Leave it to a show about aliens and government conspiracies to offer a compelling theology of prayer. After a nine-season run that ended in 2002, the X-Files joined the flood of old TV receiving a revival. It returned last year for a 6-episode tenth season, and again this year with a 10-episode eleventh that alleges to be the last. The new episodes have been a mixed bag, though a few new classics have emerged, like last year’s “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster” and this year’s Black Mirror-esque “Rm9sbG93ZXJz”.
The latest episode is called “Nothing Lasts Forever”. A cold open suggests both vampires and a Blade-inspired young Hispanic vampire slayer. Then, instead of proclaiming “THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE” at the end of the title credits, the episode begs, “I WANT TO BE BEAUTIFUL”.
The heart of the episode isn’t the vampires (or whatever they actually are – the show is at its best when it leaves us guessing, grasping for the truth that’s out there, just beyond our reach). Rather, it’s Mulder and Scully lighting prayer candles or whispering in a pew during Mass.
Since the first episode (in 1993!), the two have embodied the contradiction at the heart of the show. Mulder is an atheist who believes in aliens, vampires and were-beasts, who sees conspiracies behind every institution. Scully is a devout Catholic who refuses to believe in anything science can’t prove. The atheistic true believer and the devout skeptic. A match made in… er… Heaven.
Mulder has never been afraid to take shots at Scully’s faith, and she’s never been shy about defending it. “Nothing Lasts Forever” paid off eleven years of faith talk. At the end of the episode, Scully lights a votive candle, which gutters and goes out as Mulder walks up. She offers a wry grin and wonders,
Scully: Must be a sign. I’m all out of miracles…
Mulder: I will relight your candle and extend your prayers through mine.
Scully: What prayers?
Mulder: I can’t tell you. They won’t come true.
Scully: It’s a prayer candle, Mulder. Not a birthday cake… Prayers aren’t meant to be sentiment. It’s a conversation. You can do it like a meditation or if your needs exceed your grasp, you can ask God to act on your behalf. But you don’t believe in God so you’d essentially be talking to yourself.
Mulder: I may not believe in God. But I believe in you. And therefore I speak to him through you. Through the transitive property of equality. If A=B and B=C therefore A=C. Reason and faith in harmony. Isn’t that why we’re so good together?
Mulder’s strange faith echoes that of the paralytic in Mark 2: Jesus is teaching in Capernaum, and the house is so crowded no one can reach him. Four men bring a paralyzed man to be healed, and because they cannot reach Jesus, climb onto the roof and let their friend down into the house. Mark tells us that “when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” (Mark 2:5, emphasis mine)
We are perhaps not troubled enough by this verse, by Mark’s transitive property of faith. Jesus asks nothing of the man lowered before him. He sees the man’s plea in the love of his friends, embodied in their labor and minor vandalism. His prayers come to Jesus through them.
If the Church is in fact the body of Christ, perhaps we ought to take our role as priests more seriously.
Christ’s body is, after all, the Temple of God (something Jesus observes in John 2:21 and Paul affirms in 1 Corinthians 6:19). It is the role of the priest to collect the prayers of the people and present them to God.
If we take the timeline of the X-Files to be roughly analogous to our own, then Mulder and Scully have been friends for 25 years. That’s 25 years of Dana Scully bearing faithful witness before her friend Fox Mulder. 25 years before he will admit he prays.
Not quite to a God he cannot see. But at least through the God he can see: the God made flesh in the body of the Church.
The God made flesh in the person of Dana Scully, his partner, friend and lover. 25 years is a long time to bear faithful witness, a long time to walk with another person as their priest. And yet over that quarter-century, Fox Mulder, the atheistic true believer, has found something to trust. He has found a truth that is nearly within his grasp.
This is the call of the Good News: to walk with a friend, to carry them if need be. To receive their prayers however they come and offer them to God. To believe with them and even for them until they too rest at the feet of Jesus.