Seeking the Truth in an Age of Lies
What The X-Files has to do with Christianity
The X-Files and I entered this world on the same year—1993. So, after years of reading books about cryptids and texting my brother about unexplained phenomena, it feels like I was meant to find the show, fated to watch a believer and a skeptic chase after the unknown.
Many other fans my age have discovered the show in their teens or early twenties and have taken to referring to the FBI agents (and soulmates) Fox Mulder and Dana Scully as “my parents.”
There’s something about The X-Files that keeps drawing in fans, even a quarter of a century later. And they’re not finished either—season eleven was just announced, airing in 2018.
“I want to believe.”
It’s no surprise that the miraculous and the supernatural are the subject material of The X-Files, but I was surprised to find it slide so easily beside my faith.
For example, certain episodes are steeped in Christian theology and imagery. You’ve got the obvious, like episodes titled “Lazarus,” “Talitha Cumi,” and “Gethsemane.” Then you have more subtle themes, like how Mulder and Scully seek justice even when it doesn’t come about and show mercy to creatures that would be considered monstrous.
In almost every religious episode, the duo run into two people: a false prophet and a true saint. The only problem is figuring out which is which. “People think the Devil has horns and a tail. They’re not used to looking for some kindly man who tells you what you want to hear.”
The background of the protagonists seems contradictory (to each other and within themselves). Scully—a medical doctor who trusts evidence and fact—can believe in God but not in the existence of so many strange occurrences, and Mulder—the one who looks between the lines—is eager to believe in everything except God.
On a basic level, it’s refreshing that science and faith are presented within Scully and not as irreconcilable poles. Although they’re sometimes at odds within her own mind, the show respects Scully’s belief. In “Revelations,” she tells a priest that she’s “afraid that God is speaking, but that no one’s listening.”
Throughout the rest of the series, though, Scully’s the one that hears—and sees—the voice of God. To Scully, God is personal—even (or especially) throughout everything she’s seen and experienced on The X-Files.
Now let’s look at Mulder. In the first several seasons, Mulder is disbelieving to the point of callousness, but even he begins to open himself to Scully’s beliefs. In season 7, he reiterates his very first “I want to believe” when he labels the Truth as “God’s truth” for the first time.
Their belief systems don’t often overlap, but in the end, it doesn’t matter. Instead of fighting one another (as the FBI higher-ups wanted), their push and pull unifies them. It’s because they’re looking for the same thing—they’re just going about it from opposite angles.
Mulder pulls Scully into the world of the unexplainable, and she commits to what’s right instead of what’s expected. And Scully tempers Mulder, whose tendency is to trust everyone: “Mulder, the truth is out there, but so are lies.” She discerns for him, and he opens her up. “You were my friend,” he says, “and you told me the truth.”
They work so well together because they—as God tells us to do over and over—are completely dedicated to seeking out the Truth.
“The truth is out there.”
The West Wing, in a lot of ways, is the opposite of The X Files—it’s set in a world where government servants care earnestly for the good of the country, where people believe in the altruistic intentions of those who rule them. It feels almost cruel to watch now, when faith is complicated, truth is more vital than ever, and trust is in short supply.
But The X-Files, strangely, has been a balm—because that’s its world too. It’s a world built on conspiracy and shadow governments that attack the truth at every turn and manufacture their own. “Men like you . . . decide what is truth,” Mulder says in “E.B.E.” Just like with the false prophets they so often encounter in cases, Mulder and Scully have to sift through all the lies that come their way.
Dropping the protagonists into a world that feels closer to our own makes it even more beautiful when, time after time, they stand up against these concepts. They trust each other, and that allows them to move forward. It’s a show about two people who had thought themselves alone, who suddenly find that they have a partner in more ways than one.
Mulder and Scully are only two people (sometimes three, if you count Skinner) standing against the weight of a decades-long conspiracy, but sometimes, faithfully pushing back is enough. There’s something to be said for being a thorn in the side of evil, and the faith that the truth will do its own work propels them forward together. “For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth” (2 Corinthians 13:8).
Now, watching the show from an era of unprecedented relativity and “alternate truth,” this might be what I love most about it. Mulder and Scully dedicate their lives to finding out what is true, to uncovering things that have been intentionally hidden. “Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light,” says John 3:21. It’s not an accident that their trademark symbol is two flashlight beams, illuminating the dark corners of American life.
Scully takes a hearing as an opportunity to drop some truth on the members of the government: “I still believe in this country, but I believe there are powerful men in this government who do not. Men who have no respect for the law and who flout it with impunity.” It’s hard not to liken this to our current state of affairs; I saw the video circling a few months ago. “No government agency has jurisdiction over the truth,” says Mulder.
It’s a reminder we need now. The best way to respect our government is to question it, holding its laws against Jesus’ teachings. Political parties are not God; elected officials are not God; only God himself has jurisdiction over the truth.
Here’s what The X-Files knows, along with my own faith: the truth is worth seeking because it’s the truth. So much of Christianity is knowing that the beauty of the things that God extols lies within them and cannot be taken away. Truth, righteousness, justice, and mercy. This is what Mulder and Scully seek too, for a number of reasons, but when you strip them all away, that first one remains.
“Memento Mori” echoes scripture almost exactly. “The truth will save you, Scully,” Mulder says. “I think it’ll save both of us.” He’s right in the show, and he’s right according to John 8:32: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Cover image by Annie Spratt.