Firefly and the Psychology of Religion — Complete Series

Here are the links to the entire series on Firefly and the Psychology of Religion.


Malcolm Reynolds’ Loss of Faith Part One — Firefly and the Psychology of Religion

Malcolm Reynolds’ Loss of Faith Part Two — Our Father Who Ain’t Good For Much,
ampoule Fei Hua Be They Name
Malcolm Reynolds’ Loss of Faith Part Three — We Are Just Too Pretty for God to Let Us Die
Malcolm Reynolds’ Loss of Faith Part Four — God Ain’t Welcome
Malcolm Reynold’s Loss of Faith Part Five — Where Do We Go From Here?

Malcolm Reynolds’ Loss of Faith Part Five- Where Do We Go From Here?

This series on Firefly and the Psychology of Religion is written by Dr. Charles Hackney. Chuck is associate professor of psychology at Briercrest College and Seminary, pharmacy and author of the book Martial Virtues: Lessons in Wisdom, malady Courage and Compassion from the World’s Greatest Warriors.
**************

In this series of posts, we are employing the theoretical and empirical literature in the psychology of religion as we examine the character Malcolm Reynolds (“Mal”), and the loss of faith that accompanied his defeat at the Battle of Serenity Valley. A crisis of faith like Mal’s is often a turning point, after which a person’s religious life is never the same. This could result in a turning away from religion, or a deepening and maturing of one’s faith (Exline & Rose, 2005). In previous posts, we examined factors in Mal’s family background, and the nature of his faith, that may have predisposed him to react to his defeat with apostasy. We then examined Mal’s resentment toward God, using Julie Exline’s research on the topic. Today, we wrap things up by considering Mal’s future.

Will Mal be able to get past his resentment toward God? When Exline and colleagues (2011) conducted their study of cancer survivors, it was in the context of a one-year follow-up. Firefly is set six years after the Battle of Serenity Valley, and the film Serenity takes place in the year after that. Mal has retained his resentment toward God for seven years. Mal’s emotional state seems to have worsened at the beginning of Serenity. His moods are darker, his approach is more ruthless, and one of his crewmembers comments that he has “driven” two other crewmembers off the ship through his behaviour. This deterioration may be explainable in connection with other factors, such as the abortive nature of his relationship with the character Inara or the increased stress of trying to survive outside of Alliance control, but it is also consistent with the research literature on the emotional and relational correlates of religious struggle.

However, during the events of the film, Mal seems to turn a corner. He reconnects with lost friends, he chooses to make a principled stance in the face of evil, and at the end of the film he makes a speech about the power of love. It is possible that these events will lead him toward some sort of resolution, either a return to a renewed and more mature form of his earlier faith (Exline & Rose, 2005) or the establishment of a more secure irreligious identity (Strieb et al., 2009). It is unfortunate that Firefly was so prematurely cancelled, as we will not have the opportunity to observe Mal’s long-term grappling with matters of faith and meaning, or to reflect on what Mal’s struggles might have shown us about our own struggles.

Another unfortunate result of Firefly’s early demise is the conspicuous lack of evidence on which we can base an analysis like this one. With so few clues present in the series and the film, these posts have by necessity been short on data and long on speculation. What can be said is that the few bits of data that are available to us line up fairly well with the existing scholarly literature on the psychology of religious struggle and apostasy. Your feedback on these posts has been appreciated, and further input is welcome.

References:
Exline, J. J., & Rose, E. (2005). Religious and spiritual struggles. In R. F. Paloutzian & C. L. Park (Eds.), Handbook of the psychology of religion and spirituality (pp. 315-330). New York: Guilford Press.
Exline, J. J., Yali, A. M., & Lobel, M. (1999). When God disappoints: Difficulty forgiving God and its role in negative emotions. Journal of Health Psychology, 4, 365-379.
Strieb, H., Hood, R. W., Jr., Keller, B., Csöff, R. M., & Silver, C. (2009). Deconversion: Qualitative and quantitative results from cross-cultural research in Germany and the United States. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Malcolm Reynolds’ Loss of Faith Part Three- We Are Just Too Pretty for God to Let Us Die

This series on Firefly and the Psychology of Religion is written by Dr. Charles Hackney. Chuck is associate professor of psychology at Briercrest College and Seminary, cialis and author of the book Martial Virtues: Lessons in Wisdom, pills Courage and Compassion from the World’s Greatest Warriors.
**************

In this series of posts, diagnosis we are employing the theoretical and empirical literature in the psychology of religion as we examine the character Malcolm Reynolds (“Mal”), and the loss of faith that accompanied his defeat at the Battle of Serenity Valley. A crisis of faith like Mal’s is often a turning point, after which a person’s religious life is never the same. This could result in a turning away from religion, or a deepening and maturing of one’s faith (Exline & Rose, 2005).

In the last post, Mal’s family background was examined in light of Paul Vitz’s “defective father hypothesis.” Today, we examine another of the “risk factors” that may have predisposed Mal to respond to Serenity Valley with apostasy: the relative maturity of his faith.

