The X-Files Lexicon's exclusive interview with Amy Donaldson,
author of We Want To Believe: Faith and Gospel in
Conducted by Matt Allair via phone (6/21/2011) and e-mail.
Page Editor: XScribe
In the midst of the hustle of early May, Lexicon colleague Angie Cottrell brought the publication of this book to my attention. I had been vaguely aware, or I should say, I had heard, that someone had been working on a book that explored the religious aspects of The X-Files, but I was pleasantly blindsided by the release. It is puzzling as to why it has taken this many years for anyone to tackle the subject in such an in depth manner. Details of my book review can be found at The X-Files Lexicon Blog. It has become an inescapable truth that the show dealt with exploring various aspects of faith, to believe in intangibles, to hold to personal convictions in the face of overwhelming odds.
Several interesting things developed leading to the interview; an arrangement was set up with the publisher, Cascade Books, to offer an exclusive discount via the Lexicon when ordering the book. and the publisher was gracious enough to send us a copy for review.
Amy Donaldson received her PhD in New Testament and Early Christianity from the University of Notre Dame, and she works as an Associate Editor at Baker Publishing Group. To the benefit of the book, she is a long time X-Files fan.
The following should be noted: The Lexicon does not advocate any specific division of religious faith, nor did I come away with the impression that Ms. Donaldson was Prophesying, but speaking academically. Due to the nature of the material in the book, however, certain specific areas had to be addressed in the course of the discussion.
I found Amy to be approachable, accommodating, gracious, and candid with little pretense. The interview proceeded as follows...
Matt Allair: Thank you for taking time to speak with me. Are you a longtime fan of The X-Files? When did you discover it?
Amy Donaldson: I started watching the show between seasons 4 and 5, so I guess by now I qualify as a longtime fan, although I wasn't there from the beginning. A friend of mine, that I was living with, a roommate in college...the summer after season four, was a huge fan and I didn't watch the show with her, and the first episode I ever saw was "Zero Sum." She was watching it, and talking me into watching it that night, and that is probably one of the worst episodes you could watch if you're not familiar [with The X- Files], because of the mythology, it doesn't have Scully in it, and it absolutely made no sense to me whatsoever, and I was so frustrated at the end, because they didn't resolve anything, as you know now is typical of X-Files.
Amy: I think it's funny in retrospect that that was my first episode, and I didn't care about the show after that, but after that summer, I started Grad school. I had a roommate. She and I got assigned to work together. It was the most random thing that she had studied Russian in college, and she had a friend who was a TV critic in Chicago, he told her, "There's this TV show I'd recommend." We recorded the re-runs that summer. We would get together in the evenings when we both got back from studying, and watched because we were waiting for them to speak Russian. There’s a little bit of Russian in season four, but that ended up hooking us both on the show, so it's not the usual way people get into The X-Files. The Mulder and Scully dynamic was what hooked me.
Matt: What would be your favorite season or episodes of The X-Files?
Amy: I think Season 4 and Season 7 are two of my favorites, for different reasons. I think Season 4 is when the show really hit its stride, so I think of that as the quintessential X-Files. But I think by Season 7 everyone involved with the show was having a little more fun with it, and Mulder and Scully seemed a bit more flirty, so I enjoyed that.
I agree with a lot of other fans about some of the best episodes: "Pusher" is the best MOTW and "Memento Mori" is the best mythology episode. But some of the episodes I discuss in the book are among my favorites for their religious aspects.
Matt: What prompted you to write the book?
Amy: It seemed like a topic worth writing, and something I would enjoy. For a long time, it was just a dream and didn't seem realistic. But the release of I Want to Believe gave me hope that I could convince a publisher that The X-Files were still relevant, so that was the first time I actively pursued a publisher for the book.
Matt: How long did it take?
Amy: I started collecting notes and ideas years ago, but I didn't start writing until I actually had a contract with the publisher. The actual writing took me a little under a year, if I remember correctly, but I wasn't writing it full time.
Matt: Were you writing the book continuously over a year or was it over intermittent periods?
