Odd as it may sound, there is a small silver lining to be found in the dark cloud of each high-profile cultural attack on religion, from "The Last Temptation of Christ" to the fecally defaced Virgin Mary portrait currently, and shamefully, on display at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
When the media cover these outrages, they usually allow those disgusted by them to speak out. In the case of the Brooklyn Virgin Mary, New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and the Catholic League's William Donohue have been frequent television talking heads.
Such spokesmen alert the public to the true nature of these phenomena, some of which, superficially, may not seem especially offensive. Without news reports regarding the anti-Catholic ax the short-lived ABC program "Nothing Sacred" was grinding two years ago, plenty of the faithful might have tuned in to what they vaguely thought was a "Catholic" show, only to see their most cherished beliefs pilloried.
On the other hand, if a TV series contains a blast at religion that virtually no one knew was coming, it not only reaches millions, catching them by surprise, but also goes essentially unanswered. In the first two weeks of the new television season, that happened twice, on NBC's drama "The West Wing" and Fox's animated cartoon comedy "Family Guy."
"The West Wing," a new show about a fictional Democratic administration from liberal writer Aaron Sorkin ("A Few Good Men," "The American President"), took its shot on September 22, in its very first episode. After a presidential aide, Josh, makes an ill-considered televised quip about God "being indicted for tax fraud," a delegation of Christian-right leaders visits the White House to express its displeasure about the wisecrack and what it sees as the administration's overall hostility toward its concerns.
But the Christians are summarily forced to retreat from the moral high ground, of course. First, a member of the delegation, Mary Marsh, comments unsubtly on Josh's "New York sense of humor." Possibly trying to divert attention from Marsh's anti-Semitic barb, another Christian, John Van Dyke, wonders why the administration is so much more devoted to the First Amendment than to the First Commandment, which, he claims, reads "Honor thy father." Another presidential aide quickly points out Van Dyke's Scriptural error.
There you have it. Christians are anti-Semitic bigots - and idiots, too.
Finally, the president himself joins the gathering and asks the third Christian leader, Al Caldwell, why he hasn't denounced an outfit called the Lambs of God. The president explains: After his twelve-year-old granddaughter expressed pro-choice sentiments in an interview with a teen magazine, the group sent her "a Raggedy Ann doll with a knife stuck through its throat. You'll denounce these people, Al, you'll do it publicly, and until you do, you can all get your fat asses out of my White House."
Eight nights later came "Family Guy." The villain, a sour, absurdly rigid Catholic, retires from a lumber mill and moves in with his son Peter and Peter's family. The older man deems Peter "a failure as a worker and as a father," his daughter-in-law a "Protestant whore," and his granddaughter "a harlot" because she lets a boy walk her home from school.
Especially tasteless is an exchange that begins right after his older grandson Chris exits the bathroom. The grandfather says, "I know what you're doing in there, and it's a sin. If you ever do it again, you'll burn in hell."
Chris: "But I do it every day, sometimes twice."
Grandfather: "You may think you're alone in there, but God's watching. Never do it again."
Chris: "God's watching me do Number Two. Oh, man, now I'm a sinner, and God's a pervert."
How's that for family entertainment?
Look hard enough and somewhere, somewhere way out there you'll find a Mary Marsh and someone like Peter's father, and fringe groups like the Lambs of God. But to suggest that these characters and organizations are indicative of anything "Christian" is an insult, a deliberate, bigoted anti-Christian insult.
Maybe you didn't know about those shows. But you are about to learn of a new movie that makes them look like Bishop Sheen's "Life Is Worth Living." It's called "Julien Donkey-Boy." The New York Post reports that it includes "masturbating nuns," a man wearing "a large image of Christ around his neck while he rubs himself during an erotic phone chat with his sister," and other blasphemous delights.
Consider yourself warned.