Ever wonder what Puritans have been up to lately?
Turns out, other than making these groovy Valentine’s Cards that still make me laugh, even a week after the holiday, I discovered that Puritans are alive and well and making judgments about our foolishness. Thanks to my good friend Google, I found a Puritan bulletin board for folks to discuss all things Puritanical. (Which is kind of surprising, given that the internet itself is rife with sin, and wasting time on a chat board seems like pure folly.)
And then I found this, a link to a blog on The Christian Pundit about why good Christian people should not watch “Downton Abbey.” My interest was immediately piqued, since I can’t imagine anything on PBS having scandalous content, though when my kids were young, Barney came pretty close to making me curse God’s name.
But no, turns out, good Christian people aren’t supposed to watch “Downton Abbey” because the show “is full of overt and subtle sins without being offset by the gospel or godliness. Homosexuality, fornication, lying, adultery, murder, jealousy, greed, envy, strife – all are in the Bible. All are in Downton Abbey. But Scripture (and many classic works of literature and film) sets them beside purity, honesty, selflessness, generosity, and the gospel itself. Downton is totally devoid of the gospel, and does little to construct a framework in which to criticize or evaluate immorality.”
This kind of reasoning makes me want to bash my head against a table, because it shows a lack of understanding about the ways art works (and yes, I think some TV shows are artistic), and about the difference between what a work says, and what a work means. Just because something like a TV show—or a poem, a novel, a song, a painting—represents darkness does not mean it is advocating darkness; and sometimes, it is only through the representation of sin, brokenness, and pain that we can truly see “the gospel itself,” not necessarily in the value terms the anti-Downton writer mentions, but in terms of redemption, forgiveness, grace, and mercy. Anyone who has read even one Flannery O’Connor story can attest to that.
If we take the Puritan writer’s standards, though, it seems all we are left with is schmaltz: you know, the kind of stuff sold in Christian bookstores, where any kind of darkness is off set by gospel truth. Although I’ve mostly eschewed reading that stuff, I have dabbled in Amish Romance (for scholarly reasons) and my kids have received their fair share of Bibleman videos and Christian children’s books, and I must say: what a snooze. The creators of these products apparently don’t understand that people are smart enough to get the message that we are all broken and need of redemption, so they have to beat us over the head with their “framework” used “to evaluate immortality.”
When I catalog all the people I know who watch Downton Abbey, I can’t think of anyone who sees the show as a kind of primer for how to practice “decadence and murder.” Something about the series seems to touch a chord with my students, my peers, my parents and their friends; and to connect with people of all different faith traditions (except, I guess, Puritans).
There must be more to the program than titillation and pretty scenes, the latter being the only element of note the blogger can find to recommend. But to write off such a program as beyond redemption seems, to me, short-sighted, akin to my college roommate who wouldn’t let me listen to my U2 or Mozart tape cassettes in our room because they weren’t “Christian.”
Back over on the Puritan discussion board, a number of people suggested we use WWJD as our moral guide for the kind of media we allow in our home. What would Jesus Do? I like to imagine he might be sharing couch space and fellowshipping with his peeps over some good television, then posting potential spoilers on Facebook minutes after the show ended.
Of course, I won’t be watching “Downton Abbey” with Jesus. I’m not a watcher of the show myself, because it comes on past my bedtime. As a Proverbs 31 wife, I have to get up early to sell my purple cloth. But because I love television, I will defend to the death lame-brained critiques of its story-telling power.
Yet apparently, other Christians are starting to chime in. Kirk Cameron, the actor turned bad Christian movie director, also says Christians should avoid Downton Abbey. You can read his post here. Which makes me wonder: Would Jesus watch Growing Pains reruns?