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Reality TV gets Religion

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Earlier this month, I read an article that credited the Archbishop of Canterbury with suggesting that reality television should start including religion into its programming.  Part of his reasoning was so that people could learn more about other religions.  Now I don’t know if the Archbishop and I have a different definition of what constitutes reality television, but I’m pretty sure that reality television has already got religion, and it hasn’t always been the most flattering portrayal.

Some of the more well-known reality shows that have a religious angle include: Sister Wives, Breaking Amish, and 19 Kids and Counting, all of which are featured on TLC.  Religiosity may not necessarily be front and centre; however, it’s hard not to watch any of these shows and think about the religious paths that have influenced these people.  Yes, to some degree viewers are ‘educated’ about the different faiths followed by the show’s participants, but this ‘education’ comes with a huge dose of sensationalism.  On Sister Wives, viewers follow a polygamous fundamentalist Mormon family, while on 19 Kids and Counting the lives of a devout, fundamentalist Baptist Christian family who have (you guessed it) 19 children are showcased for viewers.  Breaking Amish diverts from showcasing a family, and instead follows a group of Amish and Mennonite young adults who leave their isolated communities and experience life in the big city.  Along the way, various mishaps and questionable adventures ensue.  Is this what the Archbishop had in mind?

Perhaps the new crop of religiously inspired reality television might prove less sensational.  Judging from the titles and reviews, I’m guessing that reality television has a cozy place in Hell waiting for it.  The Sisterhood which premiered early this year, follows the lives of several preachers’ wives as they interact with their communities.  I have yet to watch this series, but if reviews are any indication, it’s not as wholesome as it outwardly appears.  Sure to trump the aforementioned in the sensational department is the upcoming Divas for Jesus.  Described as a show that “follows a group of fabulous Christian women whose faith consists of guns, God, gossip and great wine,” you can bet this show is going to raise some eyebrows.  The recently premiered Preacher’s Daughters follows the lives of three preachers’ families and their teenage daughters.  It’s already been given a parental advisory rating.

Perhaps the most interesting reality show I came across in my research, is one originating from Turkey.  It’s called Penitents Competeand its premise is shocking (at least to this blogger).  Each week a rabbi, monk, priest, and imam (I think I’ve heard this joke before) attempt to convert ten atheists.  Any atheist that converts wins a free trip to one of four holy sites.  I can’t help but wonder how this show would be viewed if the roles were reversed.  You know, each week four atheists attempt to ‘convert’ ten religious people.  How’s that for sensational (or, I suppose, rational – depending on who you’re asking)?

I appreciate the Archbishop’s comments about people learning more about other religions, but there are much better ways to educate oneself than reality television.  One thought comes to mind – reality itself.  You know, go out and talk to real people about their religious perspectives.  Visit a mosque, church, synagogue and talk to the community.  You can’t get any more real than that.

Have you seen any of these shows?  Do you know of others that I haven’t included here?  Let me know.

M. xo

 

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  1. mae
    May 22nd, 2013 at 12:08 | #1

    Thanks for the info on these other shows. I haven’t heard of them. Breaking Amish did have a lot of controversy around it, but not enough (or maybe enough) to keep TLC from ordering a second season. I’ve only seen a few episodes of 19 Kids, but I do remember it being the subject of much discussion in one of my classes – particularly the China episodes.

  2. Lisa Longworth
    May 22nd, 2013 at 11:25 | #2

    There’s United Bates of America. Friends of the Duggars who also have a passel of good ol’ fundamentalist children.

    I watched Breaking Amish which did NOTHING to explain about their way of life. Just a bunch of whiny adolescents who were the outed as frauds. The show came under a LOT of scrutiny because it either outright lied or did NO background research into the actual lives of the participants.

    My guilty pleasure is 19 Kids.

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