When we see Mal in the Battle of Serenity Valley, there is no questioning the sincerity of his faith. But the maturity of that faith is a separate matter. We are shown only one clue in connection to this issue in the Battle of Serenity Valley. Mal announces his intention to shoot down an enemy aircraft, and when his comrade Zoe asks if he thinks that they can succeed, Mal holds up the cross that he wears around his neck and says, “You even need to ask?” What we see here is Mal connecting his belief in God to victory in battle.

This kind of “magical thinking” (a focus on supernatural forces bringing about what one wants) characterizes what Gordon Allport (1950) called “immature religion.” When confronted with suffering and evil, the religiously-immature person typically cannot continue as before. “A faith centered in self-advantage is bound to break up” (p.120). The outcome of such a crisis will either be an intensification and maturation of one’s faith, or else a collapse into turmoil and doubt. Allport recounts two cases of veterans (both of Protestant upbringing) who were severely wounded in battle. One’s reaction involved a deepened spirituality and commitment to God, while the other became a militant atheist.

Religious struggle provides opportunities for either psychological growth or deterioration, depending on how one handles the situation (Raiya, Pargament, & Magyar-Russell, 2010). One aspect of this is the attempt to find an explanation for one’s struggle that fits within the pre-existing religious framework. Hunsberger, Pratt, and Pancer (2002) examined how young people dealt with their struggles and religious doubts. Those who sought out and consulted “anti-religious” literature for guidance were more likely to have become less religious two years later, while those who sought out “pro-religious” literature were more likely to have increased in religiousness and decreased in doubt two years later.

Would Mal’s religious struggle have ended differently if he had “done his homework” after Serenity Valley? It is impossible to say, but a study of scripture and history might have shown Mal that, whether one is talking about the Christian samurai at the Battle of Sekigahara, the fall of the Roman Empire, or Israel enduring the Babylonian Exile, being one of “God’s People” has never guaranteed victory in military conflicts.

In the next post, Mal’s disappointment and anger toward God will be discussed in light of Julie Exline’s research on religious struggle.

References:
Allport, G. W. (1950). The individual and his religion. New York: Macmillan.
Exline, J. J., & Rose, E. (2005). Religious and spiritual struggles. In R. F. Paloutzian & C. L. Park (Eds.), Handbook of the psychology of religion and spirituality (pp. 315-330). New York: Guilford Press.
Hunsberger, B., Pratt, M., & Pancer, S.M. (2002). A longitudinal study of religious doubts in high school and beyond: Relationships, stability, and searching for answers. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 41, 255-266.
Raiya, H. A., Pargament, K. I., & Magyar-Russell, G. (2010). When religion goes awry: Religious risk factors for poorer health and well-being. In P. Verhagen, H. van Praag, J. Lopez-Ibor, J. Cox, & D. Moussaoui (Eds.), Religion and psychiatry: Beyond boundaries (pp. 389-411). London: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Malcolm Reynolds’ Loss of Faith Part Two- Our Father Who Ain’t Good for Much, Fei Hua be Thy Name

This series on Firefly and the Psychology of Religion is written by Dr. Charles Hackney. Chuck is associate professor of psychology at Briercrest College and Seminary, buy and author of the book Martial Virtues: Lessons in Wisdom, cialis Courage and Compassion from the World’s Greatest Warriors.

**************

In this series of posts, healing we are employing the theoretical and empirical literature in the psychology of religion as we examine the character Malcolm Reynolds (“Mal”), and the loss of faith that accompanied his defeat at the Battle of Serenity Valley. A crisis of faith like Mal’s is often a turning point, after which a person’s religious life is never the same. This could result in a turning away from religion, or a deepening and maturing of one’s faith (Exline & Rose, 2005). Today, we examine one of the “risk factors” that may have predisposed Mal to respond to Serenity Valley with a loss of faith.

The psychology of atheism (lack of belief in a god or gods) and apostasy (renunciation of one’s religion) are understudied topics when compared to the research that falls within the category of “psychology of religion,” whether one chalks this discrepancy up to ideological biases within the social sciences (Stark, 1999), or to less sinister methodological difficulties (Bainbridge, 2005).

Psychologists who examine the irreligious, in the same way that psychologists of religion investigate variables that influence conversion into a faith (e.g., Granqvist & Hagekull, 2001), investigate variables that influence deconversion out of a faith. One such investigation involves the effect of family background, and one’s childhood relationship with one’s parents, on the way in which one views God.

In the Firefly episode “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” Mal mentions having grown up without a father. Instead, he was raised by his mother and “about forty hands” on his mother’s ranch. Paul Vitz (1999), Professor of Psychology at NYU, argues that some atheists adopt their position as the result of unresolved difficulties involving their fathers. Vitz employs the same logic that Sigmund Freud used in The Future of an Illusion (Freud, 1927) to explain belief in God. Freud connects belief in God to a desire for a caring and protective father. One’s feelings toward one’s father are connected in Freudian psychoanalysis to the Oedipus complex (Freud, 1913), which occurs as a part of natural personality development between the ages of three and six.

