The Two Gods of X-Men Apocalypse
Whereas Room was a somewhat subtler contemporary adaptation of some of the core teachings of Gnosticism (see here), X-Men: Apocalypse is incredibly straightforward. The film’s eponymous villain is a being who identifies himself “by many names,” among which he includes Ra, Krishna, and Yahweh. The Egyptian god Amen Ra was considered to be “the source of life of all things, both animate and inanimate…identified with the great unknown God who made the universe.” Krishna was also tied to the Creator as he is, according to Indian mythology, the eighth avatar of Brahma (the creator god). And Yahweh actually is the name of God the only Creator, as is revealed in Exodus 3:13-15. Yahweh is the Creator of all things, and this, within the context of X-Men: Apocalypse, identifies him as essentially the same being as the false gods of Egypt and India.
The blasphemy of identifying Yahweh as an evil creature (i.e. Apocalypse, the villain), and then identifying Yahweh with Ra and Krishna is obvious to even the most ardently secular viewers. What is less obvious, however, is the fact that there is another deity to whom men pray, and who answers prayers, that is referenced at certain points in the movie. Who is this deity? The movie never reveals his name, but given that Apocalypse essentially identifies himself as the creator of the physical world, as the builder and destroyer of human civilization, and as the One true God, Yahweh, the viewer has only to draw the inexorable conclusion: Whoever this deity is, he is not the God of the Bible. Rather, like the god of the gnostics, the unknown god of X-Men: Apocalypse “is unknown in this world.”
There are, then, two deities in the film. The first deity mentioned is Apocalypse, the one who falsely identifies himself as the greatest god (as the demiurge of gnostic mythology does), manipulates matter, creates and destroys entire civilizations, and sets himself up as the judge of all mankind. The second deity mentioned is the unknown god who transcends all cultures, religions, languages, and localized displays of judgment and/or approbation. More bluntly: Apocalypse is the Gnostic demiurge; the unknown deity is the transcendent “One” of Gnosticism. This becomes clearer, moreover, as the viewer notes that the one power that Apocalypse lacks is psychic connection to the world of mutants. Apocalypse is powerful, but he is psychically impotent.
Salvation via the Cooperation of Mutants
Without ruining the movie for any potential viewers, it must be noted that the salvation of the present world and its mutant inhabitants can only be achieved through the cooperative effort of mutants against Apocalypse. Having begun to understand themselves, these mutants can begin to work together toward this goal of eschatological salvation. Apocalypse has spelled his own destruction by insisting on being superior to the other X-Men, when he is actually just another mutant – the difference between them being one of degrees and not ontological kinds. The context of the film, translated consistently, tells the viewer that Yahweh can be eliminated by special humans (übermenschen?) using their unique genetic traits in conjunction with one another. Yahweh’s judgment, i.e. the apocalypse, is not inevitable, necessary, or good. In fact, the film implies that not only do humans not need a divine savior but goes further and suggests that a divine savior is part and parcel of humanity’s problems. A further implication of this is that humans also do not need organized religion, for the true God – the unknown God – is accessible by anyone through prayer, even if he is not addressed by name.
The Self-Defeating Nature of Gnosticism
Ironically, the Gnostic teaching that God’s transcendence negates any predication of attributes to him refutes itself by predicating an attribute of God that is perfectly understandable to anyone with a high school education. If the god of Gnosticism is beyond comprehension, then his attribute of being-beyond-comprehension could not be comprehended. This is the most basic logical problem with Gnosticism: It is foundationally self-contradictory. Consequently, the underlying theology of X-Men: Apocalypse renders the Gnostic deity a being whose existence is absolutely impossible.
With this in mind, however, it is possible to demonstrate another fatal contradiction that arises from the film’s underlying Gnostic theology. Gnosticism, unlike Christianity, does not maintain a strict ontological distinction between the Creator and the creation. Rather, Gnosticism is a modified form of Pantheism, teaching that the unknown god is the ontological substance of all that exists. At one end of the ontological spectrum there is the spiritual, non-categorizable, unknowable deity from which all things spawn; at the other end of the ontological spectrum are the lowest, simplest, crudest material entities. Apocalypse is part of the unknown god of Gnosticism, in other words, and cannot ever be severed from him. Problematically, this means that the conflict between good and evil, between the good X-Men and the evil Apocalypse, is not ever really a problem. Good and evil are merely instances in the life of the One, the unknown god; consequently, good and evil will always exist in one form or another. Why then do Apocalypse’s existence and violent threatenings even matter? Heroism, villainy, good, and evil – these all, under the overarching theology of Gnosticism, are rendered illusory.
Ironic Irony: Suppressing Our Knowledge of the Judge of all the Earth
Why then does the film appeal to so many? I have a sneaking hunch that the people going to see X-Men: Apocalypse are not aware of the underlying Gnosticism the film embraces, nor are they aware of the absurd nihilistic conclusion to which it inevitably leads. Instead, ironically, people are going to see this film because it promises them a battle between good and evil that will most likely be won by the good (if the pattern of comic book films gives us any indication). As the only creatures who bear the image of God and, therefore, desire justice, equity, and the elimination of evil, we find films of this sort very appealing. We do not think that the world is ultimately amorphous, as the Gnostics claimed to believe. We do not think that good and evil are merely two sides of the same existential coin that is the life of the ineffable “god,” as the Gnostics did. We do not really believe that physical reality is inherently bad, as the Gnostics did.
