Firefly and Religion, Part One

UPDATED: Friday, April 2, 2004 08:43
VIEWED: 1649
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Thursday, April 1, 2004 4:28 PM


(Originally posted in A.T.F NG)

G'day, mates...

Since there have been sparse and terse posts to this NG in the recent past,
I've decided to write a lengthy multipart discussion (diatribe?) in hopes of
livening things up while we wait for the "BDM".

I know it's considered in poor taste to discuss religion and politics, but since
I've already discussed the politics of Firefly, and since I'm generally
considered to be tactless, I'll go ahead and plow into the religious aspects
of Firefly. To those who are offended by the breach of social etiquette: Oops!
To Chris Buchanan in particular, I offer my apologies; but after all, he gave
me the idea ;)

I've not seen an in-depth discussion of the religious overtones of the series;
but it's my assertion that there is quite a bit of subcontext dealing with
religious belief. I'll look at Mal's struggle with faith in this segment, at Book,
and at Inara's mysterious religious belief system, and at various other
glimpses the show presents in the other parts of this discussion.

First and foremost, since I believe it's the show's most clear-cut example, we
have Mal's struggle with some variation of Christianity. At the Battle of Serenity,
Mal is clearly a believer. He states that God wouldn't let them die, because
they were just too damned pretty (paraphrased). He also calls the incoming
air power their "angels", although it turns out he is mistaken about the military
affiliation of the strike force. Most telling, in one scene, Mal produces a
crucifix from around his neck, and kisses the cross. Unless there has been
a crucifixion of some other religious figure in the intervening 500 years between
our day and the timeframe of Firefly -- say, 'Fred the Savior' -- this is the clearest
statement of religious affiliation in the show. Mal is a Christian.

Equally as clear, Mal is an apostate, one who has rejected his former belief,
probably in the aftermath of Serenity. When asked by Shepherd Book if he
minded whether Book said grace, Mal replies, "Only if you say it out loud."
The Shepherd -- priest, minister? -- then bows his head in silent prayer, as do
all the other crewmembers and passengers present at the table. (Most
notably absent is Inara, to whom Book takes supper in a following scene).
Furthermore, Mal goes out of his way to make Book uncomfortable, by
catching him off-guard with his introduction of Inara as an ambassador, and
by a few choice interactions between himself and the pastor(?) which leave
little doubt that Mal has forsaken God, possibly because he feels God
forsook him first.

As with a number of the characters, Mal's -- or should I say Nathan Fillion's --
physical reactions when faced with religious questions are complex. Overall,
I'd say there's a distinct underlying flavor of 'hurt'. He feels shunned,
abandoned by God. Overlying this emotion, he exhibits disdain and --
jealous revulsion, perhaps? -- toward believers. BTW, have I mentioned
that I think Nathan is a very talented actor? One of the most memorable
scenes in "Saving Private Ryan" is his heart-wrenching portrayal of the
'wrong Private Ryan'... Not a single wrong note played. The sense of
separation from loved ones is palpable, and recognizable to anyone who
has suffered deployment. It is a theme picked up by Tom Hanks' character,
who reasons that he'll do anything, no matter how ridiculous, if it gets him
home to his wife.

We are left to our own imaginations to flesh out the horrors of the intervening
weeks following the surrender at Serenity, and the first arrival of medical relief.
Thousands of men (and women, too: Zoe was there, right?) left wounded and
starving, dying of minor wounds turned gangrenous, doing God-knows-what to
females on the battlefield. I once heard the recollections of a female Army
chopper pilot who -- though shot and with a separated shoulder and broken
arm -- was vigorously raped by an enemy captor while their position was still
under fire. Suffice to say, the defeat at Serenity and those intervening weeks
of Hell were enough to convince Mal that there must be no God, else how
could he have abandoned the soldiers of both sides thus. I seem to recall
that Mal's company numbered about 5,000 after the surrender, and less than
600 were evacuated, the rest perishing of their wounds, starvation and
barbarism(?) while awaiting relief from the victorious Alliance forces...

Perhaps, under such circumstances, anyone might lose their religion. But is
there hope of reconciliation?

Here endeth Part One.



Mexican border guard, asking long-haired, sandal-wearing Jesus if he's visiting family south of the border:

Jesus: "I have children everywhere."
Guard: "Oh, you're a rock and roll star."

Cheech and Chong, Big Bambu


Thursday, April 1, 2004 6:43 PM


You are indeed brave to touch on this subject, but at the same time it is so much fun to examine the layers of the shows that I can't help but add my two cents in a respectful fashion:)

First, I do have to say that you are wrong when you say that everyone except inara is at the table when Book says grace. I just watched the episode last nite, I had the distinct impression that Zoe entered the dining room and sat down after grace was finished (i may be wrong, but this has always been my take). I find this interesting in that a.) zoe too experienced the war presumably at mal's side and b.) for whatever reason, the numerous conjectures that mal and zoe grew up together in fanfic-can never recall if its canon and doubt it, but will mention it just in case.

Anyway, A is by far the most relevant here. I find it interesting that Zoe is usually absent from all the metaphysical discussions to an extent. I'd be interested to see if this is one aspect on which there may be tension btw her and Mal. In fact, would hope that there is because well, just seems like it would be too easy to write and assume that they both lost their faith at Serenity - mostly because then zoe becomes too much a female copy of Mal and also because the shows indicate that she's moving away from serenity valley in a way that mal isn't for whatever reason.

