OSV Blog: Glee Lost Their Religion

Mary DeTurris Poust over at the OSV blog highly disagrees with my post on Glee yesterday:

I mean, do we really believe that the writers of Glee had one of the main characters, Finn, eating his “Cheesus” sandwich — a grilled cheese sandwich with the alleged face of Jesus on it — while the choir sang “What If God Was One of Us?” in the background as a witness to eucharistic theology? Even some theologians would have missed that one. No, I think it was the writers showing us that Finn had given up on religion (He did, after all, sing the REM song “Losing My Religion.) Having Finn eat what he had once thought was sacred but now thought was bunk was the writers’ way of showing us that they think God is disposable, just an illusion. It was not some high-minded Catholic evangelization, in my opinion. It was the typical Hollywood dismissal of all that we hold to be holy and sacred.

What I respectfully think Mary is missing here is the context. Finn was, in fact, praying to a sandwich during the show. Clearly they are poking fun at the yokels who claim to see Jesus or Mary in potatoes, sandwiches, etc. But the Eucharistic moment is a moment of transformation–where Finn begins to see that God is more than wish fulfillment Genie in a bottle. Finn doesn’t just doubt that the sandwich was God, Finn realizes that God is far deeper than the stupid, simplistic, gambit that he substituted for God.

“If you let me touch Rachel’s boobs, I’ll believe in you.”

The sad part is that we all see ourselves in that, don’t we? We’ve all done Finn’s gambit.

“Oh Lord, let him live and I’ll go to church every day.”
“Oh Lord, let me pass the test and I’ll become so holy.”
“Jesus if you get me out of this, I’ll be a priest.”

Any takers on praying to the Almighty Santa Claus?

God is far from that simplistic notion of faith. And in the moment that Finn realizes that God is far beyond a coincidental burn mark on a piece of bread, he unites with all of us who fall for the same cheap switcheroo.

And that friends is the broken body of Christ of which we share. We all sin, arrogantly sometimes. We all accept cheap substitutes for God. We all think we can control God and get God to do what we want. Even the students who pray for Kurt’s dad to awaken from his coma are hoping for the God of magic tricks. What happens if Kurt’s dad doesn’t wake up? What happens to our faith when things don’t exactly work out?

The truth that Glee exposed was that things don’t always work out. But that God doesn’t abandon us either. God is present somewhere, suffering with each one who thinks that they are a loser, that all is ruined forever. Losing a parent, a starting role on the team, the respect of peers, or one’s own dignity through the hurtful actions of others doesn’t mean that God has decided to become unconcerned about us.

But we all doubt that this is true from time to time. God couldn’t possibly be One of Us. Joan Osborne’s question and REM’s plea to being Losing My Religion is really a call to find a faith that you can believe in. One that goes beyond child-like hocus-pocus and instead understand true transformation.

We all need to be changed.

Like Finn.

By the way, a comment about one other matter: With regards to The Billy Joel song, “Only the Good Die Young,” which Mary also complains about as an example of Catholic stereotype, I would say one thing:

We should be more outraged if he said that “Catholic girls start much too early.”

We must be doing something right if he’s singing about us.

Any thoughts from other Gleeks? And read Mary’s article and Deacon Greg’s too.

And of course, whatever side you take…

Don’t ever stop believin’

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17 Comments

  1. Here’s what I got from this episode: that the writers can acknowledge that religious belief can be complicated for young people (and not just young people). Getting past the absurdity of Bill Donahue’s comments, the episode gave a decent presentation of the reality that some people have a hard time believing in God when those who profess to speak for God can act so cruelly sometimes, and that people really do have varied understandings of God and our relationship to him–this is the reality of our lives now.

    Adolescence, the show reminds, is an experience of being forced to move beyond childish things and moving towards a more mature responsibility. But in between is a time of uncertainty, and for many young people, that includes an uncertainty of faith and religious practice.

    The show was recently given an award by a Catholic media group. One of the producers came to accept the award, and honestly and respectfully shared his own complicated relationship with religious belief. This show seemed like a natural response to that.

    And anyway, the show is a 45 minute musical comedy series. It’s probably not best to delve to seriously into the shows shortcomings on big issues.

