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?]


barrett said...

just read your email. Thank you. When things settle down call me. Loved your tiger drawing. Firefly, hmmm, maybe I'm remembering wrong but about a thousand years ago in my Sociology class I learned that if a=b and b=c then a=c is called circular logic and is not necessarily true??

PS: I was very excited a little while ago...ddp left a comment on my blog....the first comment outside yours....

fresca said...

Hi, Barrett!
I wasn't sure what exactly circular resoning is, so I looked it up:
from Wikipedia:
"In logic, begging the question (or circular reasoning) has traditionally described a type of logical fallacy in which the proposition to be proved is assumed implicitly or explicitly in one of the premises.
Begging the question is related to the fallacy known as circular argument, vicious circle or circular reasoning."

So it's not a circuar argument, but you're right that my argument is not necessarily true: I would have to say "in all cases" a = c for the whole thing to work.
And, in fact, it's not true in all cases that "God = love," or, rather that love is ALL God equals, for Christians....
Another part of the definition is that God = sentient being outside ourselves, and that's where I part company with Christians. (Most.)
Thanks for raising the question!

fresca said...

Whoops--sloppy proofreading won't do in logic and math--I meant:
I would have to say "In all cases a = b" (not "c").

jspad said...

I think you'll find Buffy worth it. The first season may seem a bit awkward (they are in high school, after all) but the later seasons are just genius. Questions about good and evil, responsibility, sacrifice, "the rules"...

The payoff is absolutely there if you watch all seven seasons. (No, you don't have to wait til the very end, but the very, very end was deeply satisfying.)

fresca said...

Seven seasons? Yikes! Can I start Buffy the middle, since the first season isn't the best, or do I need that background info?

Rudyinparis said...

This has been nice to chew on during my morning... Is God love? Me, I say no. I remember in my Metaphysics class we were taught the three attributes of God: omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. This imples an entity certainly very different than our idea of love. In this strict definition of God, there is no inclusion of a concept of good or bad. God simply Is. I think I know where your Catholic friend was going with his reasoning, and I feel rather like I'm kicking a bunny rabbit to disagree, but there you have it.

I also remember from Symbolic Logic (which was philosophy 101 and which I failed) that an argument can be true but not valid. Or maybe it was it can be valid but not true. I think the latter. So the "if A = B and B= C then A = C"--I think there may be a real logical explanation for this not necessarily being true, while valid. But like I said, I failed the class.

fresca said...

Hi, R-in-P!

How fun to have such a thoughtful bunny-rabbit-kicking response. Thanks!

The "God is love" definition comes from the New Testament, of course, 1 John 4. It's one of my all-time favorite passages of any religion. Here, from the New International Version:

"God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."

--I just squeaked by in Logic class, so I'm not qualified to judge by those standards, but John is not known for being a literal kind of guy.

I didn't really mean to apply logic to faith.
I always say the Bible is "true" the way poetry is--not in a factual way (necessarily), but in a metaphorical way.

This actually turned up in the "Firefly" episode I watched last night, in which the insane genius girl River takes the preacher's Bible and starts to "fix it" by amending or deleting all the stuff that doesn't make sense.

It's a very funny scene, because of course she has had to write all over the book, since it is a mass of inconsistencies and contradictions, etc.
The preacher stops her and says, "We don't need to fix faith, faith fixes us."

As I've said, I do have faith in the power of Love, I just believe we are the originators of love, not that it comes to us from an outside omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresnt source.

Oy! I'm actually supposed to be finishing my taxes, but I'd far rather go on about this stuff, which I love!

jspad said...

The first season isn't bad, it's just not as good as the later seasons... but I think the later seasons are in part so good because you watch the characters grow into who they are. I would not recommend skipping, I'd watch them all.

It's not like you must watch all seven. Just start and see what you think. I found it to be one of those shows where the payoff was greater if you'd seen them all (that is what Netflix is for!).

Or you could just watch all of Babylon 5, that is only five seasons...

Hope your taxes got done. I filed my state this morning.

bink said...

I think God as love makes much more sense than God as omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. If God is all those great O words, why be such a jerk? But if God is love...well, then God loves us and suffers with us, but isn't really going to do things like stop runaway cars with small babies in the back seat from crashing through a pen of puppies before tumbling over a cliff and plunging into a raging river...which I think an omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence God ought to prevent as a matter of course.

Lisa Spadafora said...

