It's no secret that the Twilight book and film series have become a craze among teenage girls, but in her new book, The Gospel According to Twilight: Women, Sex, and God, author Elaine A. Heath takes a closer look at the vampire story's theology and the negative impact it could have on young women and girls.
Heath, the associate professor of evangelism at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, told The Christian Post that the first reason why girls love Twilight is because it's exciting.
"I think it really captures a lot of the spiritual and social questions and anxieties of a generation that describe themselves as spiritual but not religious,” she observed.
Twilight, which began as a series of novels by Stephenie Meyer and has since been made into several blockbuster films, is centered around a teenage girl, Bella, who falls in love with a vampire, Edward. Mix in a few werewolves, some danger, and a lot of romance and you have a cultural phenomenon.
The Twilight franchise raked in nearly $70 million in U.S. ticket sales on opening weekend for both the first and third films in the saga, according to The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) website. In 2009, the second installment, “New Moon,” brought in a staggering amount of nearly $143 million.
Despite its popularity, Heath has concerns about what young people might be learning from the stories.
"The most alarming aspect of the books,” she said, “is the systematic gender violence and gender stereotyping that's negative ... especially about women and girls."
She believes the main female characters in the series are all victims of violence, but because it is mixed with romance and justification attempts, the violence toward women becomes “normalized” to the audience.
"Edward has many characteristics of men who batter,” she noted, “and his behavior and his control (stalking, demanding to know where she is), all these different things that he does to intimidate and control her, those are things that abusive men and boys do to girls."
On the bright side, there are a number of positive theological themes to be explored in the series as well.
The strongest Christian theme, Heath suggested, is that of reconciliation. In the end, Bella's character is able to bring peace between the warring species of humans, vampires, and werewolves. The theme of salvation is also present throughout the series.
The Cullen family (Edward's parents and siblings), she added, are also a model of what a strong faith community is like – they encourage each other to do what's right, sacrifice for the common good, and use their gifts to protect one another.
There are also Mormon themes present in the novels, Heath pointed out, because Meyer belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
So there are good and bad lessons to be learned from the series, but the story can be used to open up a dialogue with younger generations.
"I think it could be very helpful in unearthing unhealthy relationship and gender issues that are in our culture,” she said. “Likewise, it could help us to have some great spiritual conversations and critiques of social problems in our culture."
The key to discussing cultural issues, Heath noted, is to do so with respect.
From her experience, Twilight fanatics will “shut down” if you speak badly about their favorite character; so in order for parents or youth leaders to create a dialogue over cultural issues they need to approach them thoughtfully and lovingly.
Many more theological and social issues are covered in Heath's book, in which she included a series of questions to help encourage dialogue over the important issues she discusses.
The newest film in the Twilight series, "Breaking Dawn, Part One," opens in theaters on Nov. 18.