  2. On the continuum of the OSV blog to the GG blog, I come out on your side, Mike. I think there is much to reflect on theologically in many aspects of pop culture – including Glee. Here was my take on the episode http://www.datinggod.org/2010/10/06/glee-god-and-the-question-of-theodicy/

  3. Rev. Peter M. Calabrese, CRSP October 7, 2010 at 10:51 am

    Episode did still propagate negative sterotypes of Chritianity and Cahtolicism. If you are going to let the kid get in his cut about anti-gay, women and science then you have to allow a rebuttal. They did a noice job showing a compassionate Christian and even got him in Church but how ab0ut a better song than Bridge over troubled water. A good spiritual or Gospel song owuld havebeen better.

    Likewise if you are going to dig up Bily Joel how about also including Kansas and Dust in the WInd. Not the gospel but a little better than, “You Catholic girls start much too late.” No chance for a Mercy Me cameo? Sure they tried and we can be kind and try to recognize that but in the end it was mostly Christian bashing.

  4. Sorry, Mike, I’m with Mary on this one. I don’t watch TV regularly and this is the first episode of Glee I’ve seen from beginning to end, but it strikes me as standard Hollywood fair on religion. It struck me as the type of program written about religion by people who have no idea of how meaningful faith is to people of faith. For instance, even the songs sung as “prayers” weren’t prayers. “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” is a song sung to Yentl’s father, not God. “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” has nothing to do with God. That these songs are transformed into modern day prayers and hymns speaks more, I think, to the lack of faith in our culture, or the transformation of faith in God to faith in us. Faith is reduced to the purely horizontal beam of the cross. Recall Kurt’s words to his father toward the end: “I don’t believe in God. But I believe in you, and I believe in us.” This is what Hollywood offers to young people as a “cheap substitute” for faith in God: faith in us.

    I recall attending a program on faith set up by the Catholic ministry of a Catholic college in Memphis. The prayers were just the same – not one of them addressed God. They were all about us, how wonderful we are, and all the great things we can do if we just believe in — us!

    Then, yes, you have all the standard stereotypes.Christians hate gays. Christians hate women. Christians hate science. The theists in the episode were incapable of speaking meaningfully about their faith, while the atheists had all the “good lines” which struck the believers dumb. Finn’s praying to the sandwich struck me more as idolatry than trying to connect with God. He admits himself that he thought the power was in the sandwich. His eating of the sandwich is Eucharistic? Okay, … looking … looking … Nah, don’t see it. To me, it was an obvious rejection of, yes, the cheap substitute for God he had created for himself, but also of God. Was he, after all, inspired to dig deeper into spiritual truths after he realized the sandwich had no power? No. Did his rejection of the cheap substitute lead to an embrace of the real thing? No. The scene ended with his dismissingly throwing down the napkin on the empty plate. In other words, he tossed the God thing aside, as if to say, “Well, that didn’t meet my needs, so I’m letting go of that.” He identified the cheap substitute with the real thing and rejected both.

    I, too, wish Hollywood would speak to issues of faith and religion more often and more meaningfully. Perhaps, in that desire, anything they have to offer, any bone they seem to throw our way, is cause for getting giddy and excited. I understand the temptation, and the really wanting to see what isn’t there. But, it isn’t there, Mike. It isn’t there.

  5. @Jason,
    That’s exactly the way I looked at it too. I’m going to assume that many young people felt that resonance as well.

  6. This is on the OSV website? A defense of this episode and this show. ‘But it will resonate with the young’ you say?

    Well, if we back down a bit on that pesky abortion position, that will resonate with left-leaning Christians and maybe bring some people back to the Church. This thinking allows division and heresy to creep into the Church. It’s interesting that the ‘GodGoogler’ ignored everyone’s comments critical of his flawed attempt at apologetics.

    I am truly concerned about seeing the number of ordained Catholics who are defending ‘Cheesus’. The lame excuse that popular practice and culture is an ‘in’ to bringing people into the church is indefensible. If your logic held water, Christ wouldn’t have whipped the merchants and moneychangers out of the temple.

    I fear in it’s rush to embrace everyone and everything, we have left the Catechism behind. I am also concerned at the obvious failings of our ordained leaders to live up to their responsibilities by promoting flawed and heretical teachings. Liberation theology, pro-choice Catholic groups, socialism, ‘Social Justice’….the list can go on.

    Stop looking for Christ in a sandwich. Open the Catechism, read it, live it. That’s all you have to do. And – unlike Glee and it’s ilk – no commercials.

  7. @John
    Wow, you sue come out swinging don’t you? Easy to do that from behind a keyboard to a stranger.

