What Jonah Goldberg Misses About Indiana Jones

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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.



  • Dan

    My favorite fantasy stories are those where it's left to the imagination whether there is something supernatural at play. This is when I think the Game of Thrones series is at its best – you don't know which of the gods, if any, are real and which are just superstition built around coincidence or other elements at work. Raiders of the Lost Ark falls into this category because we never really know what the ark is or how or why it works beyond the Biblical narrative. There is no indication in the movie that God is actively involved with the artifact.

    It's important to remember the Nazis didn't see themselves as "evil" and all indications are they believed God was on their side. They were searching for the ark because they believed it was a gift from God to help their mission, so there isn't any inconsistency in the plot simply because the "bad guys" were searching for it.

  • Warrington Faust

    "Kali (the evil god)" am I correct in my history? Kali was the goddess worshipped by the "thugs", "thugees". Their idea of religious prosthelytizing was "your grave has already been dug".

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