Warning: Spoilers Included
In my opinion, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) recent releases have been disappointing, and I know I am not alone. However, after watching Loki season two, either the tide is turning for the MCU, or my inner theology nerd was awakened to the theological themes present throughout the second season. Loki’s character is based on the Norse God of mischief, whose abilities in mythology include changing shape and sex. Some of the theological themes present in the Loki series include Loki as a Christ figure, being both God and human, willing to sacrifice himself for his friends and all the multiverses, and the metaphysical existence of multiverses. Yet, the dominant theme throughout is the question of free will and predestination.
If you search “Loki and Theology” the first result you will find is an article by The Gospel Coalition written in 2021 after season one. It predictably concludes that if Sylvie hadn’t killed He Who Remains, then they would be in a much better position. The end of season one leaves us in a place where the sacred timeline is destroyed, the multiverse is plunging into chaos, it seems that everything remains predetermined, and Sylvie is simply trying to play God. TGC concludes that:
“If you feel challenged by God’s sovereignty, pray that he will open your eyes to your struggle for control and his power to redeem it. You have no hope without him. The true ‘He Who Remains’ has set your timeline within his eternal story. What a blessing!”
Yet, the finale of season one for me appeared not to justify predestination but rather it complicated the idea of freedom. Freedom comes with responsibility, and the conclusion of TGC fails to engage with the issues which Loki and Sylvie had with the sacred timeline in the first place, he problem of evil and the seemingly meaningless nature of life if everything is simply predetermined. Rather than ask the more difficult questions about predestination their response seems to ask us to simply accept things the way they are, Loki and Sylvie should never have questioned the TVA?, He Who Remains, or wondered if another way was possible.
The theologian and book editor David Congdon noted on X that in Loki there is a tension that exists between predestination, represented by the sacred timeline, and the desire for free will, which Loki and their friends have. He goes on to say that Loki opts for a third way: in the finale, Loki destroys the Loom which weaves together the sacred timeline and replaces the loom with himself. Loki holds together the infinite possibilities of infinitely branching timelines, allowing for free will to exist in the multiverses. Congdon argues that Loki is able to do this because he is motivated by love as he is a person and not a thing. Loki becomes a process theological vision of the divine, “in which the infinite makes space for the finite within itself.”
It is worth briefly explaining what process theology is here, and how it makes sense of the Loki series. Tripp Fuller describes the thought of Process Theology as entailing two central convictions, “that God affects the world, and the world affects God.” Process theology finds its origins in the thought of mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. His thought was developed by the Chicago school in the twentieth century by individuals like Charles Harsthorne, Henry Wieman, and contemporary theologians like John Cobb.
Bruce Epperly helpfully lays out some of the key concepts in process theology in his book Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed. These include:
- “Reality as a dynamic process,” referring to the relationship between flux and permanence, and identifying the emergence of novelty in God and creation as the reality of existence. Like when Loki sits down to hold all the branches of the timeline together, new branches pose no threat to God in process theology, rather novelty is part of God’s own existence and is inherent to creation itself.
- “Dynamic interdependence,” refers to reality as an organism with interdependent and living parts rather than a machine with distinct parts, like the distinction between He Who Remains’ loom as a machine and Loki as a living organism acting as the one who holds the branches of the timeline together.
- “A universe of experience,” refers to the concept of panexperientialism, where human experience is not the centre of reality but exists as part of a “multi-levelled experiential universe, throbbing with emotion and creativity.” We can see this at play when we observe the emotion and desires of each variant of individuals in the Loki multiverse, like the TVA. Mobius who couldn’t imagine doing anything else, and his variant who sells speed boats for a living and is hesitant to assist Loki in fixing the sacred timeline.
- “Creativity and freedom,” describes the process of self-creation or in process theology terms “concrescence”, which attempts to strike a balance between freedom and determinism, recognising both the effects of past events on our actions and the possibility of novel actions. We see this when Loki learns to master time slipping and is deciding how far back he must go to be able to fix the loom, realising each time that a past event of some kind has led to another failure.
- Finally, “a process-relational God”, refers to process theology’s conception of God as panentheistic where God is in all things and all things are in God. This potentially maps quite well on to the fan theory that Loki becomes a replacement for the time infinity stone, in this sense he is in all time and all time is in him.
There are worthwhile critiques of process theology, and this blog is certainly not trying to argue that there is only one way of answering the question of free will and determinism. However, the theological vision presented within the Loki TV series is far more complicated than a reductionistic view of God’s relationship to humanity as one of control and domination. Loki complicates the ideas of both human and divine freedom, responsibility, and destiny. Whatever conclusion you come to on the questions of free will, determinism, and process theology I would recommend the Loki series as a cultural point for reflection on these issues.