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August 30 2007

The Spiritual Side of the Slayer. David Lavery leads a seminar on religious themes in BtVS.

"Buffy's themes are all spiritual," Lavery said. "Redemption, love, sacrifice, heroism, 'chosen' families (biological ones in Buffy almost never work), life and death."

Mrs. Haunt and I have been to every Slayage Conference to date and have every intention of attending the one next year as well, but sadly we rarely have the time or money to make it to all the "smaller" events like this one. I would love to go to this, but I guess I'll have to rely on the kindness of my fellow Whedonists that DO make it to let me know how it goes.
Great article. I wonder if anyone has counted how many books have been written about the show. There is a bundle.

I too wish I could go to the conference. Sounds really interesting.
I think you could make a pretty decent case for Buffy having quite a few religious themes (and it certainly uses a lot of religious symbolism) but I think you could also make a case for many of those themes being more broadly metaphysical too. As with many things, it's open to interpretation.

(religion has taken a lot of issues under its umbrella that aren't necessarily specifically religious in nature IMO - or rather only are if you're religious to begin with ;)

And it raises a question I wonder about, namely is all spirituality religious in nature (even if it's not specifically Judeo-Christian, Muslim, Hindu etc.) ?
I wonder if anyone has counted how many books have been written about the show. There is a bundle.


A bundle that for the most part is sitting in my bookshelf at home. ;)

I've always found the different essays written about the Jossverse very fascinating. There's some arguements that are so far off to me, they're pathetic. But for the most part, they're good reads. One day I'll actally get around to attending the Slayage conference...
Interesting, and not inappropriate, that this fellow happens to be an English professor, rather than any sort of religion professor. I was going to grumble about the misappropriation of the term 'religious' vs. 'spiritual' but the former term is used in the article summary rather than the original article.

Frankly, Buffy's *religious* side is quite lacking. Scrach that: I've never seen anything Joss has done which dealt in a meaningful way with religion. Compare JMS's Babylon 5 Episode "Believers"--it's not that Atheists can't tell stories which have meaningful religious themes, rather, it's a weak point in Joss' body of work to date.
I wonder if he's deliberately stayed non-committal jclemens (Buffy's famous "Nothing solid" joke/response to the God question) ? Seems like it might be difficult to talk in any non-trivial way about religion without making it clear what you think of it (and if you're an atheist that's presumably unlikely to be very favourable - nor unbiased either).

Out of genuine curiosity, what would you consider a meaningful treatment which is also specifically religious rather than "just" philosophy in a cassock ?

(can't remember "Believers" so sorry if the answer's in there ;)
I was going to grumble about the misappropriation of the term 'religious' vs. 'spiritual' but the former term is used in the article summary rather than the original article.


On Saturday, in fact, a seminar will explore the religious themes in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the popular 1997-2003 TV series about a young woman who fights forces of evil.


I think it's possible to be religious but not spiritual, and to be spiritual but not religious, and I suspect that most people who are either are both. The terms aren't identical but there's overlap.

I would love to hear from Joss sometime if he feels like it on the religious aspect of his "religion of narrative." I've been guessing that he sees storytelling and story-erm-receiving as rituals. Drama, it is widely believed, grew out of religious ritual. In Buffy he not only created a character who fights evil, but a TV show that (I'm guessing) was designed to fight the evil of sexism. So, possibly: a ritual with a spiritual aim, or multiple spiritual aims.

[ edited by Pointy on 2007-08-30 18:13 ]
And it raises a question I wonder about, namely is all spirituality religious in nature (even if it's not specifically Judeo-Christian, Muslim, Hindu etc.) ?


Beats me. I tend to think of the religious side of things as the communal practices--the shared holy days, rituals, scriptures, and to think of the spiritual side as the effect these things have on you internally--not just on how you feel, but how you see your place in existence and what you think your moral/ethical obligations are. But that's just one religious view.

ETA: The Saje question I was actually trying to answer. Or trying to express my inability to answer.

[ edited by Pointy on 2007-08-30 17:25 ]
And it raises a question I wonder about, namely is all spirituality religious in nature (even if it's not specifically Judeo-Christian, Muslim, Hindu etc.)?

Well, Saje, I think it depends mightily on how one defines the terms. I would guess that everybody has a slightly different definition of what they consider religion. My perspective, based on having been an anthropology major particularly interested in religion, is that I would define religion as being concerned with deity/deities and perhaps also cosmology, the origins of the universe, while spirituality is concerned more with the unseen and relationships to it, without necessarily presupposing a deity. Obviously, of course, there is huge overlap.

Then there is the third element of ethics/morality. Does supposing a deity or deities necessarily suggest that the ethical good flows from this/these beings? In Judeo-Christian theology, absolutely, but what about in say Greco-Roman theology? Placating the gods may be a smart idea, but does following their strictures make you a "good" person, in the same sense that following the Ten Commandments presumably does in our conception? The question then being, is all religion necessarily moral in nature?
Saje,

Actually, it's possible to tell a story in a "religious" world without constructing that world in the author's own religious viewpoint. Arthur C. Clarke's "The Nine Billion Names of God" is a classic (although somewhat dated) example of this in sci fi. Committing to an "abnormal" religious perspective makes a great setup for some very poignant short stories, (cf. Asimov's "Nightfall" as well)but it is difficult to sustain over the long term, so I don't fault Joss for not wanting to go there.

Here's an illustrative question of BtVS's religious weaknesses, though: Why do crosses harm all vampires? Other fantasy treatmens have come up with other solutions, such as 1) the holy symbol of the vampire's own prior religion having that effect, or 2) any holy symbol (or perhaps only of a good deity) having the same effect. Buffy did neither of those. It just took the extant mythology and implemented it, unexplained. Yet, a cross being universally harmful to vampires only makes sense in a world where the Crucifixion (presumably of Jesus) is *the* religious event. Thus, the world begs a substantive engagement with religion, but Joss doesn't go there. There are multiple hells, multiple heavens, and even The First is just one of many demonic influences. But then, this is the same world where Angel can't give CPR but CAN sing Manilow....

Believers is a great piece of Sci Fi. I could summarize it, with or without a spoiler tag, in a scant few lines, but it wouldn't do it justice. The IMDB Synopsis says "An alien family refuses surgery to save their dying child"--but that's just the setup. If you've got Netflix, you can get Babylon 5, Season 1, Disc 3 separately and watch it standalone.
There's plenty of religious stuff in the Jossverse...Mal kissing the cross during the Browncoats last stand, the whole issue of holy water and crosses as anathema to vampires, Riley is a regular church-goer, violence against nuns is especially sickening to Angel (no doubt due to them being his specialty as Angelus), the entire notion of the soul, Buffy's perfect, Christ-like sacrifice in The Gift (right down to her body becoming a cross as she saves the world), and on and on and on.

