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Response to “Mark Driscoll on Twilight” [part 2]

This is the second part of a three-part series response to the video, “Mark Driscoll on Twilight.” Part 1 sets some ground rules for my response, part 2 covers my major objections to Driscoll’s arguments, and part 3 will go into some minor issues I have with Driscoll’s arguments and also some points on which we agree. Now to my response.

Driscoll seems to focus on two issues: Stephanie Meyer is a Mormon and the main conflict in the series is between humans, vampires, and animals.

The Mormon Issue

Meyer is a Mormon. So what. Driscoll gives a very sarcastic and—in my opinion—disrespectful history of the Mormon religion (which starts at 6:23). If I was watching this with one of my dear Mormon friends, I would feel very awkward during that part of the video.

Furthermore, focusing on meaningless details that are good only for a laugh does nothing to strengthen the argument for a mother who is going to have to explain to her daughter why she can’t read Twilight, or for anyone who might want to use the Twilight controversy as a way to witness to someone who loves the series. We need an actual arguable point.

So the angel’s name is Moroni (pronounced “more-own-eye”), which happens to have the word “moron” in it’s spelling. So what. Completely irrelevant.

But it sure is good for a laugh! Oh, and here. Let me tuck in a quick biblical reason to discredit the angel Moroni as well.

Here’s my hangup with Driscoll’s approach to The Mormon Issue: I have a problem with any leader, religious or otherwise, who models and thus advocates mocking another belief system or people group. Disagree, call them out on their weaknesses, but do so respectfully, so that your people might go out and do the same.

In Driscoll’s and his congregation’s cases, this would have encouraged the love which draws people to Christ. Insulting someone’s belief system–no matter how strongly you disagree–does not demonstrate Christly love. It drives people away.

The last thing I’ll say on this point is that influence Meyer’s religion is, from all that I can tell, completely absent from this series (with the exception of the chastity until marriage belief). This is a biggie because Driscoll makes a big deal out of Meyer’s religion, but that is just another empty argument. Should we only read fiction written by believers? Or only by Southern Baptists?

The Vampire Chastity Issue

When countering one popular defense of the plot, that the main characters, Bella and Edward, at least wait until they are married to have sex, Driscoll exclaims, “but it’s vampire chastity!” It seems that he is bothered by

  1. Bella is 17 and Edward is a 108-year-old vampire
  2. When they consummate their marriage, they have a half-human, half-vampire baby.

I have two problems with flippant dismissal of a topic that is, in my experience at least, regularly and consistently taught to church-attending teens.

First, the “vampire” part. Driscoll believes that vampires are spiritual, but of the devil because they drink blood and offer life after death but not through the saving blood of Jesus.

I’ll discuss the life-after-death point in part 3, but when did mythical beings and beasts—of any color—go off limits as pedagogical examples? What about The Chronicles of Narnia? Must we throw that out as worthy of learning any lessons from because there are half-human/half-animal creatures in it, for example.

Despite earning a B.A. in English Literature, I was never good at literary interpretation, so I’m not going to suggest what good or evil the Cullen brand of vampire could symbolize. After reading the books, I am not yet convinced that the good vampires in the series should be interpreted as evil by Christians.

Do allow me, thought, to give a little background in case you haven’t read the series. The Cullens (Edward’s vampire family) acknowledge that killing humans to drink their blood is evil—they agree with Driscoll on this. But they choose to fight it; they call themselves “vegetarian vampires” because they satisfy their need for blood by preying on animals only. Denying their thirst for human blood is painful and requires serious amounts of self-control. But they deny their evil nature and instead choose life for their natural prey. Similarly, Christians should be denying their sinful nature and choose Life.

Edward probably feels more strongly about his “life” than Driscoll does. As it gets closer to the time when Bella would become a vampire, readers see him wrestle with whether or not he has a soul.

Now let’s look at the chastity part. Edward is a main character, a good guy, who values saving yourself until marriage. It seems to me that, in today’s culture, it’s typically the guy who wants sex so bad, not the girl. Results?

