I was raised fundamentalist Christian (and I promise you this will be relevant), and when I left that way of thinking for more and more liberal forms of the faith—and for dabbling with having no faith at all—the thing that was hardest to give up was the certainty. Always knowing the right answer to every quandary is a powerful thing to have on your side, and when you can always turn to someone’s interpretation of what the Bible says, you need never doubt. The modern evangelical church—at least in America—has created a space where doubt is neatly managed into a corner where it need never be thought about and where the community aspects of the religious experience are more important than experiencing God or opening up to relationships with other believers. My friend Stephanie has written about this a good deal at her blog, and the growth of the mega-church is a big part of the evolution of the church from a religious organization to one that’s more social.
Certainty, of course, doesn’t just crop up in religion. It crops up anywhere people absolutely know something to be true and won’t think for a second that it’s not. (Ever read a political blog of any stripe?) Admitting you don’t know all the answers is a scary thing, and sometimes, it’s just easier to follow someone who says they do. We human beings don’t like to be wrong about things, and any time we have a pinch of doubt, it’s just easier to drown it out with so much noise and so much certainty than it is to explore that uncomfortable feeling and get to the bottom of it. Stephanie writes that the foundation of the church—or any group of people, really—should be based on relationships between believers and then those individual believers’ relationship with God. But that’s a hard thing to do. If you open yourself up to people, you might find a situation where you don’t know where you stand, and waiting for God to tell you what to do next can take a lifetime—if that.
The second episode of Rev.—billed “Salvation” in the U.K. and “Jesus Is Awesome” on Hulu (I like the Hulu title better)—digs into these issues with the light-hearted, warm touch that the show so excels at. St. Saviour’s is having trouble meeting its monetary quotas, and the arch-deacon says the wealthier parishes are tired of propping up the struggling ones, paying lots of money to keep empty churches open. It’s not hard to see where he’s coming from. The service that he drops in on at the episode’s start has a bare handful of people—five with the arch-deacon—and it’s not exactly inspirational in tone either. Adam’s words are swallowed by the cavernous building, and the attendance at the little coffee meeting after the service is similarly paltry.
When Adam asks God for an answer, however, what he gets is Darren, a charismatic, rock-star-ish preacher who needs somewhere to hold his service for a few weeks while his own church—St. James—is repaired. Darren’s got somewhere between 300 and 400 people in his congregation, so Adam is only too happy to let him crash for a week, just to see how it goes. How it goes involves sofas set up in the back, in place of pews, TV screens set up at the church’s front, and a smoothie bar set up in back, complete with drinks that incorporate phrases like “Jesus explosion.” To me, it’s a very cynical approach to faith and the church—to attract people, you must make the experience like every other part of our modern lives, rather than something ancient, with connections to people who worshiped millennia ago. I suspect Adam would agree with me, but it’s clear Darren’s approach “sells,” for lack of a better word. The church is packed with legions of young people, and they’re all enthusiastic about God—or Darren’s version of God, at least.
Religion, like everything else, has to evolve to stay current. The Christianity we practice today—even if you’re a Catholic—is basically nothing like the Christianity that the followers of Jesus practiced in the early A.D. years. And we even see that Adam’s Christianity has evolved as well. He may be more interested in theology than showmanship, but he’s staked a position in favor of female vicars and allowing homosexuals into the church, both things that Darren is against. To many, Adam’s more liberal theology would be far more blasphemous than Darren turning a church into one-part smoothie bar, and I like that this episode doesn’t draw those lines too heavily. It’s on Adam’s side, obviously, but it also understands that Darren’s method is bound to please more people. It turns church into just another entertainment experience in a week filled with dozens of them, and, hey, people like being entertained.
But church should be about more than just constant entertainment, shouldn’t it? Isn’t there still value in getting together with other people and quietly contemplating your own smallness, your own insignificance, just how little you actually know? Given the fact that church attendance keeps dropping in almost all Western nations, I suppose that’s not the case, and I suppose that the mega-church experience—with its commerce-driven offshoots—is a major part of the church’s future. Adam’s fighting a losing battle to return church to its theological roots, but he’s happier when he is. And, more importantly, it seems like the arch-deacon is at least somewhat on his side. Though he quite enjoys Darren’s service (or at least the money it raises), the arch-deacon’s not going to just let Darren turn Colin away for misunderstanding Pippa’s friendliness as something he can take advantage of. The church is for all souls—no matter how lost—and not just the ones that make Darren look good.
The episode’s subplot doesn’t have much to do with the main plot, but it’s also concerned with relationships and more directly. Alex is feeling a little lonely, so she tries to revive her and Adam’s love life through a variety of measures. At first, Adam tries a candlelit dinner—at which Alex hilariously lists off all of the things she fantasizes about—but things don’t really click until Alex puts on a costume and engages Adam in a bit of role-playing down at the local market. Alex didn’t have a lot to do in the first episode, and she’s similarly confined to the subplot here, but it’s nice to see that the show is going to take the two’s marriage as seriously as it takes everything else—which is to say that it will allow for humor but still be a basically realistic depiction of this relationship.
Letting go of certainty and admitting you don’t know everything is hard, whether it’s in a religious situation or in a marriage, where the person you’re married to remains a source of constant surprise. It’s when you open yourself up to the possibility that not everything is known to you, however, that the world opens up. Without doubt, there can be no questioning, and without questioning, there can be no stronger belief. Adam may not attract the crowds Darren does, but his faith and his belief are rock-solid, because he allows for the possibility that they might not be true. That’s something Darren can’t really appreciate, but at least Adam’s faithful parishioners—and even his boss—can. Certainty is good for a while, but it doesn’t have very strong roots. Better to admit you don’t know everything and let those roots grow ever deeper.
- I particularly liked Alex’s long list concluding with “in a lift.”
- My other big laugh was Colin coming in after his experience with the St. James’ folks, carrying those two sticks, one reading Jesus, the other reading Transform.
- The one thing I’m not sure about here is Icon. I liked his initial performance at the service, but the bit where he and Darren were parked outside of the vicarage felt a little too much like the show trying to make him a menacing figure (even if the joke was on Adam and his erection). It just rubbed me the wrong way, ever so slightly.