Hollywood’s Four-Letter Word: God

Atheist activist Sam Harris recently proclaimed on National Public Radio that America needed a lot more mockery of religious belief. "I think the criticism of irrationality just has to come from 100 sides all at once," he declared. "In the entertainment community, maybe you’ll just have people making jokes that are funny enough and true enough so as to put religious certainty in a bad light."

Harris said he’s been trying hard to make contacts among the mind-benders in the news and entertainment media to find those God-scorning people who feel "a profound sense of relief that comes with hearing somebody call a spade a spade."

Why does taxpayer-funded NPR, or anyone else for that matter, care what atheists like Sam Harris think? They are squarely in opposition to public opinion. According to a recent Zogby/American Bible Society poll, 84 percent of adults are not offended when they hear references to God or the Bible on network television shows, and 51 percent say entertainment networks should develop shows with positive messages — and even specifically refer to God and the Bible.

So who is paying attention to Sam Harris? The entertainment television industry.

After Mel Gibson’s "The Passion" box office tsunami two years ago, the conventional wisdom had it that Hollywood finally had accepted the marketability of faith-based programming. Not so. The Parents Television Council has completed its seventh study of the treatment of religion on primetime network television, evaluating TV shows during the 2005-2006 season, and the numbers are stunning.

From a quantitative standpoint, the total number of treatments of religion has been reduced by 50 percent in the past year alone. And when religion is part of the storyline, more often than not it is not a positive thing: Television today regularly mocks the clergy, religious laity, church doctrines and religious institutions.

Religious people are often portrayed as frauds or the world’s biggest sinners. NBC’s "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" featured a nun who kicked a black man in the face after calling him the N-word. ABC’s "Boston Legal" had the man who had sex with a cow protesting he was a church deacon.

Or take an episode of ABC’s "Desperate Housewives," where Gabi, one of the titled housewives, had sex with a teenage boy, who told her: "Me and my friend Justin had this bet to see who could lose their virginity first this summer at Bible camp. Guess I beat him to the punch." Why Bible camp? Why not?

Then there was this disgusting plotline in a different episode. This same dreadful woman, Gabi, lied during confession, telling a priest that a certain nun was having an affair with her husband. After gloating at her success getting the nun transferred to Alaska, she slapped the nun, then pushed her into a rack of candles, setting her on fire. And you thought parish life was dull.

Fox is now the Hollywood champion of God-mocking, the Atheist’s Favorite. The Sunday night cartoon block is a strong contributor, ridiculing God on what even the Fox folks must know — like, Sunday? — is His day. "The Family Guy" routinely mocks the sacred. One episode featured the teenaged son, who upon discovering God looks like Angelina Jolie, asks to "see your boobs." "God" agrees, but warns him about the impressive "Rack of Infinite Wisdom."

In another episode, Jesus Christ is depicted as a teenager arguing with St. Joseph: "Up yours, Joseph! You’re not my real dad!" Jesus phones Heaven, where God the Father answers while lying in bed with a woman. God hangs up on Jesus and leers at the woman, who holds up a condom. God responds: "Oh, come on, baby. It’s my birthday." In yet another episode, God is shown passing gas and lighting the gas on fire. The show’s father character explains that this is how God created the universe.

When you look at these and so many other revolting examples, it becomes clear that a tiny atheist minority controls the creative cards in Hollywood. You think I exaggerate? Consider this study finding: Roughly six out of 10 of the portrayals of religion on reality-based — which is to say, unscripted — TV shows were positive. That still doesn’t reflect public opinion, but it’s close. Unscripted shows were responsible for only 4.5 percent of the negative portrayals this study team found. The other 95.5 percent came from Hollywood’s professionals, who are at their most comfortable attacking that which you and I and most Americans hold sacred.

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