Author: David Kirkham
Mark Noll in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind states:
>By an evangelical “Life in the mind” I mean more the effort to think like a Christian – to think within a specifically Christian framework – across the whole spectrum of modern learning … and the arts. – p.7, 1994.
During a Bible class discussion on the programme, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I was asked, ‘Isn’t only entertainment?’ The questioner assumed entertainment was a neutral entity, which carries no message or agenda. An assumption which should be challenged, not only among the young , but among older viewers of soap operas.
Buffy is part of SC-FI/fantasy TV renaissance. In the early 1970’s there were programmes like Dr Who, Star Trek, The Tomorrow People, Tarot-Ace of Wands and Saphire and Steel. There was then a lull till the mid 1980’s when Star Trek – The Next Generation, Babylon 5 and The X-Files launched a resurgence, both on TV and the cinema. So, where does Buffy fit into this?
In 1992 a film starring Kirsty Swanson, entitled, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was released. It promptly disappeared into oblivion. Its creator, Joss Whedon then developed it into a TV series with Sarah Michelle Gellar in the lead role and was first screened in 1997. Under Whedon’s supervision Buffy has developed into cult viewing. As well as a number of novels, an offshoot series called Angel has developed.
Buffy is part of a lineage. Each generation has one girl in the world who is born with the strength and the skill to hunt and slay vampires and demons. The slayer is found, trained and guided by a Watcher. Buffy is this generation’s slayer.
Buffy faces many opponents. She confronts a series of nasty and powerful witches, vampires, demons and assorted un-dead disturbers of the peace in Sunnydale.
In Season 4, in an episode called, Where the Wild things Are, Buffy and company have to do battle with the spirits of children from the 1950’s who have returned to avenge past abuses. Also in Season 4, in an episode entitled, Primeval, Buffy is forced to stop the possibility of a human/demon hybrid master race.
There are standard themes running through the Seasons. These include possession, murder, Buffy’s struggle with her destiny as a slayer and her relationships with those around her. A key relationship is between Buffy and Angel. Angel, a vampire, who has his soul restored to him because of a gypsy curse, has been responsible for much death and carnage under his previous guise as Angelus. After beginning a sexual relationship with him, she is forced to send him to hell after he reverts to his previous incarnation as Angelus. Angel does return.
Other themes include clairvoyance and telepathy. Also, Willow, one of Buffy’s friends, practises Witchcraft and studies Paganism and Wicca.
The most positive aspect of Buffy is the strength of the relationships between the key characters. Despite each of their failings and periodic disloyalties they remain good friends. They learn to support, protect and encourage each other. Despite being fiction, maybe these are principles we as Christians could emulate.
However, for the evangelical Christian, Buffy does present problems at a number of levels. Initially, there is the glorification and acceptance of violence in the battle against evil. The affirmation of Occult practices and the promotion of Witchcraft in mainstream entertainment can lead young people to look for answers in a cul-de-sac.
The Pagan Federation’s Steve Paine, talking about Buffy and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, is reported as saying,
They are taken as fantasy entertainment. But they do encourage people to think about different forms of spirituality.
Also, the Pagan Federation deals with about 100 youngsters, mainly between 14 to 18 wanting to become witches. The challenge from the Pagan Federation is that as Christians we have failed to satisfy the demand for spirituality in the young. (See BBC News Online, 4 August 2000.)
A subtler problem is the subjectivity of Buffy’s morality. Like many modern heroes, Buffy’s motives may be different from her opponents, but her methods are often similar. In relation to Angel, she is apparently willing to ignore or condone his evil, because of her love for him. In Season 3, throughout the episodes Beauty and the Beasts, Thrill of the Hunt, Band Candy and Revelations, Buffy keeps Angel’s return secret from her friends, even though she suspects him of murder.
In this she simply reflects the subjectivity of modern life. Her actions seem to be based on her flexible preferences of right and wrong, rather than on “…objective moral truths.”
“Christian efforts in the political/social arena are… reactive rather than proactive, largely because we have failed to confront the underlying worldview assumptions.” – Charles Colson, How Now Shall We Live, 2000, pp.318/319.
It is at this level of worldview that Buffy is at its most challenging and serious.
Rupert Giles, Buffy’s Watcher states:
This world is older than any of you know, and contrary to popular mythology, it did not begin in paradise. For untold aeons, demons walked the earth, made it their home… In time… the demons lost their purchase on reality and the way was made.. for man. – Buffy.Com Web Site
This statement openly challenges, God’s Eden, the special creation and fall of man, then his ultimate need for salvation through Christ. As with many religions, Buffy would have us believe Humanity is the only source of their own salvation. Also, Mankind is simply an accident of evolution, or the result of careless demons.
With each sentence God and His Truth are denied. However, our response to this challenge should not simply be reactionary, ban it!
Mark Noll suggests that;
The effort to think like a Christian is rather an effort to take seriously the sovereignty of God over the world he created… over the world he died to redeem… – The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, p.253
As Christians we need to spend time studying and applying God’s Truth, so we can, with wisdom, answer the questions programmes like these fail to answer. Also to tackle the questions people are asking and respond to the challenge that we are failing to satisfy the demand for spirituality among young people.
We also need to pray for and support people who are involved or indeed want to be involved in the Arts. This could result in quality entertainment being developed for TV, cinema or literature that presents a Christian view of the world.