On the Church and Society
January 8, 2006
The formula for NBC's new television series "The Book of Daniel" looks pretty straightforward. Take all of the unsavory, immoral aspects of a nighttime soap opera, and place them in a church setting.
And after seeing the first two episodes on Friday night, January 6, it is clear that the show's creators leave little out. The lead character, Rev. Daniel Webster, pops pills to get through the day. His martini-swilling wife probably could drink James Bond under the table. Of their three children, the daughter sells pot, one son is gay, and the other son apparently jumps into the backseat with any girl that comes along.
Ah, but it does not stop there. The brother-in-law, Charlie, and sister-in-law invited Charlie's secretary into their bedroom to spice up sex, but Charlie winds up dead, more than $3 million in church funds are gone, and the sister-in-law falls for the shady secretary. For good measure, Daniel's father is a bishop, who, because his wife has Alzheimer's Disease, finds comfort in the arms of another bishop, who happens to be a woman.
Toss in a Roman Catholic priest with mob ties, and you have what NBC considers a potential hit.
The Associated Press quoted Aidan Quinn, who portrays Rev. Webster, actually declaring: "I think it's a pretty down-the-middle, wholesome show." That makes one wonder what Mr. Quinn might consider less than wholesome.
But the program's producers made a disturbingly accurate choice in making Webster an Episcopalian priest. While many devout, traditional Christians continue to labor amongst the pews in Episcopal parishes, they have been under assault by denominational leaders who do not take Holy Scripture seriously, and instead drift along on moral and religious relativism.
NBC's "The Book of Daniel" captures aspects of these relativistic Episcopals to the point that one could mistake the show for a docu-drama, expecting text to pop onto the screen declaring, "Based on a true story."
Rev. Webster, for example, has no problem with sex outside of traditional marriage whether that be of the heterosexual or homosexual variety. Of course, the Episcopal Church has a divorced father who lives with his male partner serving as a bishop. One scene in "The Book of Daniel" reveals no qualms or hesitations over pulling the plug on life support for a conscious, elderly woman. Again, the Episcopal Church has hardly been a clear voice for life.
But worst of all, viewers must suffer through regular appearances by a rather liberal Episcopalian version of Jesus Christ. The Associated Press story correctly referred to NBC's Jesus as a "Savior-as-therapist." He is a southern California kind of Jesus offering glib, amusing, obviously non-judgmental, often vacuous remarks to Daniel.
There are few traces of the true Christ, who not only forgives repentant sinners, but challenges them as well. For example, Jesus warned: "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person." (Matthew 15:19-20) It is easier for some in Hollywood, along with many non-traditional Episcopalians, to recreate Jesus to their own liking, rather than dealing with the actual Christ.
One assumes that the makers of this television series in part chose the name Daniel due to the Old Testament Daniel having and interpreting dreams and visions. But again, the show ignores the full Daniel. For example, Daniel advises King Nebuchadnezzar to "break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed." (Daniel 4:27) Or later, when Daniel seeks God's mercy, and confesses that "we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your own commandments and rules." (Daniel 9:5)
It is simply too much to hope that a network television show about a priest facing problems would deal with the faith and Holy Scripture forthrightly. Instead, what Christian viewers get subjected to is a cheapening of and disrespect for their faith and Savior. But maybe Hollywood is not completely to blame. After all, that is exactly what certain liberal Christians, including Episcopal leaders, have done to their church and to Jesus Christ.
Raymond J. Keating, also a columnist with Newsday, can be reached at ChurchandSociety@aol.com.
Copyright © Raymond J. Keating
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