There are also marvelous inversions of religious themes...my wife and I were astonished by Buffy's "confession" (to Tara, about Spike)...unlike Catholics, who go to confession to atone and be forgiven for wrongdoing, Buffy desperately needs to be assured of precisely the opposite--that there's something fundamentally wrong with her...when Tara concludes otherwise, she's devastated. Literally on her knees, she begs *not* to be forgiven. Just brilliant.
Spirituality deals with the supernatural, while religion deals specifically with the Divine--be it Tao, God, or whatever other name you attach to it.

So who deals with The Divine in Buffy? Witches, perhaps. But I'm rather pressed to find a difference between any of the nominally divine entities Willow calls on, and your basic demon-of-the-week. The definitional differentiation betweem magic and religion is that magic is mechanistic manipulation of the supernatural, while religion requires divine intervention, and hence conscious approval by the divine. Willow's failed attempt to bring Tara back is the only thing that comes to mind that smacks of conscious divine refusal to intervene. Yet, Willow has no ongoing god/follower relationship with Osiris or any other entity--there's no conduct obligations, no sacrifices (outside spell components), no prayers (again, outside of spell incantations) so it's still pretty tenuous to call that a religious instance.
Fascinating article. Thanks for posting it.

I wonder if Joss uses Western religious imagery because he knows most of his audience, no matter what they do or do not believe, will recognize the symbols and thus they make great metaphors.

Spike's draping himself on the cross foreshadowed both his death and his part in saving the world and Joss knew most of the fans would make the connection, even if they themselves had no Christian beliefs.
Chris inVirginia,

Yes, there's tons of things with religious overtones in the Buffyverse--or the 'verse for that matter--but I see them as incomplete and non-substantial engagements. "Look! A nun! A cross!" doesn't seem like substantive engagement to me, any more than shows with female characters necessarily deal with feminism.

If Buffy lives in a world where God is real AND magic works, where is He? Where are the sincere religious people who fight the good fight? Angel's TPTB are an obvious substitute for a remote but interested God, but when all manner of demons and whatnot manifest on earth with impunity, it would be reasonable to expect that angelic beings might manifest to help, wouldn't it?

Granted that confession has acquired religious overtones, especially in its Roman Catholic incarnation. Yet stripped of the absolution/penance angle, it's really just a psychological act, isn't it?
Crosses repel vampires because crosses repel vampires.

While it would have been reasonable to ask in-character (especially when Willow was covertly using them to keep Angel out) that would mean someone having to answer, and offering no explanation is likely to annoy less people than offering any one explanation.
I'm from the school of thought that thinks that Joss and co made it up as they went along when it came to religion and the supernatural. I really don't think there was any overall coherent stragegy or agenda. They just cherry picked what they wanted from various religions and mythologies. If it worked it worked, if it didn't they moved on and tried something else.
Simon,

I'm in agreement that that's most likely how it worked out: The Dungeons and Dragons approach to the Divine. :-) Thus, we have a show that deals with the supernatural... that doesn't have a well thought out and consistent view of religion. Still is a good story, but teen horror/angst/coming-of-age that goes on for any length of time is going to start showing some inconsistencies there, as I contend Buffy does. Doesn't mean it's not good, just means that's not been a point of emphasis.

Craig Oxbrow,

So why do crosses repel vampires, instead of bunnies? Actually, that's two good questions in one: Why don't crosses repel bunnies, and why don't bunnies repel vampires? :-)

If there was another answer besides "That's just the way it works" I'd love to hear it. I'm pretty sure there isn't one, but the good folks on this site find astounding things in obscure (well, to me anyways...) interviews and whatnot.
I agree with Simon on the cherry-picking of various religions and with Craig Oxbrow about the need for a non-explanation. What worked, worked, and it worked wonderfully well

And, jclemens, confession (or, more accurately, reconciliation) hasn't just "acquired religious overtones" in the Catholic church; it's one of the seven sacraments. There's no stripping "of the absolution/penance angle" possible for Catholics. It's part and parcel of the whole thing, an integral piece of being Catholic.
Hmmm, I kind of got the idea that crosses worked against vampires in a sort of psychosomatic way, that is, it worked because of the vamps own belief that crosses harmed them, which they could learn to overcome, and was based on the history of the Church fighting vampires. On the other hand, holy water worked even when the vamp didn't know it was holy water, as we saw in "Helpless."

So question, would crosses have worked against vampires *before* the Crucifixion?

Edited for spelling.

[ edited by barboo on 2007-08-30 19:03 ]
Presumably not barboo since crosses weren't a religious symbol (or were they ?) before the crucifixion and so would have carried no weight. Another point of course is that cross shapes occur all over the place (e.g. in furniture, architecture etc.) and yet it's seemingly only when one's brandished (and held in a certain orientation) that it's a problem for a vampire.

Actually, it's possible to tell a story in a "religious" world without constructing that world in the author's own religious viewpoint.

Yeah I see that jclemens and agree up to a point, that point being when you move beyond a simple "What if ?" scenario as in TNBNoG and actually start to ask non-trivial questions (and even hairier, maybe supply non-trivial "answers") like what's religion for OR what's the nature of a universe that actually has God in it OR are morality and absolute divine authority intrinsically linked OR should we ever privilege belief over objective fact and if not what does that mean for faith ?

I think it's hard to do these questions justice without showing your colours, I mean just asking them in the first place (without resorting to "mysterious ways" hand-waving) is admitting religion to rational enquiry which is not a view all religious people support, nevermind presenting the questions and any possible answers in a balanced light.

Where are the sincere religious people who fight the good fight?

I always imagined that the Watcher's Council may have started in or been intimately involved with a religion but gradually moved away from it as Western Europe became more secular. IMO it's really hard to "encode" all the information Watchers need and keep it active (i.e. not sliding into myth) for such a long time without a religious framework to preserve it (look at the way monasteries preserved knowledge throughout the dark ages for instance - albeit a church sanctioned version). It's a good question though, I always thought the church, having accepted demons and so on for most of its history, should have had some sort of demon fighting presence in the Buffyverse.

I would guess that everybody has a slightly different definition of what they consider religion.

Y'see to me, spiritual experiences may not have an overtly religious component but I suspect they appeal to the same part of the brain. I'd love to know if there've been fMRI scans done of non-believers having what they describe as a spiritual experience and whether the same parts of the brain "light up" in religious people having same.

