Saturday, 28 November 2009

The TwiSaga: a pre-evangelistic treatise for Mormonism?

***Edit: This post seems to be generating a steady stream of interest, now almost a year after I wrote it. If you are interested in LDS connections to these books, you might be interested in reading some of my other posts on the Twilight books (click on the TWILIGHT SAGA tag at the end of this post), or you may wish to visit the Hogwarts Professor's Twilight category of posts. If you are looking for a great deal more detail, particularly if you are planning to teach on the topic, can I suggest you read Spotlight: A close-up look at the artistry and meaning of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga by John Granger (the aforementioned "Hogwarts Professor"). Sandra L Gravett's short book from Twilight to Breaking Dawn: Religious themes in the Twilight Saga is also helpful, although it deals mainly with broader Christian metaphorical typing and allusion, with little reference to the specifically LDS perspectives. Both books are available through Amazon and other retailers.***

***Edit: You might be interested to know that the author of the article I am responding to in this post has commented, and I have responded below her comment.***

Aha! The secret has become public! A Mormon has written an article for The West Australian newspaper's "Agenda" segment today explaining some of the most obvious Mormonisms of the Twilight series: "Being a vampire means being powerful, strong and beautiful, with a generous helping of unearned wealth. For Meyer's family of vampires, it also offers a number of payoffs offered by religion, in particular, the Mormon brand: Eternal Life, Eternal Family and Eternal Love." Nothing like sparing use of the propaganda technique of Transfer, is there?

Not only that, the article's author actually went so far as to use Twilight's Mormonisms as a hook to invite readers who can't get enough of the books to "pop in one Sunday to your local Mormon church. They won't bite."

The last two paragraphs in full:
"And while women are beyond exactly placing themselves in Bella's shoes, Edward is the man they want for their husband/boyfriend/ next internet date. Danger arises when, without another Twilight book to read, life begins to feel empty. Readers want to prolong the experience but I believe Stephenie Meyer will resist the temptation to extend the story.
She'll leave Bella and Edward where they belong, deep in the dream of Happily Ever After. Escape your ordinary world in other ways - see the film of New Moon, read the fanfiction on, or pop in one Sunday to your local Mormon church. They won't bite."
Anyone looking for an exemplar of the Lesser of Two Evils propaganda technique?

I've been waiting for this moment to arrive since I first read the comment below on a Normal Mormon Husbands blog post (it is currently the first of 153 comments on that post). Sandy wrote [my emphasis]:
"Do you think that would work as a missionary line? 'We would like to tell you about a wonderful plan for your family to be together forever...and you DON'T even have to suck their blood! Would you like to hear more?'"

It seems the New Moon movie was just popular enough for Mormons to start deciding they should capitalise on the pre-evangelistic treatise that the Twilight Saga may provide. Or given the imminent release of John Granger's book Spotlight, which will expose and explain many of the Mormon metaphors in the Twilight books next month, perhaps certain LDS members feel they should take what evangelistic opportunities they can before Meyer's insistence that the books have nothing to do with her Mormon faith is shown to be complete codswallop.

Or... could the article be a one-off that just somehow managed to get past The West's editors since they needed something to publish in response to the phenomenal box office achievements of New Moon and someone just happened to hand them this piece? I can't work it out. The West's website can't find the article for me, no matter which way I search. The author "Melissa O'Shea", who is apparently real enough for Bill Hatto to photograph her for the piece, is curiously unable to be found by google. (The piece's photographer Bill Hatto is on google. Even I am on google! How in all the sticky wwweb can someone be published in a state newspaper and have a PhD and remain hidden from google???) And while we are on the topic of PhDs, who (according to the author bio at the end of the two-page article) "has a PhD in writing" from an unspecified university?

Perhaps the LDS church aren't so ready to admit to Twilight's religious metaphors after all...

