Weird theory

Fox Mulder

We Want to Believe: Faith and Gospel in The X-Files, Amy Donaldson, Cascade.

Okay, so the recent revived X-Files series wasn’t great (with its stilted dialogue and need to bring recent viewers up-to-date), but Amy Donaldson’s book on the religious elements in The X-Files is great. Producer Chris Carter has suggested that the search for aliens in X-Files is a metaphor for the search for God, and the series plays off Mulder’s agnosticism about God and belief in the supernatural against Scully’s hard-nosed science-based approach and personal Catholicism. Right there you have the elements for an interesting philosophical journey, even before you add the monsters and aliens.

The series’ overall theme is a search for truth, obviously, analogous with the Christian faith journey. Although Mulder is seen by others in the series as slightly kooky and susceptible to any weird theory, Donaldson notes that his is not a postmodern attitude to truth – he thinks that the truth, as the tagline suggests, is ‘out there’ – ‘clear cut’, even if it might be a bit hard to swallow. It’s also personal for Mulder. The search for truth is not merely a hobby, or an academic exercise. It stems from his need to find out what happened to his apparently alien-abducted sister. By the end of the series it has become personal for Scully too. There is a religious sense in which finding out the truth means getting involved, rather than standing back at a disinterested distance.

Donaldson has done a terrific job of hunting out every little reference she can, and noting the myriad ways The X-Files makes use of religious imagery and themes, borrows storylines from the Bible and asks some serious questions about the nature of reality, the limits of knowledge, and so forth. She compares the alien black oil to the creep of Nazism in Germany, she brings in Saint Augustine when discussing the episode ‘Signs and Wonders’, which suggests that it is not always clear whether we are on the side of good or evil. Donaldson suggests that in the movie I Want to Believe Scully is challenged in her faith’s call to love her neighbour when her neighbour turns out to be a paedophile priest. Donaldson even notes that because David Duchovny leaves the show in Season 9, his character Mulder, paralleling Christ, seems to leave his ‘followers’ to carry on his work after his apparent death and resurrection.

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