May 4th was “Free Comic Book Day”, and so that sunny Saturday morning, I happened to find myself at the local comic book shop. While I was there, I thought I’d look around at the selection of not-free merchandise, to see if anything was particularly worth my actually spending money on. And then I found it—the book that contained the answer to the most pressing question of every nerd, fanboy, Joss Whedon fan, and Browncoat out there: What was the deal with Firefly‘s Sepherd Book? And so I snatched up the graphic novel, considering the $16 well spent, and raced home to read the backstory of this enigmatic character.*
Now, for those of you Firefly fans who haven’t had the opportunity to buy or read Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale by Joss and Zack Whedon, and illustrated by Chris Samnee, I’m not going to give away any major spoilers, so don’t worry too much. I will, however, give away one particular part of the book, in some significant detail, as it’s sort of the point of this post—so if you don’t want anything ruined for you, don’t read any further. Just this once, you have my permission…
Still here? Okay, here goes…
The only part that I will give away is this: Shepherd Book, whatever else he was or was not, was indeed a religious person. In The Shepherd’s Tale, his conversion to faith is recounted. The reason why I find this blog-worthy on Catholic Chapter House’s site, is that his conversion story happens to dovetail with my recent series on the proofs for God! It was, in fact, a version of St. Thomas’ Third Way, from Contingency, that leads Derrial Book to faith, during an epiphany of his over a bowl of soup:
Soup. From a chicken. Chicken soup.
A chicken lived and died. And they put it in water and now it’s soup. It does not want anything or fear anything. It only is. It is soup.
It sits in a bowl. This indifferent bowl. It does not want to hold the soup, nor does it want to be empty. It simply is. It is concave. And perfect for holding soup.
Its weight rests on the table. Distributed evenly to four legs that press onto the floor, the foundation of this building, which holds all of us…and the table…and the soup.
The building rests on the earth, the soil of this planet… It is all held in place by gravity. The planet is held in orbit by the gravitational force of the sun. The beating heart at the center of a perfectly balanced solar system. One od several systems that make up our galaxy. Which is just one tiny part of an unimaginable cosmic expanse. The universe. Existence. All of creation supports this bowl. Which supports the soup. Which supports me. It gives me life.
What do I do with the life it gives me? (Whedon, 2010)
After this epiphany, Book downs the soup and runs out into the night, stopping before a lit-up cross of a church.
I’ve often considered Joss Whedon to be one of the most astute, philosophic minds in Hollywood. Evidently, his brother Zack is no slouch either. In this passage, they capture the essence of the Argument from Contingency—our lives, and everything else in this world, is dependent upon something else for its existence. But there must be something whose existence is absolutely necessary, not contingent. For to be contingent means that one’s existence isn’t essential to oneself. It is, as Derrial Book realises, a gift. It is a gift of that Absolutely Necessary Being, who is God. We are indebted to Him by the very fact of our existence. Shepherd Book’s question applies to each of us:
What do we do with the life He gives us?
*For those who have not seen the Fox television series Firefly or the movie Serenity, it tells the story of a band of space smugglers. In the first episode of the series, they pick up a missionary known as “Shepherd Book.” Over the course of the series, little bits are revealed about Book’s character that don’t seem to be particularly cognisant with a man of the cloth. Unfortunately, the series was cancelled before those questions could be answered, and the movie didn’t have much time in its plot to address them either. Seriously, though, check Firefly out. It’s genius!