Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Deconstruction: Night of the Living Dead Christian 19

He's Saved! Howl-elujah!

Welcome to the detailed (and spoiler-rich) review of Night of the Living Dead Christian. For a briefer review that doesn't give anything away, read the main review. If you're curious, here's a discussion of why I'm doing this.

This is a rather long bit of reaction, so I'm breaking it up into sections. Hopefully that will allow for more bite-sized discussions. So, now that you've all been fairly warned, we'll pick up the deconstruction after the jump:

Luther is a werewolf who wishes to be free of his curse. He has spent most of the book trying various things, none of which have worked. Following a fight with a werewolf hunter inside a burning church, Luther has spoken with Jesus and pledged himself to Him. Jesus then reaches down, grabs his wolfy jaws, and tears him apart.

Now we return to Narrator-Matt's viewpoint. Police and firefighters have arrived on the scene. They put out the fire and haul a wolf’s pelt from the wreckage. A few minutes later they pull Luther out also, miraculously undamaged save for a faint scar left from where Jesus removed his wolf-side.

Luther is cured at last. He’s also a Christian, now, though he won’t be formally baptized until the epilogue. He spends a little time getting checked out in the hospital, and then Narrator-Matt takes him home. Narrator-Matt then says his goodbyes to Dr. Culbetron and Hibbs, and... well, we’ll come back to that. I have some issues with this resolution that I want to look at, first.

I don’t have an issue with Luther’s redemption per se. I don’t have an issue with Luther becoming a Christian - that’s the kind of book we’re reading here, after all. In a Romance novel, the main characters will get together; in a Mystery, the murder (or other crime) will get solved; in Christian Fiction the lost soul will be saved. The pleasure of reading doesn’t depend on the nature of the ending, but on how we get there; if you don’t like that sort of ending, you’re reading the wrong genre.

No, what bothers me is this: Luther is reconciled with his father the minister, and with his Father The Deity, in the form of a burning Jesus... and at this point his monstrosity is torn out of him, and he is reborn. Lara, on the other hand, has also spoken with Reverend Martin, and presumably accepted Jesus... and at this point she gets to undertake an ongoing struggle to regain her humanity by exposing herself (repeatedly and painfully) to sunlight, and not drinking blood. Luther gets the full-on, dramatic, monster-removing redemption; while Lara gets a sort of half-assed redemption that doesn’t seem to have done much for her except show her how to fix herself - using a process that would probably work fine without involving Jesus at all.

In fairness, Luther clearly isn’t perfected by his redemption - nor are all his problems solved. His wife, Clarissa, has already filed for divorce, and despite the way he’s shaped himself up she intends to go through with it. (And, actually, I thought this was a nicely realistic touch.) Luther freaks out at least once after his redemption, too - Narrator-Matt finds him outside his house with his wolf pelt tied on with twine. (Which, again, struck me as eminently believable.)

Even so, Luther finds Jesus and has his humanity restored; Lara finds Jesus and remains a vampire, albeit with some hope of regaining her humanity after a great deal of hard work and personal sacrifice. This strikes me as unjust and inconsistent (though, arguably, realistic[1]).

By itself, it wouldn’t strike me as necessarily sexist, but of course there’s the rest of the book to consider. The psychologist whose therapeutic advice is not just useless, but actively counterproductive? A woman. (Try to picture those scenes with a male in the role of psychologist, and see how it plays out.) Luther’s (ex-)wife, Clarissa, behaves in an eminently sensible and understandable fashion, but Narrator-Matt (and bear in mind, he seems to be intended to be Author-Matt also, in some sense) nevertheless insists on characterizing her actions as cruel and hostile towards his good buddy, Luther. And Lara, of course, gets a pretty raw deal compared to Luther when it comes to redemption.

So yeah, what with one thing and another I came away with a fairly strong impression that the man gets the big, dramatic, impressive redemption - because he’s a man - while the woman does a lot more work with a lot less help, and might maybe someday get some sort of, “Oh, you finally got your humanity back, good for you,” acknowledgement from Jesus for her efforts - because she’s a woman.[2] Was that intentional? Almost certainly not. Was it sexist? ...Yeah, I think so, in that subtle-assumptions sort of way that’s so hard for us privileged folks to recognize in ourselves.

[1] I’ve been told on a great many occasions that “life isn’t fair,” and I suppose by extension it’s reasonable to assume that the Author Of Our Existence wouldn’t necessarily be fair, either. (Aziraphile: “It’s ineffable.” Crowley: “It’s lunatic.”)

[2] I’ve noted before that this is also the way the distribution of labor is set up in a depressingly high percentage of churches.


  1. By itself, it wouldn’t strike me as necessarily sexist, but of course there’s the rest of the book to consider. The narrator's childhood psychologist whose therapeutic advice is not just useless, but borderline nonsensical? A man. (Try to picture those scenes with a female in the role of psychologist, and see how it plays out.) Every husband in the novel is either abusive or absent. Every father in the novel is either abusive or absent. The controlling pastor who uses coercion to keep people under his thumb? A man. The ignorant trio who are so stupid that they think that they can melt coins on the stovetop? All men. OF COURSE the sensible woman has to come along and warn them they might burn themselves, as if they are children.

    So yeah, what with one thing and another I came away with a fairly strong impression that the man gets the big, dramatic, impressive redemption - because he’s a man - and because he's so stupid and spiritually insensitive that he's unable to find his way and requires divine intervention even when he knows the right answers and the path he should follow. Meanwhile the woman does a lot more work with a lot less help, and might maybe someday get recognition for her work, “Oh, you finally got your humanity back, good for you,” acknowledgement from Jesus for her efforts - because she’s a woman. Meanwhile the man will get a "you poor idiot, why did you make Me do all the work?" Was that intentional? Almost certainly not. Was it misandry? ...Yeah, I think so.

