Reacting to Twilight–Scalpel or Cleaver?

I prefer that my doctor operates with a scalpel rather than a butcher’s cleaver. Both will cut, but only one will heal.

Not all share this view.

A Christian blogger with a wide audience wrote an post last week about why he finds the popular Twilight series “profoundly troubling.” He’s certainly not alone in his reservations; a quick google search yields pages of similar sentiment. For example, this Christianity Today article from 2010 discusses the harmful feminine stereotypes (“Bella’s character is pretty much flattened into someone who loves Edward and needs him and centers her life on him”) combined with the troubling underlying message that humanity is a weakness to be escaped.

However, the blogger mentioned above focused on a slightly different danger: that his daughter might become a vampire if she watched Twilight.*

His concern apparently stemmed from a few news stories about kids biting each other and some websites describing vampire-like habits such as drinking blood. These are true, sad stories. But they are also the farthest extreme of the issue, and miss the more subtle dangers the films present to a much larger audience.

The critique of vampires and blood are easily within reach–both for the author and his audience.  The scalpel may be more precise, but the cleaver is always more shocking. Shock and awe ensures attention; precision may be more accurate and redemptive, but guarantees no audience.

On the other hand, when Jesus interacted with the culture of his day, he generally reached for the scalpel (“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s,”) while occasionally grabbing a cleaver (“You are like whitewashed tombs,” and “He overturned the tables of money,”).  In addition, He ultimately sheathed them both in favor of his favorite weapon of self sacrifice.

Sadly, the scalpel approach of Jesus is often contrasted by (rather than embodied in) an evangelical lust for the cleaver. Jesus’ subtlety and complexity often shocked those who knew him best, but “The Evangelical Protestant mind has never relished complexity. Indeed its crusading genius, whether in religion or politics, has always tended toward an over-simplification of issues and the substitution of inspiration and zeal for critical analysis and serious reflection,” (N.K. Clifford).

What happens when we hack away with a cleaver instead of employing the deft, precise cuts of the scalpel?

  • We tend to sacrifice the substantive (things that truly matter) for the salacious (lewd, graphic, obscene). This comforts us; focusing on vampires means we can ignore our own tendencies towards harmful stereotypes or gnosticism (humanity is bad, something to be escaped). Unfortunately, boring our gaze into vampires means turning a blind eye to daughters obsessing over boyfriends.
  • We substitute the nuances of real life for and a black and white contrast that often exists solely in our own minds. It’s painful to admit that our emphasis on heaven has the similar result of devaluing our humanity, paralleling a dangerous theme in Twilight. It may be cleaner and simpler to project a broad chasm between ourselves and Twilight, but it is infinitely more helpful to shine Twilight’s light on our own areas of darkness.
  • We devote an inordinate amount of attention to the extremes, missing  issues that impact the majority. Virtually every girl in America fights the constant, subliminal message that her value is derived from the men around her. A precious minority will become vampires. Given our limited amount of time and scope, which is a more valuable focus for someone with a broad, national audience?
  • We lock ourselves in an echo chamber of our own ideologies, devoid of other points of view.  The more we hack away with cleavers, the less people outside our perspective tend to interact with us, aside from those who hack back with their own cleavers.

It takes a bit more work, but scalpels will help us to be agents of healing, whereas cleavers tend to maim and disfigure.

*In fairness to him, he did mention that he has addressed this issue at other times. I searched his blog for the other entries, but did not find them. Perhaps he was referring to books or messages which I have not read or heard.


About Tim Owens

I'm a husband, father, and Christ follower. I also live in Albany, NY, where I work as a pastor.
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One Response to Reacting to Twilight–Scalpel or Cleaver?

  1. Trudy Zimmermann says:

    Well said,Tim.
    We miss an opportunity to speak about the parallels between the vampire lore and the basic facts of Christianity when we use that clever. Once the clever severs any further dialogue we can’t share how both recognise that life is in the shedding of blood and through that shedding eternal life is found. However, in the Twight senerio the vampire sheds the blood of another to satisfy self and gain the eternal life. Christ denied self and offered the shedding of his own blood to offer eternity to others.
    Thanks for the reminder of the many ways we can be in the world and not of it!

    Trudy Zimmermann (Olivia’s mom)

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