Theologian of the Year: Ms. Buffy.
September 30, 2002 9:05 AM   Subscribe

Theologian of the Year: Ms. Buffy. "We need someone who can not only deconstruct the problem of evil, but kick it's hiney; someone with a preternatural sense of comic timing and an eye for fashion."
posted by jacknose (13 comments total)
Ignoring the typo in the pullquote for a moment (it's/its, can't anyone get it right?), surely that's not an accepted way to spell "heinie"? (I always sort of hoped it was "high-knee", like a higher joint than the knee, you know?)

The article manages to keep a straight face all the way through - my guess is it's the intro to "Skippy R"'s masters' thesis.
posted by gleuschk at 9:48 AM on September 30, 2002

I thought the article was pretty interesting and made some good points. How else do serious questions get addressed in popular culture?
posted by norm29 at 11:30 AM on September 30, 2002

Okay I was with the guy writing the article until it deteriorated into his citing dialogue and scene examples from the actual series. I found I was still unclear as to what Skippy was trying to prove, or disprove. So his 'examples' seemed superfluous.

"The program is filled with references to the cross." Duh! It's a show about vampires. There's also references to stakes, blood, fangs and then there's a lot of references to things that have nothing to do with vampires. What exactly was his point anyway?

Christianity Today tackled Buffy recently, and were a bit better at it than Skippy. At least CT's points were a bit more coherent. Todd Hertz basically called it sinful pleasure for adults but unfit for God-fearing children.

I just adore hypocrisy.

Don't laugh when it comes to dissecting what on the surface appears to be a silly action comedy. "Biological Warfare and the Buffy Paradigm" you can laugh at if you'd like. It's a pdf file by the US Defence Department.

A much more intricate and serious approach to understanding the mythology and parabolic nature of the most underappreciated television series of all time is available at All Things Philosophical about BtVS. Or, one could just assume Freud was right and it's all about sex. Sure this may be crazy to invest so much thought in such a silly series, but sometimes we just have to bow to the absurd.

Personally I think the series says more about the concepts attributed to Nietzsche than it does modern Christianity. Especially this season. With references to how everything's connected and it's all about who's got the power I'm thinking Whedon's more into Nietzsche than he is Jerry Falwell. The series has never taken Christianity's black/white good vs evil approach to reality very seriously. It basically satirizes that entire concept.

"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he doesn't become a monster." - Frederick Nietzsche
posted by ZachsMind at 11:35 AM on September 30, 2002

Zachsmind-Christianity Today tackled Buffy recently, and were a bit better at it than Skippy. At least CT's points were a bit more coherent. Todd Hertz basically called it sinful pleasure for adults but unfit for God-fearing children.

I just adore hypocrisy.

It's not hypocrisy, it's simply a following of 1 Corinthians 8, notably verses 8-13. Basically it says that while some things are not sins, they can cause someone who does not have the same knowledge or ability to stray from the path, therefore a Christian must refrain from presenting otherwise non-sinful things to those of weak conscious.

According to Mr. Hertz, Buffy is such a thing. I saw a similar argument given about the Harry Potter books, that namely, it was fine to read them, but if a Christian thought they would be tempting, he should avoid them; by the same token, just because someone is reading a Harry Potter book does not being they're going straight to hell.
posted by Snyder at 5:01 PM on September 30, 2002

That's an... interesting interpretation, Snyder. The way his words look to me, what Paul is saying there is that maybe eating meat in an idol's temple doesn't cause you to sin, since you know where you stand with God, but if others who are weaker in the Spirit witness you going into the temple of an idol and having dinner there, they might think that it's okay, and it could cause them to fall short of God's glory.

"Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall."

I'm not saying I agree with Paul. I happen to think he was a stick in the mud. As for this applying to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, well to each their own but to me Todd Hertz is also being a stick in the mud. Still, I have difficulty following your interpretation, Snyder. It's like when a parent tells their child not to do drugs, and then goes up in their own room in private to smoke pot. If you're not practicing what you preach, you're a hypocrite. Christianity does not allow room for moral ambiguity. If one lusts in their heart, they sin. It's way too cut & dried for me. From the perspective of modern Christianity if pot's okay for you, it should be okay for your kid. If you can't in good conscience believe it's good for your kid, then it's not good for you and you shouldn't do it either.

Again we're arguing the difference between Christianity's blanket black & white approach to good & evil versus the rampant moral ambiguity in the tv series Buffy. As season seven continues forward, I believe Joss Whedon's writing team is going to eventually throw all this into sharp relief. "It's not about right or wrong. It's about power."

Speaking of sinful pleasure, don't click on the next link unless you want the second episode of Buffy for this season spoiled for you. Lest you be tempted to eat meat at the idol's temple. *smirk*
posted by ZachsMind at 5:45 PM on September 30, 2002

I'm not saying I agree with Paul. I happen to think he was a stick in the mud.

Hold on there, ZachsMind, on what basis do you call the Bible's most prolific messenger a stick in the mud? Am I actually to believe that you find the announcement of the arrival of the Dispensation of Grace boring and/or limiting? And if so, than who is the life of your biblical party?