About "Buffy"...I say, ya gotta watch it all, because I saw some random Season 6 eps here and there before we decided to start Netflixing it from the beginning, and while I remembered them down the line, it was completely different to see them in context.

I realize that, as Mrs.12frogs, this doesn't exactly count as verification from an independent source, especially since we burned through all 7 seasons in something like 7 months. (Jenny made me promise to add that we don't have cable, like that would make it seem any less fangirl...)

I was pointed towards your "Humanist Catholic" post the other day, and have been thinking about it a lot, especially the part about loving Catholicism even more than you hate its sins...I can't go to Mass anymore, haven't really managed it **for years**, except for family funerals and on a few visits home, when my mom was singing.

It's not because I'm fed up with the Church's stance on gay folks or women's equality or the AIDS crisis in Africa or the complete lack of courage and imagination evidenced in the failure to follow through with the progress of the Second Vatican Council...I mean, all those things make me crazy and angry and, often, incoherent, but that's not why I don't go.

I don't go because when I do, everything about being there still resonates so deeply and I can't understand it, how I can still ache so much for a place that I've parted company from in every conceivable way. I've looked in other places—Episcopolian, UU, UFMCC—and even had wonderful experiences while there, but it's really just visiting, it's not who I am .

I realize this comment has just gone on (and on), but I did also want to say that I loved what you had to say about not believing in God....I love the Creed, the rhythm and the weight of it, and it doesn't matter to me that I don't believe all the words are literally true, because it's what they mean: here we are, together, looking for light in the darkness, for light in each other, and we promise to try and keep faith with that light, when and where we find it.

Rudyinparis said...

Bink, I think "God, why be such a jerk?" should definitely definitely DEFINITELY be written as a hip-hop song, or a religious treatise or something, anything!

And FWIW, I always get hung up on the omnipotence part--the all-powerful and the problems of God's jerkiness that we're led to. Omniscience and omnipresence can be pretty passive--but if you're all powerful, then what the hell are you doing? Get up off your arse, God!

fresca said...

Wow! What a wonderful wealth of comments!

First off, please, nobody tell me, already prone to fangirldom, about any more wonderful TV series that I now have to spend my life catching up watching!
Like "Babylon 5."
(No, thanks really. I'll look into it.)
I haven't had a TV for many years so I have a huge backlog to catch up on on Netflix.
I am willing! But it's going to take me a while.

Anyway, I have now put Buffy #1 on my Netflix queue to arrive once I'm done with "Firefly," which is mercifully only 14 episodes and one movie.

***QUESTION: Should I watch the Buffy movie?

2. I can't believe in no God what hurts puppies. And that's final.
I eagerly await Bink & R's release of the Top Hit, "God, Why Be Such a Jerk?" I'm sure no animals will be hurt in its production (except the ones that get eaten for lunch.)

3. Lisa: This is the first time I got all teared up reading a comment.
You captured perfectly what I believe in:
"Here we are, together, looking for light in the darkness, for light in each other, and we promise to try and keep faith with that light, when and where we find it."
Thank you.
Yeah...that ache.
When I was in the Church, I noticed how often people mentioned weeping in church---it seems to touch some tender longing in some of us, even as we become incoherent with rage about the Church's inanity. So I started to ask people, "Do you weep in church?" and everyone I asked said yes.
I don't know... I believe there's something precious in the part of us that weeps-- (a favorite Bible verse: Jesus wept. John 11:35)-- and so of course I miss that place where I could freely express it.

Lady Wolf said...

Should you watch the Buffy movie?
The one that Josh Whedon made before he got all the bits correct for the tv-series?

Well, no.
Really no.

You may watch it after you've seen the entire series.
Really, don't watch it before you see the series.

I mean it.

He didn't have the characters right, or the settings, or basically anything. The movie is more like a rough draft to show people his intentions with the tv series, saying "it will be something like this, only much, much better, honestly!"

It is however, a nice, tacky fun to look at afterwards and shudder over lost oppertunities to the world of mediocre teen high school tv.

But I think you should rather see Angel, the spin-off series from Buffy. Starring David Boreanaz as gorgous gloomy doomy Angel, the vampire with his soul painfully restored (and Buffy's love interest).

Oh well, I've ranted a bit more than I planned to do.
So, I'll just stop here.


fresca said...

Thanks, Lady Wolf--never hesitate to "rant" on my blog! I will definitely take your advice about waiting to watch the movie. I have the first "Buffy" in my Netflix queue, just waiting for me to finish up "Firefly."
Then give "Angel" a try too... So many series, so little time. : )