Indiana Jones and the Religion of Doom

In our first post looking at the Indiana Jones trilogy, we focused on the first film in chronological order (Temple of Doom) and how a shady, compromised, self-serving Indy got a little religion, a heart for enslaved children and a mindset beyond his own “fortune and glory”. As we dive into Raiders of the Lost Ark, it’s 1936, and we find early in the story that Jones has a nemesis, another adventurer named Belloq. As a kid I didn’t really pay attention to the frenchman’s little speeches in the film. I was busy watching the monkey, or excited to see a bazooka, hoping Indiana Jones would just beat the “bad guys”. Now a little older, I see that Belloq actually offered important kernels of truth:

“You and I are very much alike. Archeology is our religion, yet we have both fallen from the pure faith. Our methods have not differed as much as you pretend. I am but a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me. To push you out of the light.”

Unlike Mola Ram’s menace in Temple of Doom, Belloq is not a typical picture of uncompromising evil; he’s self-serving but personable. He isn’t allied philosophically with the Nazis, only opportunistically, even objects and mourns when they mercilessly throw Marion Ravenwood down to die with Jones. Belloq is about his own fortune and glory, his own personal ascension. Even what the Ark represents in his mind is his own “direct line to God”.

Are Rene Belloq and Indiana Jones really that different? Only a year before this adventure, something was rekindled in Jones’ heart for more than fortune and glory: he demonstrated a heart to help others. Make no mistake: he can still be a jerk, and the Ark surely represents fame if he obtains it. As he chases down leads, we see he’s unrepentant when he first appears in Nepal to talk to Marion Ravenwood. He’s sad his mentor Abner is dead, but his apologies for the past pain he caused the Ravenwood family lacks any real conviction. He even lies to her and calls the crucial artifact he needs from her a “worthless” medallion. The German swine Toht calls Indy “nefarious” and (while perhaps the pot is calling the kettle black) it’s somewhat true. Jones is still the kind of man who cavalierly shoots the guy who brought a sword to his gunfight.

When his adventure seemingly leads to Marion’s death, Indy is broken, and this is when Belloq challenges him with the little speech above. He’s saved from Belloq by a group of children, which now has more significance considering his interaction with saving (and being saved) by children in Temple of Doom. His heart for others becomes apparent once again. Even as a child myself, I always thought this was where Jones began to care more about doing the right thing – keeping the ark out of Nazi hands and saving Marion – than he cared for himself.

We don’t like to admit we’re only a “nudge” away from being someone like Belloq… if we aren’t already as compromised as he is. The Bible declares none of us are righteous, that we all have the potential to be a Belloq, which in the end really isn’t better than being a Mola Ram. We each have our own religion, something we pour ourselves into: we worship our work, our hobby, our fiction, our body, our country, our lover, our friend, our children or ourselves. We pour ourselves out for something, but is it something that will last? If our religious zeal simply fuels our own passion and desire, how is that not self-serving? Can we truly be religious for something true? Something lasting? Would we know it if we saw it?

What kind of man is Jones going to be? At the bleakest moment of the film, the Ark – the “presence of God” – is lifted out of the well of souls, leaving Indiana Jones in the hole facing his personal hell of snakes, condemned. It’s really the confirming point where we see him struggling for more than himself again. He climbs up to shake the statue loose and break the wall, telling Marion to run no matter that happens to him. He’s going to get her out and isn’t sure he’ll survive, but he’s going to help the woman he once hurt so badly, to lay down his own life if necessary.

As our hero and damsel escape the hellish hole, Indiana Jones becomes devoted to stopping the rise of villainy and misuse of the Ark, risking life and limb, drowning and more. He can’t, however, save the day… standing with his bazooka at the top of the hill, he lacks the true vantage point and willpower to save the girl and stop the Nazis. This is what sets Raiders’ story apart from many other hero narratives: our lead human character (for most, their POV protagonist) doesn’t get to be the savior.

Belloq and Indiana are equally curious, and thus equally tempted to see the Ark as something for their use, for their fame, for their own glory. The time comes for the Ark to open and we see the difference that nudge makes: Belloq stares proudly and unafraid, looking down upon the power and presence of God, while Indiana Jones becomes rightly afraid and respectfully closes his eyes, while also convincing the woman he’s previously wronged to do the same. This penitent act saves them both, as the true victor emerges and wipes the landscape clean of those who would presume to use God for their own selfish purposes. Rarely in film has a Deus Ex Machina been so vividly employed and so perfectly and universally received.

This verse is very curious and apt when you consider this particular story’s elements of treasure-seeking, God, and the warning for those of us “only a nudge” from being Belloq or Indiana Jones:

“…if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you, delivering you from the way of evil, from men of perverted speech, who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness, who rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil, men whose paths are crooked, and who are devious in their ways.” - Proverbs 2:3-15 ESV

While Temple of Doom planted seeds of respect and sacrifice for others in Indy’s heart, Raiders allows us to see our hero demonstrating a respectful fear of the Lord, to see God win the day and simply leave a thankful Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood trembling in awe, shellshocked but saved. While we don’t witness the dialogue involving true repentance from Jones to Marion, they seem reconciled… walking down the steps at the end arm in arm toward either a relationship as lovers or just friends.

It’s also fitting that not just they, but we – the viewer – witnessed the “power of God” and yet the story has it being boxed up and warehoused: out of sight, out of mind. It seems to beg the questions:

  • Do we ponder the power and reality of God, yet simply box it up in our own mind, relegate it to some corner?

  • Can we watch this adventure and seriously not consider the implications of its reality in our own adventure?

The Temple removed Indy’s hard heart and gave him a softer one for humanity, and the Lost Ark made him tremble before God and face the indiscretions of his past. This brings us to his Last Crusade, our next post, wherein we’ll see Indiana Jones reconcile family issues and literally take up the cup of Christ.


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