In every show there’s that episode. The one where something bad happens and religion is brought followed by a string of cliche arguments ending with a softball resolution that mollifies everyone. Unless of course you want something more from the story and from a topic that pretty much occupies 100% of the population at some point in life.
Episode III was that episode for Glee and I have to say, although it had the feeling of an TV after-school special at times, it didn’t totally suck. Let’s break it down into little bite-sized bits of spirituality and see what we can come up with.
“The Grilled Cheesus”
This was funny and the fact that it was Finn who took the lead in this story line made it all the better. As one of the better characters in the show they should probably run most plot lines through him. Although, that would mean more Rachel via her attachment to him, soooooo, I’d still go with it and stomach the Rachel parts.
But back to Grilled Cheesus. I love hearing the stories of people finding religious figures in food. It feels like it speaks to a desperate searching for something and even though religious iconography is only part of half of Christianity these days, it evokes a powerful response nonetheless.
That’s what happens to Finn. He has an experience and explores it. He sees God as the great bargainer who doles out the rewards in return for something we do. It’s a reality for the way many people see God and it’s funny in the show and the writers did a god job of increasing the complexity of the issue when Finn gets what he asks for but Sam has to get hurt for it to happen. Finn is conflicted and goes to Emma who explains it pretty much the way I would explain it (and have a few times if I recall) and Finn has a spiritual crisis where doubt in the supernatural comes crashing down on him. He sings Losing My Religion (one of the greatest songs of all time) and that’s it.
Being a 40 minute show, story lines like this are going to be simplistic but for what I expected, this part didn’t suck. I also think they need to have the song work into the plot like with Finn’s song, and have fewer “performances” but I don’t think that’s going to change. Finn also should have posted the half sandwich Jesus on ebay and raked in a bit of coin, but honestly, is he that smart?
Kurt and his Dad’s Coma
The crux of the show rests on Kurt’s response to his dad’s coma and his resistance to letting others care for him in “spiritual” ways. This story line was a bit of a let down because they had the right moments to emphasized but chose to go through the tired arguments about proofs and floating teapots and such that have been overdone (see Ricky Gervais’ stuff on this. He’s still my favourite comedian but man, give it up already).
Kurt’s dad has a great line at the start when he’s pleading with Kurt to plan to come to Friday night dinner. He says that these dinners are “sacred” and that means that there is something about them that transcends a couple of people sitting around a table eating. It’s a shared experience that speaks of a greater meaning to, in this case, the purpose of family, those bonds that are unique to no other relationship. Kurt doesn’t get it of course because he’s a teenager and teenagers don’t understand very much of anything to any kind of sophisticated level (adults only a little more so so any teens reading this, don’t take it as too much of a slight).
Kurt seems to get it at the end which then begs the follow up question, what is the greater meaning and how do we understand something transcendent without some notion of a divine being? That’s something way bigger than there is space for here so we’ll cop-out and move on to the last part.
Sue has continually proven to be the Glee club nemesisFor the most part, Sue is consistently the villain of the show and every good villain needs a bit of sympathy now and again. This story line was an excellent display of an irrational argument against God’s existence because he didn’t conform to what she wanted. So, like Kurt, God is blamed as doing something bad to us or not doing something good for us when, if God is good, he should dispense spiritual candy so we feel better and life works out.
It’s what is called a “staw-man” argument where the person who wants to be right, sets up his/her opponent so that victory is assured. Sue thinks that she knows the heaven/hell, spiritual condemnation and judgment, idea of Christianity and when she lays out her argument, she seems right. Why would God condemn people to hell because they don’t believe, even if they’re “good” people. Again, there are so many points to this statement that need further clarification that there just isn’t room here.
What was great about Sue in this episode, is that even though she rails against religious songs beign sung in Glee club, she desperately wants to believe. Whenever they need a good tear-jerker they pull out a touching scene with Sue and her sister and it works.
One other thing that was annoying about this part, Sue’s argument against the spiritual songs hinges on her citing the “separation of church and state” clause in the constitution. I’ve heard this trotted out in “real-life” as well and it’s almost always used poorly. The separation of church and state is meant to keep government from dictating church policy and theology dictating political policy. It’s problematic in that all people make choices based on a particular world-view making it impossible to dichotomize personality into two spheres of life. In the episode, Sue says “this is not a monarchy” where she should have said a “theocracy” where religious rulers are also political rulers. A monarchy has nothing to do with it and can work perfectly fine (see Britain, that country that’s been around for, ooooh, a lot longer than America).
A democracy should provide the most open place for religious discussion and the education system even more so since it is concerned with personal formation through learning. The bigger the question, the more meaningful the learning, therefore, religious questions that explore the ‘whys’ of life should be the first topic in any classroom. But we all seem to be scared of that kind of thing so we make religious discussion a private thing in a public institution. Maybe one of the reasons school has become, for the most part, irrelevant is because it adds very little meaning to people’s lives.
And that brings me to the end of this unusually long Glee post. Other than Sue and a brief few lines by Kurt’s dad, the adults have very little to offer to this episode. Schuester seems to have been relegated to the background where he could have offered wisdom on the subject. I realize most teachers are cowards when it comes to this kind of discussion but that should spur the writers on to make Will an example of something better. The true “religious” aspect the show is the coming together of Kurt’s community to support him in a time of need. Petty banter about existence, teapots floating in space (thank you Bertram Russell and your own ridiculous straw-man argument, tirelessly reiterated by buffoons like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris), and miraculous sandwiches, the most meaningful and “sacred” moments come out of a desire to connect with fellow human beings. That’s what should have been emphasized a bit more but in the end, it is only network tv, and well, it kinda sucks…