Religion And Stephen King


Religion And Stephen King
.
Stephen King isn’t a "Christian" writer. However, Christian themes often appear in his books. People often assume that the genre of horror doesn’t lend itself to religious themes – nothing could be further from the truth! Christianity certainly has "dark" spots.
.
Some complain that King often casts religious people in a bad light. Sorry to say, that’s a lot like complaining about Flandars on the Simpsons, media simply mimic’s what they see. The reason religious characters sometimes fall in a bad light (Carrie White’s mom comes to mind) is because there are religious people who fall into that mold. I certainly take no personal offense. (Insomnia’s portrayal of the prolife movement was a hard pill to swallow). In fact, often religious wackos are well pictured in King’s work. Just read an interesting scene in Cell where a woman is full of religious zeal.
.
In particular, characters like: Reverend Rose in Needful Things strike a chord with us because we’ve met people like that. But we’ve also met good people of faith – and king shows us that side, too. David in Desperation is a boy with great faith in God, surrounded by skeptics.
What I especially like is that characters have the ability to be redeemed. Father Calahan in Salem’s Lot comes to mind. He didn’t have such a good ending in the book, but he is redeemed in the Dark Tower.
.
Books with religious overtones:
.
The Stand in particular is a book about religion. In his introduction to the novel, King called The Stand a "long tale of dark Christianity." There is the Godly Mother Abigail pitted against the devil himself. And let’s not forget the finger of God reaching down from heaven to blow up the bad guys. Very much like Revelation 20-21!
.
Cell has a lot of religious overtones. Not just the Bible crazy lady, but talk about America having built a "tower of Babel" that was torn down by the yet unknown enemy.
.
David King told Steve Spignesi in The Shape Under The Sheet (1991) "I know he’s not an atheist or an agnostic, but I don’t think he attends church. I believe that when he and Tabby married he agreed to have the children brought up in the Catholic faith, because Tabby is Catholic." According to David, their mother was religious and regularly attended church. Speaking for himself, David King says, "Linda and I are now what’s known as evangelical Christians. We’re Biblical fundamentalists, which sometimes connotes a negative impression in people’s minds. We are of the group that believes that the Bible is the total and factual and complete word of God." (P.37)
.
It is interesting that a character with great faith is named David in Desperation – I wonder if that’s after his brother David.
.
King articulated his religious views in an interview with Salon magazine, King told novelist John Marks, "I was raised Christian, and I was raised to believe in the idea of the Antichrist. My wife said that -- she was raised a Catholic -- the attitude of the Catholic Church is, give them to me when they're young, and they'll be mine forever. It isn't really true. A lot of us grow up and we grow out of the literal interpretation that we get when we're children, but we bear the scars all our life. Whether they're scars of beauty or scars of ugliness, it's pretty much in the eye of the beholder.
.
"I'm interested in the concepts. I'm particularly interested in the idea that in the New Testament, you're suggesting a moral code that's actually enlightened. Basically what Christ preached: get along with your neighbor and give everything away and follow me. So we're talking pretty much about communism or socialism, all the things that the good Christian Republicans in the House of Representatives today are railing about in light of this bailout bill. Of course, Christ never preached give away everything to Wall Street, so they might have a point.
.
"I was able to use all those things in "The Stand." It's an effort to say, let's give God his due here. Too often, in novels that are speculative, God is a kind of kryptonite, and that's about all that it is, and it goes back to Dracula, where someone dumps a crucifix in Count Dracula's face, and he pulls away and runs back into his house. That's not religion. That's some kind of juju, like a talisman. I wanted to do more than that. I wanted to explore what that means to be able to rise above adversity by faith, because it's something most of us do every day. We may not call it Christianity. I wanted to do that. I wanted it to be a God trip"
.
As a Believer, I must mention that I personally think King’s view of the afterlife is insufficient and dangerous. Basically, he states that he believes what ever you "believe" that’s what happens to you when you die. Of course, he does preface this by saying he doesn’t know what happens!
.
Does Belief In God Make King More Frightening?
.
Stanley Kubrick told Jack Nicholson that The Shining is a basically "optimistic" story. When asked how that can be, Kubrik said that any story that has ghosts believes in an afterlife of some kind – and that’s optimistic!
.
King said that Kubrick once called King in the middle of the night while they were filming The Shining. "Do you believe in God?" Kubrick asked. Yes, King said he did believe in God. King associated Kubrick’s strange take (and film version) of the Shining to Kubrick’s inability to believe in God. If there is no God, then the Overlook isn’t haunted, it’s all about Jack Torrance going crazy. And that is what Kubrick’s version of the Shining does, it shoes Torrance and his family breaking down.
.
King’s ability to at least understand Christian themes allows him to employ such things as crucifixion in The Stand.
.
The central theme of Christianity is Resurrection. This is played out in a dark way in Pet Sematery, where an old burial ground allows the dead to rise again – but they’re not quite right afterward. King wrote the novel for his own enjoyment, and it remains one of his scariest books to date! It is disturbing and wonderful.
.
