Sunday, April 13, 2008
"Firefly" (Catholics without God)
Well now, that's more like it.
I've been casting about for a follow-up to classic Star Trek and not coming up with much. Some people have recommended the continuing Trek series to me. Each is interesting in its way, but none have the raunchy, rambunctious energy I love in the original.
I started to notice, however, that other people pointed me in a different direction. Toward Buffy.
Buffy?!? I thought. Buffy, the Vampire Slayer? You've got to be kidding.
Then a couple guys told me, yes Buffy, but since you like outer space, maybe you should start with the series Firefly, created in 2002 by Joss Whedon, the same guy who did Buffy.
Is it significant that the two men who recommended Firefly are Catholics? In fact, one is a priest.
I don't know, but after watching the first 5 of 14 episodes, I can say it's a very Catholic show. Mal ("evil"), short for Malcom, Reynolds (above left, looking rather more like Sydney Carton than he does on TV) is the show's hero. Whedon establishes in the first few minutes of the show's pilot that Mal is Catholic, when he kisses the crucifix he wears. (If there are others besides Catholics who do this, you can assign me penance for faulty assumptions). And a few minutes later, Mal loses his faith when everything he loves is ripped from him.
So he's a Catholic without God.
Like me. (But different.)
Briefly, Firefly is a space western, set 500 years in the future. Malcolm Reynolds starts out as a brave rebel soldier on the losing side of a civil war against a soulless government conglomeration, the Alliance.
Six years later, we find him disillusioned, captaining a beat-up "firefly-class" spaceship (right, its rear lights up like a lightning bug) with his ragged band of misfits. They scrape a living out of semi-legal activities on the border planets, avoiding both the Halliburton-like Alliance and cannibalistic "reavers," who seem to be extreme mutations of the murderous scroungers of the American civil war era.
I've avoided learning too much about the series yet because I want to experience it fresh, but I did find out that Whedon's creation was inspired by him reading about the American civil war and also about Jewish resistance fighters during WWII.
Captain Reynolds is a bit like Huckleberry Finn might have become, after Mark Twain has him light out for Western lands. Except the captain's Catholic, even if he has lost his faith. So unlike Shane, the Man with No Name (Clint Eastwood's character in the spaghetti westerns), and other Western heroes, Mal doesn't go it alone, he is loyal unto death to his faith community, his crew. He doesn't have faith in God, much less the government, but he has faith in a code of human decency, like not stealing medicine from sick people and not betraying your friends. (The crew varies in their beliefs, and one of them is a preacher.)
I wrote recently about being a Catholic who doesn't believe in God, in "Humanist Catholic". I get the sense that Mal Reynolds doesn't not-believe in God so much as he denies God because he's angry and disgusted; but it's a related thing. So it fascinates me to watch this show that wrestles with the question of how to be good without God.
Unlike in certain fundamentalist religions, you can function as a Catholic to a large extent whether you believe in God or not. If a fundamentalist believes you are saved by faith in God alone (alone!), then for you to deny God is a very big deal.
Catholics, however, believe you are saved by works and by faith, and that in fact the two are more or less inextricably combined.
A Catholic friend recently insisted, for instance, that basically I do believe in God, even though I say I don't, because I believe in what Jesus said:
Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the vulnerable... and, "Whatever you do for the least of mine, you do for me." (cf. Matthew 25)
I accept that, so far as it goes. It's a basic syllogism:
If a = b; and b = c; then a = c.
So if God is love (1 John 4:7-21); and I believe in love; then I believe in God.
I'll go that far, but that's far from all that most Catholics and other Christians mean by "God."
Still, that definition is the heart of the matter, and as bitter and bad as Captain Reynolds has become, Firefly, at least so far I've seen, is about him trying to hold onto love in a rotten universe.
All the while swaggering about in tight pants, like Capt. Kirk, breaking all the rules.
So, now I guess I have to try Buffy.
[Yikes, 12 frogs left a comment saying Buffy's 7 seasons long--does anyone have an opinion on where I should start? Or do I have to watch from the beginning?]