In their new adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have said they continued to respect the Christian themes that run through the original novel. The Count still cringes at the sight of the cross, and the church is central. By the way – if you are thinking of watching the new Dracula series – be warned that it is not for the feint hearted. There are some very gruesome scenes in there.
I am a fan of Gatiss and Moffat. But I must say, while I agree that they have included Christian characters and situations, I don’t think they really understand what Christianity is. They may claim they are building on Christian history in this story. I’m skeptical. Tho I agree they absolutely are building on the tradition of horror cinema from the past 40 years.
One of their most interesting characters is Sister Agatha, played by Dolly Wells. She appears to be a snarky and disillusioned Catholic Nun with an analytic mind. I enjoyed the way she worked to outwit the infamous Count. The story, particularly in the first episode, is masterfully crafted by Moffat and Gatiss. BUT- I was bemused by their understanding of the word “faith.”
At one point in the first episode, Sister Agatha rolls her eyes at the seeming naivety of the other sisters in her religious order. “Have faith,” they encouraged her. Agatha’s reply is piercing.
“Faith is a sleeping draft for children and simpletons. What we must have is a plan.”
The phrase “sleeping draught” comes from Stoker’s original novel, and I think it refers to the shot of whisky or strong spirit that people may take to help them fall sleep at night. What Agatha is saying is that faith is dangerous because it lulls us to sleep. Faith causes us to lose our creative edge, and that is dangerous for intelligent people who are true problem solvers. If we are wise, we will avoid religious faith.
I would suggest that this shows a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of Christian faith. While it’s dramatically powerful to show Sister Agatha as a disillusioned Nun, to hear her confusion about Christianity is – well – rather odd. It’s the current post-Christian cultural confusion about the roots of Western society … placed into a devout character in a historical setting. That’s weird and anachronistic to me.
Well – it’s not a complicated or even a particularly religious idea. Faith simply means – confidence, trust and reliance.
What’s the Misunderstanding Today?
The problem is, our culture has swallowed the idea that there is a disconnect between faith and evidence and reason. In fact, people today (including the writers of Dracula) think faith is the OPPOSITE of reason. We get that from Sister Agatha. When we learn about something, the need for faith vanishes. But more than that, our culture dismisses Christianity because it they don’t think it contains anything knowable…the need of faith betrays the pointlessness of religion. “One needs faith in religious or moral claims because there is no knowledge that these claims are true, no evidence either way for them.” If that’s the sort of religion that Sister Agatha is embroiled in, then no wonder she is disillusioned and wants to run from it. It’s pointless and, in the face of a cunning enemy, highly dangerous. But you need to know – this is not – and never has been – what Christianity is about.
Quite the opposite. If “faith” is really about confidence, trust and reliance then in those terms, knowledge is absolutely crucial. Why? Because we cannot trust something or someone we do not know anything about. Knowledge is essential in the building of that trust! Do you see the misunderstanding about faith in the words of Sister Agatha?
Replying to Sister Agatha
Is faith about being simple, and not knowing?
Not at all. Faith is about knowledge. The Greek word “notitia” refers to the CONTENT of faith. This is learning about how to develop a Christian understanding of the world, and what the Bible teaches. I’ve spent many years on this task, and there is so MUCH to know and contend for. In fact, it inspired this blog. The Jude in the New Testament wrote:
“I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”
Clearly there is much to KNOW and apply in life. And more than that, we must proactively stand up for this in culture around us.
Is faith about turning off our rational faculties?
In my experience, the opposite is involved when growing in faith. Why? Partly because of “notitia,” the knowing element. But it is also because of a second element.
Faith is about agreement, or “assensus.” Personal agreement to live this way. This means that its not enough to rationally grasp and know the contents of Christianity. We also have to ACCEPT this teaching as true.
There may be very good reasons why we may not want to do that. Maybe the teaching is hard! Why? Because it challenges some deeply held patterns of behaviour in my life that are wrong, but I do not want to give up. I know its right to change. I just don’t want to. Or, maybe my prior experience has left me struggling to accept what Christianity says. If I grew up in an abusive home environment, accepting God as father may be really hard for me!
Is faith is about becoming passive and not acting?
Again – absolutely not. The Greek word “fiducia” is used to describe this in faith terms. We have to wilfully choose to commit to, and partner with God in every aspect of our lives. Christianity isn’t a set of abstract terms. Its actually an engagement with a God who we can know. And its about actually having a life that reflects what Christianity is.
So – does faith involve an absence of rationality, engagement and action? Absolutely not – it requires the most from us in all three areas!
How would I reply to Sister Agatha? “We don’t need faith … we need a plan,” she said. Can you see now that a proper understanding of faith involves gathering all the resources for approaching life and its challenges? (I’m assuming this also applies to the undead but I’ve not tried it) And even more than that, it is about facing these challenges together with God, not on our own.
“To trust Him is not a leap in the dark, but it is a venture none the less. It is a venture of courage and not of despair, of insight and not of bewilderment.”
P. T. Forsyth, The Creative Theology of P. T. Forsyth
 J. P. Moreland and Klaus Issler, In Search of a Confident Faith Overcoming Barriers to Trusting in God, (Downers Grove:IVP, 2008), 18.
 Jude 3.