This article first appeared in the Viewpoint column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 31, number 03 (2008). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org/christian-research-journal/
Seventeen-year-old Bella falls for Edward, who is beautiful, mysterious, powerful, and dangerous, but wise beyond his years and, ultimately, a consummate gentleman. The paragon of self-control, Edward will not allow them to have premarital sex, despite Bella’s pleadings and his own appetites, and though he sneaks into her bedroom at night, he simply seeks her presence, to ask her questions and listen to her talk, to watch her sleep, and to protect her. Indeed, Edward, her savior, rescues Bella from certain death, repeatedly, and though she thinks of herself as ordinary, extraordinary Edward finds her utterly fascinating. In fact, she is his first and only love, and he would rather die than live without her. Astonishingly, he can even give her immortal life with him. A girl could not ask for more—especially not a free-thinking, thoroughly contemporary young woman who is actually in love with two boys, each of whom is deathly devoted to her. Or could she?
A biblically faithful Christian could not have written the Twilight series of novels, yet Stephenie Meyer, a committed Mormon woman, did. A cultural Christian morality certainly informs Meyer’s storytelling—Mormonism is, after all, a heretical cult of Christianity. In addition to Edward’s many virtues, Bella consistently puts others before herself. A strong sense of community pervades the story, and the way Meyer handles teen sexuality reflects in significant ways our shared Christian heritage.
I believe that quite another force, however, moves Meyer’s imagination, something antithetical to the Bible but central to Mormonism, which teaches that, by grace and good works, a male believer can become as the Mormon God now is, sovereign over his own creation, populating his own world through eternal polygamy and celestial sex. Mormonism constitutes perhaps the ultimate male fantasy; and Meyer’s world in the Twilight novels constitutes the female fantasy counterpart to Mormonism.
The Twilight love saga, then, may be the ultimate female coming-of-age fantasy that our biblically illiterate culture can offer, and, as such, this captivating story evokes dangerously false expectations in young women that no man could ever satisfy. In fact, given that female sexuality is quite naturally relational, far more so than young male sexuality, the comparison that comes to mind is that Twilight is to female sexuality what pornography is to male sexuality. As young men all too naturally tend to objectify women, and pornography intensifies that tendency, so young women tend to idealize and idolize young men, and Twilight exacerbates that tendency. Under such influences, neither sex sees the opposite sex as they should.
Some readers argue, however, that because Edward and Bella refrain from premarital sex (and use little foul language) such modeling of abstinence makes the series not only acceptable, but laudable for teens. Actually, Meyer wrote the books for herself and her adult sister, not teens, which helps to explain that although Edward and Bella do stop short of premarital intercourse, the love saga breathes sensuality over an undercurrent of erotica—what really prevents Edward and Bella from engaging in sexual intercourse is Edward’s fear of killing her in the heat of passion! It’s difficult to see how that persistent factor in the story would motivate young couples in the real world to abstain from premarital sex.
To be fair, Edward’s old-fashioned morals also bolster his resistance to Bella’s pleadings and his own carnal desires, but we don’t really learn of this conviction until late in the series. Reflect for a moment, furthermore, on the unsettling fact that teen Bella’s apparently virtuous suitor looks seventeen but possesses a century of experiences.
Edward is a vampire, of course, and Jacob, the other boy, a werewolf. We learn about incubi, succubae, shape shifters, and many other occult fantasy creatures and objects as well. Two basic concerns warrant the mention of these facts. First, because this saga breeds teen obsession, the attraction of the romance could spill over into tempting young people to investigate its occult elements (and Meyer’s Mormon affiliation could, I suppose, lend credibility to Mormonism as well).
Second, Christian literary critics point out that what legitimizes a fantasy story is that it reflects the moral law of the real world. Moreover, the horrible fallenness and glorious, but excruciatingly costly, redemption of the real world mandate that any story worth telling reflect in some way the fall and redemption of the real world. This, then, even requires that things get messy —vampirism qualifies—before redemption occurs within the context of well-depicted and biblically defined goodness and evil, justice and love. As I have alluded, however, the Twilight saga blurs these parameters.
Further manifestations of this blurring include Bella’s adoration of Edward, which she owes to God. Indeed, Bella affirms no religious belief and seems indifferent about God, confessing that she could not appreciate heaven without Edward. Also, consistent with Mormon teaching and contrary to the Bible, a sense of salvation by one’s own works pervades the storyline. For example, the praiseworthy head of Edward’s family of vampires, Carlisle Cullen, believes and instills within his clan that overcoming their lust for human blood may somehow merit or contribute to their salvation. In fact, Meyer’s brilliance appears especially in the seductive portrayal of her characters’ constant struggle to overcome their fallen nature and temptation through herculean self-exertion unaided by God’s grace—the universal urge to attempt to pull one’s self up by one’s own boot straps. God is irrelevant.
Very good storytelling influences us, for good or bad, and often beyond our awareness. Meyer’s powers, however, overwhelm teens, who should not be asked to navigate the intense emotional experiences the Twilight novels evoke, or negotiate the profound desires the novels enflame.
Stephen Ross is Research Assistant to the President of Christian Research Institute.