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Troubling ‘Here and Afters’

1 John 4:1, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

It’s amazed me how popular Dia de Los Muertos had gotten in the past decade. The first time I ever heard of this holiday was through that 2014 animated film, The Book of Life. Shortly after, Pixar released its smash hit, Coco, and bit by bit this piece of Mexican tradition has drawn more and more American attention. I liked The Book of Life. It’s a nice, okay film. I absolutely loved Coco, but if I were to remove the really good parts and focus solely on how they portrayed the afterlife, a few things simultaneously troubled and relieved me. Firstly, I’m troubled because there are people out there who actually believes this is how death really works. Secondly, I’m relieved that God did not design heaven that way.

You see, Dia de los Muertos (as portrayed by these American movies) centers on remembering the dead. It’s simple enough, but this holiday takes it to the umpteenth degree. We’re talking about a ‘dedicating shrines to the dead’ degree. The tradition goes that souls who are actively celebrated by their loved ones would endure in a festive paradise. Those who are forgotten, on the other-hand, are essentially doomed forever. This all might appear to be a perfectly innocent idea. I myself think its emphasis on knowing and loving the stories of our ancestors is a really heartwarming principle and should be instilled in our children. However, besides the ancestor worship, there are so many issues this myth didn’t account for. Like, how would you stop someone like Jack the Ripper from being remembered? Is there no real justice in such a world? Is your soul’s existence forever insecure if you’re ultimately at the mercy of passing generations? What would happen when the historical resources, memories, and records of you run dry or are lost? Then what about those living? Shouldn’t they be troubled or constantly worried? Fo if their ancestral knowledge is essentially limited, some long distant relation might be forever forgotten! I doubt anyone can trace their ancestry as far back as Noah, after all. Or what if you have rebellious children who don’t take remembering their ancestors seriously? Is your entire family line then suddenly doomed in the long run? I’d be a nervous wreck if that’s the kind of afterlife I had to look forward to! Same goes for other un-Biblical afterlives I’ve seen in books, movies, and games. Compared them to what Christ has in store, they all egregiously pale in comparison and would lead to negative human behaviors when taken to their logical conclusions.

Well, my head certainly did spin with all the grim outcomes Dia de los Muertos implicated. But, hey. Give those films I mentioned credit. I was simultaneously entertained and stimulated to think hard on how the afterlife should effect its world and us. The complexities of world-building truly are vast. Now, I’ll admit that sometimes it’s not worth taking fictional things so seriously. It’s simple entertainment after all, but my faith in God keeps me from calling anything ‘simply’ anything. Nothing on earth exists in a vacuum. Even the simplest fun has impact, and we Christian Creatives have a spiritual and moral responsibility to God to use our talents to represent Biblical truth in appealing ways, whether subtly or not. So it’s important to scrutinize questions like these - especially where life and death is involved. The way people view death heavily effects their approach to life, so no matter how you slice it, writers, painters, and musicians are influencers. So we influencers must influence well.

Now, I’m not saying I don’t enjoy stories with incorrect ‘Here and Afters’ anymore. I still very like much most of them. In fact, I plan on doing an in-depth character piece on Coco someday. I also wouldn’t condemn anyone for liking something that wasn’t 100% Biblically accurate. (That’d be nearly everything to be perfectly honest.) But if we never challenged ourselves to separate truth from lies in what we hear and see; nor take the time to question where our creative choices could lead; we can easily fall into a deceptive trap. It’s an unintentional trap but a trap none-the-less that deceives both its audience and the artist behind it.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-21, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.”

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