  1. Twilight implies that it is okay for women to be sexual, to crave sex. This is personal for me, because I said no for so long that I had trouble saying yes when I was finally married. I was sort of programmed to be prude and not want sex.
  2. Edward’s chastity and Bella’s unfailing love for him teaches those teenage girls that they should find it attractive when a guy wants to wait. Again, how often do you see that in our culture?
  3. Finally, we see time and again throughout the series that the hero struggles with evil or temptation, but practices self-control. This is again a personal issue for me, and one of the reasons I read the series so many times.

Women Can Crave Sex

So, Twilight says it’s okay for girls to desire boys. Now, this is changing with shows like Sex in the City, but when I grew up, girls were typically portrayed as prude in the media and guys were typically portrayed as lusty horn bags. I had a True Love Waits Bible which had a special page helping girls say no to their boyfriends. There was no similar page for boys. My parents and my church taught me that I should say no to those horn bags’ advances, and the result was that I didn’t date guys who pressured me because everyone at my high school knew what type of girl I was.

Let me clear about one thing: I am not faulting anyone here. However, I think that sex is a serious subject and what a teenage girl is taught about sex, explicitly and implicitly, has a lasting impression on her life. That education needs to take into consideration both her chaste years and her married years. It’s not enough to dish out cheesy, “Sex within marriage is a beautiful thing!” comforts. They didn’t help me. What I needed to hear was something like, “Say no now, then say ‘hell yes!’ later.” Or “You might think you want to have sex right now, but just wait to you’re married! You’ll want to have sex all the time then!” I needed to hear that I should and would get turned on once I got married, and that should give in fully to those urges at that time.

See, on Arugust 14, 2004, I got married. And suddenly, overnight, it was okay for me to say yes; I could now have sex.

But it still felt naughty. It took a long time for sex to really feel like the celebration of intimacy that I was taught that it should be and not something forbidden. And it took an even longer time for me to feel comfortable admitting that I really wanted to have sex, that I desired it.

I can’t blame all of this on outside sources—I’m pretty sure that part of this is my personality and part of it is a medication I have been taking off and on for nearly a decade. But I value Twilight because it reinforced for me that I can want to have sex.

I imagine that Driscoll would argue that most teenage boys are not like Edward and would take advantage of girls wanting sex, resulting in a mass deflowering of our newly sexualized teen girls, and I agree with him. This is one disadvantage to this lesson offered by the Twilight series.

However, I respect that Twilight opposes the cultural norm here and says that men are chaste and women lusty. This is the part where discerning parents (i.e. those who read what their children want to read) will council their girls, reminding them that while Bella feels sexual attraction and wants to have sex outside of marriage, they are expected to have those sexual desires but control them until marriage, like Edward. Once they are married, they can and should give themselves over to that desire. But this requires that parents take a very personal and dedicated interested in what they’re children are reading.

Maybe this point is enough for you to say, “Deal-breaker. I cannot let my little girl read this series because of that.” That’s okay with me.

Edward Is Chaste

Edward is a hero who resolutely guards Bella’s purity (along with his own) because he loves and respects her that much and because he believes in the sanctity of marriage. What a great guy for our daughters to use as a model for who they date. Edward is setting the bar high for today’s teenage boys!

Edward Teaches Self-Control

Edward’s consistent struggle to acknowledge, ponder, and then overcome his desires—whether it is for Bella’s blood, for her virginity, for her protection, for nearly every big decision he makes—presents another excellent standard for our children.

Our culture teaches impulsiveness. It does not value carefully considering choices. Most TV shows and movies do not show characters weighing the advantages and disadvantages of a certain course of action for all involved. Books tend to do this more, for sure, but the modern young adult fiction I’ve read doesn’t, not to this extent. We do not always learn that we must wrestle with decisions, before and after we make them. And that is an important lesson for all ages.

And that’s a lesson that I have needed to learn at this age. Edward showed me a calm way to handle issues, issues that I much too often mishandle. He logically considered how he might react to a situation, and he anticipated possible outcomes and other people’s reactions. He respected the fact that others would disagree with his choices, but he held steadfast. The final battle of the entire series is fought logically, not violently, and it is won by defense rather than offense.

I have a temper. It can flare up at the slightest offense some days. The part I struggle with the most, the part that embarrasses me the most, is that my temper is usually reserved for Rob alone. I seem to have no problem controlling myself while under fire from most other sources.

