Faith and Fandom: Guest Post by Dr. Andrew Crome

 

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Hello everyone, and apologies for the lack of a recent update. Jason is currently halfway through his second set of exams and I’ve been finishing up school and finalizing plans for the summer. Fortunately, we’ve got an excellent post on the intersections of religious studies and fandom studies by Dr. Andrew Crome, a professor at the University of Manchester and fellow brony academic, that we are able to share. Check it out below the break!

 

 

Faith and Fandom

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The study of religion and popular culture is often viewed with suspicion, both by those within the academic world and fans of the texts which are studied. To be fair, this is entirely understandable. When Religious Studies scholars have looked at pop culture texts, we’ve often tried to “baptise” them – looking for biblical or other faith-related parallels which prove the continued relevance of our discipline or personal faith. Often, these attempts simply result in people scratching their heads in confusion. When scholars of religion have turned to fandom, the results have often been even more problematic. A number of studies (for instance, Erika Doss’s work on Elvis fans or Michael Jindra’s study of Star Trek fan culture) suggest that fandom represents a kind of surrogate religion or postmodern faith community. Unsurprisingly, this is often highly offensive both to those fans who don’t identify with any particular belief system, and to those who already have a faith of their own.

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It would be easy to use the sort of logic in these studies to draw basic comparisons between the claims of “life changes” that people have experienced after coming into contact with MLP:FiM in the Brony community and religious conversion. But there is also a crucial difference between fandom and religion – whatever transformative experience an individual has had in relation to MLP, it would be very unlikely that they would believe that in any sense that Equestria was a real place or bow down to worship Princess Celestia. Bronies might take MLP seriously, but it would be silly to ignore the sense of playfulness and fun that’s such a crucial part of the fandom in order to make it into some sort of surrogate religion.

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Having said that, I (obviously!) believe that Religious Studies has something useful to offer to Fan Studies. This is both in helping us to understand the appeal of certain texts and the worlds they create, and in thinking about how fans of particular faith traditions integrate their faith (or lack of it) with their fandom. I don’t pretend to offer any firm answers in this post – just some preliminary thoughts on these two areas and the role of MLP in my research.

Take the sort of world building that producers (and subsequently, fans) have engaged in with Equestria. On the surface this is a world that it is apparently devoid of religion – the ponies certainly have no equivalent of a Church, Mosque, or Synagogue, and the concept of an afterlife is never discussed (Applejack might compare Fluttershy’s singing to “a slice of heaven” on occasions, but that probably doesn’t count). Yet there are certainly spaces in the text which might invite religious speculation. At times Celestia assumes a God-like role in her seeming immortality, guidance, protection and sustenance of Equestria. Celestia’s own mythology makes use of a postmodern mash-up of religious themes – for example, the very start of “Friendship is Magic, Part 1” places Celestia and Luna as contrasting parts of a Ying-Yang symbol. This then merges with Christian concepts in Luna/Nightmare Moon’s thousand year exile, subsequent release for “a short time” and ultimate defeat – a (direct?) mirroring of the “millennium” found in Satan’s thousand year binding, release, and defeat in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Revelation.

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Alternatively, we might look at the range of festivals celebrated by pony society. These festivals appear, on the surface at least, to fit into the sort of explanations of ritual popularised in Mircea Eliade’s work, in which participants reconnect to a sense of primeval, sacred time by re-enacting their core myths.[1] So Ponyville’s “Winter Wrap Up” both recreates the actions of the town’s earth pony founders, and provides a way of regulating the seasons by providing a functional transition point between winter and spring. “Hearth’s Warming Eve”, meanwhile, literally invites viewers and participants in its various pageants to re-experience the founding of Equestria and enter its foundation myth as the initial adversary between Earth Ponies, Unicorns and Pegasi is overcome; the Crystal Fair serves a similar function for the ponies of the Crystal Empire, as they gather around a sacred artefact to reconstitute their community. Meanwhile, Luna’s realisation that the appeal of “Nightmare Night” lies in the fact that ponies are drawn to her mythical persona as “Nightmare Moon”, while at the same time experiencing a kind of uncanny terror, nicely illustrates Rudolf Otto’s idea that religious experience can be described as that which simultaneously fascinates and terrifies us.[2]