  2. Heh. Point. But, again, this post comes from reading through the book and writing down my impressions as I went. (The next session marks the transition from written-as-I-went-along to written-a-couple-of-days-ago-with-more-perspective.) The narrator's childhood psychologist doesn't appear in the book; he's only mentioned secondhand. The sex of the controlling pastor doesn't especially stand out, because anyone in the position of running a Christian church will be male. And yes, the men are running around being idiots... but that's at least partly because, with the exception of Lara and arguably Clarissa, the main characters in the book are all men (and, well, all idiots). And Lara, while she does provide information and perspective, isn't what I'd consider an active character in the story. Yes, she holds off Borut so the others can escape, but she doesn't really join their quest. She's more an oracle that they consult than a member of the adventuring party.

    Don't get me wrong - I think you could read it as the man needing the dramatic redemption because he's too dull to recognize anything more subtle. And I'll freely admit that my reaction may very well have been colored by Geds' reaction. Still, that's not the first - or even the third - explanation that would have occurred to me. It's not that anything in the text actively refutes it, it's just that nothing in the text would have pointed my thoughts in that direction, either.

    I'd be interested to see if I get that impression of sexism as strongly on a second reading, though.

  3. Heh heh heh. Yeah, sorry, I couldn't resist doing that. I think it's really easy to read sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-religious or anti-whatever attributes into essentially neutral texts. Sort of the like the recent "THE MUPPETS ARE COMMUNISTS!" brouhaha.

    I wouldn't expect any number of readings to take you to the explanations I gave in the comment above, mostly becaue I invented all that from the standpoint of someone searching for misandry in the book. it doesn't reflect my own viewpoint.

    Trivia: Lara started as a man in early drafts of the book, which I guess technically makes her transgender.

    Your ranking of conversion events/process interests me. In my circles of evangelicalism, this sort of status-by-conversion-experience is non-existant, so it was interesting to see the way you value-ranked Luther's conversion as somehow "better" than Lara's. In my experience, I'd liken it somewhat to a bunch of people who all got out of a burning building sharing their escape stories: someone might have gotten airlifted by a helicopter and someone else bust their way down through smoky stairs, but what everyone really wants to say is, "I'm glad I got out alive." Someone who "came to Christ" as a child and someone who had a dramatic conversion experience where they never touched heroin again see themselves as telling essentially the same story.

    Okay, another interesting sidenote here: most people I know who have mystical experiences of the sort Luther experiences in the book (okay, roughly of that sort at least) describe that sort of mystical experience as something that they experienced because they are somehow lesser or defective. Even the Apostle Paul with his talk of being "abnormally born." They tend to be skeptics who are almost embarrassed about their experience. It's interesting. of course, this is completely different in charismatic circles.

    Lara's experience, of course, is the norm.

  4. Oh, good. I was worried that I'd actually managed to hurt your feelings. (And if I did, I apologize - I thought about rewriting a bit to soften the conclusion, but figured it was better to leave the first impression intact.)

    Ranking conversion experiences: I was raised Episcopalian, where conversion experiences are not a topic at all. Essentially everyone in the denomination was born into Christianity. I mean seriously, I don't think I ever heard anybody talk about how they "found Jesus" until I was in college. When I was about twelve, I had this conversation:

    Random Girl: "Have you been born again?"
    Me: "Um... Wha... I was raised Christian, if that's what you're asking."
    RG: "Yeah, but have you been born again?"
    Me: "Are we speaking the same language here?"
    And then I walked away.

    But I'm told that in certain circles of Christianity everybody has a conversion story, and often there's a sort of unstated competition to see who has the best story. (This phenomenon isn't limited to Christians, either...) I imagine that the maturity level - of the individual members and the overall group alike - has a big effect on just how much this is the case.

    But the main reason I see Luther's redemption as superior is twofold. First, while it doesn't fix everything in his life, it does cure him of his monstrosity, directly and immediately. Second, direct contact with the Divine generally marks someone as special. That's especially true in the Old Testament - it's practically the definition of a prophet - but even Paul, unworthy as he may have felt, went on from his experience to become very important in early Christianity. (Also, Paul has always struck me as having a very proud sort of humitily, but that's neither here nor there.)

    All in all, I don't think that the presumption (that being called to service by the deity directly is better than pledging allegiance and hoping you've been accepted) is especially surprising or unwarranted.

  5. Nope, no hurt feelings here. I apparently met that same random girl. Some Christians need secret membership cards so they can know who is in the club. Next time that happens, ask her if she has been "washed in the precious blood of the lamb."

    I have no problem with what you said about Luther's conversion appearing superior to you, I would just say that in my circles it's simply not something that happens, that sort of comparison. This is because everyone is "called to service by the deity directly" in the more Protestant/Evengelical way of thinking, and the thought of someone "pledging allegiance and hoping to be accepted" woud be considered a hallmark of pagan religion, not Christiann religion. So I think your average reader from my background would look at Lara's conversion and say that she wouldn't have moved toward christ unless she also had heard his voice. Then, in the binary "in or out" of christian soteriology, Lara should know she's accepted, because it's not about her or anything she's done or not done, it's about jesus and what he's done. Which means that she can now approach strangers and ask them if they have been washed in the blood of the lamb with completely impunity. :)


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