On Facebook several weeks ago, a friend mentioned in a passing status something about Christian unity and the division of denominations to which someone replied with a quote from Lewis’s introduction to On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius: “We are all rightly distressed, and ashamed also, at the divisions of Christendom. … They are bad, but such people do not know what it looks like from without. Seen from there, what is left intact despite all the divisions, still appears (as it truly is) an immensely formidable unity.”
Lewis’s point is that however divided we may think Christianity is within Christendom itself, from the outside it appears more unified than not, more securely identifiable than we realise being so close to it ourselves. While this may have been a fitting assertion when it was first made in the mid-twentieth century, I wonder whether the perceived unity of Christianity in contemporary culture is as accurate as we would hope. With the globalisation of popular opinion thanks to the Internet, where extreme positions can become perceived as normative, is the identifiable unity of the Christian faith the faith we still want to call our own?
Let us consider the latest season of HBO’s cult hit True Blood as an example.
This past year, True Blood introduced a new element to its already complex plot: vampire religion. With an extensive mythos, a vampire bible, the retelling of Jewish lore, incorporating the figures of Lilith and God as vampires with Adam and Eve created to be Lilith’s food, the show demythologised and then remythologised Christianity into its own image. While a fall is not quite articulated, viewers deduce that it has something to do with the humans killing Lilith, though the how of this is not mentioned.
In True Blood, when a vampire is staked, it explodes into a sludge-pile of blood and viscera. Vampire blood causes non-vampires to heal quickly or to become crazed, super strong, hyper sexual, overly aware of their senses. The older the vampire, the stronger the effect. When Lilith was staked, the legend holds that her vampire disciples collected her blood and saved it, passing it down from generation to generation to be consumed only in a dropped dose by the vampire elite, those responsible for the religious and political governance of the vampiric community. The small dose causes a slight sense of euphoria but not much more.
The obvious parallels to the Eucharist are confirmed when early in the season, one of the vampire elite says that the blood is merely symbolic, refuting vampire fundamentalists who claim it is the literal blood of Lilith. The vampire denouncing this claim insists that the blood in the vile is no more the blood of Lilith than the communion wafers are Jesus to the Christians. He then goes on to say that those who read the vampire bible’s creation account literally are delusional extremists and fundamentalists, implying that those Christians who read the creation account in their Bibles literally are also delusional.
In light of the question I raised at the beginning, let us focus briefly on the curious conflation in that scene with believing in a literal eucharistic presence in the vampiric eucharist and believing in a literal creation account.
Outside of Roman Catholicism, and even therein, there is a wide spectrum, it is rare to find a Christian who believes in the literal presence of Christ in the Eucharist and who also believes in a literal account of a six day creation. There are usually those who believe in literal presence but a symbolic creation account or who believe in a symbolic Communion but a literal six day creation.
Yet True Blood wants to equate vampiric fundamentalism–literal creation account, literal eucharistic presence–with Christian fundamentalism; they seem to be unaware of any theological conflict with the joining.
Though we may resist the show’s conclusions, does it warrant our consideration that, to the outside world, it is possible Christianity looks like a faith without nuance? That Jesus is just in a wafer or in a cup, or that if the Bible says creation took six days, there is no other way of reading it than that it took six days? If this is how we are being perceived, is this the united front we have hoped to convey? If True Blood, being as popular as it is, reflects this understanding of Christianity, are we obligated to pay attention to it and to engage it?
Preston Yancey is earning his MLitt in Theology, Imagination, and the Arts from the University of St. Andrews and will stay on next year for the PhD. He is the author Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again (Zondervan 2014).