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ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE. (Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate)

It should be no surprise to those who have been on my flist for a while that I love talking religion. For the record, I am not a believer in a higher power. At all. I also do not denigrate those that find comfort and peace in their belief of a higher power, so please know that you can be candid with your thoughts on religion with no fear of retaliation, snickering, or attempts to convert from my end. And I'll hope for the same. (OMG, no Watchtowers of BoMs, please!)

I'll state first what (imo) are Joss' thoughts on religion, and try and support that with moments/themes from the show. It's my opinion (and was glad to hear someone else say this at WC) that God and religion failed Joss Whedon in his life, and he has a rather sour outlook on them both, but maybe a part of him wants to believe. I also think that he's sensitive enough (and intelligent enough) to see the value in not preaching atheism (i think he approaches from an agnostic viewpoint) to the viewer, and while he tends to revere the dark more than the light, he still lets the viewer make the final decision as to how they see the god of their choice, or the lack thereof.



"Gosh. I love a story with scope." ~Skip, Inside Out

Here's a shout out for the Trinity, which is a holy number in Christianity (esp. early Christianity). With the dynamic of Holtz, Connor(Stephen), and Angel(us), you have a bastardization of the Trinity, with each of them becoming at some point both the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit - with the exception of Holtz.


HOLTZ
Even though the time frame is wrong (Holtz is from 18th Century England) he represents a Dante's version of the Church, or the beginning Middle Ages time period (12th Century to 15th, say), in which vengeance and justice were the common themes taught. The Church ruled with fear; this is the time of the Spanish Inquisition. "Hell" is clearly defined in the Inferno, and obviously the writers of ME know their Dante, and made a point of reminding the viewer with Lilah giving Wesley a copy of the first book in the Divine Comedy. We first meet Holtz in "Offspring" where he finally gets his hands on the beast that killed his family with the help of an excommunicated Monsignor, and lets Angelus know their methods are "the old ways." For the record, they're in Rome, as Darla wanted to get a good look at the frescoes on the Sistine Chapel. (She probably enjoyed all the bloody imagery of torture and suffering.)

Holtz's entire mindset with regards to Angel is to see if a completely evil being (as he believes Angel to be Angelus still) can be made "to pay" for their sins. The Church at the time of the Inquisition was not concerned with ethics. Morals were defined in far different terms than they are today. While I would see Holtz as an instrument of evil - he uses an innocent baby to hurt his enemy, just like Jesus did! Wait... - according to the church in the middle ages, he was exacting the Lord's justice on the wicked. He is the Holy Father exacting justice/vengeance on those who would seek to destroy him.

He is the Old Testament: a wife turning to look at her home and becoming a pillar of salt. A son telling his brothers that their dad was drunk and naked in his tent and then being marked as a servant for all to recognize him as a sinner. A recently freed people being forced to wander in the desert for 40 years because they wanted a nosh. A man who must sacrifice his beloved son, a miracle child given late in life, to prove his love and complete adoration to his god. This is the god and teachings that Holtz follows.

He also plays the part of the Holy Spirit, who makes way in man's heart for the Son. But boy, does he put his own spin on that. He makes way in the Son's heart for Angel. He lies with the truth, never flinching, and raises up a child to hate his father, to honor HIM. What's interesting to me, is how strictly Holtz adhered to his Malachi (the very last scripture of the Old Testament): "and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." He was obeying god by turning Connor(Stephen). And then, when the unthinkable happened, CONNOR LIKED HIS FATHER, even a little bit, Holtz SAW that, and was STILL able to use this passage to his advantage. Stephen would obey his father (Holtz) and destroy the monster.

I've gone on and on in my LJ about the duality of Stephen/Connor, and it's important to the themes of Christianity: Jesus, who is the obvious first instinct when comparing characters to religious themes, had DUAL natures. He was both the divine and the mundane. Connor, both demon and human. The Son is the Word of God: the potential for both good and evil. And how.

So let's get the Jesus themes out first.

