What's Tony Thinking

God and Prime Time


I thought the recent Christian Century interview with the TV writer, Joy Gregory, was terrific. Gregory has worked on shows like Joan of Arcadia and Madame Secretary. She has, according to the Century, a “Particular interest in depicting people of faith in a way that — to quote one reviewer — ‘confounds people’s expectations.'”

Here are a couple of excerpts from that interview, the first on the superior attitude of many liberals toward religion and religious people, the second on Gregory’s image of God.

Q. “How are religious themes treated in the (TV) writing room?”

A. “If you want to make a room full of Obama-loving, liberal, educated, immigrant-championing, compassionate people turn on you, talk about God in an unironic way.

“Admit to being a person of faith. They will feel sorry for you. You will see their esteem for you go down a couple of notches. So to argue for depicting people of faith as authentic, likable human beings is going to be a struggle — most writers (TV) have a blind spot about religion.

“As a result, religious stories tend to be really binary and simplistic. It is rare and wonderful when you can do stories about spirituality that aren’t hokey or earnest or easy or all about feeling or sentiment.”

Would love to hear Gregory’s take on a place like liberal-Seattle. I also observe that when it comes to TV and movies, and to some extent more generally, there seems to be an ethnic pass on the part of skeptical liberal culture. That is, it’s okay for African-Americans, maybe Hispanics, to be religious. White religious people are, however, automatically suspect and usually portrayed as narrow-minded creeps.

This next excerpt I found really quite beautiful and moving.

Q. “What’s your image of God?”

A. “My 14-year-old daughter and I were watching a video of some conservationists freeing a young whale that was hopelessly trapped in nylon netting and on the verge of death.

“One guy was working with a snorkel, a knife, and a few friends on a nearby motor boat. After trying for several hours, knowing the whale could destroy them all with one false move, they managed to free the whale, who swam away and, and on a sparkling horizon breached the water over and over again in a dance of pure joy.

“Is God the patient, snorkeler freeing us from our own hopeless entanglements if only we’ll dare to trust him?”

These days Gregory is at work on a production about Tammy Faye Bakker, who with her husband Jim was a successful tele-evangelist, until brought down by scandal.

Providing a more complex and humane picture of Bakker than is typical. Gregory notes that in 1984 when “AIDS was ravaging the gay community, and Christians were nowhere preaching mercy and tenderness, Tammy Faye had on her program a gay man who was well into the illness.

“With tears running down her face, Bakker said to her audience, ‘We are Christians. We should be loving this man.'” Tammy Faye, vilified by so many, “showed compassion at a time when the Christian community had not.”

Gregory works the other direction too. For example, on Madame Secretary the husband of the Secretary of State is a religion professor and believer who is interested in figures like St. Francis and St. Augustine. “Most people know so little about the early church. So we can use that.”

True, contemporary ignorance of what was once a well-known and rich intellectual/ spiritual tradition is amazing.



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