In the current issue of Communication Quarterly (vol. 62, no. 5), Joseph M. Valenzano III and Erika Engstrom have an interesting article on the CW’s Supernatural, which they see as a representation of American exceptionalism and Christian fundamentalism. In “Cowboys, Angels, and Demons: American Exceptionalism and the Frontier Myth in the CW’S Supernatural,” the two authors argue that the series makes use of the tropes of Christian mythology and the cowboy myth to the effect of arguing that modern Americans view the country as the equal to and proxy for God himself. What interests me is how this analysis applies equally well to some of fringe history’s most popular claims, which use similar imagery to the same effect.
Valenzano and Engstrom begin by noting that Supernatural has grown to encompass a particularly Catholic form of Judeo-Christian mythology, and in so doing has recapitulated the traditional Christian view that pagan religions are inferior, their deities malevolent creatures who steal glory from the one true God (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:20; Augustine, City of God 7.33, etc.). But the program goes beyond this traditional view to also cast the angels of heaven as “dicks,” which is to say as scarcely better than demons. Only God himself, absent from heaven, is not an actively malevolent presence.
This latter development ties in with the second part of the authors’ analysis. The authors argue that Supernatural is, at heart, a Western. The Winchester brothers, whose very name recalls the “gun that won the West,” hail from the very heart of America (Lawrence, Kansas, not terribly far from the country’s geographic center in Lebanon), travel the frontier like itinerant cowboys, and dispense rough justice like the heroes of Westerns.
The authors tie these two competing themes together by noting that the brothers, who symbolize America, “were chosen by forces of heaven and hell to play central roles in the Apocalypse as foretold in the Book of Revelation.” Because of this, they represent the myth of American exceptionalism, in which the United States is uniquely endowed by the Judeo-Christian God with a mission to fulfill a divine destiny, stand against evil, and dispense holy justice.
In Supernatural, the brothers take it upon themselves to judge the quick and the dead, to kill demons and angels, and to assert the superiority of American values over those even of the divine. Frequently, they dispatch pagan practitioners to keep America safe for Christians. However, the authors read the brothers’ rejection of the heavenly plan for Apocalypse as another reflection of the contemporary view of American exceptionalism: “Rather than a nation appointed by and subservient to God […] the only true force for good, then, is the Winchesters, and the America they represent.” Imbued with a lineage stretching back to Cain and Abel, the Winchester have become the equals of God, symbolizing an America that its most devout citizens see as coequal with God and itself divine. In this reading, God may be absent from heaven on Supernatural because God is embodied in America and its saviors.
An understanding of America as itself a manifestation of the divine goes a long way toward understanding how fundamentalist Christians can support American values even when they would seem to be in direct contradiction with the professed values of Christianity. (Not that this has ever been a problem for earlier Christian monarchies, which freely ignored the Church as needed.)
What interests me though is the way that this same imagery informs the presentation of a certain strain of fringe history. Let’s begin by stipulating that it doesn’t apply to all fringe history, but rather to the America-centric version that serves to reassert nationalist ideas. The ancient astronaut theory, for example, is decidedly international in flavor, emerging from Russian “research,” canonized by Franco-Russian writers, and promoted by a pair of flamboyant Swiss showmen. It can’t help but take a global view because its “evidence” is primarily found outside America, where ancient high cultures built large stone monuments.
By contrast, the America-centric versions play out very similarly to Supernatural. Take, for example, American gigantology. This variation on Christian creationism offers a close parallel. In Search for the Lost Giants, two blue collar brothers travel America combatting perceived violations of America’s alleged founding Judeo-Christian values: the supposed suppression of Bible giants’ bones by the hated federal government, operated by “elites” who are out of touch with real American values. The search for these “giants” from the Book of Genesis takes place largely here in the United States, explicitly folding America into the Biblical framework and reinforcing the idea that the United States has a central role in the divine plan for humanity. By asserting that blue collar everyday working men are the ultimate judge of Biblical truth, overriding the perceived authority of distant elites, gigantology reinforces a particular strain of evangelical fundamentalism that locates religious authority within the individual and empowers the individual with a spark of the divine. This renders him morally superior to the far-off elites and, essentially, one of God’s agents on earth.
This is hardly new in the United States. Mormonism is essentially this type of America-centric gigantology writ large. The Mormons relocated Biblical events to the United States, placing Eden, for example, in Missouri.
In both cases, the America-first version of history seeks to subsume Native American cultures under Biblical authority by appropriating the works or the very bodies of Native Americans as part of a Biblical story that leads to the fulfillment of America’s divine destiny.
Hyper-diffusionist claims like those of America Unearthed are an interesting variation on the theme. As in the explicitly Christian versions of the theme, these claims involve integrating the United States into an overarching historical narrative that ties the country to its current inhabitants’ ancestral homes. Frequently, this involves claims that the Jews, as forerunners of Christianity, peopled the Americas. However, many diffusionist claims involve non-Christian people and are much more closely aligned to the outdated European idea of racial heritage, whereby pagan ancestors like the Romans or the Celts can still be claimed as forerunners and part of the divine plan because they would eventually give rise to Christian Europe.
In the case of Scott Wolter, his works, ranging from America Unearthed to his books and radio appearances, offer a summation of the whole theme by explicitly arguing that the United States is the sacred repository not just of a divine mission but of the very embodiments of the divine—from the Ark of the Covenant to the genetic heritage of Jesus Christ himself. In his worldview, the peoples of America were literally impregnated with the seed of the divine (when the Knights Templar brought Jesus’ descendants to marry Native Americans) to the extent that the United States becomes holy ground, sanctified by God and imbued the mark of the holy. And like on Supernatural, Wolter travels the country like a modern cowboy and asserts his authority, sanctified by his special relationship to and knowledge of the “divine feminine,” to judge God, Jesus, and the religious and secular elites in order to dispense justice (in his favorite court of law metaphor) and set the world right.
Interestingly, like on Supernatural, Wolter also rejects traditional Christianity in favor of a unique heresy of his own devising, but nevertheless operates within a worldview defined by a naive and literalist interpretation of ancient texts as accurate history.
By the way, simply providing this analysis has unfortunately only served to confirm Wolter’s assertion yesterday on The Morning Grind on AM 950 in Minnesota that his critics seek to attack him rather than his evidence. The show’s host, Matt McNeil, agreed wholeheartedly and asserted point-blank that Wolter’s critics lack Wolter’s detailed “citations” and research to criticize his claims, and so attack the man. (McNeil says that he has never seen more citations than in Wolter’s books, proving he has never read a book.) Wolter argued that critics like me attack him because we “aren’t willing to go there” when—and this is a confusing argument—accepting the Kensington Rune Stone as authentic would cause “the dominos to fall” and force us to accept that the Knights Templar brought magic Jesus genes to America and are ruling the country as Freemasons. (This is not the logical consequence of accepting the Rune Stone’s authenticity but instead of accepting Wolter’s theories, which is not the same thing.)
Wolter, of course, is the cowboy on his high horse, defending the real America against evil in the out of the way places of the American frontier, for God and country—just not the Jesus of the gigantologists, but a New Age divine force.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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