Sunday, January 06, 2013

Doubting Abbey

By Gary Berg-Cross

You may be aware that the 3rd season of Downton Abbey” is here.  The promotions and publicity for these been pretty unavoidable from Parade magazine to all of the entertainment sections and the Wall St Journal as well – of course Britsh drama series are selling.  I see The cast was already at work promoting interest prior to the winter holiday. The Nightline show  featured Allen Leech talking about changes coming up for his character of Tom Branson.   More recently cast members (i.e. Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Jim Carter, and others ) were on “The Today Show”. My personal favorite was the mock send up celled “Breaking Abbey” on Stephen Colbert‘s show. This mergesd characters played by the cast from ““Downton Abbey” with “Breaking Bad. ” In it Lord Grantham is cooking and selling meth in an attempt to fund his stately home. You can see the spoof on Uncensored - Breaking Abbey.

All of this entertaining promotion and anticipation generation got me to wondering  if only there were a show that featured freethinkers that attracted attention.  Sure we’ve had the Gregory House character on House M.D., who was/is an explicitly atheist character.  But  House was portrayed as some strange mix of outwardly stern, general skeptic and inwardly lovable. A hard person/ doctor to deal with casually. A know it all and who would probably be  fired from credible hospital after a few flare ups.   House practiced rational-emotive therapy where any deathbed or illness praying gets attacked as just plain stupid. .  The already convinced may enjoy a TV character that challenges religious but to move the masses we may need to show silly beliefs and outrageous demands in a wider context. And as several have noted, “is it too much to ask for an atheist that is kind, loving, charitable?”
To be fair Dr. Allison Cameron on House was a step in that direction. And we have had some gestures towards non-believers during the Newtown tragedy. In December MSNBC’s   Melissa Harris-Perry show (guest hosted by Joy Reid), had as a discussant Chris Stedman. He talked about the importance of including atheists in “interfaith” efforts as well as the problem of religious figures blaming the tragedy on the notion of church/state separation. It isn’t a like a plug on the Today show, but it is part of the increased exposure on MSNBC.  Host Lawrence O’Donnell  of MSNBC’s The Last Word,” often seems to be showing the mirror to crazy religious claims.  In December he used CBN’s Pat Robertson and his recent words about atheists and their apparent penchant for what he called stealing Christmas .

“Atheists don’t like our happiness. They don’t want you to be happy.”

O’Donnell then  juxtaposed these prejudiced claims against the facts of secularist actor Ricky Gervais’ who had more generous comments about the holiday. O’Donnell concluded: “The happy atheist Ricky Gervais is actually more Christ-like than the Reverend Pat Robertson.”

This isn’t yet the attention sapping roll out of an upstairs-downstairs tale that focuses on intrigues, dramas, joys and woes of non-believers the way that Downton is of  high-born Crawley family.  But perhaps there is a creative future in which the high-born believers living upstairs in the seats of power will have to deal with the below-stairs freethinker who get things done rationally with wisdom and kindness an affirmative spirit and words of comfort in stressful times. Or perhaps the life of Chris Hitchens will prove dramatic enough for a good series.  Certainly he has dear friends with the talent to honor a non-believer’s life. Certainly that roll out and publicity campaign is something that Chris would have relished.
Image Credits

Ricky Gervais the Happy Atheist on Lawrence O'Donnell:

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