Orthodox America

  The Media and Mockery

by Archimandrite Chrysostomos

We in the Western world are quite accustomed to hearing of the mockery of religion in communist-dominated countries. In Romania, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria, clergy and the pious laity are regularly subjected to public ridicule in the press and in other popular media. This same ridicule is widely found throughout the Soviet Union, where the mockery of the religious goes beyond those who practice religion to religious objects themselves. Thus we hear regularly of places of worship being used as taverns, latrines, pig sties, and even houses of ill- repute. Sacred objects, during the Communist Revolution, were regularly defiled, and even the relics of Saints were impiously examined by atheistic investigators. The demonic destruction of Orthodoxy in Eastern Europe by utterly godless (and God-hating) forces, brings to mind endless examples of such mockery.

These same forces of mockery, however, seem to have escaped popular detection in the West itself. Increasingly the Western media is beset by articles, plays, musical presentations, and television programs that hold religion up to ridicule. Yet, people seem almost oblivious to these attacks, almost blind to the fury of anti-religious hatred that is now passing from the communist-dominated world to the so-called free countries. Television advertisements present monks and nuns as near half-wits living lives of foolish self- preoccupation, concerned with little more than noisy breakfast cereals or fast cars. Ministers and religious leaders are, more often than not, characterized as total charlatans, dedicated to relieving the simple- minded faithful of their wallets and purses. Belief in God is presented as one of the weak nesses of the old and the lonely. And any concept of other-worldliness is presented as a mental aberration.

These attacks against belief and religion escape us for a number of reasons. First, there is indeed a de-sensitization to the religious going on in this country, and it has had its effect. Few people are really interested in the spiritual. And when they are, the spirituality which the media presents them is a cheap, often "charismatic" potpourri of Gospel passages, boisterous singing, and affirmations of how happy God has made man on earth, with His many blessings of football, fried chicken, jelly beans, and cup cakes. All of this is inevitably followed by a plea for money which is about as subtle as the proverbial fox in a hen roost. Both those who have been desensitized to anything religious and those who are seeking religion are ill served by this religious pulp. It reinforces those who have no interest in religion by providing ready evidence that the religious is inane. It beguiles those who are religious into thinking that the pursuit of the spiritual need not be other-worldly.

The second reason that this attack against religion escapes us is that we often think that cheap religion or - in the case of the Orthodox, heterodox religion has nothing to do with our own, more profound religious beliefs. This is, indeed, a dangerous trend. A famous theological thinker once noted that when the Nazis, during the prelude to the Second World War, first rounded up the Jews, dissidents; and physically handicapped, he did not worry. But when those of his own faith were finally the victims of Nazi terror, he realized that the fate of anyone  who was not a loyal Nazi, or useful to the Nazi State, was the same-whatever his particular undesirable characteristic. As Archpriest Roman Lukianov, an articulate analyst of the course of modern Soviet society, has said, the same thing can be said of the attack against religion in the Soviet Union: it matters not how or what you believe, but simply that you believe. This is sufficient reason to be persecuted. Any attack by our Western media against religion, then, whether as open ridicule of religion or in the guise of bogus religious pulp, is an attack against religion in general, however Orthodox our beliefs may be,

We as Orthodox are particularly vulnerable to this religious attack. Our beliefs are little known and our traditions are barely taking root in the Western world. It is there fore quite easy to associate Orthodoxy with the worst in religion, there being little chance that we can respond or make our true beliefs known. The Enemy has a special investment in mocking the Orthodox Church as Christianity's oldest Church, as the very Criterion of Truth itself. And if anyone should doubt that this is actually the case, heed what I relate below.

A very popular television program, "Taxi," recently aired an episode which is perhaps the most frightening example of the mockery of religion I have ever encountered.

A sober man, who watches television cautiously and very selectively, called my attention to it. The episode recounted the marital problems of two witless immigrants from a non-existent East European country, these problems having resulted from the infidelity of the husband under inane circumstances that do not warrant repeating. The wife confronted the husband with his adulterous act and persuaded him to go with her to their "priest." They both agreed that they would abide by the "priest's" decision in the matter

Arriving at the "priest's" office, the couple encountered a black-robed, beardless man who ate grapes while the husband confessed his sin. It is interesting to note that the confession was viewed by three elderly women who had stepped in off the street to observe a religious ceremony. They were, of course, invited to view the confession. Hearing of the man's transgression with one of his co-workers, the "Reverend" gave the following words of "wisdom": he instructed the wife to commit adultery with one of her co-workers. When she replied that she did not work, she was told that she should there fore transgress with one of her husband's co-workers. Indeed, one wonders whether to cry over the stupidity or the immorality of the writers of such a scenario.

At any rate, hearing the foregoing advice, the couple stood up and faced one another. The wife said to the husband the following incredible words: "We are Orthodox. We must do as the priest tells us." Everyone who viewed the show agreed that these statements were wholly out of order, completely inappropriate to the plot, and totally inexplicable. What audience would understand what the word "orthodox" meant in this con text? Was it a reference to Eastern Ortho doxy, to which Westerners have little expo sure? Was it a reference to theological "orthodoxy," of which the genera1 television viewer would have little notion? Or was it- as it assuredly was-a demonic attempt to associate a little known religious tradition with a "priest" whose perverted, debased advice was nothing less than an advocacy of adultery?

Indeed, my dear readers, it is time to awaken from our stupor. Our media is not just a threat to religious values, not just a potential perverter of our higher cultural and intellectual sensitivities, not just a vacuous purveyor of senseless entertainment- it is nothing less than a tool of those forces that would m6ck, ridicule, and eventually destroy religion itself! Has not the course of Russian history said more than words can convey? Have not our spiritual Fathers warned us? And do not our own eyes and ears tell us, those of us who would see and hear, that the enemy is not in wait, but that he is upon us?

St. Gregory Palamas (Old Calendar Greek) Monastery