Leave it to toxic Christians to get angry about all the worst, most poorly-thought-out stuff. This time around, our brave widdle culture warriors flew into a lather over a television show called Good Omens. Let me introduce you to them, and show you what they’re so angry about. Then, we’ll look at what that anger means for them–and us.
Good Omens began life as an immensely well-written book about the end of the world, Christian-style.
In fact, it is the polar opposite of the Christian fantasy This Present Darkness. Both books deal in markedly similar themes and contain markedly similar conspiracies. This Present Darkness was published in 1986 and took a few years to become a blockbuster best-seller in Christian-Land. Good Omens was published in 1990 and as far as I remember, pretty much immediately became popular. Thus, I mentally categorize them as belonging to roughly the same time-period.
However, the author of This Present Darkness, Frank Peretti, wrote from the standpoint of someone who desperately needs Christian mythology to be true to a great extent. Accordingly, he wrote the book to appease the sensibilities of like-minded Christians. Together, they idolize their quirky interpretation of their magical book.
By contrast, the authors of Good Omens wrote for an audience willing to see that mythology for what it was: a very malleable source that could be turned to a good story.
It’s just that this time, we know exactly who crafted the story. And it’s a way better story at that than the mishmash in the Bible.
A couple of weeks ago, the book found new life as a miniseries on the streaming service Amazon Prime. All six episodes of the miniseries dropped on May 31. And wow, what episodes they were! From some amazing casting of A+ names to really good production values, the show shines. Though obviously they had to leave some stuff out, the basics are all there.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of reading the book, here’s the basic rundown:
An angel (specifically, a Principality) named Aziraphale and a demon named Crowley forge and maintain a tenuous friendship through many centuries. Very quickly, they discover that they have more in common with each other–and with the humans they’re around all the time–than they do with their respective nightmarishly-bureaucratic superiors.
When Satan’s son is born, that event touches off an 11-year countdown to Armageddon. The angel and demon decide to work together to stave off the end of the world, since they kinda like it here. But when the boy turns 11 and his powers begin to manifest, things get real very quickly.
With the aid of some human friends, our heroes race against time to find the Antichrist and stop Armageddon–which happens around tea-time in an obscure English village, according to the nice and accurate prophecies of the last witch burned in that country.
The Evangelicals Mad at Good Omens…?
Obviously, some evangelicals got furious about Good Omens. Finally. Maybe they missed the book itself when it was published in 1990. I don’t remember a lot of Christians making any to-do at all over Good Omens. I think Harry Potter, in 1997, represents their first foray into that field since their D&D book-burnings of the 1980s. Indeed, one of my onetime favorite Christian blogs ran a pleased-sounding review of the book in 2015.
That said, the series represents television, which evangelicals usually notice.
That’s why I’m surprised to report that not much fuss about Good Omens exists in the evangelical Christ-o-sphere.
Relevant ran a review of the series. They think it “doesn’t go far enough” or “have the teeth to leave a mark.” The reviewer, Tyler Daswick, wishes that “its focus was more precise.” He’s not totally wrong, either; the series doesn’t focus on those critiques nearly like the book does. He also correctly notes that religious satires indicate popular culture’s relationship with Christianity. Overall, I felt surprised by how even-handed this review was.
Also, we saw some
fireworks firecrackers. A frothing-mad culture-war blog called News Busters decided that Good Omens represents evidence of not only intentional liberal bias, but also a real live smear campaign against Christianity. Hey, months remain till they can tantrum again about the supposed “war on Christmas.” The poor lambs need to blow off steam. Without constant injections of manufactured rage, culture warriors get all confused and logey.
This guy, too, sounds very upset. His main problem appears to be that they make “a mockery of the concept” of the Antichrist. Mockery destroys extremist zealots. So of course he’s upset.
Otherwise, not much here!
And the Catholics Who Are Definitely Mad.
Extremist Catholics turned out to be way more mad at Good Omens.
Some of them even immediately set up a petition to demand the withdrawal and cancellation of the series. Of course, they sent it to the wrong streaming service. The series comes to us courtesy of Amazon Prime, but they first directed their complaint at Netflix. (They’ve corrected it since the error went completely viral and they got mocked to the very skies, but I don’t think the incident is ever going to be not-funny.)