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Of course, this sort of thought is speculative, and certainly a long way from the thinking of producers. But this kind of speculation is common in all sorts of fandoms – deepening and expanding the text by thinking through the mythology, sociology, and ethnography of its imagined world. My thoughts about faith in Equestria are at best flippant (at worst, ridiculous) and open to question at any number of levels. At the same time they show how Equestria can be used as an abstract space in which we can think through the role of religion in society. They suggest the way in which pop culture texts such as MLP can operate as what Michael Saler has called “public spheres of the imagination” – in which the pop cultural spaces we explore as fans become safe arenas in which to discuss contentious issues.[3] Given that Bronies often emphasise the importance of diversity and acceptance within their fandom, it is possible that texts such as MLP offer a particularly fruitful space to discuss these sorts of issues.

In terms of fandom itself, what is much more interesting to me than the question of whether or not fandom represents a new type of secularised faith, is the question of how fans use their pre-existing faith traditions in tandem with the object of their fandom. In Western fandoms, this is predominantly (though not exclusively) Christianity. For MLP, this includes pictures of favourite ponies placed next to Bible verses which are said to reflect their characteristics; fanfics in which the Mane 6 deal with heresy, questions of biblical interpretation, and how to evangelise; and fan art which plays with or critiques religious ideas. None of these are necessarily unique to MLP fandom, but there are elements of Brony culture which make it particularly interesting in terms of its relationship with emerging trends in American Christianity.

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Churches, particularly traditional or fundamentalist groups with an inherited suspicion of popular culture, have often looked down on fandom. One of the major reasons for this is the committed and emotional nature of fan engagements with the object of their fandom: from the outside, popular culture fandom has often been construed (wrongly, I would argue) as a type of rival faith to Christianity. Because of this, Christian fans have sometimes followed the lead of scholars of religion in finding analogies between their favourite franchise and faith. This usually includes locating the moral centre of a show and demonstrating the way in which it fits with the central Christian message. For MLP, for example, it is difficult to argue against the overall ethos of the show from the point of view of Christian morality. The Elements of Harmony are largely synonymous with the traditional Christian virtues (with the possible exception of magic!); each show ends with a clear and highly positive moral message; and sex, violence, and gore are nowhere to be found. Villains are generally redeemed, rather than destroyed.

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Yet the same issues that face Bronies in wider culture – questions of gender, age appropriateness, and supposed “obsession” over a TV show designed to sell toys to young girls – are magnified in some Christian circles. Outside of the fringe apocalypticism which connects unicorns in MLP to the coming of Antichrist (Alicorns, alas, are left unmentioned),[4] these relate to important issues in the churches. One of the most notable things about American Evangelical Christianity in the last twenty years has been what sociologist Callum Brown described as a shift away from femininity. An emphasis on firmly differentiated gender roles and “true” masculinity has emerged as a reaction to what has often been perceived as an overly-feminised belief system in many churches.[5] To publicly embrace MLP fandom in some conservative Christian circles might be seen as a disavowal of masculinity, or (wrongly) as a proclamation of homosexuality or psychological immaturity. American Conservatives often quote St. Paul’s warning against immaturity in 1 Corinthians 13 (out of context) to address the supposedly “infantile” nature of much of popular culture: “When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me”. MLP seems to some to be the epitome of “childishness”.

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Paul, of course, never imagined that his words would be used in a debate over whether or not adults should be watching the adventures of candy coloured ponies. Neither, I suppose, did he think that he find his words being quoted by Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy in various fanfics or pasted next to pictures of Rarity in a giant hat. Yet were he to survey the ways in which his writings have been used over the past two thousand years, these sorts of contexts would hardly be the most bizarre adaptations of his biblical writings. Part of the appeal of studying religion in its various historical and cultural contexts is to see the way in which believers, non-believers, and interested parties use and transform it through their lived experiences. And that can include (believe it or not) interpreting it through MLP.

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[1] Mircea Eliade. 1959. The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (San Diego and London: Harcourt) , pp.68-113.

[2] See Rudolf Otto. 1950 [1923]. The Idea of the Holy (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp.12-30.

[3] Michael Saler. 2012. As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp.97-104.

[4] Cutting Edge. Undated. “TV/Toys Conditioning Our Children”, http://www.cuttingedge.org/ce1021.html

[5] See Callum Brown. 2012. Religion and the Demographic Revolution (Woodbridge: Boydell).

