Gleefully religious?

For the next few weeks I’m at a course on Monday nights, which makes it impossible for me to watch Glee – that all important Monday night TV fixture – in its regular 9pm slot. On my way home last week I checked Facebook and Twitter and spotted a variety of Glee related messages that made me all the more determined to make it back in time for the 10pm E4+1 showing.
The episode in question was apparently religious in nature and had caught the attention not just of my religious friends/twitter people, but of lapsed churchgoers and atheist radio celebrities. In fact, one twitter theologian went as far as to say that it was “a wonderful example of how to do evangelism today”. I might have simply left it at watching the episode and pondering its meaning with a few friends, but for two reasons:
(i) My sister said, on the night it was shown, that she reckoned I’d blog about it within 24 hours. 
(ii) I disagree with the twitter theologian above.
Many sneer at Glee, thinking it trashy TV with trashy music meant only for teenagers and those with little going on in their lives. However, I’m personally of the opinion that every so often – as was the case last week – it manages to deal with serious issues maturely and with the aid of a good soft-rock cover version. [This obviously was not the case for the couple of episodes early in season one where a male character was led to believe his girlfriend had got pregnant while they were making out in a hot tub…] 
This episode managed to highlight a number of religious issues, from the separation of religion & state that’s held so sacred in America, to the importance of religious heritage, via the church’s attitude to homosexuality – all within a storyline that centred upon a grilled cheese sandwich with the face of Jesus on it. [The grill hadn’t grilled properly ever since Finn used it to dry his sneakers.] Finn chooses to pray to Jesus-of-the-sandwich and declares his new found faith (and desire to sing songs about it) to his fellow classmates – and thus the episode begins.
So what have I got to add to the mix? First off, the regular beginning of episode scene set in the glee club classroom has to contain some of the best one-liners of the series and at the same time illustrate diverse religious attitudes and opinions that you’d find in any classroom. 

Kurt: “Most churches don’t think much of gay people. Or women…or science…”

Mercedes: “I don’t see anything wrong with getting a little church up in here.” 

Quinn: “I’ve had a really hard year and I turned to God a lot for help…I for one wouldn’t mind saying thanks.” 

Brittney: “Whenever I pray I fall asleep.”

[Incidentally, my friends created a game years ago that you can play at church/religious festivals entitled ‘praying or sleeping’, which was followed by ‘religious experience or medical emergency’. Hours of fun, right there.]

Puck: “I got no problem with the guy, I’m a total Jew for Jesus, he’s my number one Heeb.”

You know what this episode is really about? It’s not evangelism, or stuffing faith down the throats of those that don’t want to hear (which is most definitely not the same as evangelism) – it’s about prayer.

Finn becomes inspired to pray and then discovers his prayers being answered. The football team wins and he gets to touch his girlfriend’s cleavage – so he’s keen to share the love. He’s also found an object he can use as a focus for his prayers, albeit a savoury snack. When bad stuff ends up happening, apparently as a result of his prayers, he has a crisis and turns to the Guidance Counsellor (who, incidentally is played by a Christian) and discovers that it’s unlikely God had a direct hand in what he’d seen as miracles. [Cue soft-rock to illustrate point and what better than Losing My Religion?]

Kurt’s father Burt has a heart attack and lies in a coma. [It wasn’t until I looked this episode up on Wikipedia that I realised their names rhymed! Such is the subtle genius of Glee.] He’s an atheist and when his religious friends vow to pray for his father, he refuses their support. Ultimately, he ends up at church with Mercedes and watches as the whole church prays for his father to recover. Getting him into church may look like an act of evangelism, but it’s just an act of love by a friend to show that others care so much for people they’ve never met. We don’t know if it changes his opinion of religion, but hopefully it brought him some comfort.

Sue Sylvester – Glee’s most delightfully awful character – comes to blows with the rather weedy Guidance Counsellor over why she’s an atheist. As a child she prayed that her sister (who was born with Downs Syndrome) would get better, but because she never did, so Sue decided that God couldn’t possibly exist. Ironically, it’s revealed that her sister does believe in God and prays for Sue.

They’re all totally logical responses. Who (amongst the churchgoers reading this) hasn’t been given a pebble, rosary, picture or icon with which to direct or focus their prayer? (I’m sure there was a period in the 90s when you couldn’t get through an ‘alternative’ act of worship without being given a pebble.) Persistence in prayer is one thing – desperately praying for your heart’s desire to be fulfilled and it never happening is quite another and phenomenally painful. How do you argue for the existence of God in the face of that? Personally, one of the hardest things I’ve found is comforting atheist friends when my natural response with other Christians would be to say that I’d pray for them – often it’s not what they want to hear.

There’s obviously a lot more that could be said about this, but I’m not entirely sure that I can be this serious about Glee for any longer! I would just like to state for the record that the one thing that did not impress me was the use of One of Us (the mid 90s one-hit-wonder by Joan Osborne) – slightly obvious and a song that has not left my head ever since. Given that the episode also included some classic REM and Bridge Over Troubled Water, you might realise why I’m peeved.

Comments

  1. I haven’t yet watched this episode but I’m now intrigued…will get back to you!

  2. Have to say, my response to the episode is pretty mixed. On the one hand it was moving (especially the scene near the end of Sue and her sister – I even cried a little then) and represented a few different views on faith and had some great songs (Rachel’s version of the Tyler Perry song was staggeringly beautiful). On the other hand, it seemed to me to be arguing against the separation of church and state (which is something I absolutely believe in) and also suggested that people can only be atheists if something bad happens to them, which is so not true.

    I’m not sure that One of Us was particularly obvious, in fact I was a bit puzzled by what message it was supposed to have. Nice enough cover though and good to see Tina getting a brief solo. I was more annoyed by the use of Losing My Religion, which was gratingly obvious, badly cut and ropily performed (way too much autotune).

    I did like that everyone basically ended the episode with same beliefs they started with, but perhaps a more open mind.

  3. Having thought more about it, I think the best thing about the episode is that it explores some massive questions that we all ponder, but doesn’t at any point tell people what to think. Like you said, at the end they’ve got the same beliefs, but have thought more. There’s not many US shows that would explore religion like that.

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