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Thread: The ignored significance of Riley's religion

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    Default The ignored significance of Riley's religion

    In “Who Are You?,” Buffy is disturbed to find that Riley fell for Faith’s bed trick, which she compares unfavorably to Buffy’s own ability to see past Giles’s transformation by Ethan in “A New Man.” She worries that, if Riley couldn’t recognize Faith (who had temporarily stolen Buffy’s body) as not-Buffy, he doesn’t truly know Buffy.

    This reaction carries a whiff of paranoia on Buffy’s part: Whatever his virtues, Riley has never been, nor pretended to be, particularly imaginative– a quality that would be necessary for a character with limited experience of the supernatural and no inherent magical abilities to quickly identify a body swap. He’s a victim of, rather than an accomplice to, Faith’s misdeeds. However, “Who Are You?” does wave a much bigger, brighter red flag that Buffy misses, in the form of Riley’s apparently clandestine religious affiliation. The problem isn’t that Riley didn’t suss out Faith’s big secret; it’s that he’s been keeping a big secret of his own.

    I’d presume it went without saying that religious beliefs are a serious issue for couples, but apparently, it does not go without saying for Buffy. In this, she and most of the Scoobies are probably outliers. On an anecdotal level, the bickering of mixed-religion parents over which denomination to raise their children in seems to be as inevitable in multi-denominational communities as it is tiresome to said parents’ acquaintances: After all, the eternal souls of your offspring make for pretty high stakes. During a French class at my college (class of ‘09) at a state school with no religious affiliation, we were asked, as an exercise, to describe our ideals for a future spouse; “Christian” (”chrétien”/”chrétienne,” if you prefer) was listed by most of my classmates. At the time that the show aired, religion was a common descriptor in newspapers’ personal ads; today, it’s a standard field on even mainstream social media profiles, and a variety of specific-religion dating sites exist for the lonely faithful. Not only is there a strong likelihood of friction in a mixed-religion romantic relationship, most people consider awareness of their religious beliefs essential to understand them on a basic level.

    Of course, religious people, even confirmed Christians, are not monolithic in their desires and behavior. Some proselytize everyone they meet; others spend more time in prayer because they have difficulty speaking to their fellow humans. Some believe that everyone who knows Christianity exists, yet does not convert before death, will go to Hell; others shrink the pool of the saved even smaller by declaring that only their denomination is the only true version of Christianity; and some have a general idea that God will give a pass to people who aren’t cut out to think about religion.

    Riley seems to fall into the last category. When you consider how much of his time he spends looking for someone else’s judgment to rely on re: Earthly concerns, it’s unsurprising that he considers God a more reliable judge than himself of a person’s soul. Additionally, it would have been difficult for someone who attributed negative qualities to nonbelievers, or who constantly ranted about their need to convert, to integrate into a team of U.S. military commandos, as Riley has. So it’s within his character to not perceive Buffy as in immediate need of salvation, and therefore not to discuss religion with her on their first couple of dates.

    Despite this, I believe that this is Riley’s fundamental personality emerging from an environmentally-produced overlay of more conservative Christianity, and that this overlay never quite leaves him, at least not during his romance with Buffy. “Court[ing],” the term he uses in “The Initiative” to describe his pursuit of her, was not a typical word used, even in rural middle America, in the late 1990s and early 2000s. There was, however, a courting movement of sorts, closely linked to the “purity movement,” and promoted by ultra-conservative Christian organizations like Focus on the Family. Riley isn’t dropping in a pinch of redneck idiom; he’s experiencing a slip of the tongue that reveals an ongoing, if perhaps unwanted, connection to a far more stringent and difficult background. Other comments lead to the same conclusion. Buffy is “the first woman I’ve ever loved” (”As You Were”), despite his already being a graduate student when he meets her; this is consistent with the courting ideal of never getting too close to one’s love interest, lest it lead to sexual temptation. His hasty marriage to Sam is also something of which anti-fornication crusaders would approve. I would note, in addition, that while Riley speaks longingly of his grandparents and their farm in Iowa, I can’t recall him ever mentioning his parents in anything but the vaguest terms, and he never considers returning to his family, only to the military. It all fits with someone who was uncomfortable with his early beliefs and has slipped into a gentler form of them, yet hasn’t rejected them outright (not Riley’s strong suit in any context), and, on a subconscious level, may not realize how much his origins still influence him.

    While we can only speculate as to why Riley doesn’t discuss religion with Buffy early in their relationship, there are obvious reasons why someone who “feels like [he’s] going crazy” around her would not do so as he falls more in love. For one thing, it’s likely that he himself feels awkward about his desire to have premarital sex with her. For another, Buffy is barely aware that religious commitment, as opposed to the occasional opportunistic invocation, exists. She sometimes participates in her friends’ spells which summon pagan gods– and if she didn’t, she’d be throwing away a tool that might save her life.

    Riley can probably, mostly, rationalize away any sexual guilt. After all, once you get outside the more extreme circles, plenty of Christians are willing to downgrade premarital sex to a minor sin if the partners expect to eventually marry, or to throw sex between young couples under the banner of “youthful indiscretions,” as long as it doesn’t last too long. The existence of magic– real miracles performed by gods other than his own– is a much bigger problem. It suggests not only that Riley makes mistakes, but both that he is mistaken about the very nature of the cosmos, and that one of the fundamental aspects of his identity is at odds with what he now knows to be true.