27 thoughts on “Faith and Fandom: Guest Post by Dr. Andrew Crome

  1. Technically, Celestia, Luna, Cadence are not mentioned to be goddesses in any sense of the word, nor was it implied that they are. While they may have semi-divine power such as longevity and neigh-invincibility they are in no sense divine beings.

    1. I would argue that, in a very loose sense, Celestia is at least, or the Alicorns are the closest thing to Gods that Equestrian society has. Ponies will very often swear to Celestia – they often say things like “Sweet Celestia!” and, especially relevant to my point, Rarity was once heard to remark “As Celestia is my witness, I’ll never be sisterless again”. On the face of it, yes, that’s a nod to “gone with the wind”, but from an in-universe perspective, why would Rarity say that in that way, if Celestia (and probably also Luna and Cadance) wasn’t the highest cosmic authority her consciousness could comprehend?

  2. Jlargent is correct; in the first season, the alicorn sisters are more comparable in stature to CS Lewis’ Narnian Stars, angelic beings who nonetheless might serve a being yet greater. Even their adoption of the term “princess” suggests that they are not the top of the cosmic power structure. Since the finale of the second season, it has become clear that they are much closer to the mortals they govern than was first apparent.

    What fascinates me as a Christian is how most HiE (Human in Equestria) stories feature essentially atheist, agnostic, or nonreligious humans brought into a magical realm. Most human characters are author inserts, and to me this reveals a deep-seated need for wonder and glory. I myself wrote a thousand-word story exploring what a devout Christian (an author insert, of course) might do upon realizing he is apparently permanently separated from the universe he once called home and the church he belonged to, with its codified holidays and place in a larger multiculture.

    1. Early on, Lauren commented that she’d always assumed that Celestia and Luna had parents, just like any other pony. I don’t think that they changed much as the show progressed; there was just less space for wild and unsubstantiated assumptions about their divinity.

      Those assumptions generally annoy me, but not for the sort of warmongering-atheist reasons some people might imagine. I have the same reaction to police (or police simply relabelled as guards) in stories, too. I got no beef with writers (and other artists) using whatever assumptions fit the needs of their craft, but it irks me when it is done simply because the artists hasn’t really given it any thought.

      Folks with a theistic background frequently (in my experience) see more deification in the princesses than the show actually alludes to, just as folks living in the rising police-state assume that ponies run to some authority to get their problems sorted. To me, that undermines one of the very foundations that made me take notice of FIM to start with: self-reliance and agency.

      Not that you can’t use these things for a good story, but there is a world of difference between using something precisely and using it ignorantly or irreverently. Add to that that the show’s current writers really seem to have no particular idea of what to do with functionally immortal beings and it’s no surprise that it’s such a touchy subject.

  3. Interesting article.

    I’m personally a Christian who takes his faith seriously, yet I’m also a brony/fanfiction writer. At the beginning, I had fears and doubts too about how can I be a Christian and a brony at the same time, but as time continued, things become more smoother. Especially when I personally experienced that God accepts me as I am, even if I’m a brony.

    About the magic thing. Humans are not capable of doing magic on their own, which results that real magic requires connections with spiritual beings. This is why God forbids magic, because he doesn’t want us to be connected with fallen angels and demons (spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit is not considered as “magic”). In My Little Pony, the characters are capable of doing magic as they are, without the need of external spiritual beings, therefore the Biblical rules do not apply.

    1. much like the many ways Angels seem to have the ability to manipulate thing without touching them, read thoughts, communicate telepathically, create fire from nothing, create protective fields from danger, blind people at will, heal people at will and so on. My point being that I agree with you because if the angels can do these things and it is not sin for them to do so (in-so-much as we know) then the ponies sin-not in respect to magic use.

    2. I agree with ye there.
      I must also add something. Anybody who says God hates bronies should be (to quote Garfield) drug out into the road and shot. Saying this also implies that all just slightly masculine ladies will fry in hell, and if that were the truth, my mother, grandmother, both my aunts, and about 10% of the girls in my grade will be doing so. But, as God hates NOTHING but sin itself, this is incredibly moronic. God doesn’t hate any of us, just our sins, and I’m 98.3452097857% sure that MLP is not a sin.

