Whimsical genius behind countless best-selling novels and comic books. Creative cadre to such literary giants as Terry Pratchett and Alan Moore. Champion of the plight of Syrian refugees. Perhaps one of the great authors of this time, with tales and yarns extending from the worlds of realism to science fiction to fantasy.
In many respects, a modern-day C.S. Lewis, with his ability to make the magical and divine seem every much as real and accessible as anything in the waking world.
Shame some folks don’t see it that way.
Specifically “One Million Moms”, which has created a petition for FOX to cancel Gaiman’s upcoming Lucifer TV series.
Now for the unaware, Lucifer is a comic book series spin-off of Gaiman’s fantastical masterpiece Sandman. Dealing largely with themes of free will and fate, the series sees its titular character abdicate his infernal throne and become a beach-bum in Australia.
The series has been loosely (but still earnestly) adapted by FOX, with the show’s premier airing at this year’s ComicCon and a three minute trailer released for the public at large.
So yeah, it’s pretty much a vivacious mashup of Castle’s snarky-detectives-banter-snarkily with the sincere-if-not-always-Abrahamic theology of Supernatural. All in all a fun little mix set to a bombastic soundtrack and an off-the-cuff cast.
So what’s the problem?
Well, as a member of One Million Moms put it (going- I kid you not- solely off what they saw in the promo above):
As a concerned mother, I am urging FOX Network to immediately cancel plans to air “Lucifer.”
The program previews mischaracterize Satan, depart from true biblical teachings about him, and inaccurately portray the beliefs of the Christian faith.
By choosing to air this show, FOX is disrespecting Christianity and mocking the Bible.
Now Gaiman, who saw similar protests against his Sandman series in the 90s for including a transgendered character, has simply shrugged the whole thing off, pointing out that “it didn’t work before”. As casual as Gaiman is, I’d personally like to take this opportunity break down why OMM (and petitions like it) are so very-
And perhaps we should start by pointing out the obvious here- Lucifer isn’t bringing in anything new.
It absolutely can and should be pointed out that the appearance of the great deceiver is hardly anything new. Ol’ Scratch has been showing up in film pretty much since its invention, and prior to that, throughout literature, music, and clear on back to the morality plays of the Middle Ages. The pitter-patter of cloven hoofs across the stage has been a pretty constant tempo across the centuries.
But in OMM’s (very) limited defense, the devil doesn’t typically show up as the protagonist.
But even if he is, so what?
OMM (which only has about 75k Facebook followers, in spite of the optimistic name) argues that the show “will glorify Satan as a caring, likable person in human flesh.”
I mean, isn’t that the point?
The devil, as either an actual being or a greater metaphor for the nature of evil (which you tend towards), is not some monstrous pagan rip-off that most art and media make him out to be. Hell, even Shakespeare recognized that “ …the devil is quite a gentleman…” (King Lear, III:IV). Evil is supposed to be insidious, tempting, easy, harmless, and banal. As the show itself demonstrates, the forces of sin don’t possess folks and force them to commit genocide. They tug gently at the fabric of the soul. A little apathy here. A white lie there. A compromise there. And all still conscious choices on the part of the sinner. I challenge you to find that kind of depth in the vast majority of Christian media.
Which is what truly bugs me about the argument against the show. It’s not the lazy “I saw three minutes of this series have concluded it’s corrosive upon our childrens’ souls”. It’s not the same, dumb “Kids will imitate it if they see it on TV/hear it in music/play it in video games”-
It’s the depressing lack of imagination.
I thought to myself, “what portrayal of the devil would OMM and their followers be happy with?” Some red, roided-out, horned and hoofed monster?
Some sinister rehash of Anton LeVay?
Now you might be saying “But Gordon, you handsome devil- the issue isn’t that Satan’s the main character- we saw similar stuff in the Screwtape Letters. It’s that he’s a good guy!”
The guy’s somehow come to the conclusion that ’tis better to screw around on earth than to rule in hell. Might even say the dude’s having some sort of conflict of conscious.
“But that’s so un-Biblical!”
There’s the thing- it’s not.
I mean, I could point out that the father-of-lies is hardly a character unique to Christianity (and shouldn’t be have to be modeled exclusively on the Christian tradition). I could point out that portraying the devil (who’s hardly even in the Bible) isn’t ever portrayed as either monster or magician. I could point all that out-
-But dammit, I shouldn’t have to.
The themes here- questions of the nature of evil, the exact role of the lord-o’-flies, the nature of free-will and divine design- all of these things have been the subject of debate within Christian theology for centuries. “The Problem of Hell” specifically has been, in certain circles anyways, a subject of major contention, with many thinkers (George McDonald, St. Isaac of Syria, Karl Barth, Gregory of Nyssa, and Origen, just to name a few) proposing some dang radical ideas on the nature of sin, salvation, apocastasis, and “universal reconciliation”. The mere suggestion that the devil could ever be anything other than the “great adversary of man” is not only a perfectly reasonable hypothetical to explore, but one that’d be part of a longstanding dialogue.
But **** that, right?
All that’s to be discovered in theology has been discovered. We don’t need no stinking challenges and questions put to our most fundamental understanding of faith and the world! I’ll stick to good, clean, orthodox fun, thank you very much! Someone pass me Prince Caspian! Yeah, the C.S. Lewis classic. Yeah, the one with wood spirits, river gods, and the appearance of the Bacchus, the Greek god of wine and debauchery, presented here as both a real character and a good guy.
You get the idea.
And look, I’m not saying that FOX’s adaptation of Lucifer is going to be some cerebral exploration of the nature of evil or the path up to salvation. It’s a TV show. It might not even be an especially good one but it’s here. You can either throw up your hands in frenzied dismay that Hollywood isn’t portraying things exactly as you want ’em portrayed or you can man up and take the opportunity to challenge yourselves. To ask new questions. To drop the sanctimonious moaning for a minute- just a minute– and confront some fresh perspectives on God, Death, and the Devil.
Is that really worth protesting?