Now I'm no theologian, but I do understand that Paul's message has fascinated and enlightened for, oh, about the last two thousand years. Frankly, I don't see how, after knowing only the unattainable doctrine of works, or possibly knowing no doctrine at all, a person alive in Paul's time could possibly fail to be excited by his teachings. And while I do agree that his epistles are not necessarily the most exciting books, at least as far as engaging storylines go, I must point out that, overall, the directives he passes on to us are definitely the most liberating in the Bible.

A thorn in the side of some, maybe but most definitely no stick in the mud.
posted by alas at 10:28 PM on September 30, 2002

Paul spent much of the time he was writing those letters to the Romans and the Corinthians and all those other people in the slammer. The Roman Empire was breathing down his neck much of the time. I mean "give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's"? Come on! The guy was in their jail! He knew they were reading his mail. What else was he gonna say?

Now I am well aware the rest of the Christian world takes everything Paul had to say as gospel without question, but the guy wasn't even one of the original twelve. He used to be a Roman guard. To me, all Paul's talk is apocryphal. I'm well aware I may be alone in this but it's what I believe. I acknowledge you can believe what you want. My beliefs simply disagree with yours. That's all. I'm also well aware that on the day of Judgment, Paul's probably gonna take me out into a back alley in heaven and beat the living crap out of me, but that's what I believe.

I believe the spirit of what God wanted to get across is in the Bible, but I don't take every word literally, and I sometimes question the interpretation of those who do. I try to take the words of the Bible in the historical context from which they were written. Particularly the latter half of the New Testament.

Paul was smart, don't get me wrong. Some of what he had to say has merit, but I don't assume every word of his is synonymous with God's will.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:44 PM on September 30, 2002

Ok, in the interest of clarity, let me present two analogies. Person A is a drinker, of the casual and social variety. He rarely gets drunk and acts intemperate, in general he holds his liquor and it doesn't control him. Person B is an alcoholic. Now, assuming that they both believe that drinking is not in and of itself a sin, then the fact that Person A drinks is fine. If Person B drinks, that is also not a sin, but since it will lead to intemperate and sinful behavior, should be avoided. However, it is a sin for Person A to lead Person B into temptation by drinking in front of him, telling him it's ok to drink, and so forth.

A second example, this one a bit closer to the example given by Paul:Harry Potter. Now Person A reads Harry Potter, enjoys it, finds the positive in it, and it has no effect on his spiritual well-being. Why? Because while magic and witchcraft and whatnot are featured in it, Person A feels that either it is featured in a clearly fictional and fanciful way, or that magic doesn't exist in the first place, (not to get into the competing Christian ideas where one side says that magic is the work of Satan and the other side says it doesn't and never existed,)and reading about it doesn't threaten her immortal soul. Person B refrains from reading it because he feels that either 1) He will be tempted into the occult, or 2) That even if magic doesn't exist, he will become unmindful of God. In any case, simply reading Harry Potter is not the sin, it is how it effects the person afterwards, to sin or not, based on the reading of the book. Person A would be behooved not to place temptation in front of Person B, Person B, by the same token, should not judge Person A by for reading Harry Potter.

How Harry Potter relates to the meat story: While someone who knows that there are no other gods, and is secure in this belief can freely eat the meat, after all, eating meat isn't a sin in and of itself. Someone who is not as secure in their faith, as of yet, and still harbors the possibility of other gods, should not eat the meat, because for them, it is sinful to take in anything that competes with their faith in God, or causes them to doubt themselves or self-damage their spirituality. In the interest of preserving one's brother's spiritual harmony, one should refrain from doing anything or encouraging anything that would make them falter, even if it is not a sin.

I did re-read the article by Mr. Hertz, and he never really says why kids shouldn't watch it, I think, (and I stress think, I could be totally wrong,) that he is a bit tongue in cheek, and, in fact, would restrict viewing of the program only as much as the average non or nonpracticing Christian would, namely, young, pre-teen children, which it is, at least in my mind, clearly inappropriate for, (seeing as Warren got his skin ripped off and all.)

Sorry for the overlong post, just wanted to be clearer, which I see wasn't in my first post.
posted by Snyder at 12:18 AM on October 1, 2002

ZachsMind, I agree with you that historical context is useful when reading the Bible, especially where Paul is concerned. That being said, I also acknowledge that he is easily the most approachable of the biblical authors in this regard, as he is one of the very few whose life stories remain at all extant. But I also feel that, perhaps by knowing so much about Paul and his time, we are in danger of placing his words too much in context?

Hell, just to give more recognition to your idea that he was writing for his life, I once heard a professor of mine comment on exactly the same situation, calling him "the Bible's used car salesman." But when we allow context to cast too much of its shadow on such a timeless text as the Bible (as I believe this professor did), do we not darken even those points beyond context to the point of virtual illegibility?

Now don't take me for a Bible thumper or anything else of the sort; I am nothing more than a born and named Christian with no grounding in any particular denomination. I have just recently found renewed interest in my spiritual health, and am still trying to stretch my mind around many of the more challenging passages in the Bible (of which I Corinthians 8 is certainly party), as well as working to navigate through the seemingly impassable challenges of living as a Christian in this rational, cynical world.

