Rolling Stone searches for theological cornerstone in X-Files and, alas, drops the ball

I was never addicted to the X-Files back in its classic era, but I was almost always aware of what was going on in the series because of updates from my Milligan College students -- especially in my "Exegete the Culture" senior seminar on faith and mass media.

Religious issues kept showing up in the show's believer-doubter format, with plots built on a never-ending search for the supernatural. One semester, a bright youth-ministry major wrote a brilliant paper -- the curricula for a weekend retreat for high-schoolers -- based on three X-Files episodes that focused on prayer, healing and life after death. The show was asking lots of interesting questions, which had to be coming from somewhere.

So I wasn't surprised that the recent Rolling Stone profile of X-Files creator Chris Carter (linked, of course, to the six-episode Fox reboot) explored some religious themes. I was also -- alas -- not surprised when a key religion fact got mangled. More on that in a minute.

But, for starters, wouldn't you like to know more about the roots of the Amazon project mentioned in this section of the story?

Though Carter doesn't admit this, his return to Hollywood (not counting a second X-Files film he wrote in 2007) must have been disappointing for the man who ruled the medium a decade earlier. A series about the Salem witch trials that he created for Showtime never made it to air. Same with an Area 51 drama he worked on for AMC. And ditto for a conspiracy thriller, Unique,which he developed at Fox.
But the toughest hit was his 2014 Amazon pilot, The After, a Sartre-meets-Dante serial drama set in the intersection of Los Angeles and Hades. Carter spent a year writing eight episodes in what was envisioned as a 99-show arc. But when the executive spearheading the project was replaced, and Carter refused to create a "show bible" explaining the series for his new boss because he prefers a more spontaneous writing process, Amazon canceled its order for the series.
"I was excited to explore hell," Carter says. "I believe we're all in a kind of hell."

OK, that is a rather big hint that there is some kind of specific religion ghost haunting this guy and his various pop-culture projects. Will the Rolling Stone team deliver the goods?

At the very end of the feature there is this:

"The show is kind of a search for God, because I believe science is a search for God," says Carter, who was raised Baptist in Bellflower, California, as part of the Christian Reformed Church. "During my fellowship, I worked under a Nobel physicist. He didn't believe in God. For me, it's mind-boggling that a person who deals with things that are so incredible, so beautiful that you have to believe that they were actually created by some greater power, doesn't believe in it at all.
"My wife doesn't believe in God either," Carter continues. "I just have a sense that there's something greater out there, and I think that has fueled the stories that we tell. That poster that says, 'I want to believe' " -- he gestures to the classic X-Files artwork on the wall – "that's me. That's me! I want to believe. I want that paranormal experience. Aliens, they owe me a visit. I've been their best PR man for the past nearly 25 years."

Very interesting. But what was that part about his church background? Run that by us again? Did the story really say that Carter was "raised Baptist ... as part of the Christian Reformed Church"?

So which was it? Was he raised Baptist or was he predestined to be raised in the Christian Reformed Church,? After all, the CRC is a very specific denomination with a very specific heritage in terms of doctrine and church government? You can start with that John Calvin guy.

Now, there are Baptists who are Calvinists, but they are not in the Christian Reformed Church. This is rather like trying to say that Carter was raised Catholic, as part of the Episcopal Church. I mean, there are Anglo-Catholics in the Episcopal Church, but they are Episcopalians, not Roman Catholics.

I wonder: What did Carter actually in this interview say that was interpreted in this strange way? Well, I guess the truth is still out there.

So even though the religious themes are crucial to the X-Files and, apparently, to the work of Carter himself, the details are not worth getting right at Rolling Stone. That's good to know.

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