- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Entry-level religion

"Television and film producers are the modern-day storytellers who have to stay in touch with what viewers believe is important, including religion. They don't always get it right, but the fact that they have noticed that viewers can not only take religious subject matter, but actually enjoy it has energized some religious leaders in this country, at least those willing to recognize that popular culture matters," says [author Teresa] Blythe. Christian study Bibles and Sunday school curricula have already been developed based on such 1960s and 1970s television series such as 'The Andy Griffith Show,' 'The Beverly Hillbillies' and 'The Brady Bunch.'

"Robert Thompson, professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University, himself a former Sunday school teacher at his Presbyterian church, sees nothing wrong with this trend, calling it "entry-level religion" that serves a good purpose. There are countless more examples a respected rabbi in Orlando teaches a well-attended course on 'Star Trek and Judaism.'

"I am of two minds on the intermingling of faith and entertainment. On one hand, resorting to such lowest-common-denominator vehicles has the aroma of desperation on the part of organized religion. It is further evidence if any more is needed of the evaporating attention span of most Americans, and the general dumbing down of serious discourse. Yet, undeniably, popular culture appears successful as a reference point in drawing in, on its level, many of the 'unchurched,' which accounts for my preparing this guide and for your reading it."

Mark Pinsky in the recently released "The Gospel According to The Simpsons" Bible study guide

Red vs. Blue

"During the tense weeks that followed Election Night 2000, many Americans became familiar with the color-coded map dividing their country into patches of red and blue. Few commentators have investigated the underlying philosophical difference between Blue and Red America. They might start by examining the debate over gun control.

"How well does the government take care of Blue America? According to the FBI, Gore-leaning states reported one crime for every 27 residents in 2000. The situation is on the mend, but there are still plenty of holes in the Left's security blanket. Blue America's overconfidence exemplifies the elitism and insularity that characterize its culture in general. Blue America forgets that not everyone lives in cities with beat cops or in suburbs with ample law-enforcement budgets.

"From my east Tennessee home, the nearest police station is a good 20-minute drive away. Add the time it takes to process a 9-11 call and locate the offender and it becomes evident that if my family did not own guns, criminals could wreak havoc with impunity. Apparently my situation is not unique. In Red America, those 1-in-27 odds rise to 1 in 22. Out here, the arm of the law just isn't long enough [which is] why Red America values the Second Amendment so highly."

Ned Andrews in "Why Guns Matter" in the September issue of American Enterprise

Wedding frenzy

"If it's summer, it must be time for another movie about weddings. This year, we have 'Monsoon Wedding' and 'Late Marriage' and 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding.' What makes this subject so dearly beloved by filmmakers and audiences alike?

"Whereas in earlier periods, weddings were almost always a celebration open to the community, they became increasingly private in the 19th century. Today, of course, we wouldn't dream of having a wedding that anyone could just walk into. But they still are clearly a moment in which people invest a lot of hope and a great deal of expectation.

"Weddings are one of the few public rituals we have left today that most people are widely familiar with. Ritual situations are great for comedies because there are all kinds of mistakes you can make fun of. I think that's what's going on in these films, where the wedding itself, rather than the coupling, seems to be the focus."

English professor David Shumway in "The Perfect Match" in the Aug. 9 issue of Chronicle of Higher Education

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