... and why don't bunnies repel vampires? :-)

C'mon, they're so fluffy, who doesn't like bunnies ? Only the crazy ones ;).

The stuff with Adam was interesting in that regard. After Adam "tutored" them, his vamp posse went to a church and overcame their seemingly inherent fear of God's house. I wonder if a cross would still have burned them though ? I also wonder about atheists that became vampires. And I seem to remember a story/film wherein Jewish vampires reacted to the Star of David the same way Christian vampires reacted to the cross. And then there's the "Salem's Lot" version wherein it's faith that counts and crosses are just symbols of that faith. Don't wave one if you don't believe, else yer screwed, so in that sence "cherry picking" is spot on.
In Roman Polanski's "The Fearless Vampire Killers," there's a scene where a victim holds up a cross against a Jewish-born vampire who replies "Oy, have you got the wrong vampire" or something to that effect. I've never seen "Salen's Lot" but I do seem to remember in some movie the same dynamic, that the cross only worked if the person holding the cross was a believer. (Maybe for me, it would have to be a copy of the U.S. Constitution).
Yes, there's tons of things with religious overtones in the Buffyverse--or the 'verse for that matter--but I see them as incomplete and non-substantial engagements.


It seems to me that each 'verse addresses religion differently.

As far as I can tell, the Buffyverse writers weren't very interested in religion. They use religious symbolism often, and to good effect: but none of the characters are religious. Riley mentions going to church (once). Willow mentions being Jewish, and thus not celebrating Christmas (twice, if memory serves). But that's about all we get, in the whole seven years. There isn't a single character who sees religion as an important part of who they are. (Well, unless you count Ethan. ;-)

The Angel-verse, though, had more to say about religion--the most prominent example being Cordelia's relationship with the PTB, especially by Season 3. She believes in specific, if vague, deities, and believes it's important to carry out their will. There's also Season 4, which focuses a lot on free will v. predetermination--philosophical issues, of course, but also religious ones. And addressed here in the religious context of Jasmine.

Firefly, much more than the others, intentionally explores religious themes from the beginning. Mal is a former Christian who feels betrayed by God (as well as by his military superiors); Book is a devout Christian (I think), who struggles to reconcile his faith with life on Serenity; and Inara is also religious, and prays regularly for Mal. (I would have loved to see these themes explored over several years . . . *weep*.)

So, I'd say Firefly, at least, did have a "substantial engagement" with religion.

It just died before they could get married. :-P
" There isn't a single character who sees religion as an important part of who they are."

Riley is revealed to be a regular church-goer in Season 4.
Saje,

I guess part of where I'm coming from is that vampires are inherently spiritual creatures--albeit typically portrayed as soulless (hence begging the question of what a soul is and does) and evil (again, begging the question of what "good" is and does). Adding in crosses (and you and Barboo both made excellent points on that score), and they become inexorably entwined with Christianity. Hindsight is always 20/20, but it seems like anyone who has a plan to tell stories about vampires over an extended period of time would be very well served by having a consistent view of how they fit into the world's religions, which we all seem to agree BtVS somewhat lacked.

Yes, if you pick a perspective and make it explicit, you WILL lose some people. But Joss never shied away from making people weep tears of anguish or joy, did he? Examples abound of both. It's just that the "not caring" bit of semi-conscious neutrality on the matter strikes me (as someone who cares about religion) as among the largest weaknesses in the Buffyverse.

Chris inVirginia,

If you look at what you brought up as an example of "confession," rather than the sacrament, then I stand by my assertion--not that confession is only psychology plus ritual, but that what you descibed as an example of a confession-like event in the Buffyverse was, in fact, more psychological than sacramental.

Kyrumption,

I've got a bunch of problems with Book. He's a nice character, but he's a rather poor example of a Christian minister. He's far closer to the folks I know and love than, say, Caleb is (mixing 'verses here, sorry), but he still seems a lot more like a foil for the selfishness of the rest of the crew than he is a Christian minister. I've commented before about how his "kneecaps" line in War Stories makes me cringe. It's not that he's an evil, caricatured figure to be reviled like the old woman in Where the Wild Things Are (again with the 'verse mixing), but he just comes across as a carboard cutout of a Christian minister to me.
Religions don't necessarily involve a belief in a deity or deities. I'm a Unitarian Universalist, a denomination that involved the merger of two older churches that were both once Christian. Our beliefs include supporting people in their search for truth, but we reject dogma. Atheists can be UUs.
Some people believe in an immanent power, such as a divine spark in everyone and everything. Some believe in a force that rolls through all things, as Wordsworth expressed in "Tintern Abbey."
In this belief system, the power/force/divinity is not above us. It is not a higher power that tells us what to do or demands our worship.
jclemens, I DID call it an inversion. Of course it was psychological. Existential, even. It was obviously meant to be a "confession-like moment", which, for us, made it especially devastating...Buffy's further descent into hell on earth as she realizes she's fully accountable for loving (physically, at least) a monster, and there's no external excuse for it.
I'm from the school of thought that thinks that Joss and co made it up as they went along when it came to religion and the supernatural.

I'm in that school as well. Lots of powerful themes were used, and various symbols and practices, sometimes religious, were pulled into the story when and where they were useful.

It's just that the "not caring" bit of semi-conscious neutrality on the matter strikes me (as someone who cares about religion) as among the largest weaknesses in the Buffyverse.

Actually, I think it was weak point traded for a strength. The writers made a deliberate effort to keep the show non-committal in terms of religion (Ex: Buffy's line about the existence of God in Season 7) because settling solidly into a certain religious reality would run counter to the vision of the show. It's similar to how they deliberately made a distinction between the Season 7 good/evil war and then-current events (the U.S. invading Iraq).

The Buffyverse has its own meanings, and its vampires have their own morals (or not), complete with glowly CGI effects. Vampires are not inherently spiritual any more than morality is. Neither requires religion, although crosses make handy props when your show is about vampires. I think any religious meaning is mostly a result of resonance with the viewer. And that's my favorite kind of story. That was the show's strength. I don't think it's careless. Maybe it is in the sense of caring less for the religion than for the religious bit you're using as a literary prop now and again.

Buffy's often wearing a cross but in her universe its meaning is limited to its use as a weapon against vampires. It never matters what the cross stands for-- just that Buffy's holding one as a defense. Or Robin Wood's going to use them to hurt Spike. None of that changes the fact that the cross does mean something else to Christian viewers. And I can see how that can be a problem for those viewers.