CONNOR
Quick run down of the Jesus story: for generations spanning back to King David, some would argue to Adam, a holy blood line was maintained. (Order of Aurelius) Now, while it's easy to say that Connor's miracle birth = Jesus', I'm going to say it's that, and also Elizabeth's birth of John the Baptist (the one who prepares the way for Christ), and JASMINE = Jesus' birth. But we're talking Connor, so I need to focus. Heh. Connor is at various times in his story arc the Son (duh), the Father (Jasmine - and boy does that story arc better represent the Jesus story than Connor's does), and the Holy Spirit, who is also known as The Comforter. (The Destroyer)

For me, as a person who once fervently believed in the Christian mythos, the most important aspect of that was Christ a) being tempted with all of world's pleasures by Satan (he will show you many things, bright things, Connor) and b) the Garden of Gethsemane where - again, arguably - the price for mankind was paid. (It didn't matter the METHOD in which Jesus died, only that he did. He made his choice in the garden.) This is PERFECTLY mirrored in the episode "Inside Out," but with Joss obviously going for the darker aspect, the inverse of "goodness" in the Bible's tale. Who is the devil showing Connor the "many bright things?" It's easy to say Cordelia, but is that true? Broken down, it looks terrible, what she's asking Connor to do:

Kill a virgin/innocent person so their baby will live. (sacrificial lamb clean and unmarked - unblemished - because that is pleasing in mine eyes.)

Cordy has also killed untold hundreds in her quest to bring about the birth of her child. Evil, right? Think about how much evil was done in the name of God. And I'm not talking the Crusades. I'm talking Noah. "Well, nothing good here, so let's flood it all and start again. Except for you, your kids, their wives, and a bunch of animals, and we'll not talk about the implausibility of the whole two-by-two thing, mm'kay? My will be done, yadda yadda." Not enough? Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah (and I'm not even going to GO to the place where Lot offers the crowd to rape his daughters so he can keep talking with the angel.) Joss hits us over the head again and again how "generals" have to make cold decisions. Buffy, Angel, and Connor both have to sacrifice the needs of one for the needs of many. (Spock shout out!) So if you believe in the Christian god, then you accept that some people have to die in His name.

And I love how Joss reminds us that the Bible isn't all sunshine and puppies. Because it isn't. He magnifies the old ways, the old beliefs that got us here with our current religious mindset, and takes away the comfort of pleasant hymns that soothe (I know that my redeemer lives) and the holding-hands nature of the modern protestant church, and shows us the darkness of an All-Powerful being (Cordy). The ego (Illyria). The need for worship and adoration (take your pick.)

"Thou shalt have no other god before me, for I am a jealous god." Look at Cordelia's reaction to Connor when he shows interest in Faith. But again, getting ahead of myself. Still with the Trinity and now it's Angel's turn.

ANGEL
The obvious parallel is with God the Father. He is the Source, the Way (the sex), the Beginning and the End. "God loved us, and so he gave His Only Son." But here's the twist: (brilliantly mentioned in the WC panel discussion) instead of sacrificing his son so that Man Might Live, Angel sacrifices The World so that the SON might live. For me, the most heartbreaking (and again: non-believer) sentence in the entire bible is the following passage when Christ hangs on the cross: Eloi, Eloi lama sabacthani? (Father, Father, why has thou forsaken me?) That is EVERY MOMENT of Connor's life. But which father is he crying for?

"If ye love me, keep my commandments." All of those that work for/with Angel learn very quickly that they have to obey. Oh, they question. They rail. They argue. But ultimately, it's Angel's will that will be done. Kingdom come. And woe unto those that stand in his way. A reoccurring theme on Angel is that ultimately, the Higher Power representation fails. They all make mistakes, they all have flaws, they're all... human. Esque. Immortal NEVER means untouchable, unbreakable, un-killable. And I think Joss shows us - through Angel and the others - that "god," or the modern Christian definition of god, made BIG mistakes. But how did it affect the grander picture? Angel has been working towards redemption for over a hundred years. Wolfram and Hart fostered evil for millions of years. Angel's time span is short in the grand scheme of things (and the reign of the Christians has been short, too.)

The difference between Angel and other rulers/supreme beings/immortals is that he doesn't think he's better than anyone he's working to help. Hell, even Buffy - who I love, no character hate here, people - felt she was better than the rest. Which made her inferior. Nice superiority/inferiority complex there. But not Angel. Angel is no different in his quest for redemption than any other poor sot schlepping on the pebble we call earth. And I think that's the god Joss WISHES existed. That's the kind of superior being that's worthy of our love - one who doesn't want it, but helps us regardless, because he SHOULD.

