narnia is destroyed but this is not the only book that Lewis wrote about the life after, life after death. The Great Divorce is all about a trip from a limbo-esque murky urban wasteland to clean, solid land where the grass is hard like diamonds(Lewis, 1946 :30) and the woods and waters sing (Lewis : 94). In the tale people from limbo meet those who know who are in, well heaven. Some change and enter this solid land becoming solid people. Others shrink back keeping their grey and ghostly form. In these books God brings about his apocalypse and no one can stop it. All they can do is to decide if they are with God and his redemption and restoration or not.

Allan Moore's Science Heroine Promethea also brings about the apocalypse. Filled with philosophic and Kabbalah inspired understandings of Earth, People, Heaven and Hell it shows the heroes of earth attempting to stop the coming revelation but they are powerless to halt it. But the destruction does not come only, revelation and self-knowledge to all. This is one of the closest allusions to the apocalypse as Wright attests Jesus knowing. Moore's life after the apocalypse is a utopia where because of the love between them, the dead and living can still communicate and see each other. Sure there is no direct links to Jesus and but God and the Jewish Kabbalah are certainly mentioned a lot. Promethea may not be perfect but it sits a long way from the apocalypse of Sleepy Hollow and its ilk.

When faced with shows like Sleepy Hollow it is rare that Christianity engages openly with these shows. People like Gunrow are rare and since the Lewis the number of Christian writers who plough the apocalyptic field are even more rare. When christianity does interact with the apocalypse in the media it either imposes and enforces its doctrinal script or creates wild fantasies that fly far from Jesus apocalypse of restoration, justice, peace and renewal. The historical situation of nominalism and the creation of an end times that focuses on judgement, hell and damnation. These symbols have been taken by the media, cherry picked to give the characters a great dread that has nothing to do with God's end of days and rarely speaks of him at all. In this post-everything world that is already here we need to point out the irony that it is God and not evil that brings about the end of the world. We also need to accept the portrayals of God like Alanis Morrisette and Morgan Freeman and celebrate the fact that God is being portrayed in a positive light. To merely ignore these shows and the people who watch them or worse decry them as merely satanic influences is to neglect our role as keepers of the story. To simply say that the bible speaks for itself does not perpetuate the story it hides it under a bushel. Christianity is no longer the force it was, we may be able to produce media that tells the story of God and his actions in bringing restoration, justice and peace, but if it is not consumable who will watch it but us. To point at the marks of the maker when they are there is good, but we need to learn to point at the opposite. To show God but what he is not and when he is ironically absent as in Sleepy Hollow it should be pointed out.


Balthasar, H. U. (2005) Mysterium Paschale : The Mystery of Easter (2nd ed.) USA: Ignatius Press

The 1522 “Preface to the Revelation of St. John” in Luther’s translation of the New Testament. Pages 398-399 in Luther’s Works Volume 35: Word and Sacrament I (ed. E. Theodore Bachmann; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1960).

Pyle, N. (2013). Why Mark Driscoll’s theology of SUV’s matters. Retrieved from (28th September 2013)

Burke, G. (2012). Harold Camping Admits He Was Wrong About End Of World Prediction

Wilson, J. (2012). End Times: Even Jesus Doesn’t Know When. (21st October 2013)

Millhiser, I. (2013). Read This One Document If You Want To Understand Why Republicans Followed Ted Cruz Off A Cliff. (15th October 2013)

Nielsen, J. & Reunert, T. S. (2009). Dante's heritage: questioning the multi-layered model of the Mesoamerican universe. Antiquity, 83 : 320, 399-413.

Kirk, A. (1987). God's word for a complex world : Discovering hoe the bible speaks today. Bassingstoke, Hants, UK : Marshall Pickering.

Kierkegaard, S. (1967a). The Concept of Dread. (2nd Ed). Princeton : Princeton University Press.

Kierkegaard, S. (1967b). Soren Kierkegaard's Journals and Papers, Volume 1 : A-E. USA : Indiana University Press

(2013). Gabriel (21st October 2013)

Wantabee, T. (1999). Chasing Catholicism : Kevin Smith was in search of his Catholic faith when he created 'Dogma.' Now, others are after him. (21st October 2013) .

Wright, N.T. (1996). The Historical Jesus and Christian Theology. ( October 2013).