Friday, November 18, 2011

I Hope No One Curses Me With Immortal Sexiness! (no, really. I hope not)

Well, folks - the end is near.  Or, at least nearer than it was 24 hours ago.  Sparklepirepalooza* Part IV has hit theaters and everyone - Twihards and Twi-haters alike - felt it.

I make no secret that I fall into the Twi-hate camp (though with less ferocity than most).  I have no desire to see "Breaking Dawn."  I did watch the trailer mostly because of my own sick curiosity and also that I am glutton for punishment (the above video is not that trailer. This video is so much better). The whole trailer revolves around Bella and Edward's wedding and honeymoon. Honestly, both Bella and Edward look about as excited about their impending marriage as I would be about seeing this movie (as in "Please don't make me do this! Please! Please! Pleeeeease!!)

But something has bothered me excessively about the Twilight franchise. Not just Edward's stalkery, controlling and abusive tendencies toward Bella. Not Jacob's character derailment just for the sake of having a cheap love triangle. Not even the *shudder* imprinting of Renesmee (and don't even get me started on that creature OR her weirdo name.  Holy crap - WHY?) All of these things have been documented extensively by Cleolinda, Mark Reads Twilight and Reasoning With Vampires and a whole host of other blogs. While these are brimming with snark, none of them have really hit on the thing that truly, truly bothers me about this series. And now is a good a time as any to explain exactly why I hate it.  My hope is that, after today, I won't have to mention it on this blog again.

It is well known that Stephenie Meyer is LDS (or Mormon, if you prefer). In the interest of full disclosure, I am LDS too. At first, I was excited about a fellow member of the LDS Church writing a popular fantasy series and be in the public mind because that would somehow work towards showing the world that, hey, we aren't as weird as you think we are. Then I read the books. And, not for the first time, I realized just why people think we're so weird (Dear World, I implore you - Please don't judge us all by Stephenie Meyer! If you want a good fantasy author that happens to be LDS, I suggest Shannon Hale, Brandon Sanderson, Jessica Day George and Ally Condie. Just for starters).

I will admit - I got caught up in the Twilight craze a bit. I read the first three books shortly before I left to serve an LDS mission in Florida and I really didn't have time to critique them with a discerning eye. I just wrote it off as a silly vampire romance for squealy teenage girls and there wasn't much harm in it. Then I left for my mission and didn't think much about it for 18 months.

For those not familiar with the life of an LDS missionary, here's some basic facts - as a missionary, you don't watch TV, listen to the radio, read books or participate in any kind of entertainment not put out by the Church. You are there to teach people about the Church and you're 100% focused on that. You write home once a week and get to call home twice a year. It's intense and grueling and extremely hard, but you also experience so much growth and spiritual maturity, so that makes it worth it for a devout member of the Church.  But you just don't know what's going on in popular culture unless someone tells you about it.  And even then, you just don't care.

I tell you this to illustrate how I perceived Twilight. While I was a missionary, "Breaking Dawn" was released and the first movie came out and Twilight-a-palooza was at a fever pitch. People were also interested to know that Stephenie Meyer was LDS. Well, of course we missionaries are going to be excited about this! Any publicity that brings the Church into the public eye is a good thing - whether it's positive or negative - because that gets people asking questions and they often come to the missionaries to ask. And missionaries LOVE being asked honest questions rather than just being yelled at to "F-off" as we go down the road. Except until we came to the part where some girl squee-ing over Twilight asked me whether I was "Team Edward" or "Team Jacob" - and I honestly had no idea what she was talking about. And no, she didn't want us to come teach her family about the gospel (sigh… onto the next house, I guess).

I returned home from my mission and could finally sit down and find out what the hoopla over Twilight was about. I watched the movie (it was crap, but most movies-from-books are), re-read the first three books (umm… okay, not the greatest) and finally read "Breaking Dawn."

And that, Dear Reader, is where I reached my breaking point (no pun intended). I still don't think I've recovered the brain cells that I lost.

It went further than crappy writing and a "What-the-Ever-Living-Hell-Was-That?" reaction. I realized how horrible Edward and Bella's relationship was and also how terrible Bella treated Jacob and how Jacob's character completely went off the rails. But worst of all - I realized that people (members of the Church included) found ways that Stephenie Meyer had supposedly incorporated Church doctrine into the narrative, mainly the doctrine of eternal marriage.

I can (almost) forgive all that other BS in these books. But when you sell a story that can be interpreted as a commentary for something I hold sacred and turn it into a pile of muck, I take issue with that.  It's even worse when it's a member of the Church doing it because that just adds fuel to the argument that Mormons are these strange psycho freaks.  Especially because there are legions of asswipes with an internet connection who don't need any excuse to take potshots at people's religious views (for the love of all that is good and decent, why are you giving them more ammunition? They don't need it!)

And it got worse - as I roamed around the internet and found reviews of Twilight (both professional and amateur), I felt even more sick as people took Bella and Edward's relationship and marriage as an excuse to malign the Church and its teachings. This is the reason I could not read through all the "Mark Reads Twilight" reviews - many of those posts were the most insulting and offensive things to me on a personal level. And the worst part is that Bella and Edward's marriage is NOT an eternal marriage. It's a gross mockery of the institution and I'm not happy that Stephenie Meyer wrote the books that way in the first place so that the movie producers could basically characterize it as True Blood for fourteen-year-olds (What else do you expect? It's vampires and teenagers - of course Hollywood's going to do that?)