I think it's similar to the magical problem that's been mentioned here before. As the series progressed, Willow's statements about magical philosophy irked me more and more. Magic used as a metaphor, first for sex, later for power. The show was never about magic. It never had an actual magical philosophy any more than it had a religious one. I do get irritated when the magical rules get all crazy, and Willow can suddenly heal herself instantly or has rambly lines about her "new" perspective on magic. I see it as a tradeoff-- tell the story, use the stuff to tell the story, but don't get distracted by the stuff. Which means those of us who like the stuff find flaws. That's ok by me**-- there are many fantasy stories out there that use magic consistently and with an interesting philosophy behind it. And most of them are completely boring. They're books about magic and nothing else.

** I'll still complain about it here, of course. But I do it with love. Ok, and a tiny bit of annoyance as well. But mostly love.
Chris,

Yes, Riley does say--in one episode--that he attends church regularly. But it's never mentioned again, by him or anyone else. To my way of thinking, we need more than a single comment to conclude that faith is an important part of Riley's identity.

jclemens,

I was citing Book as an example of "Firefly" taking religion seriously as a major aspect of people's lives (in contrast to Buffy). I wasn't saying that "Firefly" always got its religions right. I agree with you that Book is not the best example of a Christian priest (and unfotunately seemed even less like one in "Serenity"). But I do like him as a character, and he seems like more that a foil for the crew, to me. Just out of curiosity--why exactly does the kneecap line make you cringe? (I think I understand, but I'm not sure.)
Kyrumption, I completely agree with you that Book's a likable character who adds something special to the mix, but I see him more as a generic "holy man" more so than a Christian. Ron Glass is a practicing Buddhist, and making *Book* a Buddhist, too, would have been fine. After all, we find in Serenity that that seems to be Inara's religious persuasion... Buddhism would fit in fine with the far east background, but it is, of course, out of place in the Wild West.

To repeat my issue with Book's kneecaps comment (If you read it before, it hasn't changed), here's the setup, according to IMDB, since my firefly DVDs are out on loan again (grrr....).

Zoe: Preacher, don't the Bible have some pretty specific things to say about killing?
Book: Quite specific. It is, however, somewhat fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps.

There are two major schools of thought on violence in Christian theology, and, frankly, they haven't changed much in 1500+ years. In shorthand, they are "Pacifism" (Life is a gift from God; it is not ours to decide to take life) and "Just War" (it is occasionally necessary to use violence to prevent a greater evil. To fail to act would be a greater sin than to take the life of an evil person to prevent more heinous evil) Book has an opportunity to articulate a Just War viewpoint, which might be consistent with his past background, or a Pacifism viewpoint, where he would show his angst in acting against his own beliefs (perhaps formed as a reaction *against* his pre-shepherd life), but instead we get a one-liner and a rimshot. Sigh. A *perfect* opportunity to explore how a Christian minister with that sort of a sordid past might be facing inner turmoil... gone.
jclemens wrote:

Granted that confession has acquired religious overtones, especially in its Roman Catholic incarnation. Yet stripped of the absolution/penance angle, it's really just a psychological act, isn't it?

I'm writing:

Confession may have psychological benefits, but it is specifically different from counseling or therapy. (Confession is pre-Freudian. It was an act and a ritual before it ever became therapeutic.) Confession has always been, for most of Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and others, sacrament or "sacramental". In these traditions it has a different standing then catharsis, counseling, or psychological unburdening, while it may have all of that. The key to confession is not the confession or any kind of penance (although they may be important): it's the gift and sign of grace, forgiveness, etc. The key (funny joke, that--office of the keys) is absolution. That's why it's a sacrament in many Christian traditions: It's from Christ, it conveys forgiveness and grace, it's a word and/or action from without.

So it's significant (as in signifier and signified ala Augustine), when Buffy says something to the effect of, "Please don't forgive me" to Tara, Tara lays her hands on her in the action of absolution. When Book spills (psychologically, emotionally, whatever), Inara doesn't just counsel: she lays hands on his head. It's pretty clearly absolution. Counselling doesn't simply happen. Mercy does. Grace does.

As for the power of the cross (which compels people, vampires, etc.): I see in Buffy and other Joss creations a wide variety of soteriologies (salvation ideas/theories/motifs), "superstitions," "election" references, magic, fun, and attempts to deal with suffering and the presence and/or absence of God as a deity, the various God presentations in Christian Scriptures, the so-called Judeo-Christian God, God in Hebrew Scriptures, and/or God the Sky-Bully. These seem pretty representative of my human experience. They also address some of many of the varied theological concerns that show up for me with Biblical texts. I'd rather get theology in my art "from the side" then straight on, whatever that means. I'm more interested in good art that concerns itself with human life (and then, I think, God/hidden God, meaning, and existence) than with people who got their acts together to make God happy.... (Unless it's Spike, and that's just cool.) Which isn't, by the way, what I'm suggesting anyone is saying here. Just that what often passes for "religious entertainment" or "art" is often someone's well-intentioned effort to get me to be "good." (And hey: Go good! But don't use God as a threat. God and life are threatening enough as it is!)

[ edited by shinygroovyj on 2007-08-31 06:55 ]

[ edited by shinygroovyj on 2007-08-31 06:55 ]

[ edited by shinygroovyj on 2007-08-31 06:56 ]
Buddhism would fit in fine with the far east background, but it is, of course, out of place in the Wild West.

And not only that but I guess it's hard to be angry at Buddha jclemens ;).

By which I mean, one of the principle reasons IMO that religion is more overt in the 'verse is for Mal to have something to rail against, something explicit to have lost faith in (and Book, to some extent, is an atheist's version of a balanced foil for that - as well as being an interesting character in his own right). Even if you can lose faith in Buddhism - and since it's largely a philosophy rather than a religion i'm not convinced, though you can obviously stop applying its precepts - it surely has to be harder to convey what that actually means to a largely Western audience ?

(i'm not sure about vampires being inherently spiritual per se - i've watched/read stories where they're not even supernatural but the result of a disease for instance - but I think they are in the Buffyverse so agree that it might have been better to have had some more rigour in their relationship to religion. On the other hand, we'd lose the "different interpretations" element which is sometimes the appeal of great art and has to be one of the reasons Buffy still fuels academic conferences years after the show ended)

I'm more interested in good art that concerns itself with human life (and then, I think, God/hidden God, meaning, and existence) than with people who got their acts together to make God happy....

