Director Scott Derrickson got it right in Doctor Strange. He infused the expected technological naturalism of the Marvel comic universe with Eastern Tibetan mysticism. He morphed Stephen Strange from a self-absorbed disenchanted naturalist to a nascent enchanted naturalist who was learning that there is a reality larger and other than his own ego that provides the scope of meaning to his life.
The film has been criticized for not spelling out the character arc of his spiritual transformation. But this kind of change is unique to every person and rarely involves detailed arguments. Most of us would have been equally opened up to the possibilities of other worlds if we had experienced it in quite the dramatic 3-D manner in which he was introduced to it. Experience trumps argument every time.
As such Doctor Strange adopts a New Copernican sensibility—openness to a magical world, even if one explained through the multi-verses of quantum science. Raised on the mythic narrative of Harry Potter, this is the kind of reality we instinctively expect (perhaps even crave). We are moderns who believe in magic. We are moderns who embrace the poetic imagination and the creativity that flows from it. Fellow traveler Elizabeth Gilbert captures our haunted spiritual and artistic sensibility when she writes, “I’ve spent my entire life in devotion to creativity that is entirely and unapologetically based on magical thinking. And when I refer to magic here, I mean it literally. Like, in the Hogwarts sense. I am referring to the supernatural, the mystical, the inexplicable, the surreal, the divine, the transcendent, the otherworldly. Because the truth is, I believe that creativity is a force of enchantment—not entirely human in its origins.”
This does not mean that one is automatically into organized religion. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Nor does it mean that we've abandoned a skeptical mind and replaced it with easy belief. No it is all messed up all the time. The confident atheism of some has the same traits of fundamentalist certainty that we abhor. No, this is faith infused with doubt. It’s complex, demanding, and requires that you get dirty. There is nothing pristine about it. It is a pilgrimage forged on the muddy trail and launched with the aroma of a manger. Here is a bawdy spirituality.
But it is a form of faith nonetheless. Call me a Celtic neo-pagan like The Ancient One in Doctor Strange. We may not fit into neat traditional boxes, but we never aspired to do so. No our search is taking us toward a nondualist consciousness of a loving divine presence. While we may only see darkly, we still see. For now, it’s enough.
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