Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Hero of Canton

This isn't the first post I had in mind.

It seems wrong in some way to start a Catholic blog on typology and allegory with Firefly. After all, the creator, Joss Whedon, doesn't believe in the "sky bully". But, then, maybe that makes one of his episodes a very right way to start.

To paraphrase C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, when faced with the Truth of Christ, you must reject Him as a madman or a liar, if you do not accept Him as God. An atheist like Whedon rejects Christ (whether as liar or lunatic, I don't know), but that doesn't change the reality - which of those choices is true. Jesus is not my truth, a truth, or one possible truth; Jesus is the Truth (John 14:6). Wherever there is truth, there is Him. That must, then, hold true not just for C. S. Lewis' allegory of Christ in Aslan but for Whedon's space-western.

Early in the episode "Jaynestown", River is "fixing" Shepherd Book's Bible because it contains contradictions. ("Noah's ark is a problem," she declares.) In the preacher's response, we see less the response of a man of God but a reflection of how some atheists view Christian belief. "You don't fix the Bible," he explains. "Its not about making sense. It's about believing in something, and letting that belief be real enough to change your life. It's about faith. You don't fix faith, River, it fixes you." It's about believing in something that doesn't make sense. It's about believing because it will fix you - because you will get something out of it. Believing those "contradictions" makes it easier to make moral choices, fills you with hope and positive feelings, and so on. Belief is one means to the end of living a good life.

But then something happens.

In this episode, a young "mudder" - a poor, working class boy - takes a bullet for one of the crew. The crewman, Jayne, is a hired gun and a thief, if not worse. The innocent boy dies and the criminal lives, and he ends the episode wondering about it.

"Don't make no sense. What.. why the hell'd that mudder have to go and do that for Mal? Jumping in front of that shotgun blast. Hell, there weren't one of them understood what happened out there.... I don't know why that eats at me so."

The Captain tells him that "it ain't about you, Jayne. It's about what they need." But that isn't it. Jayne thinks about that answer and, after a few moments, still mutters, "It don't make no sense."

It isn't about what they need; it's very much about you, Jayne. That's why it's eating at you. It's about each of us. That young, dirty boy from a backwater town doesn't know anything about me. He doesn't know how bad I really am. How dare he do that. Who is he to make that decision, to think he can take my place. Who am I that he should die for me?


EegahInc said...

Hi Joe, I just found your blog through the Catholic Media Promotion Day event and I'm glad I did.

I'm actually kind of a newbie to Firefly and just streamed this episode last week. I think you've nailed it. Whedon always strikes me as an atheist desperately resisting the call of religion because it's just too messy. He loves it, but has to rationalize it. At least hat's the way it seems to me.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comment - and my apologies for completely missing it! Joss has made his atheism pretty clear in interviews, both on video and in print. But you make an interesting point. He does seem to tap religious ideas - especially Catholic principles - quite often. Is he intentionally cherry picking the good bits from what he thinks is bad? Is it all coming out subconsciously?

He spends a lot of time seemingly trying to build a "feminist mythology". The way the slayers open the hellmouth always struck me as somewhat.. menstrual. Yet we still end up with a priest-prophet-king trio in Buffy, Wilow, and Xander, at least to a certain degree.

We still end up with the sacrifice of one man saving all. Spike spends a lot of time brooding about his soul, unsure if its really there or if he wants it. In the end, he finally confesses the truth - that its really there. Spike lives out Job 42:5-6 to the letter.

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