    First of all, this isn’t the OSV website. Second of all, I’m not ordained (yet). My wife would have something to say about that presumably.

    And third of all, I suppose Jesus sat around the temple all day and never went out into the town to preach to the common fishermen? You’re logic is just as faulty.

    Social Justice is not a heresy. Neither is Liberation Theology. Maybe you need to re-read rerum novarum?

    Nobody is looking for Jesus in a sandwich. YOU DON’T GET IT. Finn finally understood that Jesus wasn’t the sandwich. At that point he deepens the experience of God and the moment is symbolized with a Eucharistic-like act. Not the Eucharist itself, of course. But the idea that God is “beyond us” and yet “one of us” puts us into mysticism.

    Or you can just say that Hollywood hates us. I’m sure nobody in the production meeting thought they’d offend people with any number of scenes. And Im sure nobody spoke up saying that there are good aspect to religious life. Glee is not catechesis to be sure–so stop acting like it should be. Just a note–more young people in your parish probably saw this and resonated positively with it–and had an experience of God–than did at mass on Sunday. What does that tell you?

  8. Mike,

    When, in your response to John, you say that Finn “deepens the experience of God and the moment is symbolized with a Eucharistic-like act” — exactly where do you see this? Glee is mysticism. Wow. You can rock me to sleep tonight!

    “I’m sure nobody in the production meeting thought they’d offend people with any number of scenes.” Neither do I. Frankly, I think they’re mostly clueless when it comes to faith matters, and their understanding of God is more influenced by George Allen and Jim Carey movies than the Old and New Testaments. Again, the transformation of religion from faith in God to faith in us.

    Personally, I think you’re the one who is acting like Glee is catechesis. I’ve no doubt, too, that many Catholic catechists, desiring to be “relevant” to their young charges, will employ this episode in their classes, probably much to their confusion of the students.

    You really think young people in your parish had an experience of God watching this episode of Glee? Do people really have experiences of God watching TV shows? Wow. And you think that experience of God resonated with them more than receiving the Body and Blood of Christ at Sunday Mass? Again: WOW! If that’s true, it tells me that their parents are pretty piss poor Catholics. Yes, their parents. Not their pastor. Not their parish religious education program. Not the local Catholic school. Not the pope. Not the Church. Their parents. It also tells me that these young people had no chance of seeing the Eucharistic symbolism in Finn eating the grilled cheese sandwich that you saw, because they obviously have no concept of the Eucharist.

    I have three daughters, two of whom are teenagers. Let me assure you that they have an excellant understanding of the Eucharist. They love the Mass. And, though they’ve not seen much of Glee, including this episode, I seriously doubt that they would see what you so desperately want to see here.

    Just my thoughts.

  9. I think the most poignant and beautiful reference to faith & evangelization in this episode was how Mercedes responded to the situation. She knows how Kurt denies the existence of God and that he feels rejected by Christians because of his sexual orientation. Her reaction is not to condemn or force her faith upon him, but a simple invitation. She asked her church family to pray for Kurt & his dad and at the service, they welcomed with open arms.

    Unorthodox, yes. It’s still a great example of effective evangelization and sharing God’s love.

  10. @BobHunt

    You’re confusing things.

    I’ll try to go point by point here:

    When Finn goes to the guidance counselor she points out to him that an experience of God is more than simply asking for stuff. As Catholics, we don’t come to church to GET communion. We come to church to BE in communion with Christ and with others. Now that wasn’t explicitly the point that Finn took away, but he certainly came away with the notion that his sandwich theology was a bit too simplistic. The second point was raised here before about this. Why not just chuck the sandwich at that point? They used it to show symbolically a larger point. That point is in our Eucharistic theology–that God goes beyond the surface of things and Finn’s realization of that gives a nod to that–and a tangible one at that!

    2) I was being sarcastic about the production meeting. I’ve been in production meetings like that when I worked in the media. Believe me, these are smart people and everything gets discussed. Who’s gonna protest the show if we do X? What do we really want to say? I think their point was that while there are a lot of bad things about religion, there’s a lot of good things too. We really saw that in the scene in the church.

    3) Catechesis requires explanation by an expert. Catechists don’t (or shouldn’t) just show a TV show and hope their students “get it”. It requires much more than simply letting TV be a baby sitter. Parents for that matter should talk with their children about what they watch and should watch things with them. I’ve done this with my niece and you’d be surprised about how insightful this can be. Tom Beaudoin used to talk about his students watching the Simpons was akin to “church.” for many of them.

