Intellectually Excavating Indiana Jones Unearths Epistemological Artifacts
As a discipline, archaeology examines the artistic and technological remains of various cultures in the attempt to learn more about them. Often from these objects, students learn about more than the subject's material nature but also insight into the beliefs and paradigms important to the human species at a particular time.
Probably the most prominent representative of the discipline in public culture is none other than Indiana Jones, with Stargate's Dr. Daniel Jackson coming in at second. As a narrative itself created at a particular point in time, the Indiana Jones movies themselves can be placed under investigation to unearth what our own culture has believed at various points in recent history as well as the ideas shaping those having such influence over our own society.
Through comparing "The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and the other films of the Indiana Jones saga, especially with "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade", one can detect the shifts taking place all around us as to what the broader and popular culture perceives as foundational truth. For example, though the films should not be seen as a systematic theology upon which to base one's faith, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Last Crusade" had at their base Judeo-Christian assumption in that artifacts connected with this tradition, namely the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail (the cup used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper) were actual historic objects and, since these objects in legend exude a power that cannot be explained by conventional science, one assumes they are connected to the divine.
In the latest film of the series, "Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull", ultimate wisdom and power is not seen as originating in a traditional conception of God as in "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" or "Last Crusade" or even in spirits as in "Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom". Rather in the latest installment, the source of enlightenment happens to be those entities with the bulbous heads and lanky limbs we have come to know as extraterrestrials whose crystalline skulls in this story can serve as powerful tools through which to augur the future, communicate with these beings, and to gain control of the world. Though an entertaining story, it may have considerable basis in reality --- or at least in the worldviews of its high level producers.
For example, the opening scene with Indy trouncing through the military hanger is set in none other than Area 51 and the top secret project he alludes to working on 10 years prior to the events of the story is none other than the Roswell crash. Some might flippantly dismiss these as urban legends that have taken on lives of their own beyond the significance of any incidents that may have occurred in these locations that now fire the imagination. However, it is pretty hard to ignore the Nazca lines which were not discovered by modern man until the discovery of flight and the existence of a tribe of Indians that mutilated the shape of their skulls to make themselves appear as if they were from beyond this earth.
Even these can be dismissed as historical or anthropological curiosities as human beings have believed or done some rather bizarre things since nearly the dawn of time. The thing is that there are those among the influential who would imbue intelligences from beyond this earth with a metaphysical prominence above that which you would bestow upon someone from another country as being different from but frankly no better ontologically than you ultimately.
While a highly creative individual, to Steven Spielberg, these creatures are much more than imaginative characters or plot elements. Rather, the acclaimed director has had an interest and belief in the paranormal throughout much of his life beyond that of a mere narrative device and he has been reported to have had a number of encounters with the unexplained.
In the movie, the quest was not so much to verify whether or not transterrestrial life simply existed as a biological fact of life but rather that enlightenment was somehow obtained from these beings and as such they were worthy of the adoration and devotion once reserved for God Himself. As the public comes to embrace this worldview more and more, we are beginning to see a shift from viewing beings like this in a solely naturalistic context of beings from another planet not all that unlike our own to, as in the case of “The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull” as coming from a realm transcendent to our own from what could be referred to as another dimension.
Thus, in essence, in terms of our paradigms, the Western mind has come full circle to an extent but on a less sure footing than when it set out on the quest to comprehend the cosmos in which we find ourselves. It use to be believed that nonhuman intelligences originatinated from another realm (initially Heaven but tossed out when they followed Lucifer/Satan into rebellion). Then as the West increasingly fell under the spell of what Francis Schaeffer termed “modern modern science” (meaning science opposed to the existence of the spiritual realm) such entities were believed to come from other planets.
However, as the New Age movement has become so entrenched that it is no longer new anymore and prefers even fancier titles such as "cosmic spirituality", now it seems our alleged betters along the path of evolutionary consciousness take on the best and worse of each depending upon one’s perspective. For example, in the latest Indiana Jones adventure, no longer are the gods of the dawning order disembodied spirits we cannot see but rather posses physical form we can relate to even if it differs vastly from our own. And yet even though they are like us, the also come from a place apart from and above our own so avoid banality by providing us with the hope of somewhere possessing a transcendence we can still aspire to.
Those watching “Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull” can feel free to do so with a clear conscience as it is primarily an entertaining adventure story. However, as with the protagonist of this series, viewers should take with them the assorted equipment necessary to avoid the pitfalls and traps they are likely to encounter as they undertake an expedition into this realm where imagination intersects belief.
Frederick Meekins is an independent theologian and social critic. Frederick holds a BS in Political Science/History, a MA in Apologetics/Christian Philosophy from Trinity Theological Seminary, and a PhD. in Christian Apologetics from Newburgh Theological Seminary.