Next, Jayne -- i find it interesting that you skipped over him in the discussion. Simon and Wash, well i don't recall them declaring one way or another so i won't interpret their actions during the pilot. but Jayne, during The Message, he pretty much says that he has no use for religion but would like to be prayed over when he dies "just in case". I find this attitude very telling on the scene we saw in Serenity -- how many at the table bowed their heads out of a.) respect, b.) belief, or c.) wanting/needing to give the appearance of faith? Jayne clearly falls in the c category in my mind as for him faith is only useful if going thru the motions has a payoff. He's not sure so he does so while still failing to follow the teachings.

Anyway, just my two cents worth:) Fun discussion :)


Thursday, April 1, 2004 8:17 PM


Great analysis zoid, and kudos on risking it. I missed your political analysis but it looks like I'm gonna have to find it.

I agree almost completely in your estimation of Mal, both in Nathan's wonderful ability to capture the nuances, as well as the suppositions of his underlying motivations. If i were going to shed a different light in an area, it would only be this subtle difference (from one who is a believer and knows something about the complexities of being mad at God)...perhaps Mal hasn't LOST his faith so much as he is, in a sense, pouting. Sticking his metephorical tounge out at God in some sort of effort to strike out at him for not delivering as Mal had hoped he would.

Nice insight on Jayne. I'll be intrested in zoid's comments on it, but my guess about Jayne is that he's probably got some baseline of respect for religion built into him (by his parents?) which is more of a knee-jerk reaction than a real belief in anything.

"Why we still discussin' this?"


Thursday, April 1, 2004 8:37 PM


I'd venture a guess that Inara follows some form of Hindu belief; her shuttle's decor includes several Hindu God icons/statues.

Given certain vedic traditions, and the fact that the companion houses are led by priestesses, I wouldn't be surprised if Companion was actually a religious following, a kind of non-celebate nun.

Gimmie that old time religion, it's good enough for me...

"Oooh. Good Bible."

"You can't enslave a free man. The most you can do is kill him." -- Robert A. Heinlein


Thursday, April 1, 2004 8:41 PM


Just an observation. . .

Not only does Mal produce a crucifix in the opening scene of 'Serenity', but in 'Heart of Gold', Book says, "I've been following in the footsteps of a carpenter for some time now."

Another direct connection to Christianity.

"Wash. . .we got some local color happening. A grand entrance would not go amiss."


Thursday, April 1, 2004 9:54 PM


Good observations, all. Could've sworn I saw Zoe at table with bowed head, but maybe not.

I thought it was interesting that the doctor and the mole (Dobson) were both in frame praying, and in such a fashion that it appeared habitual, not just out of courtesy to others. The sidelong look with piece of food (bread?) hanging from his mouth that Nathan renders is very intriguing and suggestive, I feel. Again, he's got a very expressive face.

As to Book and Inara, please read Parts Two and Three, respectively, also posted here. While the Book piece is fairly well-defensible based on events from the series, Part Three deals with Inara, about whom we have very little concrete evidence from the series. Had the show go on...

(Have I mentioned that I am currently boycotting Fox and its sponsors?) (Except "Wonderfalls", of course)

So, I admittedly took a real flyer on Part Three and Inara. I first thought Geisha (too submissive), and considered Vedic/Tantric and discarded (too detached politico-socio-economically), but I may have to reconsider. Probably a mixture, anyway, wouldn't you think? Maybe that's even the point, since we now know that early Christianity itself was heavily influenced by classical Greek and possibly even Far Eastern philosophies. The Essenes, (oops, there I go again!)...

As for Jayne, as I have speculated a couple of times in A.T.F. NG, I feel he is Joss' "lowest common denominator everyman". He likes silicone implants, monster truck racing, professional wrestling, and is -- of course -- a card-carrying member of the NRA.

He'll also stick a finger in your birthday cake when no one is looking and... well... He is like my 150 lb. German Shepard: he knows who the Alpha of our little pack is; he'll sit, sh*t and sic on command; just don't leave your rib eye (or the Tam Steaks) unattended on the kitchen counter or he'll snap 'em up. And you really can't blame him or hate him for it because he's just being a dog. He's being Jayne.

Still, because of Adam's brilliant delivery and timing, we have fun laughing at Jayne:
-- the hat his mom sent him
-- his interrogation of Dobson was priceless
-- I genuinely thought he was going to fight Mal but wound up trying to trade Vera for Saffron ("Well, the days of me not taking you seriously have certainly come to a middle.")
-- "10% of nothin' is, lemme see..."
-- too many others to list in 5000 words or less

But yeah, I definitely think Jayne loves his Ma, and fears his earthly and Heavenly Fathers for the same reason: if he gets caught, he's gonna take a whuppin'.



I'm a first-time poster here, but have posted lots of stuff -- including this three-article series -- on I may get around to reposting some other essays here, if these get enough readership to justify bothering people with 'em...

"River didn't fix faith. Faith fixed River."

- Senator Richard 'Book' Wilkins, Independent Congress
from A Child Shall Lead Them


Friday, April 2, 2004 7:55 AM


May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one.

It is surprisingly easy to lose faith, especially if the one who loses it has faced the hell of combat, seen friends and comrades blown to bits, seen the horror and attrocities of battle, seen a cause lost and everything you believe in trampled by the victor.

Many use faith or belief in a higher being to get them through things such as wars, but many lose that faith due to the horrors they see and the death all around them. Many find themselves questioning everything, including their faith.

"May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one."


Friday, April 2, 2004 8:43 AM




And of course, there are those who get religion they never had, in that same slit trench as the guy who loses his...




"River didn't fix faith. Faith fixed River."

- Senator Richard 'Book' Wilkins, Independent Congress
from A Child Shall Lead Them






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