deird1: Fred looking pretty and thoughful (Default)
[personal profile] deird1
Another Slacktiverse repost, to match my previous one.

“Does it ever get easy?”
“You mean life?”
“Yeah. Does it get easy?”
“What do you want me to say?”
“Lie to me.”
“Yes, it’s terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true, the bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and we always defeat them and save the day. No-one ever dies, and everybody lives happily ever after.”

   -- Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Lie To Me”

What are you supposed to do when your faith collapses in ruins around you? Start a drug habit, maybe? Or take the logical route and find a new religion?

Me, I opted for television.

Four years of working at a Christian bookshop had destroyed my optimism, and left me convinced that Christianity was shallow, hypocritical, simplistic, in denial about reality, commercial, all style and no substance, and completely ridiculous. I still liked Christ, but I was completely sick of his legacy, and all the rubbish that surrounded it.

I wanted out – but, as I said, I still liked Jesus, still believed he was really real, and, that being the case, really couldn’t bring myself to officially give up on him. Instead… I watched tv. And read silly novels. And hung around on snarky internet sites. And tried to forget about my faith for as much of the week as I could manage to.

It worked pretty well – and left me more and more annoyed with Christian culture. Why were we sanitising our fiction and ignoring cold, hard reality? Why were we so concerned with whether people were “saved” when it didn’t seem to change their behaviour? Why did we keep slapping Bible verses on souvenirs and proclaiming them holy, when all it meant was that we could charge exorbitant prices for things no-one could possibly want to buy? Were we right about how much the whole thing mattered? Did any of it actually matter at all?

I couldn’t see the point of the whole thing.

…and that’s when I started watching the show with the weird name.

Those of you with no experience of Australian Protestant culture might assume that we’d be okay with tv shows. Those with a little more experience might assume that we’d run away from all slightly dubious tv shows, proclaim them satanic, and start boycotting everyone in sight.

You wouldn’t be far off – but my church wasn’t quite that bad. We were avid Friends fans, happily read the Harry Potter books, and used clips from The Matrix in sermons. The only pop culture we really stayed away from was the worst of the worst: shows which had demons, or witches, or pagan gods.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer had all of those, and more. There were lesbians, resurrection spells, sex, demon possession, and explosions. It was not something that any good Christian girl should be watching.

I… was rather sick of being a good Christian girl. So, with a few doubts and hesitations, and the firm conviction that I was not going to let my parents find out, I started watching. Anything to get another fun and distracting form of entertainment.

(Then it went and changed my life. That was unexpected.)

For those of you who haven’t encountered this show, here’s a quick explanation: Buffy Summers is a high school student who is given mystical vampire-fighting abilities, and has to balance her slaying duties with her normal high school life. She has a few classmates who help her out, an over-protective mother, and a tendency to fall in love with hot vampires.

The show specialises in quippy, fast-paced fun, and exciting fights with lots of backflips. It’s extremely entertaining.

It also has a few themes that keep cropping up. Like sacrifice. And duty. And redemption. And guilt. And love. And failure. And family. (All those useless words that I’d been selling on pretty posters with “relevant” Bible verses, in fact. Things that I’d started thinking of as only being about the pretty posters. Rather than being real.)

It was a world filled with magic, monsters, giant bug ladies, ventriloquist dummies come to life, fairytale characters, Santa Claus, and levitation. And as not-real as it was, it stormed its way into my life and reminded me just how real some things were.

Sacrifice, for instance. It had started being something that I saw on bumper stickers (“He gave it all, so I’m giving it back!”) and in preachy books urging me to “forget about what you want, and do what you should do”. But on this show, sacrifice meant someone letting her lover die to save the world, or giving up the limelight to work in the background, or someone letting go of his dreams to work in the job that would help the most, or a million other things like that.

Redemption had mostly been a word that would get me the right answer on Bible trivia quizzes. But to these characters, it meant someone trying to rebuild her life after almost killing everyone she cared about, or someone realising she hated the person she’d turned into and going to jail voluntarily to change her life, or someone facing up to what he’d done instead of putting the blame on everyone except him.

“Family” stopped meaning dull sermons on “traditional values”, and started meaning Buffy declaring that the shy outcast was one of them, despite her differences. And guilt, and love, and changing your life, and finding truth, and doing your duty, and caring for your enemies, and commitment, and betrayal, and… so many other concepts I’d heard about my whole life, that had started to become meaningless noise. They’d been abstract ideas – but in this crazy vampire-slaying story, I could see them being real.

My time at the bookshop had focused so much on the shallow, surface, put-a-picture-of-Jesus-on-a-pencilcase part of Christianity, that I’d started thinking that was all it had to it. The Christian kitsch was shallow and meaningless; so Christianity was shallow and meaningless; so redemption and love and sacrifice and faith were also totally shallow and meaningless.

Buffy, meanwhile, had no surface Christianity whatsoever.

Watching the show meant that there was no kitschy Christianity for me to focus on and revile – but, instead, a wonderful, meaningful story about redemption, and love, and sacrifice, and faith, and how much they mattered.

It was exciting watching characters learn how to live with what they’d become. It was important that they put aside their own feelings and do what needed to be done. It meant something when they stood up to their friends and told them they were doing the wrong thing. It mattered when they realised that family isn’t just about genetics, but something you choose. It was real.

