OK, I need to say something, and it might freak some people out, but it’s true for me and it’s my blog and I’m trying to be more like Augustus Waters from The Fault in Our Stars not “denying myself the pleasure of saying true things.”
I feel closer to God when I watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer than when I read the bible. Cue reaction:
I know, I know. Now, let me explain.
First, that sentence applies to pretty much every work of fiction that has impacted me deeply, which includes most of Joss Whedon’s work, Tolkien and other works of fantasy (and science fiction), lots of literary fiction, Doctor Who, Lost, Stargate SG-1, and many others.
Here’s why I think that is: as long as you can back it up with evidence from the text (text here being either literal in the case of books or more metaphorical in the case of movies and TV shows), fiction can mean pretty much whatever you want or need it to. You can love it or hate it and have lively but respectful conversations with others about why. You can agree with all or none or in between of what you think it is saying. You can like the story or concept or characters and still be mightily pissed off at instances of sexism and racism and ableism and any of the other -isms that continue to be far too prevalent in the stories we tell one another. If it contradicts itself you can speculate about why, debate about which of the contradicting things is truer to the overall whatever of the piece. You can throw books across the room and deliberately scratch up DVDs to use as coasters if they tick you off enough.
In the Christianity in which I was raised, you can’t do any of that with the bible. Not if you’re a good Christian who is growing in your faith and always getting to know God better. You must love the bible and read it all the time and gloss over the problematic stuff because it’s God’s Word and God doesn’t make mistakes.
This has become a problem for me in the last few years because a lot of the bible portrays God as sexist and homophobic and xenophobic and violent, and I refuse to believe that a god who is those things is also the God of mercy and grace and justice that took human form in Jesus. Therefore I refuse to take good chunks of the Old Testament literally, and find it problematic even at a metaphorical level, even when we all put on our big-kid pants and admit that it was written by a lot of men over a long period of time in a variety of genres for a variety of purposes that are not intuitive to the average English-speaking Westerner and all that equals fallibility and a fallible bible actually isn’t the end of the world or of Christianity.
So imagine my joy when this blog post showed up in my Facebook feed. Writes Dr. Eric Seibert, Professor of Old Testament at Messiah College, “To put it bluntly: not everything in the “good book” is either good, or good for us. . . . At times the Bible endorses values we should reject, praises acts we must condemn, and portrays God in ways we cannot accept. Rather than seeing this as a sign of disrespect, we should regard engaging in an ethical and theological critique of what we read in the Bible as an act of profound faithfulness” (emphasis original).
There’s nothing like that feeling of realizing you aren’t alone in your unorthodox thoughts after all, and that you’re not alone in some very intelligent and highly qualified company.
Even so, I am still learning how to silence the voices in my head that tell me I must take every verse in the bible literally, must quietly accept the contradictions, musn’t make such a fuss. Those persistent voices are why reading the bible usually makes me feel distant from God, makes me wonder whether I should even bother with this whole Christianity thing anymore if this is what I have to buy into.
Enter Buffy. The show has demons, sex, witchcraft, and lesbians, each of which alone would be enough to make my parents (and me, up until the last couple of years) very uncomfortable, to say the least. I love and respect my mom as much as any daughter could, but she went through a phase where she was worried that Harry Potter might have a negative spiritual influence, so just imagine how she would feel about Buffy.
But the core of Buffy, at least as I understand it, is none of those “negative” things. The core of the show is that humans, weird and fallible and broken though we are, are good, and when we come together in loving community we can beat back the darkness that constantly threatens our world in small and large ways. And when we take care of each other and stick with each other even though it would be easier and safer to run away, we are heroes.
And to me, if you add God and Jesus into that mix, that’s exactly what Christianity is saying. If each and every human being is made in the image of God, and God is good, then at the core of every human, underneath all the mess and screwing up and confusion, is goodness. Humans are also relational beings: it is when we come together that we are able to bring the goodness, the image-of-Godness, out in each other much better than when we are alone. It is messy and hard and I sometimes wonder if it wasn’t incredibly naive of God to leave this Kingdom business to humans. Yet in the moments when, with the help of Christ the present teacher and the Holy Spirit, we get it right, it is incredibly, heartbreakingly beautiful. I think Buffy the Vampire Slayer often does a better job of demonstrating this than the bible.
Of course, I would be amiss if I didn’t address another reason I prefer Buffy to the bible: the way each treats women. Covering all the ways the women of the Buffyverse are awesome would take several posts, so I’m mostly just going to quote from something I wrote in my journal a couple of months ago.
I think one of the reasons that, at least right now, I can’t get Joss Whedon’s stories and characters, particularly from Buffy, out of my head and my heart is that, in the Whedonverse, people need each other, but women are just as strong (and weak) as men in all the things that make us human. The women are strong in themselves, have agency, are full people. They stand. They fall. They live. And it is only the bad guys, or the bad parts of the good guys, who tell the women they can’t or shouldn’t. This is so much more compelling to me than what the bible, at least as the Christianity I am familiar with usually interprets it, and the church, historically and today, say about women.
For one thing, stories in the bible that actually include women do not often have them interact with one another, and most of the time when they do it is in a negative way: they are in competition or tearing each other down in some way. Think Sarah and Hagar, Leah and Rachel, Mary and Martha. Buffy almost always does the opposite: the girls and women support each other, build each other up, care for each other, help each other to be strong in the way best suited to each individually.
I could go on and on, but this post is long enough as it is. I think the best summation I can make at this point is just to say that I think Buffy the Vampire Slayer often does a better job of showing what a good and beautiful life looks like than the bible as I was taught to interpret it. And that is why, at least for now, when I feel in need of spiritual encouragement, I’m much more likely to find an episode of Buffy to re-watch than to open up my bible.
Note: I didn’t make the gifs I’m not talented like that. I’m pretty sure they’re all from either gilesface.tumblr.com or scooby-gang.tumblr.com.