When discussing religion, I think it’s responsible to state my personal stance on such a tricky subject. Then the synthesis of analysis of media for this week can be put in some kind of context.
Religion is weird in my family. Never really touched upon in conversation. My mother is Catholic and was raised in an Irish Catholic home. My father is a Protestant but not a good one. I believe that religion will always be an important part of my mother’s life but due to circumstances and the context of the time she put it on the back burner. Consequently she raised two un-baptized and relatively outspoken atheists. I spent two years studying at a Catholic institution and Religion classes there pissed me off! Hence I labeled myself atheist. However, spirituality fascinates me and in the last year I have looked to redefine my beliefs. Labels are necessary in society, so I am an apatheist.
My stance on religion albeit considered unorthodox by many, is still somewhat millennial. The Pew Forum statistics states that young adults “exhibit lower levels of religious intensity than their elders do today”. The report does go into more details concerning different religious groups and various aspects of religious expression but the statement still rings true overall. As it is stated in Louisa Ellen Stein’s article “‘What you don’t know’: Supernatural fan vids and millennial theology”, young people have faith but no dogma. They are spiritual but not organized about it.
I actually based this entire post around one key argument presented by Line Nybro Petersen from “Renegotiating religious imaginations through transformations of ‘banal religion’ in Supernatural”. I had a lot to say on the matter and had to structure it accordingly so I stayed on topic. The quote:
State churches and traditional religions in general have not been able to meet the needs of people living in modern societies, and rather than maintaining a lifelong commitment to their faiths, people constantly transform religion according to their life situations.
Strauss and Howe argued that each generation is marked by an event, something that defines certain aspects of its behavior. For the millennials it was 9/11. This was an event marked as religiously motivated (among other motivations). The boomers had the protests for Civil Rights; the millennials have such protests for the rights of homosexuals. Religious protest against such does not have a favorable image. Acts by leaders or devout followers of traditional religions are vilified and most rightly so. In such context, religion has not been able to meet the needs of today and is not necessarily seen in a good light. Therefore, it is understandable that there is a representation of an imperfect Christianity in Supernatural. It reflects the tendency in the media to reject institutionalized religion, instead showing more transformative beliefs. Supernatural, from someone who has only watched the one episode, does seem overwhelmingly Christian. The tools that Dean gathers as weapons to defend himself against Castiel are inherently Christian, holy water and salt. The implication that Christian tools are the most effective to fight off evil is overwhelming. Then the introduction of an Angel, who raised Dean from the dead on God’s orders, as Stein notes, this is a recreation of the narrative of Jesus. But it is imperfect Christianity. Castiel does not appear ethereally. He appears imperfectly and human. His entrance into the narrative is marked by fear, violence and the death or maiming of innocents. His wings are black and shadowed (Stein). Stein noted the finale of season 4 as coming to the revelation “that the angels are working to bring the apocalypse, that there is little difference between heaven and hell, and that God may very well have left the building”. My interpretation of that is that institutionalized ideas of religion only bring chaos and destruction.
Strangely enough, that brings me to The Secret Life of the American Teenager. In a world apparently filled with transformative religious beliefs, The Secret Life goes against the grain. When the name Brenda Hampton came up at the end, alarm bells went off in the useless trivia part of my brain. This is the woman that brought the world 7th Heaven. To come to the link between the shows one must look to the original Petersen quote. People are transforming religion to fit into a modern context, Supernatural did it by addressing millennials ambivalent attitude towards traditional religion. The Secret Life is doing it by superficially attempting to adapt religious conventions to modern life, but laughably so. For example, abortion exists as an option only to be immediately dismissed. Recognizing abortion is religious adaption; the fact that it is not an option though is still institutionalized religion. Essentially then, The Secret Life shows the dogma of religion. Obviously, it is more in the context of sex than destruction.
The Secret Life is a one dimensional, predictable and clichéd show. It had potential. If it told the story from one perspective: Amy, the pregnant teenager, key lessons could be learnt through exploring the difficulties of her world. Instead it addresses every aspect of teen sex, with a horde of unlikable, preachy and stereotypical characters. Ricky, the abused boy who has sex to appease his insecurities and his slutty girlfriend, Adrian who will inevitably be portrayed as having daddy issues. Then the Christian boy Jack, he suffers humiliation after his first sexual experience by the whole school finding out. Finally, the adults, Amy’s dad gives strict lectures about boys and sex but then concludes with the statement that boys only like nice girls, making his entire ramble completely contradictory. They are all one-dimensional characters that are created to push a dogmatic message across instead of an emotional narrative on the consequences of sex. The portrayal of religion in The Secret Life was laughable, almost satirical. Through pushing a dogma the viewers saw it’s holes.
This possibly presents the picture of why millennials are so apprehensive of religious institutions. They don’t meet the needs of people living in modern day society. The grey areas in life are vast; people are not one-dimensional and good and bad can come out of the same actions. The assumption that one set of morals is infallible is unrealistic and down right dangerous.