      “The most deadly, most common, and most truly irritating epidemic
      known to mankind is idiocy.” – The Interglob

  4. The Ponies have inadvertently conformed to symbols familiar to any student of comparative religion. Do I believe the writers have done this deliberately? No. But I do believe, as Jung and Campbell wrote, that these patterns lie buried deep inside the human individual and collective subconscious.

    Pattern one: The princesses of the Sun, the Moon, Love and Magic conform to the Four Paths of Yoga leading to enlightenment, Karma Yoga (the path of duty,) Raja Yoga (meditation,) Bhakti Yoga (love and compassion) and Jnana Yoga (the path of study and knowledge.)

    Pattern two: The height of spiritual accomplishment in Judeo-Christian faiths is to die in a state of grace and be reborn, popularly symbolized by the wings of an angel. This corresponds to the Pegasi. Indeed, Twilight Sparkle appears to die before she is reborn with wings.

    The Earth Ponies stand for the animist, pagan, nature-based faiths, philosophical Taoism, and even the spirituality found in scientists, such as Dr. Carl Sagan.

    Finally, the Hindu/Buddhist tradition symbolizes the enlightenment of Siddhartha and the Boddhisattvas by their ushnisha, a kind of lump that emerges from the head — unicorns!

    What then are we, in our age of emerging syncretic faiths, to make of this startling new symbol, the Alicorn?

    1. Pattern one: The princesses of the Sun, the Moon, Love and Magic conform to the Four Paths of Yoga leading to enlightenment.

      Karma Yoga: Celestia in that she sacrificed her own sister for her duty to protect Equestria! (the path of duty,)

      Raja Yoga: Luna in that she had a thousand years to think on her actions (meditation,)

      Bhakti Yoga: Princess Cadence though I guess she literally embodies the aspect of love but as of yet nothing in the show out right makes her character scream that aspect to me (love and compassion) In fact I argue Twilight embodies that aspect better but for now I’ll let it slide because the writers cant make singular parallels without limiting the potential of other characters.

      Jnana Yoga: Twilight Sparkle. She loves knowledge (the path of study and knowledge.)

  5. Actually, fandoms like MLP, Star Trek, or sports teams are, in fact, surrogates for religion in one specific way: in the past, fanatical behaviors were mostly reserved for religion and patriotism. I distinguish fanaticism, which is superficial, from actual devotion, which is kind of expected many religions.

    Additionally, while I am aware of and even believe some of the ideas about some nasty trends for gender roles in our society (Look at a high school yearbook, then read some ultra-feminist propaganda. There may be some disparity between the two.), I’d like to point out that the interpretations of “true masculinity” I’ve been exposed to paint “over-femininization” of religion as a side-effect of society’s expectation for men to shallow, beer-guzzling, football-loving womanizers, and proponents of it would probably be pretty supportive of bronies assuming they aren’t of the fanatically apocalyptic mindset. Apocalypse: one of those words that just doesn’t mean what it used to.

  6. As a christian I just look at it like this. If my thoughts are spending more time on ponies then on God, then there needs to be a switch around.
    So far I’ve just kept to the usual reading scriptures and stuff all the time and writing sermons exc. and if I have time to think about ponies then great so long as it’s not all consuming the way my faith is to me.

    I base this on the commandments about not having idols. Anything you prop up higher then God in your mind (and the mind being the root of the soul) is a sin. And a sort of gateway sin to boot. For instance I might be a huge football nut and every Sunday I try to make it to church but if the game is on and the church service happens to be at that time for that week then I might skip out on church.

    Well pretty soon it becomes a habit and then after that I might enter into a bout of depression wrought on by lack of spiritual food. I would have to do more research to make sure my hypothesis is correct on this but I have a hunch that much like in the wild; when an animal is starved it’s easy pray and so like that when the spirit is starved, then you are easier to effect by satanic forces.

  7. Good article! Thank you for stating (and then debunking) several of the wrong-headed ideas about MLP as a competitor to religion, and in particular Christian faith, as well as talking intelligently and coherently about those areas in which fandom and religion actually are similar. I think this article is a great starting point for a conversation for anyone who might think that the brony fandom is a cult.

