The Crux Project Archives: Television
None Too Revealing
An interview with David Seltzer, the writer behind the confusing—and confused—NBC television series Revelations
As it turns out, NBC’s six-episode mini-series Revelations was not all that revealing. Let’s see: there was a nun (Natascha McElhone) searching for a reborn Christ child in order to protect him from a group of Satanists, a scientist (Bill Pullman) reluctantly joining her for the sake of his kidnapped stepson, and a sort of satanically-enhanced super villain (Michael Massee) attempting to initiate the End of Days. By series end, all three of these characters were still alive, with the addition of an antichrist born from the belly of a goat, and the fate of the world was still up in the air. I think it’s safe to say that NBC was planning all along to extend the life of the show indefinitely.
A number of religious critics went out of their way to praise the series due to its affirmation of a transcendent reality, and because when a character on Revelations says “Jesus Christ,” he is actually referring to the Son of God. These indeed admirable qualities aside, I must say that everything else about the show is a bit confusing---or, rather, confused. Most noticeably, its depiction of spiritual warfare takes place entirely outside of the spiritual realm. So much so, in fact, that the devil is personified by a satanic cult and Jesus, rather than His followers, has to be born again. It’s kind of a materialist take on Christianity where all things ethereal are repackaged in flesh and bone. And don’t even get me started on the show’s dualism.
Ostensibly, Revelations was the product of laborious research. And by “research,” I mean that the show’s creators spent a lot of time with the Bible in an attempt to get the theology right. So what happened? The answer, I’m afraid, can be traced back to the writer of the series, a well-meaning fellow by the name of David Seltzer who you may remember as the brain behind The Omen. I spoke with Seltzer over the phone after the first episode of Revelations aired, hoping to find a genuine seeker of Truth, or at least someone who had a passing interest in the Man about whom he wrote. What I found instead was the usual Hollywood opportunist whose desire to be all things to all people trumps a serious engagement with his subject matter. I knew right then and there that the show would not live up to its promise.
As you read the following interview, take particular note of Seltzer’s claim that he believes in all religions, which is a diplomatic way of saying that he believes in none of them. By the time you finish the piece, I think you will see why the revelations that the show delivered were of the most murky and bewildering sort.
How did you become interested in the supernatural?
It’s hard to say. Since childhood, I’ve always had an interest in science, and this interest led me to larger questions. I was always looking through telescopes and microscopes and wondering how things came to be.
As an adult, it really began with my being offered a job to write about the devil. This led me to read the Bible for the first time in my life, and the Book of Revelation in particular. I became fascinated with the lore and mysticism found there. Plus, I have a real hunger for research, and one can endlessly research the Bible.
Did you have any kind of religious upbringing?
I was born into a very conservative Jewish family in Chicago and was certainly exposed to religion through them. I’m Jewish, but I don’t practice religion at all. In fact, there’s not a religion that I don’t believe in, and I would feel comfortable worshipping anywhere.
Did you decide to write Revelations because of your experience with The Omen and its portrayal of the antichrist?
Yes. Absolutely. I realized that I have the same issues as those with which Revelation deals: forces of good and evil, faith and doubt, the aspect of man’s responsibility in contributing to the end of days on this planet. I dealt with these things in a more frivolous way with The Omen, which was designed simply as a horror thriller. This show is more about experiences. It’s about Armageddons big and small. It’s about the personal and global fears of death that we suffer.
My appetite for scaring people morphed into something that has a little more political and social relevance. It’s still an entertainment, and I’m no Biblical scholar. I’m just a writer, taking a little bit of information and running with it. But I do believe that the program represents something challenging for people who are interested in this sort of thing.
To what degree do you stay loyal to the Bible?
I worry about this a lot. I know that the Bible and religion are personal to people of faith, and I do not wish in any way to be disrespectful. I expect that people will object to the Bible itself being used as a touchstone of entertainment, and I can understand that. Nevertheless, it’s just too rich in drama and the aspect of human crisis to not use it. I’m very inspired by working with biblical material. But I’m not misusing the Bible. For example, I’m very careful when I quote from it. I don’t make passages up; indeed, I always mention both chapter and verse.
But I do take liberties with the characters I invent. And these people interpret the Bible each in their own way---just as people do in the real world. But that’s what the drama is about---what the debate is always about, even among people who share the same Bible, the same house, and the same faith. They will argue differences of opinion as to what the Bible means, what its metaphors are, and what the truth might be. So I speak about the Bible through various characters that I have made up whole-cloth. And in that way I take liberties. But certainly not with the text itself.
What are you hoping to achieve with Revelations?
Honestly, I have no message. It always interests me that I find out what I’m writing about when I read the reviews. Some reviews have criticized the show, some people say that it’s silly, and some people have actually said that they find it very challenging. I had one critic from the New York Times who thought it was profound---a very serious piece in that it was not only religious but political. And he talked about how entertainment is actually becoming more political than news shows.
If in fact we’re at the End of Days, I believe it’s man’s own doing. We have a responsibility to our planet and to our fellow man to own up to the way in which we have put our whole world in jeopardy. You know, the Book of Revelation says that the end is inevitable, but even the inevitable is caused by certain factors. Since religious men have been writing about the world, they have also been writing about the end of the world. And we have to take it seriously because a lot is supposedly going to go wrong. You see people today squaring off, claiming that their god is the good god and your god is the bad god, and they are going to fight to the finish. One is going to vanquish the other. There are holy wars raging in the world, any one of which could unleash a nuclear holocaust.
I suppose every writer is writing from his heart and his own ideas. But when I use the name of Jesus Christ over and over in this program, I do it with respect; I know that this was a man who spoke of love and that people listened to him. Do I wish there was a man to whom people would listen today? Absolutely. But do I want to persuade people about something? I don’t.
The first episode of Revelations would seem to indicate that the show takes a stand against scientific naturalism. Is this really the case?
No. I really don’t see that at all. The male lead is a scientist who has little familiarity with spirituality of a religious sort. But I find him the most heroic of the characters. He is going through a crisis in his life that makes him susceptible to a spiritual journey.
The two protagonists share in common this aspect of personal tragedy. And both are needing to look into the sky to find some reason, be it star or god, that makes them believe that there is a design to the universe---that they are not just subject to wants and the wanton cruelty of the world.
Like I said earlier, there’s nothing I don’t believe. I believe science, and I believe religion, and every writer must do the same. You know, a man can write convincingly about a woman if he is a good writer. Or a white man can write about a black man. In other words, you don’t have to be what you are writing about. I find the debate interesting. Over the course of six hours, my religionist and my scientist begin to walk a closer parallel than they ever dreamed was possible.
To what do you ascribe the public fascination with the End of Days?
Your guess is as good as mine, although I think I know the answer. People are terrified of losing their lives or their planetary resources, of being burned because of ozone holes, of being poisoned by pollution, of global warming causing everything that sustains them to wither away. I think people are looking into the sky and examining their relationship to powers greater than themselves in order to test what their chances of survival are and to determine what they might do to forestall what looks to be a gathering cloud of trouble. •