August 27, 2003
Note To Self: Religion Freaky
by Daniel Erenberg
Joss Whedon has said time and time again that he is an atheist and that he tries not to let his lack of religious belief infiltrate his television shows. However, he’s been attacked more than once by righteous political catholic organizations that object to the ways he does use religion in his shows.
Most recently Whedon was attacked for allowing an episode of Buffy to air the week of Easter that featured Buffy fighting an evil Catholic priest that thought women to be dirty creatures. There is perhaps more than a little subtext there, but earlier that same season he put a Preacher character in Firefly that was a devout Catholic priest. These days viewers aren’t allowed to see more than one side of a coin, and when a visionary like Joss Whedon tries to expand the minds of viewers, he’s attacked by the same people that spanked radio jockeys Opie + Anthony for what two people did in a church on their show.
“But wait”, you might say. “I thought Joss says that he tries not to include religion in his shows”. You’re right. He does say that, but religion has been at some sort of forefront in society for millennia at this point, and anyone with a mind like Joss’s is bound to include at least a slight bit of religion in their work.
For instance, from day one on Buffy we’ve known that Willow is a devout Jew. This was confirmed in season three’s “Amends” (written and directed by Joss) when Willow decries Buffy and Xander for repeatedly asking her what she’s doing on Christmas.
Buffy: "What are you doing for Christmas?"
Willow: "Being Jewish. Remember people? Not everybody worships Santa."
And there was that immortal line that I ripped the title of this article from. I think it was at the end of “The Pack” when Buffy quipped “Note to self: religion freaky” and walked off screen. (I could be wrong about the episode, but the point stands).
Then there was the choice to set in place the fact that there are many more than one God in the universe, which I’m sure pissed off many a conservative. The first God we were introduced to was Glory, an evil God that wanted to merge a horrible demon dimension with the world that we live in for her own self-gain. Then we were introduced to Osirus, the Egyptian God of Death who turned out to be wrathful and vengeful and put snakes in Willow’s ears or some odd thing. Osirus also returned at the beginning of Marti Noxon’s beautiful “Villains” when Willow tried to resurrect Tara to no avail. Also, this year on Angel we were introduced to the Goddess-like being Jasmine that turned the World upside down with her powers. She was painted in quite beautiful shades of gray. On the one hand she was eating people, but on the other hand she was doing it to save the world from corruption, greed, and hatred.
The final straw for the Catholic League was the introduction of Caleb at the start of Drew Goddard’s “Dirty Girls”, the aforementioned episode that aired the week of Easter. In this episode, a Catholic Priest was introduced terrorizing a young girl and left off at the end of the episode pushing Xander’s eyes into the back of his head. All on Easter.
You can see why this might piss off the Catholic League, I suppose, but why not take a look at something like Firefly which had a realistic portrayal of two sides of a religious coin by having the ship’s Preacher repeatedly give reassuring advice and anecdotes from the Bible all during a future hell-like existence. His faith never strayed once. Then there are some of the other members of the crew like Mal or Jayne that realistically naysayed everything he said.
In case you might be wondering, I myself am an atheist (I know, shock and horror). And for those of you that tell me constantly that my lips are planted firmly on Joss Whedon’s ass, well, you’re right, but that’s not why I’m an atheist. That’s a story for another time and another place though.
If I may quote from Christianity Today Magazine’s short piece called “Buffy’s Religion”: Like her television show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, actress Sarah Michelle Gellar's personal spirituality borrows from a hodgepodge of religions. "I consider myself a spiritual person," she told Scotland's Daily Record. "I believe in an idea of God, although it's my own personal ideal. I find most religions interesting, and I've been to every kind of denomination: Catholic, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist. I've taken bits from everything and customized it." But Gellar also did her homework, telling Rolling Stone that she read through the Bible in 1999. Two actors reportedly have become Christians while working on the show, but its emphasis on witchcraft and other issues have kept it at the top of many Christians' "Must Flee TV" lists.
A good point is made at the end: Witchcraft. Do you think witchcraft might have something to do with the way religious organizations constantly call Buffy amoral and bad for the minds of the youth of America? I think they may have something here. Witchcraft is used a lot on Buffy, and as we know from the Salem Witch Burnings of the 1500’s (used as metaphor in Janey Espenson’s “Gingerbread”), the Christians do not enjoy the witchcraft.
For whatever the reason, Joss Whedon is hated among conservatives everywhere in large part due to his religious beliefs. In fact, Angel once again made the Parent Television Council’s list of worst shows this week. Is it because of Jasmine? I’m betting on it.