I swear, there is nothing that makes me grind my teeth more than the way most television shows portray religion. True Blood in particular is pissing me off. I just don’t understand how the writers can vilify something they clearly aren’t involved in and know nothing about. It seems like if you’re stuck for plot devices or need people to act out of character to create conflict, all you need to do is have some power-hungry fanatic (or manipulative cynic) start spewing a lot of thees and thous without much logic behind them and make everyone go all Jonestown. Double points if the ringleader has got some mystic buggety-boo that rains down curses upon their enemies. Because we all know that’s how religions work, right? Lots of foaming at the mouth, mass suicides, and miracles performed on command?
I know there are some fanatics out there, and some manipulative wanks. And some of them choose religion as their medium of wankery. I also know there are some people who need the surrender of absolute, all-consuming, unquestioning faith to get through the day.
But most people that I’ve met who feel religion is an important part of their lives are deeply thoughtful and engaged spiritually. When their dogma contradicts their lived experience, they struggle to find balance and authenticity. When their pastors say something they disagree with, they argue with their pastors, research their scriptures, explore other churches or synagogues within their faith. When terrible things happen in their lives, they pray for guidance or help, but they know those prayers don’t guarantee miracles, and they grapple with how that tests their faith. I’ve found this to be true for Jews of different denominations, Mormons, Catholics, Fundamentalist Christians, Protestants, Muslims, and different kinds of Pagans. Some of them believe things I don’t, and I’m sure some of my beliefs and rituals seem equally strange to them. But I honor the way they go about their religious practice, with real integrity and honest critique, as well as deep (though sometimes struggling) faith, alone and in community.
I feel like Babylon 5 did a good job of showing that complexity in a nuanced way, sometimes positive, sometimes negative. Firefly did a good job as well (although Joss Whedon fell short on Buffy and Angel). I just wish more writers were telling those kinds of stories instead of using Jonestown as a shorthand for all religion and a cheap plot device.