King said in an interview: "I don't see myself as God's stenographer. As someone who believes in God, believes that God is a logical out growth of the fact that life fits together as well as it does, but that doesn't mean that we know God's mind... There's been a lot of criticism of the book where they say the God stuff really turns them off. I'm thinking to myself that these guys have no problems with vampires, demons, golems, werewolves and you name it. If you try to bring in a God who can take sardines and crackers and turn it into loaves and fishes, then these people have a problem. I say to myself, if you have a real problem then I'm doing what a novel of suspense and horror is supposed to do, which is to just scratch below the surface and sought of rub your nerves the wrong way."
.
The Redemptive Side
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon also has religious themes, with God speaking through Tom Gordon!
.
The Green Mile gives a blatant picture of Christ bearing our suffering through John Coffee. (Get it, John Coffee – J.C. – Jesus Christ. That’s not the first time King has used a characters name to express a redemptive purpose for them. An obvious one is Gardner –Gard– in Tommyknockers.). King directly ties Coffee’s sacrifice to the death of Jesus.
.
In the Green Mile, King writes: "Only God could forgive sins, could and did, washing them away in the agonal blood of His crucified Son, but that did not change the responsibility of His children to atone for those sins (and even their simple errors of judgment) whenever possible. Atonement was powerful; it was the lock on the door you closed against the past."
.
Paul F. Zahl writes in Christianity today:
Finally, at the very end of The Green Mile (Part 6, "Coffey on the Mile") come the hero's ruminations on the providence of God: I think back to the sermons of my childhood, booming affirmations in the church of Praise Jesus, The Lord Is Mighty, and I recall how the preachers used to say that God's eye is on the sparrow, that He sees and marks even the least of His creations. Yet this same God sacrificed John Coffey, who tried only to do good in his blind way, as savagely as any Old Testament prophet ever sacrificed a defenseless lamb, as Abraham would have sacrificed his own son if actually called upon to do so. … If it happens, God lets it happen, and when we say "I don't understand," God replies, "I don't care." This is quite fantastic, an unflinching parallel with the ruminations of Luther in The Bondage of the Will. So there they are: substitutionary atonement, the cross of Golgotha, and the unanswerable sovereignty of God. Add to that the one-to-one transfer of guilt and death from John Coffey to the villainous guard Percy and the vilest prisoner on "the Mile," and I rest my case."
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2000/march6/31.82.html
.
I think that the concept of evil is something that's in the human heart. The goodness in the human heart is probably more interesting, psychologically, but in terms of myth, the idea that there are forces of evil and forces of good outside, and because I was raised in a fairly strict religious home, not hard-shelled Baptist or anything like that, I tend to coalesce those concepts around God symbols and devil symbols, and I put them in my work.
.
Janet C. Beaulieu interviewed King in Novemeber of 1988.
http://carolinanavy.com/navy/creativewriting/sking/view.html
.
JB: What kind of background did you come from if it wasn't "hard-shelled Baptist?"
SK: Hard-nosed Methodist.
JB: So you weren't into really evangelical, fundi kinds of things.
SK: No.
JB: But you clearly learned your Bible.
SK: Yeah, I clearly learned my Bible, and I took a lot of what it says to heart enough to be disgusted by the Jim and Tammy Baker's and the Rex Humbug's of the world, where it says 'when you pray go inside your closet and shut the door and do it by yourself, don't do it in front of everybody so that everybody will know how religious you are.' I'm really sort of impressed by something that C. S. Lewis said about The Rings trilogy, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, where he said, "as good as Tolkien was at depicting good, he was much more effective at depicting evil." I think that that's true, and I think that it's easier for all of us to grasp evil, because it's a simpler concept, and good is so many-faceted and it's so layered. I've always tried to contrast that bright, white light of real goodness or Godliness against evil. I'm not a proselytizer, and I hate organized religion. I think it's one of the roots of real evil that's in our world. If you really unmask Satan, you'll probably find that he's wearing a turnaround collar.
JB: What do you mean by organized religion? How do you define that?
SK: Well, when they start telling you when you're supposed to be on your knees and when you're supposed to be standing up and when you look at the front of the building and you see there's a list of the hymns you're going to sing, that's organized religion. And when they start to band you together and say, "these are the magazines you're not supposed to buy in the 7-Eleven," that's organized religion. And sooner or later, it always overspills into political issues. Jesus said, "Render those things under to Caesar that are Caesar's and render unto God the things that are God's," and - I don't know, that scripture keeps getting overlooked by these guys who want to do Moral Majority and all the rest of it. You can't operate in those terms. You've got the man in black in this book that looks like a priest, who does messianic things. He raises the dead. But to no good purpose. At least when Jesus rose from the dead he had the good grace to hang around for a while and then get the hell out. He didn't do a TV show or hang around like the weed-eater, Norton, in the book. He got offstage. It's an interesting thing. I heard somebody say once at some kind of New Testament conference that I was at a few years ago, that when Jesus rose Lazarus from the dead, he took everybody to the graveyard and said, "Lazarus, come forth!" If he'd just said "Come forth!" everybody in the graveyard would have gotten up and walked. Can you imagine that? How's that for a horror story?
.
I think that is close to the modern, "I love Jesus, but not the church" type of answer. of course, his answers on this subject are all over the board! But his fiction is generally the same: God is good, Christians might be, the church is the problem. (Remember, this isn't my personal belief!)

