Jonah Goldberg writes that his most recent email-based G-File column sparked some conversation about theology in the Indiana Jones movies. He makes a good point, but I think he misses something important about Indy’s cultural significance (and that of the superficial, modernist culture of which he’s a part):
My dad — who loved the movie — always laughed at the idea that the Nazis would be able to use the ark for their dastardly purposes. The idea that God would be like, “Darn, it’s out of my hands. I guess I have no choice but to lend you my awesome powers for your evil deeds,” is pretty ridiculous. They even returned to this idea in the third movie, when the Nazis tried to get their hands on the Holy Grail — because, you know, Jesus would totally say, “Nazis!? Rats. There’s nothing I can do. It’s life everlasting for the SS!”
In keeping with the secularization of our era, the assumption of Spielberg’s movies is that, while there may be magic and ghosts, there needn’t be a God, or even gods. Finding the end goal in every story involves a minefield of puzzles, booby traps, and tricks, and Indy overcomes them with knowledge and agility, not divine intervention or prayer.
So, when finally the Ark or Holy Grail is found, the appearance of the supernatural isn’t an affirmation of divinity, but a mysterious technology. Chanting “you betrayed Sheba” may be the magic words to make the rocks hot in Temple of Doom, but Kali (the evil god) doesn’t have the power to stop Indy from taking them from her temple in the first place.
This is why, as much as it may have crossed into the realm of overdone camp, the final movie could introduce aliens as the mystical force, rather than spirituality.