Monday, October 11, 2010

Deus ex Machina: Divine Inspiration on Glee, Modern Family & Community

Posted By on Mon, Oct 11, 2010 at 6:26 PM

Gleesus Christ Superstar
  • Fox
  • Gleesus Christ Superstar

This past week, a trinity of programs tackled the issue of faith, divinity, and the existence of God.

On occasion, you'll see a single network isolate a topic and shoehorn it into a number of plot threads throughout the week (we're looking at you NBC). However, in this case, the three programs in question aired on three nights in succession on three separate networks.

Coincidence, or Divine Intervention?

You decide:

1) The Father: "Glee"
Glee's crisis of faith was born from two incidents: Kurt's father is hospitalized in a coma after suffering a stroke, while Finn has a spiritual awakening in the form of a miracle granting "Grilled Cheesus."

The Grilled Cheesus
  • Fox
  • The Grilled Cheesus

In addition to a handful of memorable musical arrangements—most notably Kurt's reworking of the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" as a tear-inducing ballad from a son to his father—the program featured surprisingly frank and open discussion of faith.

Kurt's atheism is treated with gravity ("I believe in you, Dad. I believe in us. You and me. That's what's sacred to me.") , while those who practice (Mercedes, et al) are neither caricatured or vilified. That Sue, the show's villain, sides with Kurt (and her rationale for abandoning faith as a child) adds depth to Jane Lynch's character. Though it also allows her to uncork the episode's best one-liner—when Principal Figgins explains that "children should be allowed to profess whatever faith they choose," Sue retorts, "At the BET Awards, but not in public school."

2) The Son: "Modern Family"
On "Modern Family" a Sunday morning earthquake leads Manny to skip church with his mother, in favor of a day on the golf course with his step father, Jay.

Throughout the episode, Manny and Jay engage in an extended dialogue about faith, heaven, and God, picking up where "Glee" left off.

3) The Holy Spirit: Community
On the episode "The Psychology of Letting Go," God surfaced as the topic of conversation again as two story-lines find Chevy Chase's Pierce and Joel McHale's Jeff addressing issues of mortality and divinity as Pierce, who practices a kooky religion called "neo-Buddhism" that makes Scientology look like Roman Catholicism, is in denial about the death of his mother. Meanwhile, Joel faces his own mortality when his doctor informs him that he has (GULP!) high cholesterol. As bitter and disillusioned Joel tries to force his own lack of faith onto Pierce—Betty White from beyond the grave—issues the treatise on faith.

What's up with all the God talk? (Aside from pure coincidence?)

Perhaps it has something to do with programs like Act One, "a community of Christian professionals for the entertainment industry who are committed to excellence, artistry, and personal holiness, so that through their lives and work they may be witnesses of Christ and the Truth to their fellow artists and to the global culture."

Or is a reaction to such influences.

With a new Pew survey suggesting that "large numbers of Americans are uninformed about the tenets, practices, history and leading figures of major faith traditions — including their own," despite the fact that "America is among the most religious of the world's developed nations," it is fitting that the discourse about religion has found its way to our weekly television programs.

Whether driven by discussion around the Ground Zero Mosque, debates on Gay Marriage, the recent evaluation of Don't Ask/Don't Tell, and the unfortunate LGBT suicides resulting from bullying, issues of tolerance, diversity and the role of faith in a pluralistic society are bound to infuse our popular culture.

Americans famously practice cafeteria religion, selectively picking and choosing their beliefs with a pioneer individualism that defines our culture.

In the new book Who Is Your God, authors Paul Froese and Christopher Bader "argue that many of America’s most intractable social and political divisions arise from religious convictions held deeply but rarely discussed." In short, 4 divergent views of God:

The Authoritative God, who is both engaged with the world and judgmental; the Benevolent God, who loves and aids us in spite of our failings; the Critical God, who catalogs our sins but does not punish them (at least not in this life); and the Distant God, who stands apart from the world He created.

Which God watches television?

That fact that "Two and a Half Men" continues to dominate the ratings suggests to me that HE is anything BUT a Critical God...

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