Children at that age begin to comprehend the concept of gender, and they feel attraction toward their opposite-sex parent (yeah… Freud was a twisted little freak-monkey who had sex on the brain). This makes the same-sex parent a rival, and the child experiences hatred and resentment toward the same-sex parent. Even if this conflict is resolved in a relatively healthy manner, Oedipal urges are never entirely dispelled. But if the Oedipus complex is not properly resolved, it may result in a fixation at that stage of development, influencing the way in which the child comes to understand authority and sexuality. As Freud describes God as a projection of our father image onto the universe, a desire to be loved and sheltered by one’s father can result in a desire that there be a loving and sheltering “heavenly father.”

Vitz extends Freud’s theory, connecting rejection of God to unresolved Oedipal issues that result in animosity toward one’s own “defective” father. Such animosity may come about for a number of reasons, including the father being “absent through death or by abandoning or leaving the family” (Vitz, 1997, p.9), as is clearly the case with Mal’s father.

As Gordon Allport put it nearly five decades before Vitz, “It seems curious that Freud insists that belief in God is a projection of dependence and love associated with the earthly father, he overlooks the fact that by the same token atheism may be construed as the projection of ambivalence or hatred associated with the male parent” (Allport, 1950, p.118). As partial support for his “defective father hypothesis,” Vitz offers profiles of such prominent atheists as Karl Marx, Madelyn Murray O’Hair, Baron d’Holbach, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Sigmund Freud himself, all of whom had fathers who were absent or weak or abusive. Mal’s fatherless childhood may have predisposed him to respond with resentment when God appeared to fail him at Serenity Valley.

In the next post, we will use the very few clues that are available to us to consider the maturity of Mal’s faith before the Battle of Serenity Valley.

References:
Allport, G. W. (1950). The individual and his religion. New York: Macmillan.
Bainbridge, W. S. (2005). Atheism. Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, 1, 1-24.
Exline, J. J., & Rose, E. (2005). Religious and spiritual struggles. In R. F. Paloutzian & C. L. Park (Eds.), Handbook of the psychology of religion and spirituality (pp. 315-330). New York: Guilford Press.
Freud, S. (1913). The interpretation of dreams (A. Brill, trans.). New York: Macmillan.
Freud, S. (1927). The future of an illusion. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.
Granqvist, P., & Hagekull, B. (2001). Seeking security in the new age: On attachment and emotional compensation. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 40, 527-545.
Stark R. (1999). Atheism, faith, and the social scientific study of religion. Journal of Contemporary Religion, 14, 41-62.
Vitz, P. C. (1997). The psychology of atheism. Paper presented at New York University. New York, NY.
Vitz, P. C. (1999). Faith of the fatherless: The psychology of atheism. Dallas, TX: Spence.

Malcolm Reynold’s Loss of Faith Part One– Firefly and the Psychology of Religion

This series on Firefly and the Psychology of Religion is written by Dr. Charles Hackney. Chuck is associate professor of psychology at Briercrest College and Seminary, cialis and author of the book Martial Virtues: Lessons in Wisdom, troche Courage and Compassion from the World’s Greatest Warriors.

**************

The television show Firefly centres around a crew of misfits who operate on the space vessel Serenity. The show is set in the distant future, sildenafil a time in which Earth had become overpopulated and humanity responded by moving out into space and terraforming a large number of planets and moons into suitable habitats. At the time in which the events of the show take place, the inhabited planets had recently been unified, with or without their consent, by the Alliance. Malcolm Reynolds (often called “Mal”), the captain of Serenity, had fought on the losing side of this conflict, and he and his crew now eke out a living on the fringes of the Alliance, supporting themselves through smuggling and other criminal activities.

In the pilot episode of the series, we see that Mal took part in a pivotal battle (the Battle of Serenity Valley) between the Alliance and the “Independents” who resisted the Alliance’s hegemony. Mal was a Sergeant in the Independents’ forces, and he is shown to have been a person of cheerful optimism and sincere Christian faith. Mal believed that God would provide victory for the Independents and their righteous cause. When the Independents were crushed by the Alliance, Mal’s faith was similarly crushed. Six years later, Mal (now captain of a space ship named after the place of his defeat) has become hardened and embittered (though he retains a sense of humour and a deep nobility of character), and he demonstrates resentment toward God in particular and religion in general. In the few episodes of Firefly that were produced, and the spinoff film Serenity, this is demonstrated primarily in his interactions with Shepherd Book, a wandering priest who joins Mal’s crew.

Topics in this series of posts will include an examination of Mal’s loss of faith, drawing from the small but growing research literature on the psychology of religious conflict and apostasy. Certain “risk factors” in Mal’s background and personality, known to increase the likelihood of apostasy, will be identified. Mal’s reaction to the Battle of Serenity Valley will be analyzed as a case of disappointment and anger directed toward God. Finally, questions will be raised about Mal’s future as it relates to this issue.

Part Two: Malcolm Reynolds’ Loss of Faith Part Two- Our Father Who Ain’t Good for Much, Fei Hua be Thy Name

Part Three: Malcolm Reynolds’ Loss of Faith Part Three – We Are Just Too Pretty For God to Let Us Die