Angel is the moral of most bible stories, as well. He is the Good Samaritan. He is Lazarus. He is Job, my GOD is he Job! The PTB are constantly using him as a pawn to test his devotion to the task, to see how far they can push him and have him still remain faithful to "the mission." When he slits his son's throat so that Connor can be born again into a New and Pure life, he is Jesus giving up the ghost. He is god allowing his Son to suffer at the hands of man, which he is, as well. He is Jesus betrayed by Judas (Wesley). The difference with Angel, and the god of the Bible, is Angel doesn't believe in the pearly gates, the sunshine forevermore, the reign of peace.

So why does he fight? The Christian lives their life if not for the promise of Glory in the afterward (*cough* shanshu) but because they have been commanded to. And also because things are Better In The Next Life. That's never not a factor. Angel - and man, does that scene hurt - signs away his eternal glory, his chance at redemption (physical proof at any rate) and sacrifices HIMSELF. He continues to fight because he HAS TO. Because it's right. Because first and foremost, he believes in balance. For every evil that rises up, he'll strike back. Sure, he wants to tip the scales towards good, but he also recognizes that it will never happen. It will never be finished. This is a completely new concept in Christianity, and this is where the character moves beyond the mores of the Bible and becomes something else. Which - for me, at any rate - is what makes Joss so damn wonderful. Joss brings in the mindset of Buddhism, of yin and yang, and applies it to the "morals" of the Bible. And I totally, COMPLETELY believe that Joss would use finger quotes on the word "morals." (See: all the examples above)

Joss took the stories, the lessons of the Bible over and over again (as most Western culture does when telling a story, and let's not forget that it all came from the polytheistic religions that came BEFORE the time of Christ, hello Easter! Yeah. Not what it claims to be.) but pulls away the shiny veneer of "God loves you and harps! And gold streets!" and turns the rock over and shines a torch on all the little "throwaway" stories that riddle the Old and New Testaments, because they don't fit in with the current picture of god.

"For I am a Jealous God." If I may draw from ST:TNG, "Love me!" Sacrificing children. And for those that may not be aware, the general consensus among Old Testament scholars is that Isaac (Abraham's son) was a GROWN MAN when he was bound to an altar to be sacrificed. Whoa. And how about those Egyptians? Did those all of first born sons deserve to be killed by God? Or all the elderly that most likely died of dehydration when the water was all turned to blood? That's some kind god, ya got there. And that is ONE book of the bible. The god of the Old Testament is a COLD god. A god of vengeance and fury and justice and a hint of a promise to something better. And His will be done, boy howdy.

Angel puts a human face (yeah, yeah, you know what I mean) to these horrible decisions, let's us see the pain in the choice, and thereby becomes a more sympathetic god than one who just sits on high smiting people who defy them. Which brings us to:

FREE WILL vs. PREDESTINATION
Man, is this the big theme of the series, or WHAT? And we're told this over and over and over again. Connor: "Good? Evil? They're just words." The entire season 4 arc is ALL ABOUT FREE WILL - does it even exist? Gunn and Skip in "Inside Out:"

Gunn: No way. We make our own choices.
Skip: Yeah, sure. Cheese sandwich here, uh, when to floss. But the big stuff...?


The best scene BAR NONE for the proof that we DO have free will (and how we make wrong choices, and are INFLUENCED to make those choices) is when Connor chooses to kill the virgin. Absolutely does he know that killing is wrong. He feels that he has no choice, but when he is talking with Darla, he begins to understand that he DOES. Only when his fears - and the physical presence of Cordevilia luring him to her wishes - take control, his face is wrenched in agony and he yells at Darla "You are not my mother!" And drags that crying child to the slaughter. God. That is some DARK stuff, there.

And that's a great explanation for why men does the evil that it does... do. Fear. What's Connor's fear? That he'll turn out to be as miserable a father as HIS. (Because as a child, he can't see the heavy sacrifices that his father DID make for him. He's still clouded with the lies of Holtz.) That a chance to make a family WORK will go wrong. (Family is his number one motivator. For both good and evil.) For his overwhelming need to be loved. God, does he just need someone to LOVE him. And not lie. (And there's another theme, but I am getting out of control.) "You are all my children now." From Freddie Krueger to Jesus, that line has brought more men to their knees to follow the wishes of someone more powerful than they are.

