Fox-TV's The X-Files has ended nine years in which a duo of FBI agents investigated unexplained phenomena—killer bees, government conspiracies, freaks-of-the-week, magical children, UFOs, near-death experiences, religious mysteries—and uncovered a few spiritual lessons:
The Truth is out there. In these postmodern times, when the very nature of truth is called into question, it has been great to know that someone believes the truth actually exists. As extraordinary FBI agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder keep the faith, so do we.
I want to believe. A poster with this slogan hangs in the X-Files office. Kind of a modern take on what the father of a demon-possessed boy said to Jesus before the healing: "I believe. Help my unbelief." The desire to believe is sometimes the best we can do.
Trust no one. Reminiscent of Jesus' statement to the rich young man, "No one is good but God." The spiritual lesson here is not the imperative to "trust no one," because often on The X-Files trust is crucial to survival. Even though there were plenty of people and entities not to be trusted, the real spiritual lesson from the series is "be careful who you trust."
Government denies knowledge. In X-Files mythology, the government is in cahoots with a powerful secret cabal that hides "the truth" in order to keep the public from becoming panicked or disillusioned. The X-Files exaggerates, but there is a lesson here. Those who joined the civil rights movement to fight government-sanctioned racism, or gave sanctuary to refugees fleeing U.S.-backed insurrections in El Salvador, and who now plead for restraint in the new "war on terrorism" know that government PR cannot be taken at face value.
"God is speaking. Is anyone listening?" In the episode "Revelations," Agent Scully makes this statement after witnessing what she believes to be a bona fide case of the stigmata (spontaneous bleeding mimicking the wounds of Jesus). The experience revives her faith. Like Scully, we have to believe God is speaking in order to be open to listening.
We are not alone. Aliens are all over the place in The X-Files, challenging the notion that we are at the top of the food chain. It is both humbling and awesome to think that we might not be the sum total of intelligent life in the universe.
The military-industrial-entertainment complex suppresses freedom. In the classic episode "Jose Chung's From Outer Space," Mulder criticizes a writer for withholding facts to suit "the military-industrial-entertainment complex"—a tongue-in-cheek reference to the diversified mega-corporations (like Fox-TV's parent company, News Corporation) controlling all facets of media. Mulder was right. To be set free by the truth, we need access to it. As mega-companies swallow our news outlets, they obliterate competition, a fact you rarely hear acknowledged in the media.
Thanks X-Files, for nine years of entertainment...and a few valuable lessons.
Teresa Blythe is a writer, spiritual director, and media literacy advocate. She is co-author of Watching What We Watch: Prime-Time Television Through the Lens of Faith. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.