The group responsible, Return to Order, represents part of the wingnut faction of Catholicism for sure. These fringe weirdos and culture-warriors super-miss the Good Ole Days when they could simply force people to play along with them at their Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game.
What’s really wacky, and possibly a barometer of just how bizarrely like fundagelicals these Catholics have become, check out this 2008 review of the book. That site looks about as culture-warrior-like and as fervently Catholic as anybody could ask. And the reviewer there seemed to like the book quite a lot.
How times change!
More Catholics Who Are Mad.
Those petitioners are not the only ones upset. Some braying jackass who teaches at Liberty University (YES, seriously) graced a UK Catholic site with his review of the miniseries. He tripped over his own two feet, committing quite a few sins in the process, as he did his best (bless his little cotton socks) to make his tone as acidic, condescending, and nasty as he humanly could.
Eventually, the pompous blowhard decided that the series is “a travesty of eschatology” and “just another excrescence of trendy atheism: stupid and ultimately risible.” (Don’t worry. We’re coming back sometime to his redefinition of trendy.)
If you’re expecting him to name any of those travesties, forget it! He can’t slow his rage-boner long enough to do anything like that.
Instead, his main problem with Good Omens appears to be that, in his opinion, it “pushes various PC buttons.” And to him, that’s more than enough to merit his complete condemnation.
The “Mirthful Army,” Reporting for Duty.
Then we get a load of this other Catholic guy who’s upset about Good Omens. Jacob Bearer, an Ohio priest, carries this vision in his head of Christianity. And it looks nothing like that depicted in the series. HIS version of Christianity thrums with the power to change people and circumstances.
In his words, in this version of the religion, “the weak grow strong, the uneventful moment flashes with lightning, and we join a mirthful army equally comfortable at a wedding party or walking on the sea.”
His loving praise provokes questions. Has Bearer not gotten a look lately at the grim, huddled, white-haired handfuls of people still attending Catholic churches? Does he never see them glowering suspiciously at any younger people who walk through their doors?
And if his god can indeed create such change, then why hasn’t he done anything about all those priests of his raping children and covering up child-rape? That’d be a nice change.
Not Their First Time At The Outrage Rodeo.
This ain’t the first time Christian culture warriors have gotten their shorts twisted over secular media, of course. A few years ago, when Lucifer came out and depicted the titular Lucifer Morningstar as a Los Angeles nightclub owner, they got really upset about that, too.
A group called One Million Moms, which contains nowhere near that many control-hungry Christian busybodies, called for Lucifer to be canceled before it even started. They managed to obtain 38,250 signatures for their petition, which is 961,750 short of a million. Predictably, the show went ahead as planned–and it was really good.
At the time, Neil Gaiman noted that the same crowd had thrown a similar hissy fit over his earlier Sandman comic book series. Back then, their shorts twisted over his inclusion of LGBT characters in the series.
This time around, he’s now the co-writer of Good Omens (along with the late and greatly-missed Sir Terry Pratchett). He had a similarly funny observation to make about the Catholic petition to Netflix: “This is so beautiful… Promise me you won’t tell them?” (Me: ❤❤❤❤)
For their part, Netflix’ official UK/Ireland Twitter account replied to the petitioners: “ok we promise not to make any more” — and Amazon Prime’s official Twitter account offered to cut a deal with Netflix: “Hey @netflix, we’ll cancel Stranger Things if you cancel Good Omens ;)”
Nobody takes frothing-mad Christians seriously anymore, it seems. Poor dears!
And I think that’s kinda the big problem they’re having here.
Tempests in Teapots.
Don’t ever forget that moral panics don’t come about by accident. People in dominant groups manufacture them. They do so for two reasons.
First, they seek to rally their troops. This activity makes them feel more dedicated to the group. This rush of emotion also drives group members to better perform the will of their leaders. In the case of the culture wars against human rights, these moral panics drove Christians to greater and greater depths of extremism and polarization. The tribe members also learned how to revise their worldview, accept fake news, and alienate anybody who pushed back against their control-grabs. In the process, they gave their leaders–and their leaders’ pals–a great deal of very real political power.