Since it is so mysteriously missing from online sources elsewhere, I am going to include a scan of the piece here, for your elucidation:(Click on the image and then zoom in to read the text yourself.)

[I use "Mormon" in this post because that is the word that was used in the article I am commenting on. Stephenie Meyer is a Latter-day Saint, or "LDS", a member of the largest church that, together with other groups tracing their religious roots back to Joseph Smith Jr, are collectively are known as Mormons.]


Mrs. Edwards said...

I can see how the success of the Twilight franchise would inspire Mormans to use the series as a springboard to proselytizing, much as Christians did after Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ.

I wonder...what is the best way to expose and protest the -preevangelistic treatise of Twilight books without paving an intellectual way for others to protest Narnia and Lord of the Rings and the like. In other words, I hope that Christians can confidently illuminate the Mormon meanings of these books in a way that doesn't argue that a novel saturated in religious metaphors or allegory is unacceptable in polite society. In an age of "hate speech" and fear of all things religious, one can easily imagine that a book infused with Christian metaphor might be attacked and censored using the same arguments that Christians once used against other books, such as this series.

Of course, as a Christian, I cringe to see any avenue used to draw people into false religion, as I believe the LDS church to be. It is an interesting age, however, when one's efforts to silence falsities are used against Christians in an effort to silence the (Christian) truth.

It is interesting that the LDS church members seem conflicted about if they should embrace the obvious trail of Mormanism through the books, or pretend it isn't there!

I bet that you had no suspicion that your week spent reading the Twilight books would result in you becoming an expert in the literary and religious analysis of the popular fiction series! I appreciate what you've brought to the discussion and how it has informed me about the books. Good work, Sharon!

Jettboy said...

"It is an interesting age, however, when one's efforts to silence falsities are used against Christians in an effort to silence the (Christian) truth."

Isn't freedom of religion and the press grand? Think about this comment of yours once and then again.

Sharon said...


First, please accept my apologies that it took so long for me to approve your post. I wasn't ignoring you. All comments on posts over a week old are automatically sent to me to moderate, but I haven't signed in to this page to check comments since just before you sent this comment, as per my pre-written, post-dated post of the 6th Dec., "This blogger is TEMPORARILY not blogging."

Second, welcome to my blog.

Third, I shall reply to your comment.

I think what Amy presupposed in her comment is that it is entirely valid to argue logically against what one sees as error. This is the method she is referring to when she describes "one's efforts to silence falsities". Falsities are only silenced effectively when they are shown for what they are, by logical and persuasive rebuttal. She is not saying that people propagating falsity should be restrained from doing so. Merely that effective rebuttal should prevent their falsity being heard and accepted.

However, at present we live in an age when logical argument, in an effort to promote truth over falsity (whatever it might be that is false, whether religious or otherwise) is often perceived as persecution of a people who uphold that falsity as truth. There is a strong line between illegitimate ad hominem attacks (attacking the opponent, rather than the opponent's case) against a person, or group of people, and legitimate rhetorical attacks against a false idea. Unfortunately, many people are not educated in where this line stands, and they use ad hominem attacks themselves, or believe themselves to be attacked when it is their argument that is being attacked. This causes problems for both sides of any argument if and when it occurs.

For example, above in my article I pointed out where the author used illegitimate propaganda techniques (the second of which is also a logical fallacy). I did not attack the author, except upon the issue of her professional qualifications to write such a piece. It was published in the section of the paper titled, "Agenda", however, so perhaps I was unjustified in presuming the author should have had verifiable academic credits if they were to be used in the author bio as a justification of her ability to write the piece. You may make your own judgement there.

It is up to Christians to oppose the errors they detect in LDS doctrine. It is up to you, or other LDS faithful, to either refute Christian arguments, or to otherwise bolster the LDS claim that LDS doctrine is correct. Neither group can be allowed to attack the members of the other group via ad hominem arguments. Furthermore, neither group can be allowed to justify suppression of argument by claiming ad hominem attacks where none exist.