  8. As an atheist, it makes perfect sense to me that there’d be no religion in Equestria. I tend to take a “god of the gaps” view of the origin of religion, and in Equestria, there are no gaps. Ponies didn’t need to invent a story about Apollo to explain the sun moving across the sky, the nice princess who lives right over there does it, and you can go talk to her about it if you like. Controlling the weather is a common day job. Beings with powers that we would consider god-like are everywhere. The closest thing we’ve seen to a myth was everypony believing that Nightmare Moon was an “old mare’s tale” and of course that turned out to be true as well.

    So what role would god(s) fill for them? Celestia, Luna, and others don’t need to literally BE gods to serve this same function. Certainly in our modern world believers find more meaning in their belief than a cause for the things science hasn’t (yet) explained. But while that can be enough to maintain belief (setting aside those who continue to assert beliefs contrary to science, rather than unrelated to it) I’m not sure it would be enough to spark it in the first place.

    As for religion among the bronies rather than the ponies, it doesn’t seem too hard to reconcile. As noted, the ethics of the show and the fandom closely align to the core (and best) values of most religions, so it doesn’t seem like there’d be a lot of conflict.

    More fundamentalist sects (of most religions) do seem more interested in sowing hate, including self-hate, than love, directed towards anyone who in any way deviates from their carefully prescribed rules of behavior. I don’t believe this makes for the majority of believers, even considering the power of some evangelical churches in America. But for those who are, it certainly could be a conflict – for a male to publicly demonstrate a love for MLP *is* a form of non-standard gender expression (if a very minor one). I suspect we’d find a much lower rate of bronies among those religions than among others or among non-theists for that very reason, and I’d love to see a survey that gets into that level of detail about religion.

  9. I think there’s a lot more meat to the comparison between MLP and religions than Dr. Crome suggests. After all, we live in a world where the Church of the Jedi Order is an officially recognized religion in several countries, and we have a growing followings for Druids and Wiccans.

    According to Paul Tillich and his book ‘Dynamics of Faith’ MLP satisfies all the criteria for a religion. There is a central tenant, several deity figures, oppositional forces, and deeply inset symbolism. MLP has all the propper ingredients, so Dr. Crome suggests that the primary difference between religion and fandom is that fans have no actual belief in the reality of their chosen media. I find this to be an interesting, and highly dangerous, concept. Just recently a great many Jewish scholars agreed that Methuselah probably didn’t actually live to be 969 years old. So where do we draw that line of truth? We can’t claim that the text itself is absolute truth, so must we claim that the people within were at least real people? How about the places? Clearly Egypt and Israel are real places, but what about the more nebulous ones like heaven or hell? I don’t think that anyone would try to make the claim that Celestia was a real being, but the people who write, animate, and voice her certainly are. Equestria may not be a real place that we can visit, but neither is heaven or hell and people believe very firmly in those. It seems to me like this division between religion and fandom, truth and fantasy is somewhat arbitrary. Each individual gets to decide what they believe in, and that’s the whole point.

    Dr. Crome appears to be building a dichotomy between religion and fandom, but I think a question that needs to be addressed first is what role do each of them fill for the individual? Why do religious people follow their religion? Why do fans watch their shows? What do they gain from performing these acts and following these particular rituals? Once you answer that, I think you have a much better position to start from.

    For my part, I don’t follow any religion, though I do consider myself to be spiritual. That covers me pretty well for nature, the universe, and higher power related things. MLP gives me something entirely different, it helps me believe in people and gives me faith in mankind. I’m not looking to worship at the altar of Luna or spread the gospel of Twilight, but if I can get a little guidance from the show about how to deal with interpersonal situations there is a great deal of merit in that as well.

    1. It still seems pretty clear that the difference between religion and fandom would be actually believing the source material as non-fiction.

      The part you mention about the age of Methuselah is an issue over a literal vs metaphorical or hyperbolic interpretation of a passage, analagous to whether all those big events in Equestria happened exactly “1000 years” ago or if that’s really more give or take a century or two. It’s hardly a lynchpin on whether Yahweh/Celestia actually exist.

