Thursday, October 16, 2008

Do Vampires Go To Heaven?*

I have decided that if vampires existed, they would be able to go to heaven if they were killed. The Bible says that nothing can separate us from God's love. Most vampires don't choose to be vampires, and lots of them hate the fact that they are vampires, so why wouldn't grace extend to them? Even if a person chose to become a vampire, wouldn't that just be a dramatic illustration of the fact that even when you repent, you still have to deal with the consequences of your actions? Yes, I think vampires could be saved. If they existed.

I was thinking about this today, because issues of religion, salvation and faith continually pop up in books where I'm not expecting it. I'm thinking of three books in particular: The Queen's Fool, Wicked, and New Moon (which I'm reading now). Each of these books involves characters who are trying desperately to get it right.

The Queen's Fool
takes place during the English Reformation, and the heroine is a Jew caught up in the tug of war between Catholics and Protestants. The character's spiritual dilemma is whether God really cares that much about whether we believe the right way (although she's mostly trying to avoid being burned at the stake).

Wicked is set in a world without Christianity, but there is a religion that is similar in practice. In this one the main character, Elphaba, is believed to be bad because of the way she looks, and she is preoccupied her whole life with trying to be good. Even when people are trying to do good, they can still make a mess of things.

Finally, last night I was surprised to see questions about God and salvation come up where I least expected: a teenage romance about vampires. But then again, it makes sense. Lots of people have experienced the feeling of becoming something scary and not altogether good (because of anger, infatuation, sadness, lust, or werewolf genes). If I can't control myself, am I doomed?

The underlying question that pops up again and again in "secular" fiction, is this: What does it take to be redeemed? If I'm a vampire or a green witch, can I somehow make up for it by trying really hard to be good? If I follow the rules of my religion very carefully, does it matter what religion I follow? The answer that leaps out of my heartfelt conviction is that God's grace can overcome anything. Vampire, Witch, Drug addict, criminal, liar, or just plain ordinary person who makes mistakes, no one is hopeless.

So why am I spending time thinking about hypothetical theology of fictitious realities? C. S. Lewis points out that fantasy helps us to understand things about our own reality, and helps us to wrestle with difficult questions. It is so clear from our books and movies (I'm thinking of the movie Constantine as a great example) that we are so tied to this idea that we have to be "good enough" or we'll be supernaturally punished. We worry about "how good is good enough." The answer is simple but really complicated from a Christian perspective. We don't have to redeem ourselves. We open ourselves to Grace, putting our trust in God's goodness and mercy. It happens tentatively at first, like when we first begin to open up to a new friend.

As often as I see it in our fiction, I see this question with people in real life too. Regardless of religion and culture, so many of us walk around with the fear that we aren't good enough. I don't think that's what God sees. I think we are capable of good, and we each have abilities that we can use for good. There's a line in a prayer of confession that I love, "forgive us we pray, free us for joyful obedience." In Christianity, the whole idea of being forgiven is tied to the idea that when we don't have to worry about our own souls, we can apply ourselves to living well without fear of getting it wrong.

And if, according to this line of theological reasoning, a vampire could put their faith in God and try their best to not drink peoples' blood and not be damned, doesn't that give us hope too?

*Let me be clear: I am talking about fiction. Please do not debate with me about real witchcraft and the possibility of real vampires. That is a discussion for another day.

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4:03 AM  
Blogger Angrybat said...

Well, I don't know about now, but at one time, the existence of vampires was accepted by the Greek Orthodox church. Their conception of a vampire, which is pretty standard fare in Slavic lore, is that the vampire is a person who has come back from the dead because neither Heaven nor Hell will accept them. They are not inherently evil, but they have done something to fall out of favor with the church or God, and are therefore cursed to wander the earth for all time, sustaining their undead flesh with human blood. An example of this is the speculation that despite not being a vampire in life, the historical Vlad Dracula actually rose as a vampire after his death, because he was excommunicated before his death, which made him a candidate for vampirism in the eyes of the church. Despite Vlad Dracula now being recognized as a saint by the church, this speculation still survives in Romanian folklore.

Vampires are liminal beings, neither humans nor angels nor demons, but a supernatural creature in their own category. They have power over angels, demons and humans, so they reside in a realm that is between God and his creation. Although they have often been worshipped like gods, they are distinct from pagan gods, and also from the pagan versions of demons and angels.

They are likewise above ghosts in rank and power, although they are often semi-corporeal haunts like ghosts. The ghost can itself suffer the death of the aetheric body and pass on to the afterlife; the vampire cannot die the final death, nor is it trapped in a single location like a ghost. In most of the lore outside of Christianity, vampires are minions of gods who use them as aids in their work of culling the human population, such as the Vetalas of Shiva's army in Hinduism, or the upirs that serve under Chernobog in some Russian lore.

So from a Christian perspective in which the existence of vampires is accepted, no, they don't go the Heaven, nor do they go to Hell when dispatched. They simply remain in this world, taking the form of blood-sucking ghosts that will eventually reconstitute flesh bodies by feeding on human blood, so as to remain in this world as eternal wanders. Some think of it as a curse, but it is rather an exclusion from the afterlife, or if you prefer the pagan interpretation, an elevation in supernatural rank. People become vampires because they are not fit for Heaven, but are likewise not deserving of Hell.

5:16 PM  

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