I want to believe that I can talk meaningfully about The X-Files in any situation, that I can find something to say about the show that’s relevant to any conversation. I recently put that belief to the test.
I’ve been part of a Bible study group for over 10 years. In that time my group has seen me become increasingly obsessed with The X-Files. These friends have learned that I can come up with an X-Files reference for almost every conversation (they have no idea how many times I’ve held back), and I’ve learned that the themes in the show are often particularly relevant to the discussions we have in our group. I’ve joked for a while that I could come up with an X-Files themed Bible study for us to do, and my group kept encouraging me to do it. So finally I decided to give it a try.
None of the other members of my group are X-Philes. A few are casual fans with some familiarity with the show, others have never seen a single episode. Instead of using clips from various episodes, which might require more knowledge of the show than my friends had, I chose to focus my study on I Want To Believe. I love the movie for what it shows us about Mulder and Scully at that time in their lives, but more importantly for this purpose, it’s a stand alone story which doesn’t require a vast amount of prior knowledge.
I wrote a brief X-Files primer to get everyone up to speed. Then I wrote a series of discussion questions focusing on themes I saw in the movie: purpose, justice, forgiveness, and perseverance. My discussion questions are written from a Christian perspective, because that’s who I am and that was my audience, but I think those themes can be relevant to anyone regardless of belief and background. I got inspiration from John Kenneth Muir’s review of IWTB, We Want To Believe: Faith and Gospel in The X-Files by Amy Donaldson, and Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber.
I wanted some feedback before leading my group in this study, so I shared my study guide with a few people. I showed it to a pastor friend who knows nothing about The X-Files, an X-Phile friend who is not religious, an X-Phile friend who’s an expert on the Bible, and an X-Phile friend who’s an expert on the movie. I felt like that covered the bases! I incorporated their suggestions and felt very encouraged about my project.
Finally the big night arrived (there was a snow delay, and while a trek through the snow would have set the tone for the movie, it wasn’t worth the risky drive). I introduced the study by going through the primer and then asked if there were any questions before we started the movie. There was a bit of confusion: “wait I thought it was a TV show” and “was this actually shown in theaters?” Oops! Apparently my primer wasn’t quite thorough enough. I’ve revised it a bit in response.
The X-Files aired on television for nine regular seasons in its original run, from September 1993 through May 2002. There were two motion pictures, The X-Files: Fight the Future, which was released in June 1998 between seasons 5 and 6 of the show, and The X-Files: I Want To Believe, which was released in July 2008. The television series continued with two revival seasons, airing in 2016 (6 episodes) and 2018 (10 episodes).
The main characters of The X-Files are FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. Mulder and Scully worked together on the X-Files, a unit investigating unsolved cases and paranormal phenomena. Mulder is an Oxford-educated psychologist recognized as a brilliant profiler who had a promising future at the FBI when he discovered the X-Files and managed to get assigned to them. He was the only agent working the X-Files until his superiors assigned Scully to work with him, expecting her to debunk his work so that the unit could be shut down. Scully is a medical doctor with a background in hard science, who was recruited out of medical school by the FBI. She’s also a Catholic who struggles with her faith.
Instead of finding reasons to shut down the X-Files, Scully helped Mulder keep them open, lending scientific credibility to the investigations. During most of their investigations Mulder was the believer in paranormal phenomena, while Scully was the skeptic who looked for scientific proof. They were sometimes seen as a bit of a joke because of the kind of cases they investigated, but their combination of knowledge, intuition, persistence, and integrity led them to solve cases no one else could.
One of the reasons Mulder wanted to work on the X-Files was to find his sister. She had been abducted from their home when she was 8 and he was 12, and Mulder came to believe she was abducted by aliens. Mulder finally learned what happened to her and gained some closure, but he has always been motivated by a desire to search for and save the lost.
There’s a huge storyline involving government/global conspiracy and aliens, which you don’t need to know about for this discussion. But both Mulder and Scully were often in grave danger as they worked to uncover the truth behind this conspiracy.
Mulder and Scully eventually developed a romantic relationship (it took 7 years to get there) and they had a son together (William). Scully had to give their son up for adoption to protect him at a time when Mulder was in hiding.
When Mulder came out of hiding he was placed on trial (not a real trial but a military/FBI trial, it was stupid) on a falsified murder charge and sentenced to death. His friends at the FBI helped him escape, and he and Scully went on the run.
I Want To Believe opens six years after Mulder and Scully disappeared. Scully is again working as a doctor, but Mulder, still technically a wanted man, is living as a recluse.My X-Files Primer
After we cleared that up, one friend asked what it was I loved about the show. I really appreciated that question. It was a lovely reminder that we were doing this because this group of friends wanted to share something I was passionate about.
As we were watching the movie, though, it occurred to me that I Want To Believe doesn’t contain much of what I love about the show. The humor is there, and the chemistry between Mulder and Scully, both of which came across even to new viewers. But one aspect of the show I really love is that Mulder and Scully are working together as FBI agents to investigate cases within the system and to uncover the truth that goes beyond the system. The movie doesn’t show us that at all. So I found myself sort of defending my love of the show a bit and wishing I could get my group to watch Pusher or E.B.E. But the point was to lead an interesting discussion, not recruit new members to the fandom, and IWTB is much better suited to that.
Although the movie wasn’t to everyone’s liking, it was, as I suspected it would be, a great catalyst for discussion. I introduced topics using four quotes from the movie.
- “There’s a question of credibility.” Scully can’t accept that Father Joe’s visions come from God, because of the crimes Father Joe has committed. She can’t trust him and can’t believe God would use him.
- “Cursing God for all his cruelties.” Scully is troubled by the suffering of her young patient, for whom there doesn’t seem to be a cure. She’s equally troubled by Father Joe’s crimes and his attempts to atone for them. Mulder is concerned for the missing FBI agent and the other kidnapping victims. They can’t make sense of the pain and injustice.
- “All is forgiven.” There’s nothing comfortable or easy about how this film portrays the central moral dilemma. The crimes Father Joe committed against the innocent are utterly monstrous, as Scully rightly points out. Father Joe knows that society will never forgive him, but wonders if God can do so.
- “Don’t give up.” Father Joe’s exhortation to Scully can be applied to many aspects of the story: Mulder and Scully in their relationship, Scully in treating Christian, Mulder in searching for the missing agent, the villain in finding a way to save his husband, Father Joe in seeking forgiveness/redemption.
We discussed a series of questions on each topic. The movie manages to show different perspectives on themes relevant to the human condition, and it got us thinking and talking about relating to others with different experiences and beliefs. I think anything that gets us to look outside our own limited worldview, that can lead to greater understanding, compassion, and acceptance, is worth the effort. It thrills me that the show I love so much can be so relevant to these kinds of conversations.
I found this entire project very fulfilling. I’ve always enjoyed leading group discussions, but this was my first time writing the study guide. Being able to use that guide to lead a thoughtful discussion about challenging issues, set in the context of The X-Files was not only meaningful but also just plain fun. I felt honored that my group indulged me, encouraged me, and responded with enthusiasm.