“Can I be spiritual and still watch television?”
Yes I said it. In between my busy schedule working as a hospital chaplain and preparing for ministry, I still find time to watch television. It’s part guilty pleasure, part escapism, and part relaxation. But I also think that consumption of popular media, whether it’s movies, tv, or something else new, can be done in a thoughtful, critical, and even spiritual way.
I like to watch television that supports my values, and also engages me in stories and characters in a thought-provoking way. I like tv that is feminist, anti-racist, and confronts current issues in new ways. I want tv that not only represents me, but also challenges me. And my personal theology frequently takes inspiration from what I read, as well as what I watch.
For the past few years, I have tried to watch shows which meet The Bechdel Test. This is a simple test which names the following three criteria: (1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man. Try it on tv shows and movies! It’s surprising and alarming how many shows simply do not pass. We are used to watching two male characters interact and talk about anything, but it is difficult to find the opposite.
Fortunately, there are some great shows out there that showcase female characters with interesting professional and personal lives, who are the stars of their own shows. Here’s what I’m watching currently:
- The Good Wife
- Parks and Recreation
- The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (technically a video blog)
Another thing that I appreciate about the above shows, is that they frequently depict characters confronting ethical dilemmas, and being forced to make difficult choices. My favorite show, The Good Wife portrays the main character Alicia, balancing her identities as a mother, wife, and lawyer. A recent episode showed her declaring in the middle of her husband’s political campaign that she is an atheist!
So what about you? Do you find spiritual themes in historical dramas like Downton Abbey? Do you ask yourself what it means to be human in a world of zombies, vampires, or robots? Maybe you like to guess which favorite tv character would be most likely to be a Unitarian Universalist.
Post your thoughts on theology and your favorite shows in the comments!