SMDND-Exploring the Theme of "Choice"

General discussion about the Twilight Series Universe.

Religion,Choice and the Cullens

Postby Di » Sat Feb 02, 2008 9:27 pm

I've been a lurker on this conference for a long time and this is my first post (deep breath, looks around, jumps in).

Lisa and bac, you make good points (Lisa, how you were able to come up with that while potty training is incredible!)

I'd like to add/suggest that for Carlisle, it may not be hope, but faith, that encourages him to make the tougher but more moral choices he does (one of my favourite quotes is on page 36 of NM when Carlisle says he believes God exists, even when he looks in the mirror). Faith is also a choice - no one can force you to believe. It's hard to believe that there's a loving God out there when you are (in Edward's words) a monster, but in the different religions (Lisa mentioned Natural Man vs the divine; in mine it's original sin) there is inner turmoil/conflict in all creatures in choosing which path in life to take.

Hope this contributes to the discussion in some way.
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Postby December » Sun Feb 03, 2008 6:51 pm

Lisa and Di and bac -- Thank you! You've helped me to put my finger on something that has been troubling me. And perhaps a lot of other people here too -- which may explain why the conversation has been sputtering in and out of life lately....

What struck me is that there is a serious...instability, if not inconsistency, in the view we are invited to take of vampires' natural bloodlust. On the one hand, I think you are clearly right that we are meant to see the vampires' insatiable desire for human blood as a "fallen" state. That the temptation to take human life is a temptation to do wrong, that what the Cullens are battling so hard to do is to rise above an essentially base nature and become something better. Certainly Edward believes this, if we are to take seriously what Stephenie recently posted on the Twilight Moms site:

Stephenie wrote:
Why do some people believe in heaven and others believe in nothing? Edward isn't an atheist, but he takes the idea of evil very seriously. He doesn't think he can redeem himself for his own nature. It makes sense to him that there would have to be a price to pay for limited immortality and superhuman powers. Of course, his belief system is in flux at the moment. If God can forgive him enough to allow him to have Bella in his life, then maybe God is a great deal kinder than he'd guessed.


This seems pretty cut and dried. What the Cullens would be in their natural state...is evil, at least in Edward's eyes. And more not just Edward either: "Carlisle has faith. He thinks he can keep his soul if he lives the best he can." (PC12). Implication: to give in unreflectively to the natural desires of a red-eyed vampire is, at the least, morally precarious in the eyes of heaven.

BUT...Stephenie has also suggested (PC12 again) that it's unreasonable to hold vampires to a human morality, because they are in effect a different species from us: as alien as...well, aliens from outer space.

"New analogy. Aliens invade the earth. They hover above the cities Independence-Day-style, and start beaming people up whenever they get hungry....Vampires are about that alien. The fact that they were human once doesn't change the fact that they are NOT a part of our society now. They are outside and above."

In fact, Stephenie explicitly mentions the idea of relative morality and refers us to Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead -- a book which turns on the recognition that what looks like barbarity from one species' perspective may be something quite different from another's. Humans are vampires' natural diet and we can hardly blame them for subsisting on it.

"I know it might be difficult to step away from a human perspective and see it through their eyes. The question is, is it really wrong for them to see the world that way? Vampires are at the very pinnacle of the food chain. Should they feel bad about that? Or are they simply following the dictates of nature?" (PC12).

So that it's a failure of moral imagination for us to anthropomorphize them and expect them to abide by our moral code -- like condemning lions for eating wildebeest. Yes, Stephenie goes on say that the Cullens "struggle to reject that viewpoint. They work (and it is work) to hold on to their human perception of the world." But there is also a clear implication that for vampires to kill humans is in the natural order of things: as much a part of Creation (or evolution) as any predator and its intended prey. Like the shark, made by nature to live off baby seals, as Edward puts it (TW p.308). And mark you, this is Edward speaking....

This surely is why we are having such trouble making our mind up about the issues we've been discussing recently: just how monstrous a fate it is to be a vampire; or how it is that Alice and Emmett are more comfortable in what they are than Edward is; or in the widest perspective, how morally freighted this romantic narrative is meant to be. There is a real collision between the relativist view and an understanding of Stephenie's story (like the one we've been collectively moving towards) as a narrative of spiritual struggle, sacrifice, self-denial and redemption. And a serious problem of psychological implausibility.