Yep, agreed shinygroovyj, quality and story/character needs should always come first but given those (and we were, cheers Joss et gang ;) there's no harm in overt exploration of the "big ideas" IMO - they're "big" for a reason after all. Course, as Jane Espenson has commented, sci-fi is more often about ideas than the other stuff and i've always been more a fan of sci-fi than fantasy (I think the reason 'Firefly' appealed so much to people that didn't like traditional SF - apart from just being good ;) - was this sidelining of overt treatment of ideas, like we see in e.g. Star Trek and emphasis on character instead).

(and yeah, no-one really enjoys being preached at - which for me is what stuff like "Touched by an Angel" or "Highway to Heaven" do, life can be hard as it is, we're daft to pressure ourselves with the big stick of eternal damnation too IMO)
Sixteen ways to Sunday. Is that right?
While I'm glad that Buffy raises religious questions, I can't imagine any way it would be improved by providing religious answers.

I do think that a lot of thought goes into the use of symbols like the cross. While it has a religious meaning for me and many, it's also a widely recognized symbol of sacrificing one's life to save the world, which fits in perfectly with a Buffy theme. Since vampires like Angelus have a near-physical reaction to love (witness the way he scrubs himself so hard in "I Only Have Eyes for You" that Spike reminds him that you're generally considered to have exfoliated by the time you draw blood) it makes sense that a symbol of self-sacrificing love physically hurts them--and that it has varying effects. Vampire Willow is soooo bad that she whatevers the cross. Adam's followers deny its power by occupying a church, and show no ill effects. The variations and unpredictability of the responses make things interesting.

[ edited by Pointy on 2007-08-31 17:39 ]
Pointy,
I like the idea that the cross's power comes because it is a symbol of self-sacrificing love, vs. explicitly Christian. I agree that that fits the overall Buffyverse better.

As for the shows having an overall coherent religious overview vs. "making it up" as they went along, *of course* they made it up as they went along. How could it possibly be otherwise? When the show was first created no one had any idea if it would last more than half a season, much less that it would go for 7 seasons and produce a spin-off. Sure Joss had some major plot points planned long in advance (season 5 Buffy gains a sister, loses her life), but the actual fleshing out took place on a day-to-day basis, taking into account the exigencies of characters coming and going, not to mention writers changing over time and putting their own spin, however unconsciously, on things. Heck, in Season 5, as I recall from an interview with the actress, the writers hadn't decided themselves that Glory was a god until midway through the season. That is the nature of television series.

Don't forget also, that however much viewers may see religious ideas and themes, that's now how Joss initially conceived the supernatural elements. It was horror as a metaphor for the terrors of teenage life, not as exploration of relgion. In the Buffyverse, the emphasis was on being true to the emotional truth of the characters and even then there were failures (no way do I believe the Scoobies would kick Buffy out of her own home in Season 7). I don't think it would have been possible to articulate and maintain a coherent religious world-view.
I was going to post something along the lines of what barboo just posted, but I wouldn't be as eloquent, so I'll just say that I really agree with barboo.
Saje wrote:

quality and story/character needs should always come first but given those (and we were, cheers Joss et gang ;) there's no harm in overt exploration of the "big ideas" IMO - they're "big" for a reason after all.

I am writing:

I agree, Saje. I (perhaps wrongly) think human experience ALWAYS ends up, starts, and can't help but be in the realm of "the big ideas." I see God (or the "absence of God") of under every rock, though. I just want my "overt" explorations slightly "from the side." Even if it's just ever-so-slightly. (More talking lion, witchy teenagers, Flannery O'Connor, and DEADWOOD; less Uhura telling me at the end of the episode, "It's not the sun up in the sky; it's the Son of God.")

[ edited by shinygroovyj on 2007-08-31 16:22 ]
Too true shinygroovyj, stuff like that just feels clumsy and patronising. We're agreeing at cross-purposes I think, I guess i'm only saying I don't mind creators being up-front about ideas in their stuff, not feel like they have to shield us from them, even if i'd rather they employed a bit of subtlety doing it. Also totally agree that any art that's above the facile is going to touch on the big ideas, as I implied upthread they're "big" because they're right at the heart of what it is to be human.

... *of course* they made it up as they went along.

Yeah I see that barboo but is ain't ought ;). Joss had created a fairly complete (if maybe physically flawed in some ways) universe for 'Firefly', there's no reason whatsoever he couldn't have done the same ahead of time for Buffy. I'm not saying nail down absolutely every detail of everything, that'd be way too limiting, but as jclemens says, supernatural vampires almost require some sort of relationship with religion, why not make it coherent (even if it's just "They don't have one") ?

(thinking about it, it's very possibly just a result of inexperience on Joss' part, BtVS was, AFAIK, his first showrunner job after all)

For me personally it's not that huge cos, though I care about religion (surely ministers, theologians and atheists take God more seriously than anyone else ;) as a non-believer most so-called religious themes are actually just philosophical issues to me but it would've made Buffy even better IMO if it felt like as well realised and complete a universe as the Sereniverse did. It's like the cherry on top though, the sundae's still plenty delicious without it ;).
Okay, eighteen ways to Sunday.
All roads lead to Rome.
Saje,

Excellent point about Buddhism, even if I have to disagree a bit. There is a difference between 'pure' Buddhism, which is an intellectual philosophy as you describe, and popular Buddhism, which bears little resemblance to the former. Buddhism isn't the only faith where the theory and practice differ, so I'd say that while pure Buddhism might not have a good focus for Mal's anger, popular Buddhism might.

Out of curiosity, besides The Hunger, was there other vampire literature that treated vampirism as a disease? It's been a good while since I've seen the movie, and I'm not a large vampire geek (never read any Anne Rice, sorry) so my knowledge is somwhat limited on that score. Of course, I also don't recall crosses being effective against the vampires in The Hunger, so that's an excellent example of a vampire mythology which is quite aspiritual, if my memory is accurate.

I will have to disagree about people liking to be preached at, however. There exist plenty of folks who *do* like to be preached at, and while you or I might not find the TV incarnations of such preaching compelling, they do attract viewers. I've seen a couple of "Touched by an Angel" episodes. The first one was quite moving, but they all seemed the same after a bit. I tried NetFlix'ing them, but after I got to the one where Aly guest starred, I pretty much quit. TBAA was a popular show that lasted a while and dealt with overtly religious themes, although in a pretty non-sectarian way.

Pointy,

My problem with that interpretation of the cross is that ideas don't have power in the Buffyverse, magical items do. Consider the difference between the Shanshu and the Gem of Amarra. One is a prophecy which may inspire home and motivate Angel (and/or Spike...), but the second is a physical item, imbued with magical power, that works regardless of whether anyone believes OR KNOWS about it--recall Harmony being unstakeable.

