Do not court death by your erring way of life,
nor draw to yourselves destruction by the works of your hands.
Because God did not make death,
nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.
Wisdom 1: 12-13
It’s been a long-standing tradition to contrast the creation narratives of the book of Genesis with pagan myths of creation, and the recent movie “The Eternals” certainly gives us an opportunity to revisit this comparison. It should be noted that the themes of creation, the origin of man, the reality of sin and its origin, the agenda of the creator all certainly find expression in both creation-narratives. Yet the very essence of how these dimensions are understood couldn’t be more conflictual. As a result, we as Catholics can tease out truths about the Christian faith in creation that can be considered good-news, especially by way of contrast with the pagan traditions.
Arishem is presented as a Prime Celestial, giving him what seems to be the role of the creator in the Marvel World. This deity sends his celestial army to defeat various predators that would otherwise obliterate the human race. So we begin with the assumption that Arishem is a good deity that cares for the flourishing of the human race. The various Eternals who are sent with the impression that they are to protect the human race are seemingly kept in the dark about a sinister plot of Arishem that reveals the origin of all life: a cycle of destruction and new-life.
Creation wasn’t an act of generous love - it was violent
Without getting into too many details, the ultimate lesson learned here is that Arishem seems to create life in an endless cycle of violence, and new-beginning. This is the order he imposes upon all human life within the galaxy. He sends the Eternals not so much to protect the human race, but to farm them, whereby at the core of the earth, fed by the energy (whatever that means) of human life, a destructive force can be born, which will destroy earth, and create another world, full of life.
The Theme of Sin
There are various historical moments that the Eternals witness, sitting in judgment of the human race for wars, while for the most part resisting to interfere with the natural evolution of the human race. How often do we encounter those who look down upon historical moments and judge them with the categories of our contemporary times, vastly removed from historical context. The irony? As the Eternals face the evils within the human race, many fail to realize their own Judas hiding amongst them. That is to say, the very vile destructive tendencies are apparently possible in this group of propped-up gods. The gods or Eternals seem to struggle with whether human beings “deserve to be saved.” An interesting phrase for a theologian to dissect. Would a Christian say that anyone is owed grace?
Creation isn’t an act of Love
What seems to be loved, rather than life, is the cycle of destruction and new-life. “This is the way it has always been.” A statement that tends to be empty in our day, and rather often expresses the weight of human tradition. But what value does such a cycle have? To destroy what was built, in order to build something that will then be destroyed, and so forth. This is not only a cycle of destruction and new-life, it would seem to be a meaningless, empty cycle. But what is worse: Arishem doesn’t create humans for their own sake, but to be mere cogs in the farmed-machine of destruction and new-life. It becomes clear that the theme of death and life are attempting to be reconciled here, but any reasonable person sees death and destruction as something to be willed as contrary to the original nature of the human person.
At the end of the movie, Arishem declares to the Celestials who rebel against his will, that he will judge the human race and determine if they are truly worth living on. Here I think we see one of the most contrary visions to the Judgment of God. It is clear that Christ seeks to save us, and not by the merits of the human race. As scripture states, he loved us “while we were sinners.” That is to say, in the vile, evil reality of sin, God seeks to save us. But here is the point, and it’s rather important: the true God is not merely trying to add length to the human race in the context of eternity, but He is trying to save us from sin and eternal death. For Arishem, the human race is only worth saving if it has a certain quality of goodness judged by him as sufficient for their election. With God, the opposite seems to be true - that he seeks to save us precisely because we do not have a sufficient goodness.
There is a lot more that can be contrasted with Genesis, but the ultimate point here is that our God created us out of love - and for no other agenda. When we broke that relationship with Him, he moved closer to us in an a free offering to save that relationship. Our God is not Arishem, an antagonistic figure with no vested interest in our own good. In fact, our God sacrifices Himself, through a human nature, to save us.
If you watched the movie, what other comparisons could you make to the Christian faith?
For me, this movie brought up issues of death. I thought of the Eternals themselves, and the idea of living forever. It might sound good at first, especially if you apply it only to yourself. But if you apply it to yourself, then you must apply it to all humans...including figures like Stalin, Mao, Hitler, etc. Death as punishment for sin then makes a lot more sense. It is necessary, because sinners living forever would be terribly destructive. Also, without death, there is no salvation or justice. No one would have to answer for their actions. Though the Eternals are the "heroes", even their goal is to save humans only for the purpose of living for the sake of living...as if humans were cogs, as you said. There is nothing in their universe besides life and death--no justice, love, or salvation. It's all a meaningless power struggle like the pagan pantheons.
St. Thomas Aquinas would conclude ultimately that the Celestials are not gods because of their plurality. In fact, Marvel admits such in the comics revealing that they have a creator. So, the Eternals are not even second-tier gods, just contingent beings in a hierarchy of beings
There are a lot of different religious systems at work here I think. Fr. Chris writes, “Arishem seems to create life in an endless cycle of violence, and new-beginning.” I found myself trying to sift through some sort of a dualistic system akin to Manicheanism. The Manichean system had a sort of system to release “light” from their bodily prisons from what I remember.