I am not a religious person. Oh, I have flirted with one or two over the years, would probably have called myself a Christian as a child and, as an impressionable Australian teen, was even coerced into spending some time at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by some cute American missionaries. I actually think it was that experience, more than any other, that set me on the path to profound atheism; I am, like British humorist Douglas Adams, “a radical atheist,” because “I really mean it, have thought about it a great deal, and it’s an opinion I hold seriously.”
It may have been Joseph Smith’s magical “golden tablets” that did it. I mean, really?
This does not, of course, mean that I am opposed to spirituality in others; I not only applaud but admire anyone of deep faith—at least, as long as they offer me the same courtesy. There is, I will admit, a part of me that wonders if anyone raised in Catholicism, in Judaism or in Islam (just as examples), and who has never even once questioned their teachings, has really given the matter enough thought, but I think each one of the many, many religions humanity variously holds sacred offers up at least a nugget of wisdom and a particle of deeper truth from which we can all learn, regardless of our avowed creed.
All of which is a preamble to this statement: Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight and its sequels may well reflect her Mormon belief system and, as has oft been claimed, push a Latter-day Saints agenda upon young girls the world over—but who cares?
Academics like UCLA’s Angela Aleiss have pointed out the manner in which Bella dutifully cooks and cleans for her father, doesn’t drink coffee or alcohol, and eats meat sparingly, all precepts of the faith. She considers Twilight’s sparkly vampires the paranormal romance equivalent of Mormonism’s angels, and believes Bella’s teen, immortal marriage to be a reflection of Mormon doctrine. “It’s possible that Meyer never set out to weave Mormon imagery into the Twilight background,” Aleiss allows. “Yet intentional or otherwise, it’s hard to ignore.”
My question is: why shouldn’t Stephanie Meyer have woven Mormon imagery into the background of her books? Whether intentionally or not, why does anyone care that Bella is a good little helpmeet or that Edward insists on abstinence before marriage? Are we really suggesting that the supposed target market for these novels, the world’s teenage girls, are so utterly helpless in the face of subtext that they will blindly switch faiths and reshape their values based on the described devotion of an impossible supernatural creature, as embodied by Robert Pattinson? Has attendance at Mormon Temples jumped alarmingly among this demographic in the six years or so since Twilight first hit bookshelves? And why “alarmingly;” is Mormonism really so bad, as religions go? Why all the hate? I mean, has no one seen Big Love?
I think on this point the Religious Right, which declares that the media has a liberal bias, might be just a little bit correct. The objections seem to stem mostly from the fact that these books—and I concede this—adhere to many fundamentally conservative ideals. But to this I would counter: so does a lot of Romance.
Whether religious or not, at the core of almost every romance novel is the idea of a Happily Ever After, of a love that will last a lifetime, usually accompanied by marriage and children and all of those things people of faith are sometimes mocked for insisting upon. And if in this case the Happily Ever After happens to be influenced by religious ideology, how dare anyone object? Where’s the tolerance? Where’s the respect? It’s not like you then have to convert; if you don’t like the message, don’t take it on. One of the only tenets of Scientology I find at all appealing is their credo that “It’s only true if it’s true for you,” meaning you don’t have to buy into all of the stuff about the aliens and the past lives and such to join their Church; you can be in it just for the tax breaks and the possible celebrity sightings, and still be welcome in their halls.
So whenever I reread Twilight and its sequels, and companion novella and its Official Guide—as I am sometimes wont to do—I’m not in any way bothered nor offended by the reinforcement of traditional gender roles or the perceptible-but-ignorable undercurrent of religious dogma. None of it happens to coincide with my sense of the universe, but it works for Bella and Edward, and it is their story that has me hooked here, not the larger implications of their endless love.
It is just a good story, one that has captured my imagination, delightfully plays with some familiar Urban Fantasy tropes and always takes me back to a time when Sweet Dreams romances, often featuring the “I Can’t Believe the Popular Boy Likes Me!” plotline, always a winner, made up a big part of my reading material. For all her stuttering indecision, I like Bella; for all his stalky, antideluvian ways, I like Edward, and when Breaking Dawn, Part 1 arrives in cinemas so tantalizingly soon, I will be among the throng there on opening night to see the wedding and the honeymoon and the pregnancy and (forgive me) Taylor Lautner’s abs.
So what if it’s Mormon-y? So what if it does lead young girls into exploring that particular faith? (Which I find unlikely.) After all, once they learn the bit about how church leader Brigham Young used to refer to his more than one hundred wives as “heifers,” they’ll probably run away screaming, anyway.
Just as I did.
Rachel Hyland is Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.