Second, culture warriors seek to impress their dominance upon outsiders. Moral panics function exactly like catcalls do. The Christians who publicly declare and pursue culture wars get to swan around in front of others. They get to push their opinions in other people’s faces and get away with it. If they want to insult others and accuse them of monstrous misdeeds and crimes, then being on the other side of the culture-war divide becomes their permission slip to do it–and more, and worse besides.
In short, they get to be humanity’s Designated Adults. They get to decide what’s best for everyone, and then they get to force everyone to do whatever they say. Best of all, they also get to punish anybody who refuses to comply.
And that’s how Christianity worked.
Playing P&P: Portents and Precedents.
Groups that feel totally comfortable with their dominance don’t tend to start moral panics. Those represent some really blunt-force tools. No, a group secure in its dominance won’t need to take such drastic and unpredictable chances. They have real power already.
When I see Christians participating in a moral panic, I see people fretting quite a lot about their dwindling power–and trying to grab it back again before it’s too late.
However, as I said, moral panics can be really unpredictable.
If the public responds positively, then they buy into the panickers’ proposed solution set. In other words, ideally, outsiders will hand their personal liberties over to power-mad zealots and join in the persecution those zealots began against whatever innocent group they thought was safe this time to victimize. They won’t ask difficult questions about why that targeted group was chosen or what harm they really pose to anybody.
Nor will they ask who benefits from this persecution–or how.
Hooray Team Jesus!
Precedents Being Set As We Speak.
But if the public doesn’t respond positively, then that sets in motion a very dangerous precedent.
Authoritarians can only stand so much mockery before they disintegrate like all those people did in Thanos’ Snappening. When they stamp their widdle fetties, they expect people to be shocked and scared and to give way. If, instead, people watch them with the exact same expression they wear when some stranger’s toddler melts down in public and the parent does nothing about it, that kind of defuses them–immediately and completely.
We’re not supposed to reply to “I’m so offended here!” with “And…?” or worse, “So what?” We’re definitely not supposed to react by mocking them all over again.
More and more often, though, that’s exactly what’s happening. Not that it stops them. Yet.
The Why Is Important.
This is why the reaction they’re getting lately doesn’t slow their roll:
When a Christian is acting out in some way, be it importuning strangers on mass transit or screeching about a clever TV series that doesn’t quite depict their Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game the way they prefer, see the outburst for what it is. That Christian acts out and bothers people to re-establish a sense of dominance at others’ expense.
This behavior soothes culture warriors for a little while. It works in exactly the same way that harassing women soothes a misogynist who feels like the world is slipping inexorably from its male-dominated fist.
Until recently, they got exactly what they wanted out of their outbursts. Like toddlers and cats, it takes them a while to realize that a button has definitely stopped working forever. Once they realize that tantrums don’t get them what they want, they’ll start casting about for other buttons to press. Also like toddlers and cats, culture warriors don’t give up easily.
(Be wary: sometimes toxic people will go to the wall to regain their lost power, as women everywhere have learned about catcallers. Dominant groups do not tend to graciously or gracefully give up power.)
The fact that so many Christians have taken Good Omens in stride (or seem unaware of it at all) unexpectedly pleases me. I had to search for these reviews!
More reviews might trickle in, but probably not many. It’s far more likely that Christians are busy drilling down on their anti-abortion culture war. They’re such good little dupes!
Of course, not much pushes culture-warriors’ thrill buttons like being the embattled remnant who know and fight for the real truth. Their hermetically-sealed bubbles are self-repairing to an incredible degree. So don’t count on them to notice–much less be weirded out–by how few of them are jumping onto the outrage train over Good Omens.
To the die-hard culture warrior, small numbers, mockery, and outright failure represent righteousness, not a good reason to second-guess anything they’re doing. Anything that happens simply becomes part of the plan.
Really, they’re about as good as their imaginary friend is at crafting ineffable plans. Maybe that’s why nobody reputable gives their religion a single chance of regaining its former dominance.
NEXT UP: A special Lord Snow Presides. Then, on Tuesday, we turn our attention to #SBC2019’s shameful treatment of its own sex-abuse survivors. See you soon!
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Final note: When I read the phrase “reporting for duty,” I always hear it in the voice of that little worker dude in the Starcraft game.