Amy: I was trying to think back, remember when I started, when I first put a lot of work into it. I think I submitted the manuscript somewhere around February / March a year ago, and I know those last couple of months I was putting a lot of work into finishing it up. I think the summer before I started the serious writing, I was trying to get my certification at the same time, and working on this was more fun, but working on the certification was more important. There were several points [when] I would work on one more intensely and then I would go back to the other one. I don't remember exactly the day I started writing, but I had taken notes over several years.
Matt: At what point did the publisher get involved?
Amy: I think it was the fall of 2008 when I gave them the book proposal. It took a few months before I got an acceptance letter and contract from them, in the spring of 2009.
Matt: As a longtime fan of The X-Files, do you recall at what point you picked up on the religious or spiritual aspects of the series? Was that suspicion verified by the phrase "Dio Ti Ama" in 2002?
Amy: I don't remember specifically picking up on the themes at a certain point. They were always subtle, but always there, and usually a part of Scully's background. As I describe in the book, I was shocked when I saw "Dio Ti Ama" as the tagline for "Improbable" because it was such a direct religious statement, which is not something we typically got on the show.
Matt: The book seems fairly narrow with its focus; was the book targeted towards the Christian community, towards X-Files fans, or both?
Amy: Both. I expect that the audience includes both Christians who may have only a casual interest in The X-Files, and X-Files fans who have an interest in Christianity or religion. I attempted to write the book so that it could be understood by people from either perspective—those who don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of The X-Files, and those who aren't intimately familiar with the Bible or Christian theology. Another publisher has a series of books with the titles The Gospel According To... that describe the Christian aspects of various shows/movies/books (Peanuts, The Simpsons, Star Wars, etc.); my book is in a similar vein, but is not intended to do exactly the same thing.
Matt: If you can speak from your experience as a Christian, do most Christians perceive The X-Files as a secular program? Was there anything amongst your Christian peers that you wanted to set the record straight with regarding The X-Files?
Amy: I didn't really feel the need to set the record straight about anything. The Christians with whom I discuss television or pop culture tend to be the academic sort, and among that group I think The X-Files is perceived about the same as other shows—certainly not "religious," but with interesting themes that could be understood as religious metaphors or could be appreciated by people with a religious background. If anything, I hope that the book whets the appetite for people who enjoy the religious themes in other television shows but who never really gave The X-Files much attention because they thought it was just a show about aliens.
Matt: Was it difficult to select the episodes to cite in your dissertations?
Amy: Writing this book required me to watch the entire series over again. It was certainly the most enjoyable research I have ever done. Some of the religious themes in the series are fairly obvious and therefore not difficult to select, such as in "Revelations" or "Signs & Wonders." I think what surprised me were the episodes I don't automatically think of that ended up being such rich wells to draw from, such as "Talitha Cumi" and "Miracle Man."
Matt: Millennium was a show that focused on a lot Christian theology as well; was there an interest on your part to write about Millennium?
Amy: I haven't seen the entire Millennium series, so I don't know all of the themes that appear in it. I'm most familiar with the obvious one, the connections with Revelation and apocalypticism. As a part of the X-Files universe, Millennium can't be overlooked, but I'm not as interested in [those] apocalyptic themes as I am in some of the others that appear in The X-Files.
Matt: If The X-Files was a show about seeking faith, what was your take on Millennium? Was it warning against religious dogma?
Amy: I haven't given Millennium as much deep thought as I have The X-Files. I don't know that I would consider Millennium to be a warning, any more than were X-Files episodes that dealt with fringe groups. The "dogma" of these groups usually isn't very orthodox, so the only warning I would see is against extremism. I think of Millennium more as building on an area of interest for Chris Carter (apocalypticism) and being a great source for dark story ideas--especially tapping into the end-of-the-world fears at the end of the millennium. My perception is that Chris Carter's own theology comes through a lot more strongly in The X-Files.
Matt: I'd like to ask you about your own personal definition of Grace. It is more than just an appreciation and connection to nature?
Amy: I think of grace as an undeserved gift, and even more than that, giving us exactly the opposite of what we deserve. That's God's grace in the sense that St. Paul describes it.
