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AFA Journal

TELEVISION

Mock around the clock

Network television’s hostility toward Christianity

Ed Vitagliano
Editor, AFA Journal
AFA Journal, July 2001 Edition

Living in a nation which has traditionally strong religious roots, one might expect that network television would treat Christianity with a degree of respect. However, with few exceptions, Christianity and all other things holy are frequently mocked and slandered on TV.

God in the dock?
Hollywood seems especially enamored with putting God in the dock to stand trial for the ills of the world.

In a 1999 episode of Chicago Hope (CBS), for example, Dr. Diane Grad wants to help a young couple clone their dying son, but other doctors overrule her. One doctor says, “It’s playing God.”

Dr. Grad responds, “Is anybody in this room struck by what a wonderful job God is doing here – that He should sit back and let a little child die?… If that is the best God has to offer, I’m sorry, it’s not good enough!”

For sheer blasphemy, not much compares with this year’s May 16 season finale of The West Wing (NBC). President Josiah Bartlet’s elderly secretary Dolores Landingham, a woman who had been his mentor since his high school years at a Catholic academy, is killed by a drunk driver.

Alone in a magnificent Catholic Church sanctuary, Bartlet addresses God, saying, “You’re a son of a b---h, you know that? She bought her first new car and you hit her with a drunk driver. What? That’s supposed to be funny? …I think you’re just vindictive.” After calling God a “feckless thug,” Bartlet says, “To hell with your punishments. To hell with you.” Then he lights a cigarette, takes one puff, throws it to the sanctuary floor, and disdainfully grinds it out with his shoe.

‘Stupid’ Christianity
Hollywood’s disdain doesn’t stop with God. Christianity frequently comes in for a network television tongue lashing. In an episode of Fox’s Futurama three years ago, Christianity is ridiculed as stupid when Bender the robot gets “saved” from his sinful lifestyle by a robot preacher.

The Bible, baptism, heaven and hell are all parodied in the most disrespectful manner. Main character Fry says the inner peace Bender has obtained from religion is “for losers,” and Bender is finally convinced to return to sinning.

One of the most sacrilegious mockeries of Christianity occurred on the April 7, 1998, show That’s Life (ABC). The once-a-year visit of Mike, a hypocritical Catholic, to Easter Mass is a springboard for the show’s writers to blaspheme the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Mike’s sister-in-law nearly foams at the mouth after he takes her 10-year-old son to church with him: “No child in his right mind likes church,” she says.

The boy does like church – but for a sadistic reason: he enjoys hearing about the pain Jesus endured. As the boy stares into space with glazed eyes, he gleefully describes the scourging, crown of thorns, crucifixion, and spear thrust of the Roman soldier to Christ’s side, all to the accompaniment of a laugh track.

Perverted clergy
If Christ is mocked on television, His ministers fare little better. Whether its The Simpsons’ (Fox) consistent portrayal of Rev. Lovejoy as an obnoxious, overbearing, and self-righteous boob; or a minister who dresses in women’s underwear on Payne (CBS, 3/15/99), Hollywood’s disdain for the clergy is almost unrelenting.

The presentation of ministers as hypocrites who give way to sexual impurity is common. As Monica and Chandler search for a clergyman to perform their long-awaited wedding on NBC’s Friends this past May, Monica complains that all the preachers they’ve talked to were either “boring, annoying” or couldn’t stop staring at her breasts.

Obviously, some clergy do fall into immorality. But is the Hollywood portrait accurate – that the majority of ministers have fallen into sexual sin? Surely the January 9, 2000, episode of the Fox drama X-Files had it wrong, when a prostitute asks a customer if he’s a minister, because preachers “always like the weirdest [sexual] things.”

Self-righteous spawn
With a despised religion like Christianity being promulgated by perverted or, at best, pathetic preachers, is it any wonder the average Christian in the pew is portrayed by Hollywood as arrogant, hypocritical and self-righteous?

On an episode of Ally McBeal (Fox), an altercation with a woman at a grocery store lands Ally before a lawyer review board. One board member is described as “conservative, no sense of humor, a Christian,” and shown to be haughty and judgmental.

This is not an uncommon practice for Ally McBeal. In another episode last year, Kimmee, in her early 30s, is a lawyer and member of the Christian Coalition – so naturally she is presented as a vain, self-righteous nut case. In a follow-up episode, Kimmee’s virginity is portrayed as resulting from her borderline neuroses and “intimacy problems,” since she can’t even go on a date without her mother being present.

Three years ago on Seinfeld, Elaine discovered that her boyfriend Putty was a Christian, and his religion became the source of a number of jokes and insults. Elaine thought it incomprehensible that anyone would be religious, and said she’d prefer a boyfriend who is “dumb and lazy” to one who is religious. Putty’s character was not portrayed as a sincere and faithful believer, but rather a dimwitted goof ball and a hypocrite – since he had no ethical problem having sex with Elaine outside marriage.

While Christians are frequently depicted as self-righteous loonies, sometimes Hollywood spices things up with a little variety and presents believers as sadistic wackos. From the “God-fearing people” on Sports Night (ABC, 8/17/99) who issue a bomb threat, to NYPD Blue’s (ABC, 4/28/98) “Christian” white supremacist terrorist group, to good Catholic boys stoning a homosexual youth on The West Wing (NBC, 12/15/99), there is always one flavor of Christian dished out by Hollywood that seems to have nuts in it.

Certainly, there are and have been exceptions to television’s penchant for mockery of Christians and misrepresentations of their faith. Shows like Touched by an Angel (CBS), 7th Heaven (WB), and the now-canceled Promised Land (CBS), have attempted to treat religious belief in a respectful manner.

It is also true that Christians have been forewarned by the Lord Jesus that they would be persecuted, insulted and slandered “on account of Me,” (Matthew 5:10-12), and should nevertheless “rejoice, and be glad.”

However, Christians have every right to demand that the public airwaves, of which they share part ownership, are not used to misrepresent the very faith that believers are called to preach. After all, America in the year A.D. 2001 is not Nero’s Rome of A.D. 68. At least not yet.