I realize that not everyone believes the way I do and I don't expect them to. But I do expect people to get their facts straight - or at least make an effort to find out the truth from a reputable source (it's amazing how many people who hate the Church go anywhere except the official Church website - or even Church members - to get their facts and figures). Since there hasn't been a suitable response to the people who bring the Church into their Twilight bash-fests, this is my effort to set the record straight.

Topic #1 - Marriage and Family

The Church teaches that the family is the most important thing for anybody - whether you're a parent or a child (which, everyone is one or both of these). We are to work together as families to get through this life. Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained and instituted by God.  When a marriage is performed in the temple by proper priesthood authority, a man and a woman can be sealed to each other for time and all eternity. Also, any children born to them will be sealed and they can be a family after this life. There's also provisions made for adoption and remarriage and things like that that I won't go into here. But that's the basic idea. The reason for all of this is that God is our Heavenly Father and He wants us to return to Him and we can only do that as we are sealed together as families.

The caveat to all this is that the promised blessings in the marriage ceremony - promises made in all the ordinances performed in the Church, actually - are dependant on how we as individuals live our lives. If we adhere to the commandments of God and keep our side of the promises, then God will bless us with what he's promised (most likely these blessings will come in the next life). Of course, you have people who don't live up to their end of the bargain and God will judge them accordingly.

Topic #2 - Free Agency (also - Right to Receive Personal Revelation)

Another a key component to God's plan for His children is the concept of free agency or free will. Everybody has the right to choose. In fact, that's what our purpose in life is - to make choices and to learn from those choices. Without freedom of choice, God's plan would be pretty pointless. We are here to learn what is right and what is wrong and the only way we learn from that is by experiencing consequences - which we do NOT get to choose. Also, we can counsel with God in our personal lives and have His input on how we make decisions, if we choose to include Him in the process.  This is known as receiving personal revelation.  Example - A few years ago when I was asked to serve as the president of the women's organization in my congregation, I was asked to pray about it before I said yes or no to the position.  I was entitled to revelation from God about the matter (Spoilers - I did accept the position and served for about a year).  Marriage especially is something we are counseled to pray about - if Person A says they had a dream or a vision or saw something in their morning toast that means they are supposed to marry Person B, Person B has the right to receive that same revelation. And if Person B doesn't get that revelation, they are well within their rights to tell Person A to shove off.

I bring these things up as they relate to Bella and Edward (and some of the other Twilight characters). Edward essentially strips Bella of her free will by using his "AMAZING SPARKLEPIRE* POWERS OF PERSUASION" to tell her that he is her One And Only True Love (sadly these things do happen in reality - in and out of the Church). And Bella is just dumb enough to fall for it (let's be somewhat fair here - Bella's not the poster child for fully-realized characterization, here). But Edward is a controlling stalker and certainly NOT the kind of boyfriend I would aspire to having - and certainly not the kind of man I want my younger sisters or my niece or any of my former students to meet and fall in love with. Edward (and to a lesser extent Jacob, but he's still guilty) is an abusive and emotionally controlling person and it sickens me that these are paraded out as examples of healthy relationships. While I've never really had a serious romantic relationship of my own, I'm pretty sure a breakup isn't supposed to send you into a waking-comatose state for four months and a desire to risk your life in order to hear your beloved's voice tell you how stupid you truly are.

So there's that aspect of the relationship. But going back to Church doctrine - Bella and Edward's marriage is NOT an example of an eternal marriage. Not as the Church teaches it. Again, these are my own closely-held beliefs. Nobody has to believe them just because I do. My purpose in this is to clear up some very gross misconceptions and bring in some things that don't get discussed with the respect they deserve.

Please, please, please follow me on this closely - when people say Stephenie Meyer injected eternal marriage into the "Twilight" series, that is not true at all.   Eternal marriage only comes in the next life.  Everyone living right now in in their mortal life, sent here to learn right from wrong and to choose for themselves who they are going to follow. If a couple qualifies for and chooses to be married in the temple, they make certain promises between themselves and God. The Church teaches that, once they get to the next life, God will judge them as individuals and as a couple if they have kept those promises. If they have kept their promises, God will reward them with being married for all eternity and they will have their children with them (as long as their children have kept their own promises. This goes on and one forever - I told you, this is eternity you're dealing with).  But living forever in this life is not - I repeat, NOT - how this is supposed to work.

Let me tell you, eternity is going to be a wonderful thing. True, I haven't actually seen it for myself, but I do know that as good as this life can be, heaven is going to be a zillion times better. The best part for me is that God is going to make everything fair for everyone - and He can do that because He is God. No one is going to have to fight over material things or hurt feelings because none of that is going to matter anymore. I can't really explain it very well - it's something you come to know on your own.  But it is not living forever in this world with someone who brow-beat you into marrying them.

Bottom Line - Bella and Edward aren't married for eternity. Not by a long shot. Oh, they may live forever, having forever handsome immortality sex and chomping on dead deer carcasses, but that's about all they've got. Eternal marriage is so much more than that, no matter what the romance novels say. Twilight has nothing to do with the Church beyond Stephenie Meyer's interpretation of her beliefs (which, I would like to have a long talk with her Sunday School teachers because that's not the doctrine of eternal marriage that I was taught). And the next person that says Twilight has anything to do with Church doctrine (whether they mean it as a compliment or an insult), I am going to punch them in the face.

*Credit where credit is due - "Sparklepire" was originally coined by the lovely and witty Cleolinda Jones (though I tacked on "-palooza" just for fun). She is one that has kept religious criticism out of the Twilight discussion and I give her a lot of praise for that.

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