Because, look: it's fine to insist that vampires are essentially beyond criticism for doing what they were designed to do (that is, kill us)...but if this is the Divine view of things, it makes the Cullen's fearsome struggles to transcend their murderous impulses look unnecessarily, even grotesquely self-denying. If it is normal -- and justified -- for vampires to be as casual about their diet as we are about lambchops, it's a bit freakish to have the agonized conscience about it that Carlisle and Edward have. Especially since abstaining from human blood is not actually like being a vegetarian: a relatively minor moral exertion to be weighed in the balance with a lifetime of small sins and small acts of virtue. It is a penance of pretty appalling proportions: an eternity of burning temptation and physical pain, up there with hairshirts and flagellation and continuous fasting. Which ought to command profound admiration and respect, if we're talking about restraining themselves from committing murder, but looks slightly pathological if we're talking about abstaining from roast beef. One can certainly aspire to a higher moral standard than is minimally required ("I hate the suffering of animals, so I will give up eating meat"); but to be so revolted by your own nature that you try to kill yourself as Carlisle does, painfully, by starving himself to death just looks unbalanced, unless there really is something vile about that nature.

Ok, Major lightbulb moment. Maybe this is something that's been obvious to the rest of you, but it's only just coming clear to me: that the issue here is not that it is wicked to be a red-eyed vampire, but that it is bestial, in the most literal sense. That humans occupy a special place in the divine Order and have been placed "above" the rest of brute Creation; so that to be an (ordinary) vampire -- to lose your humanity -- is to be demoted from this high estate to the ranks of the other animals. Humans alone were made in God's image; humans alone were endowed with souls. To be a different species may liberate you from the requirements of morality, but at the cost of liberating you from the possibility of morality (which is presumably why Stephenie imagines that red-eyed vampires find it difficult to form close family relationships as the Cullens do). It makes you like the beasts, no longer one of God's children. So that what Carlisle recoils from is not so much becoming evil as becoming an animal.

Which makes sense (second lightbulb joining the first, here!) of something that has puzzled me for ages about the discussion of souls in these books: the idea that vampires are not so much damned for what they are (the usual Faustian bargain: you keep your soul but end up in hell) but have lost their souls. They are exactly like the lion: part of Creation, but no longer part of the moral order. Except that vampires were once human, and with that inheritance comes the possibility of hanging onto the spark of the divine that was once in them, in proportion as they can hang onto their humanity. As Truelove wrote to me:

"there has to be some dominant...something in the Cullens that allows them to have a conscience about this. They are clinging to their humanity, so where an ordinary vampire is reconciled with himself because this is all instinctual and part of the natural order, those who have retained some essential part of their humanity also retain the ability to recognize the behaviour as abhorrent. Something like being caught in limbo -- they wont let go of humanity enough not to be caught up in the moral dilemma."

The idea that vampires are in a kind of limbo, stranded part way up the Great Chain of Being between humanity and beast, is a nice way of making sense of what we are being asked to understand here. That they can choose (through Herculean effort) to claim their place in the Kingdom of Man -- to claim their souls -- by binding themselves to the human morality which nature has freed them from. By allowing their consciences to go on troubling them, even though for a vampire, a human conscience is an almost insupportable burden. Common sense would urge them to sink into the easy indifference of the ordinary vampire because to let yourself begin to feel for your victims -- to hold onto your humanity -- is to sign up for a lifetime of suffering, however successful or unsuccessful you are in subduing your instincts. But the Cullens, for their different reasons, value their humanity more than they value freedom from pain. Or perhaps, were made in such a way that they were unable to let it go. "So why does Edward bother being good? Because he doesn't like causing suffering. Even living on the death of the very evilest of humans, eventually all the killing makes him feel purely monstrous, and he hates feeling that way. He wants to feel like himself" (PC12)

Which gets back to what Indi and I were writing about earlier: the extent to which what we are watching in TW is Edward's heroic quest to affirm his humanity. Life sends him a far severer test than any of the Cullens has ever faced, and he comes nearer than any of them to sliding back into the abyss of bestiality and murdering a roomful of highschool students. But he beats back this ferocious temptation -- and makes himself return to that classroom and methodically face down his demons, because he is not going to make any concession to his animal instincts. And of course in the end he ascends farther than any of them in claiming his place among humankind -- in the life, and the heart, and the arms of a human girl: driven by his love for Bella to test his strength and subdue his baser nature in ways he would never have dreamed possible. The human capacity for love is stronger than even the most searing animal thirst: enough to enable Edward to taste Bella's blood and turn away (and if it's not clear to you how staggering that is, go read what Stephenie has to say about this in PC12). If anyone can be said to have earned possession of the soul that every human is blessed with as their birthright, it is surely Edward.