    2. Good points, overall. I also believe that it is ultimately up to individuals to decide what they believe in and that, ultimately, what we say constitutes “religion” has to begin from that point. I did not necessarily see Andrew’s argument as going against that idea though, so much as a) arguing for the relevance of religious studies in fandom studies and b) arguing that the way for religious studies to be relevant is to fandom studies is by looking at the places where issues of religion are relevant within the fandom. I feel that he is ultimately, pushing against a dichotomy of religion/fandom by staking out a place for religious studies in fandom studies and arguing that people should be studying the ways that faith and fandom intersect and interact with each other (as you say, the Jedi Order is a recognized religion and MLP can certainly function as such…as can things that aren’t fandom related such as sports or capitalism). The thing that I feel Adrew argues against is when religious studies people have tried to claim that fandom is a secular religion, which has been done by several people in the field. I feel like Dr. Crome’s argument was less about saying that MLP can’t be a religion than calling for people to look into the ways that faith and fandom interact with each other rather than making the jump to labeling fandom as a religion (and thus ignoring the ways that people are deciding what they believe in).

      It’s just a musing, but one thing that has been really interesting to me is the ways that MLP serves as a sort of guidance factor in people and the ways that they talk about that role. MLP dishes out some great life lessons and good advice that is very compelling to many and a large part of what people say they get out of the show. It is interesting how the message of the show gets discussed in different ways—sometimes religious, sometimes secular/philosophical (a stupid dichotomy on my part, but I hope y’all understand what I’m getting at), etc., etc. The way that the morals of the show can be spoken of as/in relation to a philosophy, a moral code, a gospel of Twilight, or the gospel of Jesus is interesting to me.

  10. Interesting article. For some reason, it’s made me want to draw a strip comparing specific ponies with the beattitudes.

    I can definitely attest to the bit about Christians finding the core values of the show unobjectionable. After watching John DeLancie’s brony documentary with me, my stepmother became a lot more accepting of my involvement in the fandom expressly because of how well the fandom’s and the show’s values lined up with ours as Mormons.

    Thanks for writing this thought-provoking article.

  11. Through what we would call our “habitus” ways of socialization can be passed on. Its interesting to say the least how often cartoons, comics, movies, books all in a way portray the creators since, or lack there of religion. We subconsciously do these things, or some argue that we knowingly do so. Perhaps the six harmonies are an antithesis of the seven deadly sins!

  12. Now that i finally have a bit of time to write, here are a few random thought’s I’ve had:

    One of the things I love about this show (or, really, any “text,” or thing that functions as such) is how it can be read in so many different ways. It’s like a Rorschach test, only cuter and with ponies. The fact that some people (stupidly) view the show as a gateway into a Satanic cult of pedophiles while others see it as being perfectly in line with Christian values is probably a good testament to this. As Joshua was saying, it is really interesting to look (or at least guess) at the roles that habitus—dispositions that tend to shape the way we organize our practices and understand the world without us necessarily realizing that we are using them (Bourdieu’s Logic of Practice talk about habitus at length if you are interested)—and doxa (essentially firmly/culturally entrenched habitus… all of the things that are simply taken for granted by society) have in both the creation and interpretation of the show. There may have been specifically and overtly religious reasons that there are three main types of ponies, however, on the other hand, the number three just feels “right” to many of us due to the ways that we have been brought up and exposed to things in such a way that the number three is significant and used again and again and again for no other reason than that it feels like the right number for something, whether it be typologizing ponies or blowing Bowser up with bombs in Mario.

  13. I believe there is indeed a religious element involved in MLP: FiM, and that the brony fandom does associate with it in varying degrees.

    This view is generated on the basis of Roy A. Clouser’s work. According to him, “a religious belief is a belief in something as divine per se no matter how that is further described, where “divine per se” means having unconditional non-dependent reality. ”
    Furthermore, he elaborates that a complete definition would entail the following aspects:
    1) It is a belief in something as divine per se no matter how that is further described, or
    2)it is a belief about how the non-divine depends on the divine per se, or
    3) it is a belief about how humans come to stand in proper relation to the divine per se,
    4) where the essential core of divinity per se is to have the status of unconditional non-dependent reality.
    (Clouser, 2005: 23-24)

    From this view one could see that Princess Luna or Princess Celestia are not divine per se (or according to authorial intent, they were meant to have parents etc. like everypony else). However what is divine per se is the what they wield, namely magic. Magic in a sense fulfills all the above mentioned categories. The princesses and other magical beings are divine in a secondary sense, as they owe their abilities to that which is divine per se. Sub-facets such as the elements of harmony entail a dualistic degree whereby they are dependent on the divine per se (that being what is intrinsically ‘good’), but also instill a sense of righteous conduct to the inhabitants of the world to strive to stand in proper relation to it.