I am working on it, but it’s a hard habit to break. Strangely enough, reading Twilight reminds me how I should be handling it when Rob pushes my buttons because Bella often pushes Edward’s buttons, as 17-year-old girls tend to do. While reading the books, I was actually more deliberate, more pensive, more controlled during conflicts with Rob. And some of those habits stuck, while some of them come and go. I’m still trying to build skills that Edward displays. Modeling restraint in all areas, not just sexual restraint, is a strength of this series that Christians often ignore or are ignorant of because they have not read it themselves.

Whew! That was a lot to cover today. But I feel passionately about this topic, and I love you, my dear reader, for indulging my every whim and reading whatever strikes my fancy to write about. I also love comments or response posts! *wink, wink*

Notes

* Throughout the first two books, Edward struggles to decide whether he should distance himself from Bella for her own protection, not only because of his lust for her blood, but also because the world of vampires is a dangerous one for humans to live in. He tries several different ways to protect her, and in the end, discovers that he just needs to protect her himself. He is capable of this because his lust for her blood becomes manageable when he thought she had died; he finds strength when he realizes that he could never live without her and giving into the intoxicating scent of her blood would only tear her from him forever.

** The Cullen vampire clan is different from all of the other vampires in Twilight because they believe that killing humans for their blood is evil. They call themselves, jokingly, “vegetarian vampires” because they satisfy their need for blood by killing only animals.


9 thoughts on “Response to “Mark Driscoll on Twilight” [part 2]

  1. Isabelle

    21 Mar on 2011 at 12:03

    Hello! I love your blog, but your blog doesn’t load on my Blackberry. Should I disable cookies or something else? Thank you. kisses Isabelle

    • admin

      31 Mar on 2011 at 17:14

      @Isabelle: I’m sorry it doesn’t load on your Blackberry! I have a mobile plugin installed that is supposed to adapt it for mobile devices, including Blackberries. I have changed some settings–does it work now?

  2. PointSpecial

    08 Mar on 2011 at 2:23

    Hi Linden,

    Interesting discussion… but while you do make some valid points, I think you should go back and listen to the entire sermon, not just this 13 minute snippet.

    http://www.marshillchurch.org/media/luke/jesus-heals-a-demonized-boy

    This is an hour-long sermon that is part of a 2.5 year series studying the book of Luke.

    It is 19% of one sermon that in and of itself is 1.5% (currently) of the series. So, all told, it’s about 1/3 of 1 % of the entire continuing series. And it is essentially an application of a previous point that was made during the sermon.

    He’s trying to make a point about how culture can mask many of the messages that our media is sending us and that one potentially redeeming feature of a particular work doesn’t make up for other pieces that are far less redeeming.

    If you watch the clip that was originally posted apart from the beginning 50 minutes (the entirety which is in the above link I found), it just becomes a sound byte that can be criticized and ripped apart because it is taken out of context… but if you watch it in context of the book of Luke and specifically the 9th chapter, where Jesus casts out a demon from a young boy, then it makes much more sense.

    Now, he certainly is poking fun… the critique of his tact is certainly a valid one. He’s making a caricature of a well-known cultural icon that has been widely been accepted… but I don’t think that people really step back to think about what it is they (and their kids) are reading. He’s using the approach to show some of the absurdity of the books that, when you are in the universe of the books, seems normal. One of the reasons why the books have been so successful is that they are engaging and written in such a way that you are emotionally invested in what happens… and it is written for an audience that is craving many of the emotions that it is portraying (more on that later…)

    But though his approach may be a bit suspect, the message itself is still an important one. People ARE being sucked into it… and influenced by it… and it seems like they don’t realize it.

    And I agree with ladyshoes that parents should be involved with their kids lives and care about what it is they are reading and watching… that’s one of Driscoll’s main points. He mentions the moms who are actively participating in these parties and points out that if a Dad was doing this with his teenage sons, he would be seen as a pedophile… what a double standard!

