"There are only two ways of telling the complete truth—anonymously and posthumously."Thomas Sowell

Saturday, October 21, 2006

CSI Gets Religion Big-Time

CSI star William PetersonReligion is all over the place on network TV series now. Many programs just can't seem to resist bringing it up, and the treatments are typically fairly sympathetic though by no means without nuance or sophistication.

For example: following up on last week's interesting comment at the end of the program, in which CSI team leader Gil Grissom suggests a sense of moral decline in America (see my article of last week on that episode), this past Thursday night's episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation moved thoroughly into spiritual and religious territory.

The story concerns the investigation into the death of a woman found crucified in the sanctuary of a Catholic church, having been beaten previously and strangled by a rosary. Much suspicion is directed toward a Catholic priest and an automobile dealer, both of whom have known the woman since high school. The priest, it turns out, was having an affair with the woman.

The church holds some very unhappy secrets, you see. But the episode is no slam at the church—it is instead a fairly sophisticated look at how flawed human beings try to live out their relationship with God, and how those who don't have such a relationship get on without it.

The events of the story bring out the religious beliefs, or lack thereof, of some of the central characters in the series. CSI Sarah Sidle makes it clear that she is pretty much of an atheist, though not adamant about it. Detective Brass shows himself to be very unsympathetic toward belief in God.

Marg Helgenberger (as Det. Catherine Willows) and William Peterson (as Det. Gil Grissom) of CSI: Crime Scene InvestigationThe two central characters of the show, however, are both shown to be Christian and in fact Catholic. Early on in the story, detective Catherine Willows—a former stripper and the daughter of a mobster—who is one of the team leaders, lights a candle in the sanctuary, makes the sign of the cross, and says a prayer for her father. Shortly thereafter, in a conversation with Sarah Sidle, Grissom states explicitly that he is a Catholic, though of a non-churchgoing sort who attaches intense spiriitual significance to everday life—suggesting something of an early-Church point of view, a very interesting and laudable approach to Christian faith and worship.

Earlier, in a rather startling moment at the crime scene, Grissom said to Brass, "Christ died for our sins. I wonder whose sins [the murdered woman] died for?"

This bald statement of the central tenet of Christianity is rather a departure for Grissom, who has never shown adherence to this faith before in the program, to my knowledge.

While expressing a strong faith in Christ, Grissom shows a healthy skepticism toward the church and its human failings throughout the episode. In addition, Grissom interprets the events and spiritual implications of the story events with impressive astuteness.

Gil Grissom has always been the emotional and moral center of the team, and this explicit embrace of Christianity suggests an interesting new direction for the show. It could be a one-off, of course, but that seems unlikely given the explicitness and directness of the religious treatment in this most recents episode, and in any case the knowledge of Grissom's and Willows's spiritual backgrounds will continue to color our perceptions of the show.

From Karnick on Culture.


Francis W. Porretto said...

Though the producers of C.S.I. appear to have their hearts in the right place, it's a disservice to Christianity to emphasize the failings of mortal Christians -- and yes, the failings of the temporal Church -- as somehow more significant than the teachings of Christ Himself.

You'll find many people who've distanced themselves from institutional religion because of their distaste for the deeds of some of its headliners. You'll find no one who can honestly quarrel with the words of the Redeemer -- and it is these that define Christianity, not the peccadilloes and peregrinations of those who claim to be the executors of Christ's estate.

Michael Simpson said...

I'm not so sure that "non-churchgoing" accurately describes the early Church; rather, it would be better to say that they didn't (unlike us) distinguish between the world of the Church and the rest of it.

I've always thought the characters in Graham Greene's novels were a lot more compelling: fully aware of the Church's failings, they were nonetheless drawn to it because (not in spite of) a parallel understanding of their own failings.

S. T. Karnick said...

Francis and Mike, in the CSI episode I cited, Gil Grissom makes it very clear that he adheres to the words of the Redeemer, which, Francis, you correctly mention here as defining Christianity. It struck me as a very realistic characterization (we've all known people like this), in which Grissom's dismay at the human failings of church leaders causes him to feel uncomfortable going to church. Yet the show does not endorse this attitude; it just depicts it and allows us to draw our own conclusions. And given what we see in the episode, I think the conclusion most reasonable people would draw is that Grissom really should go to church if that's what he believes in and what Christ and the church say we should do.

And I am by no means sure that he won't come to that realization in future episodes.

Evanston said...

If you (Grissom) have to tell people who have known you for years that you're a Christian...then you're not.
Since the early church (the ecclesia or called ones) met in homes, it's silly to act like they didn't go to church. They gathered together regularly, that's what counts. See Acts and the Pauline letters. And quit trying to find the christian in the narrative. If you don't know from previous episodes that the characters are Christians, this is just a case of christian bling. Eye candy, nothing more, for people who themselves are not in the faith but believe a bit of candle-lighting here and crossing yourself there add up to true faith in Christ.