Edited to brush away typographical creepy-crawlies.
Last edited by December on Fri Apr 04, 2008 9:26 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby bac » Sun Feb 03, 2008 7:07 pm

Wow. I see what you are saying with the bestial thing and trying to cling to humanity and thus hang on to their soul. Thank you. I am now going to go ponder some.
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Postby TrueLove1 » Sun Feb 03, 2008 8:53 pm

OOps. Accidentally hit submit.

Back later with my reply....
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Postby Li'lBit » Sun Feb 03, 2008 11:23 pm

Lisa - I share your views and thank you for expressing them so beautifully!

December - I think you've hit the nail on the head. That is very much how I see the stories (beasts vs. children of God). While we may not be able to judge vampires in general by our laws and rules, it does not follow that there is not something more that they can desire for themselves.
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Postby Edward'sFreesia » Mon Feb 04, 2008 7:46 am

December- I agree with your reasoning and arguments about the struggle that the Cullen's make to remain essentially human. I have often thought, while reading the books, that their struggle in some ways represent that struggle that we all have against some form of 'temptation' to remain essentially human and rise above the instinctual. That we can relate to the difficulty and struggle may be one of the reasons why these books resonate with us and bring us back to them over and over (and over and over...)
"Just because I'm resisting the wine doesn't mean I can't appreciate the bouquet," he whispered. "You have a very floral smell, like lavender . . . or freesia," he noted. "It's mouthwatering."
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Postby Sasha » Mon Feb 04, 2008 5:29 pm

December wrote:Which gets back to what Indi and I were writing about earlier: the extent to which what we are watching in TW is Edward's heroic quest to affirm his humanity. Life sends him a far severer test than any of the Cullens has ever faced, and he comes nearer than any of them to sliding back into the abyss of bestiality and murdering a roomful of highschool students. But he beats back this ferocious temptation -- and makes himself return to that classroom and methodically face down his demons, because he is not going to make any concession to his animal instincts. And of course in the end he ascends farther than any of them in claiming his place among humankind -- in the life, and the heart, and the arms of a human girl: driven by his love for Bella to test his strength and subdue his baser nature in ways he would never have dreamed possible.


Very interesting. I wonder (and please, no one kill me for speculation) if this is not why he loves Bella, and one reason he is so loathe to change her. He strives for humanity, and Bella-the-human brings him leaps and bounds forward. Bella-the-vamp? Not so much. (I know he's against changing Bella for her own good, so she keeps her soul/humanity. This is just speculation).

I think this actually fits very well with the way Edward acts... he hates to give in to his instinct even enough to go away, or to stay away, because he hates admitting that the monster is still inside him, after all these years. He went back into the room- went back to Forks- to prove something to himself, not because of his family or Bella.
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Postby SparklingDiamond » Mon Feb 04, 2008 7:12 pm

December, as usual, a tough act to follow :wink:

If anyone can be said to have earned possession of the soul that every human is blessed with as their birthright, it is surely Edward.


This whole post, really put things into perspective for me. I love the spin that this puts on the whole idea of vampirism. I love the idea that when one is changed into a vampire, the soul isn't immediately lost. It makes me think that they are presented with a new set of challenges, or temptations, that they must rise above. Just as humans are presented with challenges every day that we must rise above in order to preserve our morality, our soul. The more they give into the new temptations of their new life, the thirst, the more of their soul they lose. This explains the difference between the Cullens and the red eyes perfectly.
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Postby December » Mon Feb 04, 2008 8:11 pm

Sasha wrote:I wonder (and please, no one kill me for speculation) if this is not why he loves Bella, and one reason he is so loathe to change her. He strives for humanity, and Bella-the-human brings him leaps and bounds forward. Bella-the-vamp? Not so much. (I know he's against changing Bella for her own good, so she keeps her soul/humanity.

I think this actually fits very well with the way Edward acts... he hates to give in to his instinct even enough to go away, or to stay away, because he hates admitting that the monster is still inside him, after all these years. He went back into the room- went back to Forks- to prove something to himself, not because of his family or Bella.

