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The Theology of Xena

by Thomas Canfield

Dear Wren,

I just finished reading the great Xena article on your Web Site. You folks spent so much time rhapsodizing over her scanty costumes, you totally overlooked the major theological implications of the show. The whole concept of the program is a triumph of the God/Goddess within over external deities. In short, esoteric triumphs over exoteric religion. Xena represents the sort of person who is in touch with her inner divinity (with a little help from Gabrielle's stories). The villains are the outer gods (Ares, Hades, Hera). In ancient Greek dramas, these gods would settle the fates of heroes and make them suffer for pride and arrogance. Thus, Hercules is sentenced to perform twelve labors. Ulysses is forced to wander for ten years before reaching home. Prometheus is chained to a mountain and tortured. The message was that mankind was at the mercy of these tempermental deities, and there was nothing we could do about it except suffer. Of course, such a mentality paved the way for the Christian faith, and the common phrase, "It's the will of God."

However, utilizing a modern mythology, Xena stands up to these deities, and manages to best them as a mere mortal. She defeats Ares and seals him in a tomb away from mankind. She defeats Hera and rescues Prometheus from the mountain. She intimidates Hades, and descends to the underworld as if it were as easy as going into a subway. She even extols the virture of being mortal by passing up opportunities to eat Ambrosia, the food of the gods. The message that comes across is that she is mortal and proud of it, and the gods had better beware.

This is a theme that is becoming more prevalent in modern American films. The first movie to really deal with this attitude was "Ghostbusters", in which alumni from Saturday Night Live stop an ancient deity determined to destroy the world. The best line from the film was, "Ray, the next time someone asks if you're a god, say 'yes'!"

Even Star Trek maintains this attitude, with a wonderful discussion of the Klingon religion. When asked about Klingon deities, Mr. Worf explains, "They are all dead." Apparently, the Klingons got so feisty, they felt the need to declare war on their own gods, and their greatest victory was to slay them. No doubt Xena would be highly regarded in Klingon mythology.

Anyway, Xena carries on the iconoclastic mentality to its logical extreme. When you fight a god, you don't just go after the temple or the statue. You have to go after the living myth and send it running away in terror. Christians used to say, "Resist the Devil and he will fly from you." Xena is embodiment of the principle, "Resist the gods and they will fly from you." With such an attitude of spiritual anarchy, it is ironic that the actress playing the part is named "Lawless."

Theology aside, I do like the costumes, especially the Amazon outfits. Some have said that Xena is the "Wonder Woman" of the 1990's, except that Lucy Lawless has shown more acting talent than Lynda Carter. In this season, she has gotten to play a trampy slut, a southern-fried archeologist, and a homicidal maniac (Callisto), all without compromising the original character. I just hope they keep giving her such a variety of roles.

Tom Canfield

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