Who is The Faithkiller?
In 1946, he’s a character on a once-popular radio drama: a Nazi-busting GI with a clear mission, boundless courage, and a powerful secret weapon. With the war long over, however, The Faithkiller’s charismatic Jewish creator and talented cast struggle mightily to keep the show alive… and relevant in a post-war world. Sixty years later, the old hero is brought back to life by his original creator’s granddaughter and her Muslim partner. Now an atheist superhero on a controversial television series, The Faithkiller saves the world from the terror of extreme religious fundamentalists… but bitterly divides the country at the same time. Finally, in the not-too-distant future – a world dominated by a powerful, conservative, pan-religious theocracy – The Faithkiller comes fully to life as an undercover revolutionary operative trying to end his government’s reign of oppression. Branded a terrorist, he fights for the soul of the world – but at what cost?
The non-linear narrative of The Faithkiller moves between the past, present, and future to try to ask what happens when the stories we tell take on a life of their own… and which stories we should believe in.
“[A] rich, imaginatively expressive intelligence, a mind taking you to places that you’d never have thought to go on your own.” — Washington Post
Originally produced by the Taffety Punk Theatre Company (DC, 2009); directed by Marcus Kyd, and featuring Kimberly Gilbert, Theo Hadjmichael, Steve Beall, Joseph Lane, Tanera Hutz, Kasaun Wilson, MJ Casey, Andy English, and Maura Suilebhan. Read by Maieutic Theatre Works (NY, 2010); workshopped and read by the Theater of the First Amendment (VA, 2007). O’Neill Playwrights Conference Semi-Finalist, 2008.
I’ve been an atheist — although I prefer the term “secular humanist,” I might as well lay my cards on the table — since I was only 11 years old. My de-conversion, interestingly enough, happened in Hebrew school, during a discussion of Purim: I just suddenly realized that I didn’t believe in God, so I went home and told my parents and that was that.
Like many atheists, I was at first quite thrilled by the recent surge of popular attention being paid to the subject, thanks to the work of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. I read every word they wrote, and although at first blush I found myself agreeing with a great deal of what they professed, eventually I grew concerned with the tone of their arguments, which struck me as largely adolescent and dismissive and condescending. It’s one thing, I thought, to disagree with someone about whether there’s a god, but it’s another thing entirely to act as if that person is shameful for not agreeing with you. Where had civility gone?
At the same time, I kept hearing a very similar outcry from religious moderates in response to what the so-called “New Atheists” were saying: these men are fundamentalists as well, people insisted. This struck me as wrongheaded. Fervent, yes — they could be called that — but not fundamentalist. Fundamentalism implies an inability to listen to reason, to favor received wisdom over evidence. That just wasn’t an accurate description of what I was reading.
So these were the ideas that were roiling in my mind when I set out to write The Faithkiller: heady ideas, for sure, which meant I had to focus squarely on real, living characters with which to explore them. The questions I wanted to ask spanned, for my mind, the entire 20th century, so I reached into the past to tell part of the story; they also live in the present, so part of the story had to be set there as well. They will also, finally, inform our national future, so I carried the story forward, too.
It struck me, finally, that we could learn a lot about the ideas I was considering by an examination of our popular culture: radio, television, and film. The stories we choose to tell, as a culture, say a great deal about the ideas we’re trying to replicate and propagate. So this is why I centered the play on the evolution of a single literary figure, The Faithkiller: my hope is that his narrative, as it unfolds and transforms through the decades, asks the sort of questions we all need to be asking… and points the way toward a more civil, reasoned discourse about what we believe, why we believe it, and how our beliefs should lead us to act toward each other.