Channel 4 has been showing the first series of the American HBO network’s True Blood. The series tells a Southern Gothic story that is set in the fictitious Louisiana town of Bon Temps. It imagines a world in which vampires exist and that they have ‘come out of the closet’. The reason for this new development is that a Japanese company has invented a synthetic blood substitute that meets the dietary needs of those for whom a normal meal is a pint or two taken, ‘on draught’, from the neck of a poor victim. Unsurprisingly, there is still much suspicion surrounding these creatures of the night and when a series of murders takes place in Bon Temps, it is clear who are the most likely suspects. The story makes much of how the good folk of Bon Temps relate to these creatures who have lived among them anonymously for as long as anyone had lived there. TV channels carry regular reports on their news programmes in which very reasonable sounding vampires are put up for debate against members of the moral majority – including church pastors – who foam at the mouth in their indignation at the equal rights that have now been granted to the undead.
True Blood is a rather racy, fantasy drama, which draws some interesting parallels between the relationships of humans and vampires and those between any majority and minority populations, whether the minorities are immigrants or same-sex couples. However, an interesting by-product of the story is how Bill Compton, a 167 year-old vampire, deals with the existential crisis of all his family having died 100 years previously. Bill arrived back in Bon Temps to take on the old Compton residence to try to reconnect with his human past, but it proves difficult, because he’s not been a living human being since the Civil War.
Having watched this programme, in which a 167 year-old ‘man’ had not aged in 140 years, there followed a documentary about the long-lived rock group, Fleetwood Mac. The focus was on Peter Green, the founder of the group, who left his colleagues in 1970 shortly before suffering from a serious psychiatric illness which curtailed his playing for the next 35 years. The documentary cut archive footage with contemporary interviews with Green and other members of the band. It was quite a task to connect the flowing-locked, snake-hipped youths of the 1960s with the grey, balding, paunched, rather tired men of the 2000s.
In the real world people age and they die. This is part of being human, of being part of a creation in which all living creatures are finite. While a giant tortoise might live longer than a mouse, they will both die, because no living thing lives forever.
We live within this framework – that life has a beginning and an ending. This causes problems in itself, in that we have to deal with death – our own and those of the people whom we love. However, dealing with infinity also has its problems, as Bill Compton finds in True Blood. The more general problem for the rest of us is that our finite minds find it hard to grasp a life that is anything other than finite. Yet this is the life that God offers us.
Eternal life is not a life in which we do not age. At least, it’s not just that. But it is a life that is so different from ours – while continuous with it – that it is almost impossible for us to imagine its nature. The best picture we have is probably still the allusion that Paul makes in I Corinthians 15 of the continuity that exists between the seed and the plant. We have the benefit of knowledge that Paul did not: while the seed and the plant have no obvious visual similarity, there is all the genetic material in the one to produce the fulfilment of the plant in the other. Maybe we should just leave it at that.