And what makes Connor submit to Jasmine? We find out later that he has seen her for the horror she is all along. (And why is he REALLY not bothered by that? Yeah, hell dimension, appearances don't mean much but it's more than that. Look at any picture of the crucifixion from the medieval times. Christ, sores and blood and gore all over him, his face contorted with agony... That's the message Holtz taught him from infancy. Pain and agony in the name of others is beautiful and righteous.) So Connor accepts Jasmine willingly and submits to Her Will because NOW... NOW he doesn't HAVE to make a choice. And given the last choice he made (oh, god his FACE when the blood splatters on him and ACK!), that has to be a lot of relief.

And there's a wonder at why ANYONE would choose to live in that world. Jasmine takes away all choice (and pain and suffering and...) and you just get to BE. "A slave state" Fred calls it. But... what on earth do you think the Christian view of Heaven is? No more sorrow, no more suffering... How on earth is that possible? You got it - no more choice. Just float and strum your harp. That's a horrible oversimplification, but then again: I grew up in the south. Sure Jasmine eats people. The Biblical God sacrificed people ALL THE TIME, psshh. But through Team Angel, Joss makes us really LOOK at that concept. Yes, a few dying so that billions can live seems a small price to pay. Unless your loved one is the price, you know? And even though the knee-jerk reaction is to call Jasmine evil, she does do some good. She gives people peace, hope... And some people go loo loo as a result. Just like today with Jesus and the whole killing doctors is justified because "they kill babies" thing. Loo loo.

Quickly, and then I am SHUTTING UP because I'm getting TEDIOUS, Jasmine takes Connor's "pain" at one point (like... she's all vampiric with need and creepy, too) and she feels HIS pain to grant him peace. THAT, my friends, is an excellent - yet creepy - allusion to the Garden of Gethsemane, too.

GOD I HAVEN'T EVEN GOTTEN INTO PROPHESIES!! Okay, this is the part where I shut up and YOU talk. :) cross linked to churchofjoss

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Comments

lettered
Jul. 30th, 2006 07:03 am (UTC)
Which really, that's what a Christian is asked to do for Jesus, and what Jesus did with God the Father in Gethsemane (if thou wilt remove this cup from me, nevertheless, thy will be done).

Exactly. The problem with the Christ/Jasmine metaphor is that Christ never forced anyone to love him. And that's what the temptations are all about, I think. But Connor isn't affected by the spell of her and chooses to love her. He chooses to submit to her, too--giving up his free will to her, but that's also what God asks people to do, I think.

he doesn't believe in a "final reward" which is what I meant by the pearly gates and puppies comment. As in, he's dust (or shanshu'd and run through on a spike - heh) and he steps into Heeeeeaaaaaaaaven. It's the whole heaven and hell on earth thing, which - season 1 Angel - fits more into his game plan of what I do NOW is what counts, and it only counts for now.

Oh. I guess I think of shanshu as a final reward, which I guess is why I was confused by what you said. He obviously believes in shanshu at the end of S1, and in what he did for Connor, etc. I never really thought about Angel in terms of "Heaven" because you're right, getting to lead a happy life on earth, and then dying (even ceasing to exist) is really what would probably make Angel happy, and that's far more of an Eastern concept (cessation of the cycle) than Western (which seems to be more about victory, rah!). (But if Angel talked to Buffy at all after BtVS S6, he knows there is a Heaven in his 'verse, so uh, not sure how that fits into what you're saying.)

But even if we take it for granted Angel isn't busting his ass just so he can get in the Golden Gates, shanshu is still about striving for something in the future, when your point is that he's not heading toward an ultimate good but doing good now for now's and good's sake. I just don't really see that. He SAYS that's how the world works and that's who he should be, but he doesn't seem able to handle it.

He does sign away his shanshu, but anyway, aside from the nature of the "final reward" Angel would want for himself, I still feel that Angel thinks something "final" is possible for the world. I think he feels like he can get some where, that he really can tip the balance, unlike what you said. Even if he logically knows he can't, it seems to me he doesn't accept that.