4 comments:

  1. "(Insomnia’s portrayal of the prolife movement was a hard pill to swallow)."

    The period should be put before the parenthesis as "Insomnia [...]" is a full sentence.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I had been looking for articles about Stephen King's stories and Christian themes. I grew up a big fan of horror films, but especially Stephen King's type of horror, because it was always more psychological than visceral (although, it can get pretty gruesome). I am a Christian and what the Church or rather, extreme fundamentalists say a lot is that King's work is demonic and no true Christian should read or focus on his work. I can understand why they would feel that way, but I've always felt that with stories, such as King's stories, the presence of evil is always presented for what it is, which is an ugly, destructive, hurtful force that should be avoided at all costs. There is a strong Good vs Evil theme in his stories, where he makes it clear, we should root for Good over Evil. They've always felt like morality plays to me, which was always appealing. I put my trust in Jesus' words over man any day. It can be conflicting for someone like me who, personally, does not condemn his stories, to walk a fine line with other believers who are in the mindset of "Stephen King is evil, avoid him at all costs."

    I don't feel that everything is so cut and dry, black and white. I may not feel the same way over time, but right now, I believe that God sees our heart and our intentions. I enjoy SK's novels because I'm fascinated with the struggle of Good Vs Evil. Someone else may not feel the same way, and it could be an obstacle for them, who knows. So even though I have enough will to watch a SK movie or read a novel and not be influenced by its dark subject matter, I may not recommend it to other Christians, especially if they are not spiritually mature to see it for what it is, instead of a generalization of it. Make sense?

    ReplyDelete
  3. One could write a book on this subject.

    Speaking as a Christian, several things come to mind. First, while I appreciate that King is pro-faith, I think his understanding of the Bible's teachings are quite flawed. He might think the same of me, but then, I somehow doubt he's really as studied on the subject as he'd like to think he is. Otherwise, he would know that Jesus was NOT a socialist, and the idea of "selling all you have" was more about selflessness anti-materialism than it was about the socialistic idea that all property is theft.

    In fact, I often have to just sorta shake my head and move on whenever King goes political. I lean right, though I certainly wouldn't call myself a hard right-winger. But it always feels like King's political motivations are rooted in 60's activism rather than today's bowing to intimidation from special interest groups.

    That said, it really does bother me when the religious hard right-wingers I know trash-talk King as though the fact that he writes horror automatically makes his stories the work of Satan, that all good Christians should avoid him, that at the cost of your soul never even glance at the first page of one of his books.

    The idea of censorship of any kind, even self-censorship for such a reason, really bothers me and doesn't feel Christlike at all. To compare this with something Jesus did, well, heck, he went to a wedding where alcohol was being served, and when they ran out, he made more! And really good wine, too!

    If a religious right-winger of today had been present, first of all he would have given Jesus grief for even being at a wedding that was serving alcohol, let alone having his first recorded miracle being the creation of more alcohol.

    Let's not even talk about what today's religious right-wingers would say about Jesus hanging out with prostitutes.

    So much of the modern behavior of Christians is based more on western tradition than on anything Jesus Himself commanded us to do. I love what Gandhi said about Christianity: "I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ." It's all too true.

    I have run into so many Christians who are hot to tell other Christians what books they can't read, what movies and/or tv they can't watch and what music they can't listen to. I was raised by a mother who thought and still thinks this way. My father, a minister, was a bit more open-minded about stuff like that, though when I was young he bowed to my mother's wishes.

    I read the Bible, and I look for the Jesus who wants to ban everything. I look for the Jesus who's all about cutting you off from anything that doesn't come directly from him. I look for this cultish attitude that if it's not "godly" it's automatically evil and should be shunned and banned.

    That's not in there. It can only be put there by men and women who twist scripture to suit their own prejudices.

    ReplyDelete