What should be the Christian response to vampires?
The Bible obviously does not mention vampires, and, therefore, there is no direct guidance to be found. We can use biblical truths, however, to inform what we should do.
The legend of vampires comes from several different directions at once. The Mesopotamians, Hebrews, Ancient Greeks, Indians, and Romans told of proto-vampires—grotesque demons. Vampires as we know them originated in southeastern Europe in the 18th century, and were believed to be undead suicide victims or witches, or demon-possessed corpses. Nearly every geographic area had tales of demons who drank the blood and ate the flesh of the living.
The image of the vampire coalesced in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. It began in Croatia when a dead peasant was said to have come back to life and started drinking people's blood. The legends travelled throughout Eastern Europe, particularly East Prussia and Serbia. Initially, vampirism did not spread through bites. Babies who were born with physical abnormalities were identified as potential vampires. When a tragedy beset a family or village, the graves of people born with birth defects who had recently died were dug up. If the body was preserved, for instance, if the person was buried in winter, or if intestinal gases gave the body a ruddy hue and a bloody mouth, the vampire was found. Often their heart was removed and burned so it couldn't escape the grave again.
Montague Summers described vampires in his 1928 story:
Throughout the whole vast shadowy world of ghosts and demons there is no figure so terrible, so dreaded and abhorred, yet endowed with such fearful fascination as the vampire; who is himself neither ghost nor demon but who partakes of the dark natures, and possesses the mysterious and terrible qualities of both…A pariah even among demons, foul are his ravages… The Vampire: His Kith and Kin
So, the history of the vampire legend is a combination of demonic possession of corpses, prejudice against babies with birth defects, and ignorance of science. How did vampires become associated with romance?
Vampires and Romance
It was John William Polidori's novella "The Vampyre" (1819) that solidified the various aspects of the vampire legend and added a new one—vampire as a normal-looking, upper-class, sexual predator. Other stories followed, leading to the vampires we have today. James Malcolm Rymer's vampire Varney progressively earned reader sympathy for his cursed state, and was the first vampire to enter a woman's bedroom and attack her as she slept. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla introduced both lesbian vampires and a vampire-hunter as plot device—both of which informed Bram Stoker's Dracula.
But the sexual overtones of vampires began earlier, no later than Heinrich August Ossenfelder's 1748 poem "The Vampire." It and several other stories used vampire erotica as a metaphor for the conflict between the strict, uptight world of Christianity and sensuous, passionate paganism. Both male and female vampires attempt to seduce good Christians away from right living with sensual sexuality while consuming their life force.
As the years progressed, the vampires became more sympathetic. In the TV series Dark Shadows, the vampire Barnabas Collins starts out as a blood-thirsty ghoul, but gradually warms to those around him, and becomes their protector. Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles show the undead by turns as violent, tragic, caring, and hyper-sexual.
This ambiguity continues today. In the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the high schooler Buffy, charged with ridding the town of Sunnydale of vampires and other malevolent creatures, falls in love with the vampire Angel who had been cursed with the return of his soul—and the guilt he bore for his many murders. Similarly, in the Twilight series, the human Belle tries to convince the vampire Edward that vampires are not condemned to hell.
The transition for vampires, then, appears to be from demon-possessed corpses to evil seducers to morally (and sexually) ambiguous elite to pretty bad boys in need of rescue by the girls who would be their victims.
It's difficult to say what the Christian response should be. It would be reasonable to say that any supernatural creature possessed by a demon should be avoided (especially as a love interest), but the vampires of Twilight, Blade, and I Am Legend are not possessed. Many vampires are known for wanton sexuality, while others wish to remain monogamous. And while vampire tales have long been used as a metaphor for Christianity vs. paganism, Twilight's Carlisle Cullen is a believer of sorts.
[This is not to say that the Twilight series is edifying. The storyline of Twilight is based on a girl with no self-esteem who must choose between a vampire who is controlling and a changeling who is borderline sexually abusive in order to feel worthy. The series has enough other harmful plot devices that it should be avoided.]
In other words, the term "vampire" is in the eye of the beholder. Vampires in modern literature seem to have only two common characteristics: they drink blood (not always human blood), and they have superhuman strength or powers. A Christian, then, should evaluate vampire books and movies as they should evaluate any entertainment: is it edifying?
Is the story ultra-violent? Does it have graphic and/or inappropriate sexuality? Could the seductive actions of the vampires lead its audience to lust or enforce unrealistic expectations on the opposite sex? Does the story portray being undead as an attractive alternative? Are other occult activities like witchcraft shown in a favorable light (Deuteronomy 18:9-12)?
If so, the story should be avoided. It is how the vampire is portrayed and the overall story which determines the appropriateness. The presence of a vampire in a book or movie alone should not always call for universal dismissal. After all, millions of American children have learned their numbers thanks to Count von Count on Sesame Street.
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