• The Outside Story

Looking into the Dark: What a follower of the “false” God can learn from watching Sabrina

Updated: Jul 19, 2020

Written by Jonathan | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (ChAoS) is a Netflix remake of the 90s TV series Sabrina the Teenage Witch which follows a high school teenager, Sabrina, in her day to day life as a teenage witch in society today. But ChAoS is a much darker reboot with terrifying monsters, magic that can cost lives, and, false God forbid, sex and nudity. Unlike the 90s Sabrina, ChAoS also lets us in on how witches get their magic – they worship the dark Lord, Satan, who gives them these wonderful and delicious powers. For this reason alone, a lot of Christians I know have been turned away from watching this show.

Despite being a TV show about people who worship Satan, the TV show has much to offer to those of us who worship the “false” God. In fact, you wouldn’t understand some of the humor if you weren’t a Christian (or aren’t familiar with Christian practices and sayings); whether it’s Father Blackwood welcoming the congregation at a church service in which the congregation responds “And also to you,” or Sabrina saying, “Not today, Satan!” During both scenes my roommate, who is currently a seminarian, and I both rolled on the floor laughing.

Story-wise, Sabrina is actually trying to take down the dark Lord and doesn’t agree very much with the Church of Night. In the first season she swears that she will summon Satan herself and banish him, say wha? Why would Sabrina want to take down the source of her magical powers? It’s because both Satan and the Church of Night are always trying to take away (and have taken away) what she loves most – her family and friends.

ChAoS has so many good themes and criticisms to draw from but for this blog post, I will look specifically at how ChAoS portrays and critiques organized religion.

Time and time again we are faced with the “evils” of organized religion whether that manifests as things such as unjust policies/systems in local churches, unspoken racist/sexist traditions, or discrimination against LGBTQ+ folk. People in my generation (millennials), Christian or not, are somewhat opposed to organized religion and instead opt to be “spiritual not religious,” as they pray and seek (insert spiritual figure here, e.g., Jesus, Bodhisattva, Buddha, YHWH, etc.) on their own. Even during the time I was at seminary, a handful of my colleagues chose not to attend church on Sundays for various reasons. I think it was their own way of saying “I’m spiritual but not religious” as their reasons tended to be about how imperfect the churches’ policies were or how dissatisfied they were with the preaching or worship.

This blog isn’t a critique on those folks but rather, on how ChAoS critiques organized religion. One episode that comes to mind is the Feast of Feasts (yup, you read that right) where a witch is chosen to be given as a sacrifice to her coven. The chosen witch gets whatever she wants in her final days before she is killed and her flesh is devoured by her coven. The wife of the high priest, Lady Blackwood, manipulates the ritual and chooses her adopted daughter, Prudence, to receive the honor of sacrificing herself.

Those who have any experience with organized religion, unfortunately, can attest that this happens in real life. Leaders in the church are not immune from manipulating churchgoers for their own gain. This happens time and time again and goes even as far as the Bible. Here is one example of Jesus overturning organized religion:

“Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” Mark 11:15-17 (NRSV)

A picture of white Jesus cleansing the temple. Theodoor Rombouts, 17th century.

And here’s one of the Holy Spirit stepping in and saying “Not today, Satan!”:

The death of Ananias. Raphael, 16th century.

The Feast of Feasts was banned when Sabrina’s father, Edward Spellman, was high priest of the Church of Night. When Father Blackwood took the mantle, he reinstated the holiday and the practice of a yearly cannibalistic feast. Sabrina does all that she can to stop the feast but is fruitless in her attempt. She ends up saving Prudence but another church member kills herself and the feast continues. When Sabrina asks her Aunt Zelda what she would do if Sabrina were chosen, she pauses before responding that she would never let Sabrina die in such a way.

Lady Blackwood’s manipulation of the Feast of Feasts is evil and self serving. But this is contrasted by both Sabrina’s attempt to save Prudence and Aunt Zelda’s promise that she would never let such a thing befall her niece. You could also argue that the feast itself is evil as it involves cannibalism and human sacrifice. But, again, Edward and Sabrina Spellman did what they could to stop it and they are both witches who are a part of the Church of Night.

ChAoS teaches us to think about organized religion. It challenges us to stay and fight, even if the church is doing things that we do not believe in. We stay and we fight for what we believe in because the church is more than organized religion, it is family. If there is a feast, a leader, or a policy that tells us that we are to treat one another as less than human or to treat life as less than a gift, we ought to question it. Do not follow religion blindly and do things for the sake of doing them. Instead, allow the Spirit to speak new thoughts and breathe fresh air upon old traditions. Ask questions that will reveal the Spirit of God who is lying in wait underneath thousand year old liturgies and hymns. Use organized religion to connect with the saints of the past, present, and future, instead of as a chain that forces you to feel guilt and shame if you miss an occasional Sunday church service.

Friends – organized religion is not easy. People are not perfect and when we get together to create a system, it’s not going to be perfect. Again and again we have to look at organized religion and confront its evils (read “self serving biases” if you don’t really believe in a theology of evil) because like you and me, God is constantly making all things new. And through us, by the power of the Holy Spirit in us, we are called to do such work.

Brace yourselves because it is not easy work.