Of course, people are free to construct reasons the cross having intrinsic power doesn't necessarily mean Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the Buffyverse... but I just haven't found one I find plausible yet.
Joss had created a fairly complete (if maybe physically flawed in some ways) universe for 'Firefly', there's no reason whatsoever he couldn't have done the same ahead of time for Buffy.

I think these serial shows are so well constructed that we take our expectations to a level normally reserved for a more cohesive text such as a novel. Firefly may seem more complete because it had less time to sprawl out conceptually. Buffy required rules that adapted to the needs of the writing. The universe needed to be able to breathe and grow. Otherwise Buffy would not have been a character-driven tv show. A Buffy where spiritual and religious themes were more central, where the universe was conceptually complete beforehand, would not have been Buffy at all. Buffy is meaningful because it leaves a lot of interpretations up to the viewer/reader. We are still talking about it because its universe leaves a lot of questions unanswered. A complete universe isn't as interesting.
Shinygroovyj,

Excellent point about how much of a turnoff heavy-handed religious exposition can be. Especially in the short and commercial-ridden time allotted for TV shows, most which deal with religion would be prompted to dumb it down to that level.

One of my favourite religious stories is Les Miserables. It's a study in so many religious themes, played out against a backdrop of poverty, deprivation, crime, and civil unrest. Many who've seen an adaptation--be it broadway or film--might have missed the fundamentally religious nature of the story, because there's so much material in the novel that *something* has to be deemphasized...

At any rate, yeah, overtly religious stuff tends to be too corny and/or cheesy for me, even though it might align with my own belief system.

Sunfire,

Consider Babylon 5. It emerged fully formed, a cohesive universe, that preplanned arc and character evolution. It's run was shorter and perhaps more intense, but it's doing today something that the Buffyverse has not yet accomplished: it's getting more spinoffs. One lasted half a season. Another only made it to a pilot. Now, we've just seen the direct-to-DVD launch of what are essentially TV movies--albeit to less than universal acclaim, but the *DVD* *got* *made*.

Thus, I disagree that a pre-planned universe with a complete storyline would be somehow less than what we've gotten from the Buffyverse. JMS did it; I have every expectation Joss could have pulled it off too.
I'm actually not offering an interpretation of the efficacy of crosses as vampire repellent within the Buffyverse, but remarking that the use of the cross as a symbol by Joss and the Mutants is well-considered. IOW, it fits in very well to the rich metaphorical scheme that (a) they made up as they went along, but (b) is by and large coherent because they put so much thought and care into how they made it up. The cross, which has very well-developed meanings outside the Buffyverse, is wielded well by the writers who (a) respect (or at least do not show any disrespect in their scripts for) the meanings the cross has outside the 'verse, while (b) augmenting that meaning with a specifically magical effect within the 'verse. It makes sense narratively, metaphorically, symbolically, story-wise, for the cross to make vampires feel bad, because among its extra-'verse meanings is as a symbol of self-sacrifice to save the world.

My point was not: This is how cross-power operates in the 'verse. My point was: Good writing--the magical power of the cross in the 'verse applies and amplifies its non-'verse meaning in story-enhancing ways.

ETA a bit of grammar. And a bit more. And to take out a dash and add another.

[ edited by Pointy on 2007-08-31 19:05 ]
I've never watched Babylon5 but in principle would agree with Sunfire that an incomplete and even slightly incoherent universe, being more like the one we know, is more convincing. With respect to crosses I'd always assumed that in Buffy's universe they were adopted as a symbol of the Christian faith because of their inexplicable magical power rather than the other way round.
jclemens said: "Of course, people are free to construct reasons the cross having intrinsic power doesn't necessarily mean Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the Buffyverse... but I just haven't found one I find plausible yet."
I think Joss has discussed his mythology of Vampires before (in commentaries on the DVDs) and it seemed very clear to me that his was a pretty random mishmash of the traditional monster movie genre. In 'Dracula' vampires are afraid of crosses, I'm sure that that was some Victorian idea of their being afraid of things that are 'good' which probable does have religious significance. But thinking that Joss decided to use it because of the religious meaning, instead of the monster movie genre, seems to be stretching the need for finding religion in the series. Of course that is just my own personal opinion, and I cannot hope to persuade anyone who is bound and determined.
Hayes62, your comment prompted me to think more, so I'm modifying my stance a bit:

Incomplete universes tend to work better in shorter works of fiction; preplanned universes tend to work better in longer works of fiction.

Here's some of my data points...
* Middle Earth. Meticulously planned, LOTR felt like one big story, which it was. I mean, the guy made up multiple languages for cryin' out loud!
* Babylon 5. As mentioned before.

* Dune. This one is an odd one, because it started with a great deal of planning around *Arrakis*, but the longer things went on, the less planned it seemed.
* Amber. O that the second five books had never been written!
* Trek. What speed is Warp 13 again?

There are plenty that just stump me--I really can't say which is which. Westeros seems to be planned, but it's hard to tell. I'm not enough of a Star Wars fan to have an informed opinion, and there are plenty of fictional worlds (e.g. Pern, Earthsea, Witch World) that I haven't revisited recently enough to have a good take on.

At any rate, just because something grew organically rather than being preplanned from the start doesn't mean it can't be great. In fact, I suspect many people start planning a great world and never get around to writing about it, or find that after years of work on the world, their story ideas or execution stinks. But when the preplanned worlds *do* take off like wildfire... wow, do they rock. That is, of course, my perspective, and as one might have discerned from my posts to date, when I like something, the little flaws matter to me.
Embers,

To clarify my stance a bit, I don't think anyone's been saying Joss chose a cross (or holy water, for that matter) for any reason other than the traditional vampire mythology use of it. I've simply been saying that from my perspective, that brings a lot of inescapable religious baggage with it, which I don't see as having been dealt with adequately.
Out of curiosity, besides The Hunger, was there other vampire literature that treated vampirism as a disease?

Well jclemens a novel I read recently called "Already Dead" features a vampire private investigator (sort of) wherein vampirism is caused by a virus (there's also a form of zombie-ism which is caused by bacteria). And in the 'Blade' character's universe vampirism is caused by a virus, i'd bet there are others though I don't read a lot of vampire stuff myself.

Firefly may seem more complete because it had less time to sprawl out conceptually. Buffy required rules that adapted to the needs of the writing.