Well yes.... it makes so much sense that Edward, who is so deeply unreconciled to what he is, would fall in love with a human rather than a vampire. He looks at himself -- and the rest of vampire creation -- and thinks "freak". He looks at Bella and sees everything that is beautiful, and alive, and natural, and unfallen. I can't imagine that he thinks of Bella's humanity in instrumental terms (and I don't think that's really what you meant either): that he is using her humanness to help him clamber back up the ladder towards his own redemption. But certainly he finds everything human about her entrancing: her blushes, her tears (remember that odd moment when he tastes one?), her warmth, the sound of her heart, the sight of her sleeping. Her humanity represents everything he longs for and has lost; it shines out to him like a beacon. Of course he can't bear the thought of her losing it: not just for her own sake, but because it is such a precious part of who she is and what she first represented to him.

That said, he is telling the truth when he says that it will on balance be much much easier for him. That being close to Bella is both the most elevating and the most taxing thing he could possibly attempt to do. You are absolutely right that Edward cannot bear to...well not so much admit to the monster in him -- after what happens when Bella walks into that classroom he can no longer deny it -- but to make any accommodation to it. It is utterly like Edward to return to that classroom determined to face down that monster. To set himself the fiercest challenge he can, to reassure himself that he is still stronger than the beast inside him. We are allowed to suppose that it is just cruel Fate that having met his "singer" he should fall in love with her: the one girl it is most agonizingly difficult for him to be close to. But it's not really coincidence is it?

Sigh. Another lightbulb added to the expanding chandelier above my head. Of course, at some subconscious level, the fact that Bella is as it were the highest pinnacle of inaccessible humanity for him makes her still more appealing. She is what that the monster in him would deny him above all. (Though one shouldn't take this too far: we know he was already subtly drawn to her in the lunchroom -- before he'd felt the call of her blood -- so Fate definitely had a hand here as well). This needn't be sheer self-destructiveness and perversity on Edward's part: an unconscious desire to make life as hard for himself as it can possibly be (though he certainly achieves this). Or even sheer arrogance: setting himself the greatest possible challenge (though there may be an element of this too: he says himself that arrogance played a part in his decision to return from Alaska). But it makes a kind of sense that the girl who is a constant, searing reminder of the gulf between his bloodthirsty vampire self and the human he once was would come to represent for him everything that is most precious and human and lost to him.

And in time his love for Bella carries him farther in his quest to reclaim his humanity than anyone could have imagined. Though how far being with Bella actually makes Edward feel more human, rather than more acutely aware of his inhumanity, is something I'm not sure I have an imaginative feel for. I suspect it comes and goes, as his capacity to lose himself in the joy of being with Bella waxes and wanes. At times we see an unshadowed, human boy intoxicated by his first love. And then some reminder of his inhumanity recalls him to his old guarded self.

In the first half of the story, that is. From Volterra onwards, a different nightmare hangs over his ascent out of the depths and into the outstretched arms of this human girl. His own animal desires are no longer a constant burden tugging him back down into the abyss. Instead, he is faced with the terrible prospect that he is going to pull her down into the depths with him. He has struggled so painfully to attain this near-humanity. Now he will have to watch her make the same agonizingly difficult ascent. There are times when as readers -- looking at this story through Bella's eyes -- we all just want to scream at him "why are you making such an issue of this? She loves you. You love her. The two of you belong together for all eternity. She's begging you to change her. WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?" I guess this is the answer.


Edited to brush away typographical creepy-crawlies.
Last edited by December on Fri Apr 04, 2008 9:28 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby LisaCullenAZ » Mon Feb 04, 2008 8:34 pm

Very interesting. I wonder (and please, no one kill me for speculation) if this is not why he loves Bella, and one reason he is so loathe to change her. He strives for humanity, and Bella-the-human brings him leaps and bounds forward. Bella-the-vamp? Not so much. (I know he's against changing Bella for her own good, so she keeps her soul/humanity. This is just speculation).


For "just speculation" it's very good. And I don't think you're all that far from being right on. First of all - as you say - he's mainly (and always above all) against changing her for her OWN good. I think it's important that we stress that point because it's the very essence of Edward's character: Bella first, every time.

But you still have a point. It's not only that he wants her to keep her own humanity, but it helps HIM feel more connected to his own humanity as well when he is with her. She has awakened so many human instincts in him. I am willing to bet he feels more human than he has in many many years now that he is so close to her.

This is what I believe is helping him regain some hope and faith in a loving, forgiving God. Because if God has given him this chance at reconnecting with his former more civilized self (by giving him Bella) then perhaps all is not lost after all.

And December I just wanted to say that your "light bulb" comments about animalistic nature versus humanity were... exactly what I was trying to say. :)


ETA: Brainshadow! Just saw that you posted while I was drafting this, December!
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