What’s Wrong With This Picture? TV’s Narrow Portrayal of Religion


Who is your favorite Christian character on television?

That’s a tough one given the limited options, like the kind of choices you’d get in a socialist cafeteria. For years, the best we had going for us was The Simpsons’ Ned Flanders. And that’s not saying much … except that Christians can have neatly trimmed mustaches.

Generally speaking, the rules of thumb for representing Christians in medialand go something like this:

  1. Make them wild-eyed religious nut-jobs with bad hair on some kind of bizarre mission.
  2. If making them wild-eyed doesn’t jive with the plot, still give them bad hair.
  3. They must always be out of touch with reality.

To be fair, bad hair can be endlessly entertaining. Consider Don King, a person whose troll-toy locks never lack for conversation starters.

Unfortunately, there seems to be an unspoken 4th rule in which folks of a religious ilk, particularly Christians, shouldn’t really be represented at all. And according to Time Magazine’s culture critic, James Poniewozik, we’re the worse for it.

“Diversity of lifestyles is important in the same way that racial and ethnic diversity is – not just because it’s fair or nice, but because it’s interesting,” he wrote.

And in an interview with NPR, he explained: “I think that one thing that we still don’t see enough of in television is sitcoms and dramas and ongoing characters that deal with religions just as a daily part of life, as it is in the real world. A character’s faith or even lack of faith is a significant part of who they are.”

Poniewozik makes a compelling point, not simply for the pop cultural experience of TV, but for our culture as a whole. A proper representation of religion in society is truly important; without it, we’re starved of the crucial diversity it provides.

And frankly, it’s just more interesting.

Have you seen any TV shows that portray people of faith well? Add a comment.

Author: Alliance Defending Freedom

Originally published at blog.alliancedefendingfreedom.org on August 28, 2014.


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    Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building legal ministry that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

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