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Jewish date: 2 Marḥeshwan 5771 (Parashath Lekh-Lekha).
Today’s holidays: Navratri (Hinduism), Twenty-Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Madeline Murray O’Hair (Church of the SubGenius).
Worthy cause of the day: “Tell the DOJ: Investigate the Chamber of Commerce's campaign spending”.
Today’s topic: The latest episode of Glee, “Grilled Cheezus”.
I have been busy getting ready to move to Israel, but this episode has been weighing on my mind. (And it is a miracle I watched it as all. The episode before it, “Britney/Brittany”, was unbelievably morally incompetently written.) “Grilled Cheesus” is a train-wreck theologically. There is a lot of talk about religion and spirituality, including the issue of freedom of religion in public schools, but most of it was on a petty level.
There are three main religion-related plots in this episode. In the first plot, a football-playing teenager named Finn makes a grilled cheese sandwich and is surprised to see what he interprets as the image of Jesus on it. He eats the half of the sandwich without the Jesus image on it, but he prays to the other half of the sandwich (“Grilled Cheesus”) to win a football game. Now, being inspired by an unusual event is one thing, but Finn actually prays to the half-sandwich, as if it were Jesus himself. This is a flagrant act of idolatry of a very shallow sort. After all, it just a half-sandwich, not a god. Nevertheless, his team still wins the game.
Finn prays to the half-sandwich a second time, this time asking that he be allowed to touch his girlfriend Rachel’s breasts. (He does not seem to be a deep person by any means.) Soon afterwards Rachel comes to talk with him, noting that she is aiming for a long-term relationship, including eventual marriage, and she wants their children to be raised Jewish. She appears totally assimilated and disconnected from Judaism, and wanting to raise Jewish children even while committing the blatant transgression of intermarriage is severely inconsistent—and her reasons for this lapse of logic are not explained. Finn agrees, even though this is grossly inconsistent with his own belief in Jesus, as shallow as it is. After all, truth is not something one can compromise on. Nevertheless, his agreement pleases Rachel, and she allows him to grope her breasts.
Finn prays yet again to the half-sandwich, this time asking to become quarterback, which he claims will better let him spread the message of Jesus. (I cannot make this up.) Soon afterwards, the current quarterback is injured, and Finn is chosen to take his place. This disturbs Finn greatly, and he believes that he is responsible. He is then counseled by a teacher that he is not really responsible. However, any real discussion of the nature of prayer and how any god which exists responds to them is omitted. Finn gets to sing the song “Losing My Religion”, and he reluctantly eats the half-sandwich. Yes, he eventually reaches the truth that the half-sandwich is not a deity, but not particularly well, and this journey is one he should have had enough active brain cells to know not to take in the first place.
The second main religious plot centers on Kurt, stereotypical homosexual teenager. Kurt dislikes church because much of Christianity is opposed to homosexuality. In other words, “I do not like the message. Therefore the message is wrong.” This is a blatantly childish and illogical sentiment, as reality does not bend to accommodate how we want it to be. Kurt’s father gets sick and is hospitalized. Many of Kurt’s fellow glee club members want to pray for Kurt’s father, putting them at odds with Kurt, who is offended. (Quick side note: Kurt’s irrationality also extends to medicine, as he has someone perform acupuncture on his father.) Eventually Kurt is mollified enough to let his fellow glee club member to take him to church. He does not become a believer, but learns not to be offended by others seeking supernatural aid. Tolerance is a good message, but Kurt still gets an F in theology. (Not to mention song choice. He twists “I Want to Hold Your Hand” out of its original context, and it comes out somewhat creepy.)
The third main religious plot centers on the song choices of the glee club, prompted by Finn’s declaration of having gotten religion. They want to sing religious songs, which Will Schuester wants to moderate down to just “spiritual”. Evil cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester is opposed, ostensibly because it would be a violation of separation of church and state. Frankly, I am not clear it would be. For teachers to demand that students subscribe to particular religious views or engage in particular religious activity in public school would definitely be a violation. However, separation of church and state is not a ban on religion in public schools, and students are free to initiate and participate in their own religious activities. Thus if they chose to sing blatantly religious songs at glee club, they might well be able to get away with it. Sue reveals to Will that she lost her faith long ago when her big sister became ill (apparently referring to her suffering from Down syndrome) and her prayers that she be healed went unanswered. This is a naïve view of prayer. Prayer is fundamentally talking to a deity. Now, what sort of deity worth anything would be shallow enough to just pay attention to prayer, weighing it above and beyond all other behavior He/She demands? And why should Sue’s prayer be weighed so heavily above and beyond any other factor? And why should Sue’s sister be exempt from illness, which we all are subject to? Why should not getting what one wants from a god mean that the god does not exist? Later in the episode, Sue’s sister Janey tells Sue that she does believe in God and that He does not make mistakes—a position which she does not explain. Nevertheless, it is enough for Sue to soften her position, and she does object to the glee club’s ultimate choice of a song, “(What If God Was) One of Us”.
In short, this episode handles religious belief with next to no depth. This is disappointing since most humans have enough brain cells to do better than this.