Matt: Were there any subjects you wanted to explore, but you didn't have space for? If there's a reprint, is there anything you would like to add or expand on?
Amy: What I'm really hoping for is another X-Files movie. Then we'll see how that impacts anything I've said in this book and whether it calls for a revision or supplement. I had thought up most of this book long before the second movie came out, but the book would have been greatly lacking if it had been written before that point and therefore didn't include the themes from the movie. It will be interesting to see, then, what kind of impact the next movie might have.
Matt: Playing devil's advocate for a moment, I wanted to ask you about the Nephilim and the Book of Enoch. There are UFO researchers who interpret the Book of Enoch as describing ancient astronaut / alien interaction between humans. Could the contemporary UFO phenomenon / alien abduction be the equivalent of the angels and demons described in the scriptures? What's your take?
Amy: Well, I don't really believe in aliens, and I don't think the Book of Enoch is "nonfiction" in the modern sense, so my only take on that is that neither is in the realm of reality. I know that some people have tried to take the description of the wheel within a wheel in Ezekiel as a flying saucer, and so forth, but this is part of a religious vision and describing realities that are beyond human understanding. At that point, it's merely a matter of human perception, and how you interpret things based on your own preconceptions. I interpret such biblical visions in light of the rest of the Bible and in light of the Jewish literature of the day, neither of which talk about physical beings from other planets.
Matt: If God created Man, how could we rule out the possibility He created other life in the universe? Does your faith leave you more open to the possibility of other life in the universe?
Amy: I'm of the mind that God can do anything He wants, and if He planted life all over the universe, that's His prerogative. How that life might fit in with the Christian gospel is another matter. The Bible isn't the story of the entire universe; it's the story of our planet, told through the limited lens of what information God has revealed to us that is necessary for our relationship with Him. But the universe is a vast place, so I remain skeptical (like Scully) that we would be able to interact with life in far reaches of the universe.
Matt: Most of the great religious documents of the world are complicated, and layered works; do you feel the scriptures are too easily misinterpreted?
Amy: I answer this from my prejudice as a scholar, and someone who has devoted years to studying the Bible. It is true that the more you learn, the more you realize you don't know. Anything that is not fully understood or studied is easily misinterpreted, and that includes the Bible. The information that is required in order to understand a set of documents composed millennia ago in languages that are no longer used in exactly the same way is endless, and my years of study have far from exhausted this knowledge. On the other hand, the primary message of the Bible remains fairly basic and should be easy for anyone to understand, regardless of their education. That remains part of the paradox of the Bible—that the message is simple, yet a lifetime of study cannot exhaust it—and it should remain a caution for any of us to think that we understand it fully or have the final word on how it should be interpreted.
Matt: I realize that Frank Spotnitz wrote a comment on the book, and I understand that Angie Cottrell tried to get a copy to Chris Carter. Do you know if Mr. Carter has seen the book?
Amy: I don't know, and I don't know if he would have had any way of knowing. She gave it to someone who was a personal assistant and I've never heard anything about that.
Matt: Is there anything you wanted to comment on?
Amy: The one thing I could add is that you mentioned that Frank Spotnitz had written one of the endorsements for me. The fans already know that he is just a wonderful man. Anyone else who is involved with the show, who's an executive producer, if you've never met them before, and you think: "I'm never going to get this person to endorse my book. I'll just e-mail him and ask him if he would," and he said yes right away because he's such a wonderful supporter of any kind of fan involvement, or anything related to the show. I was wonderfully surprised that that was so simple. That was one of the best things that actually happened, and then to say such positive things about the book. It would be nice if Chris Carter could see the book and enjoy it, as well. I would hope that would happen. We'll wait and see. Who knows if I'll ever hear back?
Matt: Thank you again.
Amy: Thank for doing the promotion on your website, and everything.
The X-Files works on many levels, and it's explorations into the meaning of faith, was an important component of the show that kept the audience intrigued and curious to see where it would go next.
Special thanks must go to Amy for her time, and to the publisher. We hope for the very best with Amy's book, and her future efforts. Please make a point to check out her personal site. You can order the book from the publisher's page, or through Amazon.
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