    And specifically with Mormonism (and I will honor your request to keep the theological discourse about the differences between Christianity and Mormonism at a minimum), he briefly mentions a verse in Galatians… let’s take a look at that verse:

    Galatians 1:8-9

    8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

    Driscoll makes his brief case against Mormonism on the grounds of the angel’s name, Moroni… which takes away from a much more salient and up-front verse that denounces the origins of the faith itself. Interestingly, Paul, writing Galatians, doesn’t just include others… he says “if WE” before anyone else, lest he, Paul, should come under the influence of any demonic forces and try to deceive them with a false gospel. So, if ANYONE comes to you with a gospel contrary to what has been taught, then they are under God’s curse and shouldn’t be listened to.

    Thus, from Driscoll’s perspective and from a biblical Christian perspective, the dream of Joseph Smith came not from an angel to help Joseph, it came from a demon to deceive him.

    Driscoll brushes over that point… but then uses it’s conclusion to compare the planting of the ideas of Mormonism to the planting of ideas of Twilight.

    Now, most people would agree that, the concept of someone sucking the blood of someone else and thus killing them would be an evil, murderous act. This is a rational and clear thought. I will grant that the sarcasm makes the point harder to grasp and that is unfortunate… but if a story on the news was talking about the victims of attacks where they were killed and their blood was sucked, it wouldn’t be a wonderful story, it would be a tragedy and seen as such. But it is painted in the story as a fantasy and love story and these desires are accepted as being ok.

    There’s a ton more here but I need sleep.

    I would strongly suggest taking the time to watch the whole sermon and not just the last few minutes as was posted on YouTube. I think it paints a clearer picture.

    • admin

      31 Mar on 2011 at 17:13

      @PointSpecial: Thank you so much for your comment! I am truly ashamed that it has taken me so long to even acknowledge it. I want to give it the respect it deserves, but my free time comes and goes these days, and it’s been going more often than coming lately. :) I promise to respond and respond as fully as I can, but it might not be until the end of the semester. (I’m an online college composition instructor.)

      • PointSpecial

        31 Mar on 2011 at 22:45

        No worries at all!

  3. Lorraine

    04 Mar on 2011 at 0:00

    I find this post series fascinating: mainly because I couldn’t really get into the books myself and didn’t see why everyone loves them so much. I loved the idea of the plot, but the characters and writing fell short for me.

    However, reading your thoughts has given me a different perspective on characters such as Bella that I previously saw as a step back for female role-models in literature. Kind of makes me want to reread the series with this in mind… Can’t wait for more! We’ll have to discuss this post in more detail off-line.

  4. Mari

    03 Mar on 2011 at 9:18

    GREAT points, Linden. I think you are spot-on on all points, especially female sexuality. If we are going to demonize characters in pop-literature, I don’t think Edward is the best choice. Love the defense! Can’t wait to read the rest.

  5. ladyshoes

    03 Mar on 2011 at 2:26

    I believe that what children read into these books needs to be addressed by their parents. As you said, parents should read the books that their children want to read. Then, even if some aspects of it are questionable, the parent is able to have a meaningful conversation about it with their children. As for the Twilight series itself, I found the books to be more than acceptable for young teens, although I find the notion of finding mature and long lasting love in the teen years somewhat fanciful. However, Bella is representative of many young girls in today’s society, coming from a broken home and having had to grow up quickly. Although I think there are certainly better role models for young girls in literature, foremost Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, Bella is probably more fathomable to the modern teen girl.

    As for Edward, again I agree that he serves as a good role model for what the modern young woman should look for in a man. He’s respectful and empathetic, both traits often lacking in teenage boys. If a young girl holds out to find someone like Edward Cullen, then she’ll probably end up waiting to begin a serious relationship until she’s older and has found a mature and respectful man.

    Ultimately, attacking Twilight on a religious front is like accusing the Harry Potter series of promoting evil; it’s fatuous and ill conceived. Moreover, attacking the author’s religious beliefs is petty and weakens all of Driscoll’s further arguments. I don’t believe that the Twilight series has much, if any, religious connotations. For parents, it’s a matter of reading the series and deciding if they believe it’s appropriate for their child or not. But denouncing the books on a weakly constructed argument about the author’s religion and the morality of vampirism isn’t logical.

  6. ww

    03 Mar on 2011 at 0:56

    Great discussion. It reminded me that one of my friends said one thing she didn’t like about the book is how the characters slept in the same room every night. Even though they were chaste, she didn’t like the idea that teenage girls would think that was okay to do.