What Would Buffy Do?

Article excerpt

SHE'S DIED to save the world, been resurrected, inspired love from social outcasts and forgiven (some of) her enemies. She's also destroyed churches, posed with a hammer and sickle, mocked religion as "freaky," and explained that she hasn't accepted Jesus as her personal savior because she "just got really busy."

Now Buffy the Vampire Slayer is ending a seven-season run as the heroine of her eponymous TV show, and she's more controversial than ever: while the religious humor magazine The Door named Buffy its Theologian of the Year for 2002, the Parents Television Council is calling on Christians to boycott the show for "making a mockery of the Eucharist" this past Holy Week.

Meanwhile, back on the Hellmouth, where the vampires emerge, Buffy (played by Sarah Michelle Geller) and company are battling the First Evil in order to save the world from yet another apocalypse.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer began its television run as a midseason replacement series based on a mediocre movie, but it has blossomed into a critically acclaimed cult hit and has even generated a spin-off (Angel). The show is ostensibly aimed at a teenage audience, but its mix of snappy dialogue and savvy cultural critique has spawned a vocal cadre of older, highly educated viewers.

BTVS is not exactly sympathic to organized religion. Though the undead can be burned by crosses and holy water--as one would expect from standard vampire mythology--these symbols are much less effective against vampires than a secular stake through the heart. The show does not explore where the holy water comes from, and the only "Anointed One" turned out to be a child vampire.

The churches in Buffy's hometown of Sunnydale are ordinarily abandoned or serve as vampire lairs. Buffy's ex-boyfriend Riley once admitted to regularly attending a church where vampires had briefly taken worshipers hostage, and her friend Willow has identified herself alternately as Jewish and Wiccan in time for Christmas-season jokes. But in BTVS religious belief or practice is overwhelmingly the province of various creatures of evil.

The show has also named several of Christianity's historic failings. Buffy has battled an "ancient order" of militant crusader knights, as well as a Native American "spirit warrior" trying to avenge the wrongs committed against his people by Spanish missionaries. She has also taken on a transdimensional labor camp disguised as a "family values" homeless shelter.

In the series' final story line, Buffy is pitted against a former preacher who wears a clerical collar and enjoys killing young women while identifying them with Eve and the Whore of Babylon; naturally, he turns out to be working for the First Evil. …