Saturday, January 07, 2006

Caught in the lion's den

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I suppose most Episcopal priest bloggers will be expected to post comments on the Book of Daniel, so here goes my two cents.

In the past few years, there has been a lot of talk about how the public has a renewed interested in entertainment which thoughtfully engages religious issues. After watching Jack Kenny's Book of Daniel, you have to question the intelligence of those who think this is the way to cash in on the Passion of the Christ and Narnia crowd. After all, how much sin can you squeeze into one little episode? In the early minutes of the program, the Bishop (played by Ellen Burstyn) asking Father Daniel (played by Aidan Quinn) about his sermon's advice on indulging in temptation, says something along the lines of: "With a church that's in crisis, is it wise to be doing this?" I think that captures my review.

Going in, I was already aware of some of the negative things to expect (the drug abuse and the sexual immorality in the family), but there were a few things that did take me by surprise:

1. The prayer life of Daniel (i.e., the Jesus segments) was definitely the best part of the show, and oddly, the most normal. In a crazy life, trying to cope with all its problems, Jesus brought some normalcy and even accountability into the picture. I suppose that's the point the show is trying to make.

2. The two bishops cheating with each other (one fornicating, the other committing adultery) did shock me. I was surprised that got to me after all the nonsense that came before it. I had expected more, even from fictional liberal bishops about whom Jesus says at one point in the episode, "He no longer listens to me."

3. I was shocked by the engaged couple who were fornicating and playing house. Not so much that they were, but that Father Daniel assumes so and condones it. Normally, that would stop marital preparation in its tracks. I guess it did in this case too, since Father Daniel unwittingly convinces them to not get married and just continue as they are instead.

4. Father Daniel gets his local Italian Catholic priest buddy to pull some strings with the mob. What's up with that? Talk about unrealistic and irrational ethnic stereotypes.

5. What I found most surprising was the lack of commercial advertisements throughout the program. I guess the public outcry has been more pronounced than I realized, which is a good sign for Episcopalians (but a bad sign for Jack Kenny, the show's creator). There were several commercial breaks which had NO COMMERCIALS, just NBC promos and even some dead air in places.

I have read quotes from some Episcopal clergy saying this represents a great opportunity for evangelism. I would contend that it is a missed opportunity at best. After all, I don't remember Dan Akroyd's sitcom "Soul Man" about an Episcopal priest, nor M. Night Shamalan's movie Signs which had an Episcopal priest in the lead, flooding our parishes with interested visitors. No others programs which put churches in a more positive light ("Seventh Heaven," "Touched by an Angel," "Highway to Heaven," "Father Dowling Mysteries," "Father Ted," or the "Vicar of Dibley") seem to have done so either.

I suspect it is the old Episcopal idea of evangelism--if our pretty parish building is on TV or in the papers, the awed public will just come flooding in the front door. I don't think so.


benjamin said...


Is it an icon or an idol? Definitely an idol!


Texanglican (R.W. Foster+) said...

Good review, Father. I watched a portion of the program and I agree that the prayer life of Daniel when he was actually speaking with Christ was the best part of a poor show. This is mildly curious, since some of the tabloid TV programs were hyping the scenes with Christ as the most "scandalous." Adultery, cohabitation, drug abuse, dishonesty, etc, are so taken for granted in Hollywood, I suppose, that the producers of those tabloid shows couldn't imagine people finding them "scandalous," even if a minister condoned them on the air. (After all, condoning such behavior is simply being "tolerant of difference" (just like Jesus),isn't it?)

Still, one has to wonder how much Daniel's life and views differ from those of many of the ECUSA priests in the non-Network metropolitan dioceses of the country. In the end, this TV show might be more realistic than many people in Fort Worth realize (I certainly saw some of these sorts of things in the lives and teaching of Chicago priests while I lived there!).

Fr Timothy Matkin said...

If anyone stopping by taped the show and can give me an exact quote of that line from the Bishop to Fr Daniel about the sermon, I would be interested to see.

Anonymous said...

I taped it---where in the show are you asking about and which sermon?