Although we don't see a religious organization in the series that is open and affirming to vampires, individuals are. Such diverse approaches to vampires distance characters from one another in the series. When Sookie first meets Bill at Merlotte's, she tells him, "Don't worry about Sam. I know for a fact he supports the vampire rights amendment." Bill responds sarcastically, "How progressive of him." This brief exchange defines many American congregations' approaches to homosexuality and many gay and lesbian's critiques of them. Homosexuality has become a litmus test for American congregations' liberalism but also, occasionally, an implicit permission slip to not deeply engage other social ills.
There is no positive religious identification in True Blood. That is to say, there is no clearly defined religious or theological worldview to which the residents subscribe. More often than not, they are defined by their negative reactions to vampires. Steve Newlin never gives a clear definition of what the Fellowship believes, only what it doesn't. His argument against vampires: "If death has no meaning, then life has no meaning." Later he asks, "How can you be a God-loving person and love something that God detests?" His wife Sarah is downright clueless in her description of what they are fighting for: "We're fightin' for God's green earth, and daytime, and Christmas, and Easter eggs and all that is sacred and good...we are fightin' for...?" Steve interrupts: "HUMAN RIGHTS! HUMAN RIGHTS!" They then fight with each other on national television.
Such theological ambiguity mirrors much of Mary Hallab's discussion of the religious/theological implications of vampire literature in her book, Vampire God: The Allure of the Undead in Western Culture. She writes, "So then, what do we need the Devil for? Or vampires? [...] The answer, for many people, is that we need them to confirm the existence of the Good, of the supernatural and transcendent Force or Providence that compels all life toward a worthwhile and rewarding future." Yet like its predecessors, True Blood falls victim to one of Hallab's pointed critiques. She writes, "A problem is that there often seems to be a little too much of horror and a little too little of God. [...] Almost all the good people in such works are shown as weak-willed and easily misled by Satan's emissaries. In contrast, the depiction of evil [...] is more interesting, active, and graphic than seems necessary to prove the existence of goodness, which gets much briefer notice." Moreover, in modern vampire literature and films "defending God and righteousness often requires so much violence and cruelty that it is difficult to tell the good from the evil." Again, Steve Newlin is a case in point both with his weapons cache that represents the Light of Day Institute's research and development and the "Meet the Sun" ritual in which a vampire is tied to a cross on a podium at sunrise.
A third aspect of religion, or religious folk, in True Blood is sheer hypocrisy. In an article on the theological implications of the vampire, A. N. Wilson writes, "[Evil] is a projection, a symbol, and provides something of a catharsis for the viewer/reader. It helps us face the darkness of life at a safe distance. It is a deflection, too, for by looking at a fictional evil, totally out there, we avoid what is here and now, around us." As long as the residents of Bon Temps can point to the sexual deviance of vampires they can ignore their own illicit behavior, whether it is an adulterous sheriff or Sarah Newlin having sex with Jason in the church balcony. Sookie can hear the townspeople's perversion through her telepathic abilities. Contrary to Lisa Nakamura et. al.'s assessment of the series, these thoughts are often highly sexist, racist, and homophobic. Steve's attraction to Jason in the second season borders on the homosexual. Closeted or not, Steve is almost sexually aroused by the idea of an exploding vampire: "That's gotta' be awesome watching God's mighty power obliterate evil right in front of your eyes."
To be sure, there's loads of caricatures and stereotypes wandering around in True Blood, but name me a television series that doesn't suffer, to some degree, from this. That True Blood is HBO's most popular series since The Sopranos says much about our obsession with vampires and the supernatural in contemporary popular culture and demands that students of religion take note.
True Blood returns for its third season in June.
Read Ryan Parker's recent article on the TV series Caprica here.
J. Ryan Parker is the creator, editor of, and main contributor to Pop Theology (www.poptheology.com). A fourth-year Ph.D. student in Religion and the Arts (with a focus on film) at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, his research interests include contemporary religious cinema after The Passion of the Christ, the history of religious cinema, and the ways in which films affect, and are affected by, religious consciousness. He has also served as a media consultant on documentary film projects. He holds a B.A. in English from Mississippi College and an M.Div. from Wake Forest University Divinity School.