It reminded me of the bits of my faith that should be at the centre of the whole thing. And reminded me why I should care.

Immersing myself in Christian culture is the reason I nearly stopped being a Christian; immersing myself in a morally-suspect show about witches and demons is the reason I came back.

Date: 2013-01-18 09:10 pm (UTC)
hickumu: (Into the sunset)
From: [personal profile] hickumu
This is very...thought provoking. Thank you very much for sharing. I imagine this must have taken a lot of thought.

I never really thought of BtVS as having Christianity parallels, beyond the obvious "vampires are unholy and evil" message, but...I guess that was the point, wasn't it?

Basically, I'm very glad you found something that works for you. I've found faith in a higher being to be a wonderfully comforting thing, personally.

I do wish more people would think about their religion like you do. I've had a lot of experience of Christian people being very nice and kind, but so much of just the opposite. Like the lady who came to our anti-creationist protest passing out pamphlets and trying to provoke someone into punching her in the face so we'd all get arrested.
Edited Date: 2013-01-18 09:10 pm (UTC)

Date: 2013-01-18 11:27 pm (UTC)
slaymesoftly: (Default)
From: [personal profile] slaymesoftly
Wow. That's a pretty powerful testament to how TV (and books) can resonate in ways perhaps never intended by the creators. Thank you for sharing your experience.

Date: 2013-01-19 11:06 am (UTC)
shehasathree: (Default)
From: [personal profile] shehasathree
This is an awesome and interesting post!

Date: 2013-01-19 04:54 pm (UTC)
zanthinegirl: Shane McGowan (shane coffee)
From: [personal profile] zanthinegirl
Here on a link from buffyverse top 5. I think the link is actually broken, this doesn't seem to be a story called "Fair Dinkum". But fascinating essay.

Watching the show meant that there was no kitschy Christianity for me to focus on and revile – but, instead, a wonderful, meaningful story about redemption, and love, and sacrifice, and faith, and how much they mattered.

Yup. Very well said. It's why I watched too; and why so many of the Buffy-fan I know are people of faith. I actually started watching the show with a group of friends from my college bible study-- that was back in season 3!

Date: 2013-01-19 05:06 pm (UTC)
eilowyn1: (Default)
From: [personal profile] eilowyn1
Have I ever told you about my the biggest missed opportunity of my life? I went to a Christian university when I was 24. If I had gone straight to the same university right out of high school, and got into their Talbot Honors Program (which I totally would have), I would have met Joss Whedon my senior year. That year they had a seminar on the nature of evil and redemption, using Dante's Inferno - and the Angel arc on Buffy as texts. I think the episodes they screened were Angel, School Hard, Lie to Me, What's My Line I and II, Surprise, Innocence, Passion, Becoming I and II, and Amends).

In the spring of 2006, Joss wasn't doing much. The Big Damn Movie was over, and the Whedon Renaissance started with Dr. Horrible hadn't yet begun. So when a Christian school a half hour out of Los Angeles asked if he'd come talk, he said yes. So the nature of evil was being taught at a Christian school by an avowed atheist, and I don't find anything incongruent with that. And it would probably have been a good thing that I didn't take that class, because I would have spent the entirety of it defending Spike and telling everyone he has an even better, messier, more real redemption story, and calling Angel a weenie.

Which doesn't have much to do with your post, but it does show that I can completely understand exactly what you're talking about. What really got me out of a few spells of deep depression was television. To misquote Chariots of Fire, when I discovered a new television show, I felt God's pleasure. And while I can say television saved me, you really gotta wonder who orchestrated television to become such a large part of my life. And that's why I never gave up on Christ. American evangelical Christianity? Yes. But Christ? No.

Thank you so much for sharing this. It is amazingly eloquent, and you are such a good storyteller!

Date: 2013-01-19 11:51 pm (UTC)
megpie71: Impossibility established early takes the sting out of the rest of the obstacles (Impossibility)
From: [personal profile] megpie71
I think one of the things that resonates with me about this is that things like sacrifice, duty, redemption, guilt, love, failure, and family aren't so much "Christian" things or "non-Christian" things. They're human things - we all live with them, whether or not we follow a particular religious faith. All of us have to deal with them, at various levels, and all of us can use some examples of how to deal with them.

This is why "an avowed atheist" can write stories about these things which are capable of speaking to even the most reluctant Christian. These themes aren't the exclusive property of Christianity. They're part of the common human experience. When a religion attempts to lay exclusive claim to some portions of the human experience (such as morality, for example) then everyone loses. People inside the religion lose because they're being used as pawns in a power game. People outside the religion lose because part of their essential humanity is being denied and they're being judged as "less than".

Commercialised Christianity, as the OP points out, trivialises all of these. It makes them into selling points for some tacky object or other. In doing this, something is lost, and I think the thing which is lost is the real impact of these themes on everyday life. Commercialised Christianity offers easy reassurance to people who don't want to have to think about any of these topics, and how difficult they actually are. Instead of saying (as Christ did) "yes, this is hard, and it's MEANT to be hard", CC says "buy $PRODUCT_NAME and all your problems are solved". It caters to a style of non-thinking which revolves around fetishising religion, and tokenising it, and making it into something you own or wear as a way of saying "I am a Real Human Being, not like Them".


deird1: Fred looking pretty and thoughful (Default)

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