Hmm, agree and disagree. You may be right about 'Firefly' Sunfire, sadly we'll never know but I think maybe the non-local nature of it meant Joss had to work out the universe more completely than he did with Buffy. Mal and the crew would be wandering all over the place within their solar system so Joss at least (if not the viewers) had to know roughly what they'd find there (e.g. NOT aliens ;). Sunnydale on the other hand was kinda small. Apocalypses can be (almost ;) happening in LA and it barely needs mentioning.

(that and world-building is maybe more common in sci-fi than horror - most horror works by at least suggesting it's in our world, too far removed and it's just not that scary)

And i'm not really talking about the sort of narrative planning we saw to great effect on Babylon 5, I was very happy for Buffy to be pretty free that way, I mean making the rules of the world coherent and integrated with ours where they overlap.

I got the impression for instance that the first Slayer was pre-Christian, so as barboo wonders did she use crosses or holy water ? Stuff like that is interesting to me to speculate about and if the characters also (at least) wondered about it - or even better researched it until an "answer" was found - it'd make the universe feel more whole, give it more of a ring of truth for me.

(the self-sacrifice idea's interesting Pointy but that just makes me wonder about vampires of e.g. rural Chinese peasants - would they relate crosses to self-sacrifice ? And also, why do even Western vampires suffer actual injury on contact, even in "blind taste tests" ? ;)
These are the big questions, Saje. So I have come up with an answer. You see, in the finale of season 6 Giles says that the magic that Evil Willow drew out of him contains the essence of true magic, and that this very essence made it possible to save her and thus the world, but he never specifies what the essence of true magic is. I theorize that the essence is love. In the 'verse, love has magical power. So if crosses have been imbued with love by the faith and devotion of multitudes through the ages, they would have an effect on vampires regardless of said vampires' religious preferences, belief systems or personal philosophies.

On the other hand, if this theory is correct, one could conceivably thwart a vampire by brandishing a particularly well-loved teddy bear.

Imagine the mark that would leave.
So by that logic, could one conceivably hold a vampire at bay with a copy of 'Serenity'?
I think the cross repels vamps because it looks really cool when a much weaker, normal person holds up a cross with impunity and the stronger, evil villain is held at bay.

We love to see the underdog win. In essence, this is one of the biggest draws to Buffy the Vampire Slayer's mythos; A little girl takes on (and beats) the traditionally much bigger evil guys.

So why are vamps repelled by crosses? It looks really cool.
So by that logic, could one conceivably hold a vampire at bay with a copy of 'Serenity'?


Yes, and even inflict a burn shaped (depending on the edition) like Summer Glau or a Peruvian beast of burden.

[ edited by Pointy on 2007-08-31 20:56 ]
Or a Firefly class spaceship - at least the name's appropriate (though Summer usually gives me burns too*).

I theorize that the essence is love.

So all you need is love ? Careful Pointy, between that and "secret slayer teams" I see Michael Jackson's lawyers sharpening their pencils ;).

* sunburn you 'orrible lot, jeez, do you think about your mothers with those minds ? ;)
"All You Need Is Love," the Summer of Love classic that appropriately climaxes the Love album, a collection of remixes (by George Martin & Son) offering up the Beatles' recordings with digital clarity that is a revelation and delight to the ear? I doubt I'd go that far OT, Saje, except to mention the rumor I just made up heard that Ms. Glau might cover it on her first album, "Summer of Love."
I just ran out of fingers and toes to keep score. Shall I pull the sharpie?
Saje, I think that's the point we disagree on-- I prefer things to not be so coherent and integrated.
Saje, as usual, has good points. I've always thought the show would have been still better if it had addressed these issues. But I would have liked to see it address them on a personal level as well as on the universe-building level. It just strikes me as implausible when none of the characters in a longish work of fiction expresses strong feelings about any sort of religion.

Apocalypses can be (almost ;) happening in LA and it barely needs mentioning.


This always bothered me, actually. Since I watched the shows together, and since they're theoretically part of the same universe, I wanted a near-apocalypse in one place to matter in the other. I know there were all kinds of annoying business reasons, as well as some legitimate creative decisions, behind this; but it still made Buffy and Angel's respective apocalypses seem a little small, sometimes.

jclemens:

Thanks for the clarification (much) earlier. I agree--it would be nice if the writers had done a bit more research, and given Book a position on self-defense, just war, etc. consistent with the history Christian theology. I wasn't particularly bothered by the kneecap remark--but only because I had already given up any hope of Book being theologically informed. :-)

Also, and disconnectedly: the novel "I Am Legend" has a disease version of vampires. It's an interesting (if depressing), decidely-not-supernatural take on vampires.
Gotta say, I loved this comment from Hayes62:
I'd always assumed that in Buffy's universe they were adopted as a symbol of the Christian faith because of their inexplicable magical power rather than the other way round.
I'd certainly never thought to look at it that way! It could solve a lot of problems, but there's still holy water to explain...
This is a very interesting thread. I had never been bothered by the lack of religious coherence in Buffy, probably because as an athiest I tend to think of all of the explanations as MacGuffins (which were never the strong point on the show anyway), but I think jclemens makes some really good points. Was the greatest show ever--could've been even better.
Actually, in some Pagan religions, holy water is made by being charged (or blessed) by a person that channels the energy of the universe. Any shaman, priest or yogi can make it. So I think that holy water would have been just as effective in a pre-Christian world.
To clarify my stance a bit, I don't think anyone's been saying Joss chose a cross (or holy water, for that matter) for any reason other than the traditional vampire mythology use of it. I've simply been saying that from my perspective, that brings a lot of inescapable religious baggage with it, which I don't see as having been dealt with adequately.

So Joss and other artists don't have a license to use the culture they were raised in, because it belongs only to certain people with certain beliefs within that culture that is saturated with those images? If they don't claim them as their faith they must refrain from using them altogether?

I could also go into how pre-Christian the cross and other symbolic things you've mentioned are. But my point is that our culture belongs to us in general. Artists don't need any sort of sanction or license to reflect that.
Augh. dreamlogic yes.

Can't stand it when any talk of religion brings out folks that want to attribute only their version of 'what is right and the only way to believe!' to the given topic.

People believe what they want to. Nobody has to subscribe to any version of fucking anything if they wouldn't rather. Respect everyone's beliefs, and we can all get along.

Can't stand preaching. Especially when there's the air of the "innocent" about it (fake!). More atrocities have been visited on the human race in the name of RELIGION, than all wars combined. In my opinion, organized religion is a hypocritcal, outdated, and predatory agenda. If all religions would just stop trying to kill or convert people in the name of "I'm right, you're wrong so think like me or you're an idiot heathen", we'd all breathe a huge collective sigh of relief.

