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Thor: Love and Thunder’s Gorr Sheds Light on Why We Have Faith & Why We Lose It

Gorr from Thor

Verywell / Marvel Studios

Mind in the Media is an ongoing series discussing mental health and psychological topics in popular movies and television.

Spoiler alert! This article contains spoilers for the film "Thor: Love and Thunder," currently playing in theaters.

The title character of "Thor: Love and Thunder" has never come across like a traditional god. Despite his roots in Norse mythology, neither Thor (Chris Hemsworth) nor any of the members of his family have ever seemed concerned about attracting and retaining worshippers.

Yet, in his latest film, the fourth in the Marvel Cinematic Universe's stand-alone "Thor" series, we learn that there are other deities in the franchise that strive to collect worshippers, even if they don’t think too highly of those that revere them.

Gorr (Christian Bale), the villain of "Thor: Love and Thunder," is initially introduced as a starving man who has the misfortune of putting his faith in one such god. In the prologue of the film, he’s seen staggering across his desolate planet with his daughter in search of food and water. Both wear jewelry and are covered with tattoos that are meant to be tributes to their god, Rapu (Jonny Brugh). Yet despite their deep faith and Gorr’s prayers for help, his daughter dies, leaving Gorr to follow shortly afterward.

Instead, Gorr is called to a mysterious desert oasis where he finds water and an abundance of fruit. As the starving man gratefully begins to consume the bounty, he's interrupted by a man that Gorr quickly recognizes as Rapu. The deity is haughty and dismissive of Gorr’s suffering, demeaning him and making it clear he has no intention of saving his last follower. Even then, Gorr maintains his devotion.

However, when Rapu tells Gorr he will receive no eternal reward after death for his worship, Gorr renounces him and, after acquiring a sword capable of killing deities, slays Rapu while vowing to take out all the gods in the universe, a pursuit that earns him the title of God Butcher.

In just this short sequence, Gorr goes from utterly committed to his god to completely losing his faith. While here on Earth, our faith in a God or gods isn’t nearly as fantastical, our belief may ebb and flow throughout our lifetimes, with some becoming more devout, while others lose their faith, and still others settling somewhere in the middle.

We can look to Gorr the God Butcher as an example of both of these extremes, and through him, we can examine the psychology of faith, the mental health benefits of having faith, and the mental health challenges that may occur when faith is lost.

Why We Have Faith

Gorr is an alien from an unnamed planet, so it’s impossible to know why or how his people came to worship Rapu. However, long ago on Earth, when ancient humans lived in small hunter-gatherer communities, no one believed in a god.

Yet even then humans had the cognitive wiring for belief due to our ability to ascribe agency to the actions of others, whether those others are other people or inanimate objects. This hypersensitivity to the agency of everything around us provided the psychological basis for eventually conceiving of the supernatural.

Yet, it wasn’t until humans started living in larger groups that the gods they worshipped developed a moral dimension. These larger groups were impossible to successfully monitor to ensure everyone was contributing their fair share, so the gods of the people in these groups evolved to become omniscient watchers who could reward good behavior and punish bad behavior.

Groups that believed in moralistic gods like this were more likely to survive, leading these beliefs to become common. That's true even now when approximately 80% of humans believe in a god.   

The Mental Health Impact of Faith

While evolution gave us the raw materials for faith in a deity, it doesn’t explain how our belief benefits us as individuals. However, there are many positives to believing in a god. As Dr. Brianna Gaynor, clinical psychologist at Peace of Mind Psychological Services, notes, faith in God provides “a sense of existential support, a sense of meaning and value…that helps people to be more resilient in general.”

Anne Krajewski, PsyD

A belief in God can help people navigate a variety of challenges like cancer, childhood trauma, midlife crises, adverse childhood experiences, and career burnout. It can help people manage their anxiety.

— Anne Krajewski, PsyD

Dr. Ann Krajewski, licensed clinical psychologist at Dynamic Healing Psychotherapy, agrees, observing, “A belief in God can help people navigate a variety of challenges like cancer, childhood trauma, midlife crises, adverse childhood experiences, and career burnout. It can help people manage their anxiety. It can help them be more open to the world…. It can help them have a sense of belonging…. It can [help] them have a greater sense of hope.”

Faith in Hard Times

Those are just some of the benefits of faith. However, both Gaynor and Krajewski observe that belief in God can be especially valuable in hard times. In "Thor: Love and Thunder," Gorr demonstrates how his continued faith in a higher power sustains him when times are tough.

Gorr indicates everyone he knows has died, and eventually his daughter succumbs to the famine plaguing their planet as well, yet he continues to pray and believe that his god can help him.

According to Krajewski, this is because people often rely on faith in God to “feel a sense of security and power and control.” Similarly, Gaynor says faith in God enables people to feel “like there's some external locus of control…. So there can be a lack of pressure to feel like you have to do everything because you feel like there's something outside of you that is helping support and guide [your] life.”