    This brings to the front on how bronies view this. A notable example of heated debate was on the message Feeling Pinkie Keen (S1Ep15) was trying to convey. Lauren Faust herself responded to this, claiming it was not the intent of the team (according to her) to convey a religious motif, but simply a play on a queer occurrence ( http://comments.deviantart.com/4/1603670/1868624964 ) .

    From a personal standpoint, I myself incorporated the idea of Love and Tolerance into my life when I initially started viewing the show (and felt to some extent it had a more practical impact on my life as what my previous Christian doctrine did). This ‘dogma’ I incorporated eventually faded as I learned it was a response constructed to deal with trolls with the initial inception of the fandom. Today it still acts as a sort of guideline to proper conduct, but with a lesser degree.

    In conclusion, MLP is not religiously neutral, as it fulfills the criteria of what constitutes a religious belief. However what is important is to view it from the perspective of author intent and not as a sacred message to the masses. What I believe would be interesting is to examine notions of divisions of fans that debate over their ability to be granted an afterlife in Equetria, and compare those ideas to other religions.

    Reference: Clouser, A. 2005. The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An essay on the hidden role of religious belief in theories. Revised Edition. Nortre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame.

  14. Good Article, and an interesting one! I daresay that there is much to be considered in relation to religion and fandom, particularly Christianity and MLP.

    The first thing that must be noted is the importance of worldview in all aspects of culture. A worldview is the way a person sees the world, the lens through which he views reality, and everyone has one. Worldviews answer two chief questions, “What is the nature of God?” and “What is the nature of man?” Worldviews always end up affecting culture and the products thereof. For example, “The Walking Dead” can be observed to be a product of the postmodern worldview.

    Anyway, the point of this is that there are some very interesting worldview implications that can be drawn from MLP. I, as an observant Christian, take notice of many of these. Personally, I can draw many parallels with Christianity and the lessons taught by MLP. They of course are not meant to be Christian lessons, but the lesson is there. I personally like the view of J.R.R. Tolkien on fantasy; that is, that fantasy is one of the best methods of conveying eternal truth. C.S. Lewis had similar ideas: he was deeply impacted by the fantasy of George MacDonald, which had Christian truths hidden within it.

    MLP of course falls short of the full truth in many areas, but there are a few things I have taken note of, besides the mere moralism that is obvious within the show. For example, in the episode “Feeling Pinkie Keen”, Twilight is forced to accept something on faith and believe in Pinkie’s Pinkie Sense despite evidence of how it works. Another interesting one is in the episode, “Do Princesses Dream of Magic Sheep?” Luna must forgive herself, after the others convince her that she has been forgiven by everyone else. The parallel here- Christians must learn to leave guilt and shame behind, knowing that Christ has taken our sins on Himself and forgiven us. Perhaps the most interesting to me is the theme that Season 5 took on, which I sum up as a, “Proclamation that Salvation is found in Friendship.” Consider the episode ‘The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone”. Pinkie literally urges the griffons to leave their idols behind and believe in the power of Friendship. The parallel? Jesus says in John 15, “But now I call you {the disciples} friends.” Salvation is indeed found in friendship- Friendship with the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

    Anyway, I have loads more thoughts to share and may even start a Youtube channel about the worldview implications of MLP episodes. But there, ya’ll have my opinion now. 🙂

  15. I am a Christian and I really like the story. I was uncomfortable with this show, and then I sat down and actually watched it. Man does not exist in this show, and in one episode Slice of Life Dr Hooves says,” What’s this word you keep using – “man”? ” Holidays are similar but lacking names like “Christmas” or Channukah, but are similar in meaning to the human equivalent. There is no mention of Man or God in this show because it is a cartoon without people in it and doesn’t take place on earth. The magic used in the series is not quite the occult type of magic that Christians are taught too stay away from practicing. Oh and all people of the Jewish faith too ( no Magic) Leviticus 19:26.

    These are cartoon ponies please lets keep this in mind. There are plenty of good lessons to be learned here from this show, and the personalities of the ponies mimic many people I have met in my life. Watch MLP and go to church and worship God if you can do theese two things with whatever else you have going on then wheres teh problem? When you replace one with the other there is a problem, and then maybe you need to rethink your priorities. So as long as you don’t put MLP above God I don’t think its such a big deal.

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