Friday, February 17, 2006

At last, the confession you've been waiting for

In an article on the growing focus on Hinduism in America (and how the media confounds Hindu theology), a USA Today feature writer offers this bit at the end:

So what else is new? Hollywood has been mocking Christian culture for years.

(HT: Doc Andy)

Somewhere, Richard Belzer is shrugging his shoulders.

The article mentions two of my favorite shows, The Simpsons and the charming My Name Is Earl, as skewing the Hindu message of one god, one bazillion persons (I've lost count).

While the author barely bothers mentions the theological "blending" that goes on in Hollywood, that is exactly what goes on everyday in media. It's how media-saturated Christians can take on confused theology that combines the OT theology of "an eye for an eye" with karmic justice. Reformed Christianity clearly reserves that kind of OT justice for the Lord's day of judgment in this age of mercy, while Hinduism's karma doesn't even have a concept of justice. Karma is neutral. But blending fits nicely into our fast-food theology when TV writers have more input into our daily life than the Word.

What I like about The Simpsons is its writers are Ivy Leaguers with a clue about theology, and but for a few irritating moments of universalism, one can almost imagine these guys having reverence for authentic Christianity. Their commentaries on dead faith and phony Christian culture are usually dead-on.

Their criticism sometimes go the other way. In one episode, when Homer obliges himself to a several-million-dollar donation to PBS to get the telethon hounds off the tube, he is chased by Big Bird (among other notable mobbing PBS characters) into the church, where he is forced into requesting asylum. Rev. Lovejoy sneaks him out in the back of his car, buried underneath sacks of letters.

When the mob outside the church questions Lovejoy on the contents of his car, Lovejoy replies, "I'm just taking these children's letters to God down to the city dump." The PBS mob, which we are to presume hostile to real Christian faith, is suddenly supportive.


My Name Is Earl is another story. The idea of karma is prevalent as its main character, played brilliantly by Jason Lee, seeks to redeem himself by attempting to undo 200+ previous malicious acts, some of which landed him in prison. These wrongdoings are haphazardly scribbled on a makeshift napkin or small sheet of paper, and each week his intention is to cross off one of them as a wrong that's been made right.

However, I find the Earl character not very informed of his adopted belief system, and his sincere hope for spiritual redemption as refreshing. The notion that Earl's redemption quest is misguided is implied, but we are to go along for this journey out of respect for one man's desire to not be ashamed. As he fumbles through his own motivations, he somehow ends up doing God's good work. One gets the sense he will eventually conclude he can't undo his wrongs, but the transformation inside has more value than he can currently appreciate.

It's not Christianity, but I'll take 30 minutes of a charitable and just heart for my television viewing any day. It is definitely entertaining as Earl attempts to live out his simple understanding and new spiritual values in a highly cynical world.

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