Research also suggests that faith can be motivated by a desire for control. In one study, threatening participants’ sense of control increased their belief in God.Furthermore, people seem to especially rely on the control offered by faith when times are difficult. A study showed that increasing mortality salience increased belief, and religious belief has been shown to increase as people age, become terminally ill, or experience natural disasters.

In fact, a recent poll showed that the COVID-19 pandemic strengthened people’s faith rather than weakening it. Given this evidence, it’s no surprise that Gorr would hold tight to his faith in Rapu even as his life seemed increasingly uncertain, as leaving his fate in his god’s hands may have restored his sense of control, meaning, and purpose.

Why People Lose Faith

Yet, while many people may find their faith increases in the face of life’s challenges, there are some who may find themselves questioning their belief in god. While that doesn’t mean people will immediately renounce the god they believe in like Gorr does in "Thor: Love and Thunder," they may find that faith is no longer helping them the way it once did.

“When something traumatizing happens… it imbalances our equilibrium of what is good,” Krajewski observes. “Theory of a Just World [says] good things happen to good people, bad things happen to bad people, [and] it helps us make sense of things. But when trauma happens, it disrupts that and makes us feel powerless, and so sometimes, if people [believe], ‘If I pray to God, He will protect me,’ and then all of a sudden [they experience a traumatic event, they realize], ‘Wow, I'm not protected.’

“It can cause this sense of anger and it can poke holes in this protective mechanism [surrounding belief in God],” Krajewski continues. “[People may think,] ‘If I'm as good as possible, it doesn't actually mean that I'll be protected. Actually I'm pretty powerless and out of control.’ And so I think that it can really disrupt your sense of faith in God and disrupt your belief in your safety in the world in general as well.”

The mental health impact of losing faith

The experience of losing faith can be difficult and even damaging to one’s mental health, especially if their faith was once very strong.

If a person previously found meaning in belief in God, losing that “can lead to despair, it can lead to depression, it can lead to a sense of worthlessness, it can lead to questions about what is the point of life,” Gaynor says, “and that can also impact overall ability to move forward and do the things that need to be done to live a successful life [and] to find meaning and enjoyment in life on a daily basis.”

Brianna Gaynor, PsyD

A lot of times even people who have what people would qualify as stronger faith still tend to question [it] in difficult times. So I think that that's actually not an abnormal thing for anyone to do. It's just about where it leads.

— Brianna Gaynor, PsyD

Moreover, when people lose faith it may lead to risky or impulsive behavior. “Oftentimes when people lose faith in God there is a significant amount of anger that comes up that might make them want to be rebellious….,” Krajewski reflects, “so that can [lead to] risky behaviors [because people have a] sense of nothing matters.”

Still, Gaynor points out that, “A lot of times even people who have what people would qualify as stronger faith still tend to question [it] in difficult times. So I think that that's actually not an abnormal thing for anyone to do. It's just about where it leads.”

Moreover, if one does find themselves losing faith in God, the experience isn't always negative. Gaynor notes, “If someone can get to a place where they find meaning and value in something else other than [belief in God], which still aligns with who they are, which feels good, which helps propel them and they feel like is meaningful for their life, then absolutely, it can be a positive experience going through that difficulty [of losing faith because it demonstrates] their sense of courage and bravery and their ability to pivot and adjust.”

What To Do If You Feel You’re Losing Your Faith

While Gorr’s loss of faith in "Thor: Love and Thunder" ultimately leads him down an extremely dark path, both Gaynor and Krajewski suggest that questioning one’s beliefs can actually be an opportunity for growth. Therefore, if you feel like you’re losing your faith in God, it can be useful to take the time to examine why you had faith to begin with and if you can derive the benefits you got from that faith in other ways.

“Faith and religion is really about it being meaningful to you,” Gaynor explains. “It can start as a child, but if the switch doesn't happen [in adulthood] where [my faith] is meaningful and important for me personally outside of what I've been taught or what I've heard, then it's really not going to [help].… The truth is, sometimes we need to go through those hard times… to really learn and grow and find meaning…. Sometimes that leads to not having faith at all, sometimes it leads to stronger faith, and sometimes some people are still complacent. But we all need to really go through that journey because it has to be personal, it has to work for us.”

Krajewski concurs, noting that when you feel like you're losing your faith, it can helpful to “go to therapy, or find someone that you trust to [work through] those questions [with you]. The biggest thing is giving yourself space to wrestle with the questions.”

“This is your life and in order to be grounded spiritually, emotionally, mentally, it's important to be willing to ask the hard questions and figure out what works for you in terms of how you see the world and faith [in God] and religion and for it really to be meaningful in order for you to have the best life….,” Gaynor observes, “That's when [your belief in god or lack of belief in god] is going to be most meaningful, whichever way you choose.”

3 Sources
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  3. Pew Research Center. Americans far more likely to say coronavirus crisis has strengthened their faith, rather than weakened it.