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Amanda Bergeman July 14, 2023
Harrison Ford, left, Shia LaBeouf and Karen Allen star in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (CNS photo/Paramount). Harrison Ford, left, Shia LaBeouf and Karen Allen star in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (CNS photo/Paramount). 

Indiana Jones has been going on fantastical adventures for more than 30 years—punching Nazis, witnessing miracles and saving lost artifacts. Indy is famous for his strict moral code of being anti-fascist (and pro-museums), but overall, he remains largely agnostic.

But this man has seen the Ark of the Covenant melt faces and the Holy Grail grant eternal life. Wouldn’t that convert even the most ardent atheist? He has witnessed God’s might firsthand.

This man has seen the Ark of the Covenant melt faces and the Holy Grail grant eternal life.

In the new film installment, “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” Indy remarks, “I don’t believe in magic. But a few times in my life, I’ve seen things. Things I can’t explain. And I’ve come to believe it’s not so much about what you believe. It’s how hard you believe it.” This quote is evocative, yet ultimately nonsensical. Does he think that believing something hard enough makes it true? That we all create our own realities, and that belief itself creates the supernatural?

There is some evidence in the films to back up this pluralistic worldview. Indy’s experiences aren’t strictly Christian, or even religious. In “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” he has to retrieve a sacred lingam stone that cultists have stolen to use in a human sacrifice. This stone burns his enemies when he invokes the god Shiva. This could suggest a spiritual world where Christian and Hindu gods co-exist, but a hot stone does not evoke the same level of awe and power as the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail. Another possibility is a henotheistic world, in which only one God is to be worshiped, though many gods exist. Christianity itself warns of false gods that may have demonic power. In this way, Indiana’s quote would be true: When something is believed and worshiped it gains power. The spiritual world requires an invitation to affect the natural world.

Indy and his adventures do not dive into the theological implications of these events. Each film paints him as a person who seemingly walks away from emotionally harrowing, supernatural experiences unaffected. This is a professor who is clearly a brilliant academic and is passionate about education and historical preservation, yet he seems wholly uninterested in what these observations mean about his natural world. The most recent films, “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”and “Dial of Destiny,” lean on scientific explanations, turning their noses up at the mysticism of their more spiritual predecessors. Perhaps we have lost the mysterious whimsy required for Steven Spielberg’s magical realist adventure filmmaking of the 1980s.

The Indiana Jones films have enjoyed such longevity because they remind us of the possibility that there is more out there.

Most likely Indiana is not disinterested, but rather unwilling to accept what it means to be a religious or spiritual person. Perhaps Indy even questions the goodness of the angry, vengeful God he has witnessed. He may acknowledge that a higher power exists, but he is reluctant to give up his own autonomy and pledge any obedience to it. Indy is a man stuck in his ways, prone to self-destructive decision-making. He impulsively drinks and risks his life without care. He takes his relationships for granted, often pushing away the people he loves the most. He feels comfortable in the intellectual world, but emotional maturity, humility and flexibility are not exactly his strong suits.

There is, of course, the issue staring us in the face when tackling this question. These are pulp adventure movies modeled after serials from the 1920s, so obviously the filmmakers have no interest in taking their hero on a personal spiritual journey. Fairly stated, hypothetical commenter! However, Indy’s response to his experiences doesn’t exactly feel out of place in our non-cinematic world. Ignoring deeper questions when presented with challenges represents the human experience all too well. Maybe Spielberg and George Lucas didn’t envision this character searching for meaning in his encounters with God, but maybe Indiana Jones wouldn’t want to anyway.

Seeing is not believing. Belief requires acceptance, open-mindedness and a willingness to change. Each film requires Indiana Jones to open up a little more both in his relationships and expand his worldview, but he is never able to truly learn to live in faith and love. Perhaps he stumbles along his faith journey just like the rest of us. Faith is a choice that must be picked up and made every day. It is much easier to fall into comfortable old patterns than to push yourself to live for something greater than the simple and convenient.

The Indiana Jones films have enjoyed such longevity because they remind us of the possibility that there is more out there, while being a ton of fun along the way. They ignite a fire in our bellies to question our assumptions and keep searching into the mysterious unknown.

More: Film

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