Oh but then the environmentalists would freak out because of the carbon dioxide levels caused by our collective outbreath.

Yikes. How to win here?
A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.

(oh yeaahh, that's a geek-dunk right there ;-)

Respect everyone's beliefs, and we can all get along.

Ah no, sorry, can't. A lot of people's beliefs are just daft and many of them are also dangerously misguided, ignorant and aggressively intolerant. Respect people and their right to their beliefs and everything else follows though I reckon. Do unto others should be the whole of the law (unless you're a masochist then you're just being bloody awkward ;).

Saje, I think that's the point we disagree on-- I prefer things to not be so coherent and integrated.

Yeah, I agree ;). Could be we're just coming at it from different directions Sunfire (which is part of what makes it worth getting up in the mornings ;). I like complexity, especially character complexity but I guess partly because of my world view I don't think that requires inconsistency or incoherence (someone said upthread that incoherence makes things more like the real world, well, not to me - though it does make fictional characters seem more like real people, i've never met anyone worth knowing that didn't have contradictory elements to them).
After reading most (not quite all, as yet)of this incredibly fascinating thread, I have to say I'm firmly in the "vampire mythology" camp, especially considering Joss's well known atheism.
I'm also in agreement with those who believe that BtS would have suffered from more overt religious content. One of the reasons that Joss's vampire-verse is my favorite of all vampire mythologies is that the religious aspect was treated in just that way, as part of an established mythology that could not have been done away with, without some very awkward manipulations, but nothing more. I could have a bit of bias going here, being a non-Christian, but I would have found more religious content tiresome, disappointing and beside the point. (Yes, that was intentional, couldn't help myself.)

And then there is my personal opinion that using crosses throughout the series was merely a device for facilitating the awesomely gorgeous shot of Spike's awesomely gorgeous back, draped over the cross in Beneath You, with just the right amount of CGI smoke rising from the encounter :)
someone said upthread that incoherence makes things more like the real world, well, not to me
Just to expand on the incoherence thing a little, Iím a scientist (a biologist to be more precise, physicists may well see things differently) so my perspective is biased by finding the things we donít understand about how the world works the most interesting parts. And although you do science in the hope of rendering the inexplicable explicable, right here, right now it isnít. At least not definitively.

As far as Buffy goes the point upthread about world-building in different genres really pinged with me. I think from fairly early on it was quite clear that the Buffyverse didnít make any biological sense Ė too many monsters that were one of a kind not a species and with characteristics tailored to the characters' emotional arcs not any plausible selective pressures. Iíve always seen it as being more like magic realism than sci-fi or fantasy.
David Lavery, if you pop in here after your seminar, would you please post your notes, and maybe an update on your Joss book?
I always felt that religion began as something of a sidebar in BTVS. But if you look at the original target audience, shoving a shedload of preaching into the show from the get-go would not have worked. So Joss stuck with the known, like crosses, holy water, bad vampires killing good nuns. It was only in later seasons, as the audience matured and perhaps started questioning their own religious outlook, where religious themes began to have more significance.

I loved that Buffy went from using religion as an escape clause (wanting to try on the nun's wimple, using 'bible study' as an excuse to spend time with her boyfriend) to being someone with a clear belief and knowledge of heaven. A priest could be a misogynistic pig and yet a 'family' could also turn on one of it's own and shun them. We saw Robin, surrounded by crosses, clearly intent on killing Spike, who then later sacrificed himself ala Christ to save the world. Who was good? Who was evil? And didn't/hasn't it given us plenty of food for thought!

And can I just say how great it is to be able to read a thread about religion in which the posters have the maturity to keep their heads, speak rationally and not resort to flaming. It's incredibly refreshing.
missb said: "And can I just say how great it is to be able to read a thread about religion in which the posters have the maturity to keep their heads, speak rationally and not resort to flaming. It's incredibly refreshing."
LOL
It is also required, flaming is a sure method of getting deleted.
I've always appreciated that Whedonesque has kept all discussions on a high ground, and that the posters are usually very articulate (even when I disagree them I can enjoy the good spelling and grammar).
Pointy's idea explains why garlic is also a weapon against vampires. ;) Mmmm garlic.

Just to expand on the incoherence thing a little, Iím a scientist (a biologist to be more precise, physicists may well see things differently) so my perspective is biased by finding the things we donít understand about how the world works the most interesting parts.

That's my thought process, too, hayes62. I sometimes wonder if biology draws those of us who inherently see an incoherent universe, or if our training teaches us that. I imagine there's some of both at work. Personally I am immediately suspicious and/or bored by a fictional world that's too complete, too well known.
... so my perspective is biased by finding the things we donít understand about how the world works the most interesting parts.

Yep, I totally agree. I think any scientist (or just any curious person) sees the world that way or else why pursue a field based on finding answers that almost always only ever lead to more questions hayes62 ? BUT that's surely not the same as an incoherent world, that's just a coherent world which we don't fully understand (and never will definitively, science as I understand it - which is imperfectly, to say the least ;) - doesn't really do "definitive", just "beyond a reasonable doubt as things currently stand") ? Maybe your points of interest are more "incongruities" or just "good questions" because science itself is entirely predicated on a coherent world (which is not to say it necessarily is a coherent world, just that science fundamentally requires it to be - it's also my personal viewpoint but that's by the by).

I think you're right though that physicists etc. tend to simplify out the complexities of the world in their explanations whereas the weird, seemingly incoherent stuff is more or less what drives biology. Duckbilled platypus, i'm looking at you ;).


Personally I am immediately suspicious and/or bored by a fictional world that's too complete, too well known.

OK, that's totally not what I mean Sunfire, maybe i've done a bad job of explaining. I as a viewer don't want to see the entire world laid out for me from the get go (and don't think i've said that), I totally want it to be revealed a piece at a time in a dramatically and narratively satisfying way. BUT I prefer it when I get the impression that the creator has sat down and worked things out so that when things are revealed, everything fits together in a wonderful whole - just like the real world where e.g. Darwin came along and made sense of pretty much the entirety of biology (or at least provided it a coherent explanatory framework), incongruities and all or Einstein explained the previously incongruous nature of Mercury's orbit (among many other things, cheers Albert ;).

A good example of what I don't like is "The X-Files" where Chris Carter clearly didn't have a clue where his story ended, or even which world-view he was adhering to (e.g. Mulder, previously sceptic of sceptics, ends up "seeing the light" and accepting God for absolutely no reason apparent to me as a longtime viewer).

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