Firefly Month: The False Gods and Broken Bibles of Jaynestown

Every Browncoat worth their salt knows the story of the man they call Jayne, but what they don’t realize is that the moral of the story involves learning about idolatry and how broken Bibles can fix people.

The crew of Serenity goes to a far off moon called Canton to make a deal. Jayne is a bit more paranoid this time around because he went to Canton before and believes that there are people there that have a bad history with him. Simon comes along, posing as a buyer of the mud produced by the laborers. The foreman establishes that the laborers are basically slaves.

It’s not until Mal and the others spend some time in a tavern that they learn why there’s a statue of Jayne: according to the song, Jayne stole money from the magistrate and gave it to the laborers. Basically, they saw him as their Robin Hood, rebelling against the magistrate out of compassion for the poor. Unfortunately, the truth was that Jayne had to eject the money he stole to survive an anti-aircraft tag. It just so happened that he released the money he stole right over the mud farmer’s village.

When the villagers realize that their hero has come back, Jayne is at first elated at how much attention he’s getting. Mal decides to take advantage of the situation to use Jayne as a distraction while the rest of them get the job done.

Unfortunately, there was something Jayne left out of the story: he had a partner in his robbery, one who got captured and got the blame while Jayne got away. The guy is out for revenge. Jayne is also conflicted of the lie he’s now living. He’s proud that the villagers gained the confidence to stand up for themselves, but their courage came from an act of circumstance and not from anything he really did. A villager gets killed trying to protect Jayne from his partner when he shows up in the town’s square intent on killing the hero of Canton.

It’s the fact that a villager gave up his life for him that Jayne realizes how wrong the situation is and knocks down the statue. At first, it seems like the crew of Serenity is stuck on Canton when they find the ship land-locked. Thankfully, with the inadvertent help of Inara motivating the magistrate’s son, the crew of Serenity was able to get away. But what really bugs Jayne is the fear that the villagers won’ t really lose their faith in him.

The theme of Jaynestown is obvious: Jayne is made an idol and he knows he’s not a god, so he had to take down the statue.

To quote Elizabeth Scalia’s Strange Gods

“We get ideas, and we embrace them and pet them and polish them until they own us and hinder us, and we are no longer free.”

Jayne didn’t want the villagers to have their faith in something created from a lie, mostly because he knows he didn’t really deserve their love and certainly didn’t deserve a villager sacrificing himself to save him. He also knows that they are capable of standing up to the magistrate on their own, which is why he had to take himself out of the picture. And no, the fact that his initials are JC are not lost on me, but Jayne also knows he’s not the second coming of Christ, either.

But there’s also something else learned from this episode that comes from the subplot centering on River and Book, in which River Tam is “fixing” Book’s bible. The two of them have a debate on the stuff she’s reading. Later on, she apologizes for her actions only to get scared off by Book’s hair, which he keeps unkempt as part of the rules of his order.

The subplot between Book and River bugged me to heck because I know that Joss is an atheist, so at first glance, the dynamic between River and Book is reminiscent of your typical atheist vs believer conflict. Thankfully, my fellow Patheos blogger Kyle Cupp has a different take on this scene, which he explains in his book Living By Faith, Dwelling in Doubt.

“Shepherd Book says the the Bible isn’t about making perfect sense but about faith ‘You don’t fix faith,’ he tells her. ‘It fixes you. I would say that faith doesn’t fix you so much as it gives you the fortitude to press on in your brokenness. But Shepherd Book’s underlying lesson is spot on. To live according to a plurality of stories means living with tension and inconsistencies and irreconcilable differences, sometimes because the fragments tell a false tale or conceal much more than they reveal, often because each fragment, taken in hand, becomes a new way of looking at the whole, disclosing something different about a reality that passes all understanding. Shattered stories are part of the human condition. People have dealt with fragmentation and uncertainty since the beginning of our species.”

So even though Jayne’s actions in Canton were not altruistic, he gained a sense of compassion for the people, enough so to force them to look to someone bigger than himself to find their courage and willingness to fight. Unfortunately, Jayne won’t always be this humble or compassionate. But that’s a few episodes from now.

For now, let us sing the song!

JMJ

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