Hence it is also acceptable for Christian discussion of the allegorical content of Meyer's works (as it is portrayed in the article in question, for example) to be used as a segway for Christian apologetic or polemical argument. In a just society that values "free speech", the right of Christians to do so must be upheld.

Furthermore, you will see that any Christian treatment of LDS doctrine should ensure it is consistent with official LDS doctrine as it stands at the time of the argument in question, and does not portray an inaccurate picture of LDS doctrine, in an attempt to create a Straw Man argument (another logical fallacy). This is the reason for my attempt to learn about LDS doctrine on the AMV blog from yourself, Tyler, Th. and other LDSs. I want to be certain I understand your religious beliefs as best I can (as a non-LDS person). I do not want to be guilty of using a Straw Man fallacy in my own discussion of Meyer's works.


Melissa said...

Hi Christian friends.

Well, I do exist, and you CAN find me on google. Actually that's how I found your blog about my article. I'm also listed four other times (I just checked). My PhD is from Edith Cowan University, 2005. You can go to the Mt. Lawley campus library and read my thesis if you wish. Although regarding my qualifications to write the piece, I was asked to do so because I had actually read all four books (apparently a rarity at the West Australian--everyone else hated them without having read them). Also I was a writer trying to get back into writing after a break, which is probably why they put my qualifications at the end of the piece, just a nice little gesture to help me out.

The ironic thing is, I'm actually a former Mormon currently looking for a new Christian home. The commisioning editor didn't quite get this, or for whatever reason wanted to place me as Mormon (which I suppose I mostly am, having only recently left the fold). But the article was definitely not an attempt to proselytise, and the last sentence was intended to be gently ironic, eg. here are some other forms of fantasy to try.

The funny thing is, in attempting to reassure other Christians that (at least in my personal opinion) Twilight is pretty harmless, I have caused exactly the furor I was hoping to quell!

If it's any consolation, from what I've heard, Mormons don't like the article either!

At least my non-religious contacts (fortunately most of the people I know) seem to like it just fine. . . And who ever published anything in order to be loved? (At least, not in the West Australian.)

By the way, am I still guilty of logical fallacies if I am not arguing what you think I am?


Sharon said...

Hi Melissa!

I am so glad that you found my post and blog. And even happier to find you are a "real" person! So thank you for correcting my suppositions. Is your PhD really in "Writing"? Not "Literature" or something like that? Wow, that says something terrible to me about ECU.

Regarding your background, you sound like exactly the person I would like to talk to more about Meyer's books. I'd really like to talk to you about them and find out more about the intersection you see between Meyer's Mormon background and the allegorical symbolism in the books, from your perspective as a recent ex-Mormon. (Also to ask you what made you leave the LDS. I am very curious.) I'd love if you would email me. You can use the link on my profile page.

If you are still looking for a church, can I (humbly) recommend the one I am a member of? We are in the western suburbs of Perth, about 15min from the city. If you are interested, please email me for the address and meeting times. (I like to keep some level of privacy on this blog.) You can probably get a pretty good idea of the approach our church takes by reading (or skimming) some of the posts tagged Bible here, or some of the posts tagged Christian Apologetics here. Please keep in mind that while I am married to the Pastor, I'm not in a position of authority with oversight over the doctrinal teaching or pastoral care of our congregation.

And in answer to your question, I think you're still using propaganda techniques even if you didn't intend to make the points that I found you made. If you didn't intend to make those points, you should have phrased your descriptions in ways that avoided Transfer or Lesser of Two Evils, and made it clear that there are other things to consider as well. In this way, you could have avoided the fallacy. The LDS might not bite, but their doctrine does have a sting, in my opinion as a Christian.

(And you could justifiably accuse me of using the Propaganda Technique of Assertion without Justification, in that last statement. I don't want to get into a discussion of LDS doctrine vs Christian doctrine here on this blog right now. There are far better and more appropriate forums.)