Sunday, June 26, 2011

"One's Constant, one's touchstone."

Book review for "We Want To Believe: Faith and Gospel in The X-Files"

In 2008, a die was cast when Chris Carter publicly admitted that The X-Files was about the search for God. While the comment might have seemed a revelation for some Philes, in hindsight it shouldn’t have been, when you consider that a running theme throughout the series was a general exploration on spirituality and faith. A meditation on the meaning of faith itself. It is hard to access how the Christian / Catholic / Hebrew community views The X-Files. If it is seen as a proponent of the necessity for spirituality. For the most part, to the shows credit, it never seemed to reveal a preference for a certain denomination of faith, nor did it fall into the trappings of prophesy or feeding into the cultural warrior contingent. It also didn’t argue that one had to choose between science or religion. It maintained impartiality in the understanding that both fields were seeking the same objectives, finding truth, but coming at them from different ends. That one could strike a balance between science and religion.

There have been arguments that a lack of spiritual faith leads to a kind of emotional and intellectual bankruptcy. Still, one can’t fault the sentiments of agnostics and atheists when you consider how religious texts have been inverted and perverted to reflect the personal view of the prophesier over a religious text’s actual meaning. Many people might have the impression that many Philes share a agnostic or atheist perspective. Most religious texts aren’t intended to offer up easy answers, beyond the universal truth of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you. Or the Buddhist sentiment on Karma, or the basic law of physics that for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. In the case of the scriptures, the Bible is said to offer universal moral guideposts and examples with how one could strengthen one’s faith.

Books have been written about the Science of The X-Files (Anne Simon), and the Philosophy of The X-Files (Dean Kowalski), but a full rendering on the spiritual aspects of The X-Files had not been explored until recently, which is rather stunning to consider.

One could draw a parallel to the initial reaction to the Harry Potter books in the late 90s by the evangelical movement that had dismissed the books as promoters of witchcraft, with few hardly noticing that R.K. Rowling was following in the tradition of such Inkling writers as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, an assumption that wasn’t contested until scholar John Granger bravely and correctly pointed that out, in what have should have been self-evident.

Scholar and author Amy Donaldson has just tackled the very subject of religion with her first book, "We Want To Believe: Faith and Gospel in The X-Files", published by Cascade books. It is a book that should satisfy those who have held a curiosity about the religious aspects of the series, and the origins of material cited in various episodes. In fairness, for those Philes who were expecting an across-the-board overview of all of the religions cited in the series, they may be disappointed to some degree. Still, the scholarship of the book should make it engrossing for all interested parties.

The entire thesis of the book is spelled out within the introduction, and it is made fairly clear that the focus will be on Christian and Hebrew writings. The issue becomes, does she build a compelling case with her arguments, and is she able to effectively expand on this thesis? I would have to qualify that answer as a ‘yes’. After the major points are spelled out in the introduction, they are expanded in the following chapters: I Want to Believe - Faith: The Evidence if Things Not Seen - Hope: "I Can’t Give Up" – Love: "My Constant, My Touchstone" – The Truth Is Out There – The Way of the Cross: Temptation, Death, and Resurrection. Amy is an excellent writer and there’s a real academic flare to the work that remains fairly accessible. There’s an in-depth appendix of episodes cited with basic production information, as well three indices related to episodes, scripture, and subject.

My only real criticism, and personal disappointment with the book was the absence of any real analysis of Buddhism or Native American shamanism, spiritual venues which were indeed addressed within the context of The X-Files. Then again, the objective of the focus on the memes explored might be to target the Christian publishing market; it’s inconclusive to speculate if that is the case either way.

Amy’s in-depth understanding of the series already places her book ahead of other publications that deal with the spiritual themes of The X-Files. Recommended.

Please check out the Lexicon's exclusive interview with Amy Donaldson, as well as details on an exclusive 30% discount on the book via the Lexicon.


mimic117 said...

Rather than feeling disappointed that other religions weren't covered in this book, I'm hoping that Dr. Donaldson will write a second book to look at those aspects of the show on their own. There's certainly enough material to make it worthwhile and her thorough analysis of Christianity here makes it also desirable.

To the Lexicon: Could we please have a link to the interview at the end of the review? Maybe it's just me (which is always possible) but I haven't been able to locate it yet.

The X-Files Lexicon Blog said...

Hi Mimic, Indeed. The reason why you can't find the link is the interview is ready, but the page is still being built, as soon as it's up, that link will be added, and everyone will know. This has been a catch-22 situation where I felt I should just run the review first, it's easier to edit this page, than to do the reverse with the Lexicon, we try to co-ordinate these situations as best as we can. But all of your points are well taken.

Raj said...

Great stuff, my friend.