These are just some things I've been thinking about Angel in the past several months. I've been meaning to write some meta about it, but I keep getting distracted--thanks for letting me get some thoughts off my chest. You're awesome too! I love how you always want people to discuss and debate with you; it's such a welcoming atmosphere you create.
stoney321
Jul. 30th, 2006 02:32 pm (UTC)
(I'm hitting you paragraph by paragraph) Oooh, and think the message of "forcing themselves on you" isn't a reflection purely of how Joss sees Christ, but how he sees his FOLLOWERS. COuld just be me, though. And Connor represents a true believer/follower - the ideal. Sees allt he good and bad in the person/concept to submit to, and does anyway.

Oh, I'm going to disagree with your comment about Eastern/Western as most Eastern philosophies are ON-GOING cycles: your reincarnation. Western religions have two or three stages, with the exception of Mormonism, which follows the Eastern method of never ending exaltation and growth beyond this life. (The two/three stages: pre-existence (Milton - not all accept this), earth, purgatory/heaven)

And while I accept that in Jossverse there are heavens and hells (and literally, the characters GO there, yeah, you're right.) I always got the impression that the Shanshu was symbolic of a "great reward." Along the lines of "in my Father's House are many mansions" (which could be an allegory for the Hyperion, if you squiunt real hard), which for the Christian faith, heaven = done. Like Buffy mentioned: I was finished, complete, done. So, for me, Angel signing away that opportunity to have a human body (that could be resurrected in the Final Battle) and be souled, too, that was him giving up that final reward.

BUT. I love the idea you brought up about Connor being his legacy, Connor being the living embodiment of the Shanshu.

I want to hear more of your thoughts on how you see Angel's philosphy on life and fighting the good fight. I think we're barely scratching the surface in your comment, and I know you've got a good eight or nine paragraphs on it. Heh. OMG CONVINCE ME!! *clutches at your pulsing brain of Goodness and Light*

(And man, debate and discourse are the best way to learn, imo! I wish MORE people would step up and slap me down - people hinted they were going to do that, but then they never came back! Am I scary??)
lettered
Aug. 1st, 2006 08:29 am (UTC)
Oh, I'm going to disagree with your comment about Eastern/Western as most Eastern philosophies are ON-GOING cycles: your reincarnation.

Yes, but I was referring nirvana, liberation from the cycle of reincarnation. In Western culture, the impression of Heaven I get is that it's something the individual self gets to experience. As I understand it, nirvana is about lack of self and cessation of experiencing. I meant that for Angel, dying and ceasing completely (liberation) was probably more enticing than getting to go up to the pearly place. Perhaps it was a faulty analogy.

I always got the impression that the Shanshu was symbolic of a "great reward."

Then we definitely agree!

So, for me, Angel signing away that opportunity to have a human body (that could be resurrected in the Final Battle) and be souled, too, that was him giving up that final reward.

Yes. But I still think he does so because he thinks it will Change The World. He still acts like he can tip the balance. He still thinks the sacrifice is worth something, when in Jossverse I don't think it is. If he didn't still deep in his heart feel that the battle of Good vs Evil could be Won, he would realize his big gesture in NFA means a whole lot less than actually surviving and doing as much good for as long as he can.

BUT. I love the idea you brought up about Connor being his legacy, Connor being the living embodiment of the Shanshu.

Hee! Lynne brought that up. But I agree with it, too.

I want to hear more of your thoughts on how you see Angel's philosphy on life and fighting the good fight.

Ha, thanks for being interested and interesting, and you're not scary! I'm trying to write a meta-y thing I've been meaning to write forever about Angel; some of the points I'm trying to make here I'm also making there. Like I said, it's been stewing around my head for a while.

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Are You Actually

Reading this? I'm just curious. Because that's really detail-oriented of you. Feel free to stop reading. But you can see that there's more here, so are you going to keep reading? Really? That's pretty dedicated. I'm impressed. No, really. I'm not being sarcastic, why do you get like that? See, this is the problem I have with your mother - yes. YES. I'm going there. It's time we put all of our cards on the table.

I love you, why are you doing this? After all we've been through? You don't have to be like this. You know, still reading. You could be baking a pie. And then sharing it with me.

Time Wot It Is

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