On Oct. 5, “Glee” writers took on the challenge of writing an episode revolving around the theme of religion. The TV show is a comedy and must be watched as one, but that does not preclude evaluating the perception of religion. In fact, what is most interesting about watching popular TV series, including this particular episode of “Glee” titled “Grilled Cheesus,” is noticing how the writers evaluate religion.
The first of two storylines in the episode included the creation of a grilled-cheese sandwich with the image of Jesus burned into it by Finn (Corey Monteith), the show’s unintelligent, vocally endowed jock. He progresses throughout the episode praying to the sandwich until his faith in the “grilled cheesus” creation is questioned.
From the perspective of a believer, Finn’s faith in a grilled-cheese sandwich is absurd, but in fact this is very telling about today’s society. People desire to believe in something. Examining Finn’s frailty, we see a large percentage of Americans who understand their faith, or lack of faith, through something as trivial as a grilled-cheese sandwich.
When we re-examine these beliefs from a perspective like Finn’s, however, we find that this grilled-cheese sandwich becomes for Finn what God is for us. We must understand faith’s importance better, and in so doing we may better respect other faiths as well.
The second, more dominant storyline revolved around Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer), the glee club’s gay member who happens to be an atheist. Bert Hummel (Mike O’Malley), Kurt’s dad, is admitted to the hospital in a coma at the beginning of the episode, and Kurt has to come to grips with the fact that his only remaining parent may die. Members of the glee club feel like faith can help Kurt through his troubles.
What struck me about this storyline was the characters’ desire to offer their faith during hardship. I believe this rings true for believers and nonbelievers alike: the idea that religion can prevent or cure our earthly problems. I recognize that the writers are working with a 43-minute TV episode, but this is how they choose to represent religion – something that becomes increasingly important when times are bad and we are threatened with loss.
The most dramatic scene of the episode comes when Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), the ever-obnoxious cheerleading coach, discusses religion with the school’s guidance counselor, Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays). Sue tells Emma that “Asking someone to believe in a fantasy” is cruel, and this is “as arrogant as telling someone how to believe in God, and if they don’t accept it … they’re going to hell.”
What I find most intriguing about watching TV shows like “Glee” is the marker they set for a popular opinion of religion. This article only scratches the surface of topics mentioned in the episode. In recent years, Christianity has been portrayed on television as a belief primarily in abstinence and nothing else.
I hope that this mold for the typical Christian character is breaking down, so that dialogue can progress. This episode of “Glee” certainly seems like a step in the right direction.
Andrew Gardner is an undergraduate student in religious studies and history at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.
Andrew Gardner holds a PhD in American Religious History and is the author of “Reimagining Zion: A History of the Alliance of Baptists” (Nurturing Faith Publishing).