Spoiler Alert Thursday: House, just shut up about religion already
This week’s post will discuss The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad, and House.
The Simpsons: I enjoyed the mild tweaks to the opening theme in this, the first HD episode ever.
Family Guy: Stewie’s music video was amazing — much better than the parody of the music video genre from the Simpsons nineties episode.
American Dad: Yeah, sorry, the responses to the cartoons are pretty half-hearted this week. But what is there to say, really? This episode was pretty decent, but nothing to write home about — which is essentially the groove American Dad has settled into after its horrifyingly bad first season.
House: House is a great example of how useless dogmatic rationalists are when they talk about religion. His constant accusations of “hypocrisy” on Cuddy’s part reflect a common gambit on the part of these people: if you don’t want to do “all” of a religion, you are a hypocrite for doing some. Who defines what “all” of a religion is, though? Obviously that doesn’t fall within the rationalist’s own job description, so he’ll usually defer to whoever purports to be the most “true” or “literal” or whatever representative of the given religion. Thus the options are fundamentalism or rationalism — anyone who tries to do otherwise is an equivocating coward. (This is the dynamic that leads to us only hearing from religious wackos as the representatives of the “religious” position in media debates.)
But the majority of religious people then become equivocating cowards in this view, because even in fundamentalist sects, there is usually only a small core of “true believers” who try to do everything. Back here in reality, the majority of “religious” practices are essentially “cultural” practices, or to put it better: the line between “religious” and “cultural” practices isn’t very clear. It’s really only Protestantism and religions influenced by it (like latter-day Catholicism) that really thematize something like “belief.” (Note that I’m not saying non-Protestant-ish people don’t “believe” in their religion — just that it doesn’t become a major issue. They take it for granted, rather than treating it as some big existential test.) Cuddy’s baby-naming thing was obviously “religious” in some way, but since she’s not a believer, she was treating is as more “cultural” — and House should’ve done so, too.
I do think there’s a sense in which House is hostile toward any arbitrary-seeming cultural practice, but it shouldn’t be intensified just because there’s this gross “religion” stuff sticking to a given practice.
I realize that whenever I make arguments like this, some people get really pissed off and others want to spend a lot of time in comments trying to come up with some really firm definition of religion that reflects their intuition that my blurring of the boundaries between cultural and religious practices is missing something. I’ll save you a little time: that “something” is going to turn out to be belief. But if you go down that road, you’re just going to wind up defining religion as Protestantism or things like Protestantism, and not all religions are like that. In fact, not all religious practices that find their origin in the Protestant Reformation have turned out to be like that — I’m pretty sure you’ll find a lot of Episcopalians who just enjoy the liturgy and fellowship, for instance, and don’t really beat themselves up about whether they “believe” hard enough. Nor should they! It’s a free country, after all. Or you could define religion as a quest for meaning, but then how do you exclude secular philosophy? Etc., etc. Just give up, please. Criticizing fundamentalism is awesome. I do it all the time. Criticizing religious people for not being fundamentalists is stupid.
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