Back on track, it seems that, to most of the faithful, the fact that Paul was not one of the original twelve is what makes his missives all the more relevant. By coming along after Jesus, we necessarily look at his writing as being more subjective than that of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But when we remember exactly how and why he was charged with spreading the Gospel to the Gentiles, we can view his words as being just as objective, if not more so, than those of the four. without looking at the reasons for his even taking up the work (however mystical they may be), we would just spiral off onto some sort of academic, exploratory tangent, sort of like the one you caused tonight in my own mind. At the end of what would no doubt be a long discussion, we would just end up commenting on "the unknowable mysteries of God," and call it done.

Remember, the most important way to read the Bible, at least in my opinion, is first and foremost in the context of faith.

By the way, interesting bio page. You seem to stay true to your self-description. I look forward to thoroughly perusing it someday.
posted by alas at 12:33 AM on October 1, 2002

Upon review, Snyder, that is a very good clarification. I actually feel that I understand the passage better for it. Paul really does a good job here of showing the liberation that comes with a secure faith in Christ, while also reminding the reader of the continued responsibilities that come with that surety.
posted by alas at 12:41 AM on October 1, 2002

It's like when a parent tells their child not to do drugs, and then goes up in their own room in private to smoke pot. If you're not practicing what you preach, you're a hypocrite.

Wow, ZachsMind, that's a pretty narrow view of hypocrisy. So if you have a child and tell her that she should go to bed at 8 p.m., should you also go to bed at 8 p.m.? Or what if you told her not to turn on stove? Or not to go across the street without supervision? And so on and so on. "If you're not practicing what you preach, you're a hypocrite." It depends on what and why you're preaching.
posted by jacknose at 7:09 AM on October 1, 2002

In answer to your question, Jacknose, YES. If it's good for the goose it should be good for the gander. One of the many reasons why young people are upset and rebel is because there's no logic in their environment. They're given rules and regulations to follow that no one around them has to adhere to. It's like being punished for doing nothing. Not having freedoms and being given absolutely no reason why. As adults, of course we understand why. They need education. They need structure. They need to physically get enough sleep so they can wake up and go to school. We need to protect them from dangers they aren't fully aware of. We create these rules for young people out of common sense. At least, most of them are forged in common sense but some of them get distorted along the way. The intent is sincere, but the execution of that intent is sometimes lacking in common sense.

We bog young people down with rules because we love them, but then we don't adhere to our own advice because we consider ourselves superior. Then we act surprised when they rebel? HOW DARE WE. Next time you see a cop car turn on his lights briefly just to run a red light while you still sit there in the traffic, you think about the rules we lay down for young people and how we don't take our own advice. Tell me what's right about that.

I have a pretty narrow view of hypocrisy. It's a pretty narrowly defined word. Not a lot of room for subjectivity there. It's so narrow, I'm included in the number. I don't think a human being can exist in today's society without being a hypocrite. The secret is to admit it and accept it, then quit trying to expect other people to be so damn perfect. Again, to quote from the Buffy series (and perhaps paraphasing Nietzsche) It's not about right or wrong. It's about power. It's about control of your own destiny and your own choices in life, and whether or not other people are taking that control away from you. Control is power.

People who go around accusing others of wrongdoing and then commiting wrongs themselves -- that's what I find frustrating. Again. Moral ambiguity. Christianity paints everything in monochrome and that's simply not how things are. It's one of the things I find appealing about the Buffy tv series, and one of the things I find unappealing about many parts of the Bible.

"Remember, the most important way to read the Bible, at least in my opinion, is first and foremost in the context of faith."

Actually the only real true way to read the Bible is to go back in time several hundred years, armed with a trusted mind trained in extensive knowledge of all the now mostly dead languages (hebrew, greek, latin, etc) and then sneak into the Roman Catholic Church and do intensive study of the original manuscripts before the Church lobotomized and edited it for public consumption. There's a place in the Bible that curses anyone who altered a word of the Holy Word of God. Whosoever did so would suffer some kinda terrible hardship for long periods of time and blah blah. However, I've never seen proof that this was not done. The bible's been tainted by Man. The spirit of God's message is still in there, but not the word. I have faith in God, but have never had faith in the Roman Catholic Church and never will. When one puts faith in an organization that is run by men but claims to be run by God, you give those men your power, and it's all about power.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:17 AM on October 1, 2002

Granted, we're all hypocrites, and much, if not all of life, is related to power in one way or another--but don't you think there is a difference between instructing others to avoid something because of the state or stage of their life and instructing others to avoid something because you claim that it is evil to do so? The former is about helping someone out; the latter is about strict morality. To claim the latter and then commit the act yourself would be hypocritical. To claim the former and then commit the act yourself would be to realize that you and the other person are at different stages of life. I'm not sure if that is hypocritical. Hypocrisy involves a certain morality. The aforementioned passage seems to be primarily about considering the stage of someone else's faith.
posted by jacknose at 12:01 PM on October 1, 2002

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