I’m sometimes hooked by the CBS procedural Criminal Minds, but last Wednesday’s episode, “Angels,” gave a fine image of how Hollywood writers view Christianity. (Here there be spoilers). The FBI’s profilers are called to a Texas town where prostitutes are being murdered. One of the suspects is a hostile reverend whom all the residents call “Preacher,” who runs a ministry for victimized women. With the hucksterism of a televangelist, he assures the victims’ survivors that they “must have faith” and not question anything.
The Preacher is revealed to be running the prostitution ring (of course!) He turns out not to be the killer, but in the episode’s final seconds, fearing arrest, he grabs a machine gun and shoots two of the show’s beloved agents.
Much as I love a twisty investigation, Criminal Minds has displayed a noticeable antichristian trend. Other examples include a sociopathic Bible-quoting prophet who tyrannizes the community within his compound, reminiscent of the Branch Davidian complex at Waco; an arsonist who sets fires in threes as a symbol of the Holy Trinity; and a man traumatized from his upbringing by a backwoods evangelical father.
Do Hollywood’s writers truly believe these characters are normal people of faith? Or is this just the picture they want the public to have of Christianity? Or, I fear, are these the “religious” people the writers have met?
Anyone who has listened to her grandmother speak of Jesus like a neighbor, or seen Pope Francis spend his birthday with homeless men, or heard Billy Graham preach about God’s love—anyone who has experienced these things knows that a life walking beside God is marked with joy, kindness, and gentleness (Galatians 6:22). Notice that perfection is not on the list. But certainly, the relentless ugliness you find in these cardboard boogeymen cannot coexist with a Spirit-filled life. As James writes, salt and fresh water cannot proceed from the same spring (3:12).
A world alien to God, though, will stick with its Westboro mindset of snake-oil preachers and street-corner fanatics. This is what the world wants to believe about believers. Its disciples in art and media “speak as of the world, and the world hears them.” (1 John 4:5). A lost world never finds rest, for “the world is passing away, and the lust of it” (2:17). The only respite from this frustration is to curse and spit at the light. Hence, the machine-gun preacher.
What the world fears, though, is us: people with normal flaws who try to follow Jesus. The world is terrified of meeting Joe Christian, who loves his wife instead of beating her, who coaches his daughter’s soccer league instead of soliciting minors on the Internet, who runs a church brownie sale, who wept for two weeks when his father died just after a big argument, who handed back the twenty dollars a cashier wrongly gave him. The world is scared because Joe Christian doesn’t fit into its tired formula of hatred and delusion.
So go and make the world afraid by being your everyday, won’t-ever-have-it-together, Jesus-covered self. And while you’re doing that, I may find something else to watch on Wednesday nights.
Anthony Otten has published stories in Jabberwock Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, Wind, Still: The Journal, and others. He has been a finalist for the Hargrove Editors' Prize in Fiction. He lives in Kentucky.
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