The Gnostic belief that good and evil are merely opposed ends of a spectrum that is, in itself, neither good nor evil, is flatly contradicted by storytelling, in general, and films like X-Men: Apocalypse, in particular. Likewise, the Gnostic’s belief in the inherent evil of matter (another ironic belief, if you spend a minute to think on it) is contradicted by this film’s continual stress on the need for salvation from the false creator god (i.e. Apocalypse) who is seeking to destroy it. If the social order is really just the product of Apocalypse’s/the demiurge’s concocting, why save it? Why not let him destroy it and then begin to build something entirely new? The inevitable nihilism of Gnosticism renders this film, and any other which rests upon the same assumptions, a comedy. Viewers are aware of the meaninglessness of the good and bad characters’ desires, plans, and interactions.
Consequently, while the super-transcendent and unknowable god of the Gnostics is prayed to and answers in X-Men: Apocalypse, this is also ironic. Whether he listens and answers or does neither, the end result is the same – literally: Every distinction is ironed out, flattened, and rendered meaningless. If there is to be a distinction between good and evil that has any meaning whatsoever, there must be an intelligent, supratemporal, Sovereign, moral Judge who maintains this distinction eternally.
And this is what Gnosticism seeks to deny, all the while loudly implying that there is a good (viz. spirit, the One, the super-transcendent god, etc) which should drive humans to abandon evil (i.e. the material world) and thereby obtain salvation (via death/incorporation into the divine essence, as the Gnostics taught).
A False Gospel
My analysis of the Gnostic elements of X-Men: Apocalypse is not meant to deter any viewers from going to see it. I believe that Christians have the liberty to view or not view this film. My intention is, rather, to point out that the non-Christian worldview is based upon the acknowledged truth that there is an absolute distinction between good and evil, yet it wants to lobotomize the Lord God by absconding him to the farthest recesses of fallen man’s mind. This cannot be done, however, and the result is that the non-Christian worldview is completely incoherent. The non-Christian concept of a super-transcendent god that is unknowable by any human is self-contradictory. The non-Christian harmony of opposites is, likewise, self-contradictory given that harmony and discord are themselves valuative terms that presuppose that an absolute distinction between them exists necessarily. The non-Christian concept of salvation is also irrational, for there is nothing at all (since there are ultimately no true distinctions to be made between ontological entities), let alone nothing to be saved from!
The non-Christian worldview, nevertheless, seeks to declare that the world is in trouble, that man is responsible, that man will be judged, and that there is a way of salvation available to man. In other words: The non-Christian worldview teaches that there is a law whose inevitable consequences must be escaped by some means. X-Men: Apocalypse presents the false good news that men can thwart the apocalypse by banding together and opposing it. The film pronounces that man is his own savior, and that salvation comes not by trusting in another who has performed the work perfectly for him but in man’s own efforts. This is the cry of heretics, occultists, idolaters, and atheists alike.
The True Gospel
It is also part of the Biblical teaching on man’s fallen condition. By virtue of simply existing, man is a constant reminder to himself of the God whom he is actively running from in his own mind. The consciousness of law, order, good, evil, justice, and salvation that is present in every man’s mind contradicts man’s belief in his autonomy, his freedom to think, speak, and do as he feels without ever being held responsible for so doing. Man does not abandon belief in the One true God for belief in nothing but for an idol of his own imagination which is deaf, dumb, blind, and stupid. Man does not view the world as amoral but as inherently charged with values that must be articulated, adhered to, and defended against heretics (yes, heretics). The impotency of this worldview, i.e. the non-Christian worldview, must be demonstrated, and films like X-Men: Apocalypse give the Christian ample material with which to work.
It also provides the Christian with a segue into a presentation of the true Gospel. And this is our goal, after all, in tearing apart the non-Christian worldview wherever we find it. Our goal is to demonstrate its futility, and in so doing demonstrate that man is sinning in the way God says he is, so that we may tell him, this notwithstanding, that there is a real way of escaping the wrath of God: The substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ for sinners. Where is the law’s justice? Poured out upon the Lamb of God, Jesus. Where is the erasure of sin to be found? In the Lamb’s blood, which constantly declares that the believing sinner has had his sin debt fully paid by Christ the Lord. Where is salvation from this decaying world to be found? In the resurrected Son of God who did not abolish matter but raised it to incorruptibility and promises that all who trust in him will be raised in a similar manner!
X-Men: Apocalypse’s inherent Gnosticism reminds us of man’s fallen condition, particularly evidenced in his desire to be absolutely free from the Judgment of God and, moreover, be his own savior by means of his own works/efforts. It reminds us that man does not exchange belief in Yahweh for nothing, but instead he becomes an idolater. And it reminds Christians of the fact that men are constantly operating with this mindset and, therefore, are always prepared to engage with the truths requisite to preaching the Gospel of Grace.
Therefore, let us not be deterred by claims to the contrary.
Let us destroy the false gospels of this world.
Let us preach the true Gospel and call God’s elect people to repentance and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria!
 The Gods of the Egyptians: Or, Studies in Egyptian Mythology, Volume II, E.A. Wallis Budge, (London: Methuen & Co., 1904), 16.