    By the time we get to “Who Are You?,” Riley’s worldview is crumbling. Maggie turned out to be a rogue monster-creator, his own girlfriend isn’t fully human, magic is real, “hostile sub-terrestrials” are seeming more and more like demigods, and his new allies definitely make exchanges with non-Christian gods. Monotheism is ludicrous on its face. Bad enough that he was wrong about Maggie, now he’s wrong about God and all “creation.”

    Yet he keeps going to church, presumably because he’s Riley Finn and he has no idea how to adapt. There’s no resolution, no dropping the past, no converting to polytheism or declaring himself an independent contractor in the shared world of mortals and immortals. The cognitive dissonance must be overwhelming. Worse, he hasn’t discussed it with anyone, not even Buffy. Whether or not the others would’ve been able to help him, he doesn’t think they would. Close to a year before he leaves Sunnydale, he already views himself as alone among his contradictions.

    Riley claims, in season 5′s “Into the Woods,” that Buffy doesn’t rely on him when she really needs him, and there’s some truth to that. She doesn’t trust him with the truth about Dawn, she’d rather confide in Spike about her mother’s illness, and she seems to be hiding her level of enthusiasm for the hunt from him. On the other hand, this is, IMO, a clear case of “it takes one to know one.” Riley’s dark night of the soul doesn’t begin when the Initiative falls. It’s in full swing when Buffy discovers that her demon-fighting, spell-encouraging boyfriend “was just late for church” – and neither of them acknowledges what that means. Buffy doesn’t see that he needs help, Riley doesn’t ask her to give it, and the gap between his accepted world and the world he now has to live in just keeps growing. No wonder he recognizes her pushing people away, and that he doesn’t have any helpful advice on how to fix it: He’s been there, he’s still there, and he’s never been able to fix it in himself.

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    I don't like the Riley character but the fact the show never addressed that he was essentially date raped by Faith, has always been a black mark for me. In Superstar, the issue was oh Buffy is worried Riley is comparing her with Faith and thats it. It doesn't hold up well in imo

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    We only see him going to church once. Just once. How do we know, he is a Christian fundamentalist? Is he really one?

    I go to church once in a while. I am a Christian. I am totally okay with every kind of sex as long as two* consenting adults are involved. I don`t start relationships by talking about my religious belief and my church-going-schedule. I have never ever even dreamt of trying to proselytize (I had to look up that verb) anyone. Just like Riley. To me he seems to be just a good-natured, cornfed farm-boy from Iowa with a heart of gold who was so trusting, that he got involved with the Initiative without noticing it`s questionable nature right from the start. As soon as he notices it, he leaves.

    I do have some issues with Riley Finn, but him going to church is not one of them. Hey, church-goers can actually be nice people - just like you and me!

    flow

    ETA: *Or more than two. Or less.
    Last edited by flow; 08-03-19 at 09:54 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by flow View Post
    We only see him going to church once. Just once. How do we know, he is a Christian fundamentalist? Is he really one?

    I go to church once in a while. I am a Christian. I am totally okay with every kind of sex as long as two consenting adults are involved. I don`t start relationships by talking about my religious belief and my church-going-schedule. I have never ever even dreamt of trying to proselytize (I had to look up that verb) anyone. Just like Riley. To me he seems to be just a good-natured, cornfed farm-boy from Iowa with a heart of gold who was so trusting, that he got involved with the Initiative without noticing it`s questionable nature right from the start. As soon as he notices it, he leaves.

    I do have some issues with Riley Finn, but him going to church is not one of them. Hey, church-goers can actually be nice people - just like you and me!

    flow
    Lol except for the Church goers in the Kingsman

    https://youtu.be/t1WWDBTda2Y

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    Can we even say for sure that Buffy knows that Riley "was just late for church" or that she wasn't aware already that he attended church? Remember that in "Who Are You" Riley is actually saying that to Faith in Buffy's body

    Nevertheless, maybe religion is just treated differently in Australia, but it never struck me as being particularly important if my partner was religious or not. Unless they're the overbearing, obnoxious church-goer (which Riley isn't as he's never waxed on about his faith before) it never struck me as being a huge issue. Riley has never tried to convert anybody to his religion, he's clearly living a more 'modernised' version of his faith given his comfortableness with Willow/Tara and his pre-marital sex with Buffy, and other than knowing he goes to church in this episode, there's absolutely nothing about him in any other episode that he appears in that even proves that he's a man of faith. It doesn't seem to be a very pivotal or defining thing about him as a person so I don't think it would really impact his relationship with Buffy despite her thinking religion was "freaky."

    I don't see it as a huge issue for Buffy and I actually have little reason to believe that Buffy wasn't already aware that Riley attended church. There's really nothing to suggest that this was something that Riley hid from Buffy - he was very matter of fact when he told "Buffy" he was just late for church - so I'm sure he's probably told her in the past when he's going to church. Buffy is very open-minded in relationships. She may not be religious herself but if she can get over the whole vampire thing (her sworn enemy and the very thing she was destined to kill) then Riley going to church probably isn't too difficult for her, IMO.
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