    4) Actually I said more people in John’s parish–not mine–but that was presumptive and unfair on my part and I should apologize–since I am King of Fairness and all.

    But I will say that I wasn’t saying that Glee has more transformative power than the Eucharist. I was implying that many young people don’t even come. So they don’t have the opportunity to be changed by the Eucharist. But something in Glee might prompt them to examine their own practice of spirituality. And yes, that indeed may be a reflection on their parents religious practice. I think the young people I know who attend mass understand that the Eucharist is important. They understand that we are the body of Christ–that we become what we receive. We make a strong point of saying that intentionally in my parish every week.

    I’m glad your daughters understand the Eucharist Bob and you should be commended for that. But you are the minority. Religious longings are everywhere and I think to limit the holy spirit’s power to be seen only in the four walls of the church building and to say that there’s no way anyone could see what Deacon Greg and I and others have seen is a sad view of what we think God can accomplish through art,media and one another.

  11. Via Facebook:

    Rey Gustamente Really??? I’ve experienced my fair share of Catholic bashing and I didn’t see it that way at all. I read the two blogs and I think that Glee, its writers, were just stating the obvious short comings of faith in general. Are we, as Catholics, anti-gay, anti-women, or hocus-pocus, Not on paper, but the lived experience tells me otherwise. As I heard it at the Rock Church in St. Louis, if you can’t say Amen, say Ouch!

  12. D. Scott Miller October 8, 2010 at 7:52 am

    Mike, as I said this morning on my blog (http://www.dscottmiller.com/2010/10/08/relevant-faith/), I think that Finn consumed his Grilled Cheesus more out of temporal desire rather than a sense of spiritual hunger.
    But, I do agree with an earlier comment regarding Mercedes invitation to Kurt to attend Church with her. It was the most Christian moment of the show.
    Meanwhile, the kids sang about faith… but from a playlist that included not their music… but that of their parents. And that is something that we, as Church, need to consider.

  13. Mike,

    Thanks for the respectful reply.

    At Mass, we certainly do come to be in communion with Christ and others. But, how is the made possible? By receiving our Lord, both in Word and Sacrament. As you say, we are challenged to become what we receive. Then, we’re commissioned to take what we have received and “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” So, we do come to get communion, as in receive the Body and Blood of Christ, as well as to be communion with each other and to take communion to the world.

    Your last paragraph reached too far. Not seeing what you, Deacon Greg, and others see in this particular episode of Glee is hardly the same as claiming that the Holy Spirit’s power is limited to the four walls of the church building. Certainly, God can accomplish much through art, media and the Body of Christ. God can even take heartache and hardship and transform it into an instrument of His saving grace. I don’t think anybody on either side of this issue denies that. I just don’t see much in this episode to goad people in that direction, and much, frankly, to move them in the opposite direction. Again, my biggest concern is with the transformation of religion from faith in God to faith in us.

    If, however, a young person, or older person for that matter, is inspired by this episode of Glee to seek the God who is God … well, it certainly would speak to the mighty power of God, wouldn’t it! ;)

    Still not seeing the Eucharist here. When I watched the episode, as I mentioned, I saw exactly the opposite. I saw Finn rejecting the God who is God along with the cheap substitute he had created for himself. After all, by the time he ate the sandwich, he had come to realize that that’s all it was, a sandwich. If there had been something to suggest that Finn had been moved from sandwich to deeper understanding of God, maybe. But, I didn’t see that. As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    Take care.

  14. @Scott: I agree with you about the soundtrack. They should have picked better songs and is more reflective of an older culture. Or perhaps it is “classic”?

  15. You too, with regards to respect Bob. Please keep em coming.

  16. Mike, I haven’t read any of the other comments and I know I’m a few days late, but I have to comment. I’ve been following your blog for a short time and I just love it. I totally agree with your assessments of this episode. This was the first episode of Glee I’ve ever watched and I couldn’t believe how wonderful it was. The teacher fought to let his students express their spirituality. The students were fighting for their religions – even when their friend asked them to stop praying, they couldn’t do that. They evangelized to their friend, lovingly. They didn’t threaten him but they offered him support and encouragement. In the end, look where it led him! Thank you for your blog and especially for these Glee posts!

  17. Rodrigo Rodriguez April 1, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    Great post! I actually just read an interesting article about Glee on Ourstage, definitely worth a read: http://www.ourstage.com/blog/2011/3/28/the-glee-rebellion

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