The Hollywood moguls who gave us The Book of Daniel (NBC, Fridays, 9:00 ET) probably think they are presenting Christianity in a positive light. Church people are not freaks. They are just like everybody else, having the same values and problems as the Hollywood moguls.
The Book of Daniel is about an Episcopal priest named Daniel Webster. He is addicted to pain pills. His daughter sells drugs. One son is gay. The other is promiscuous with women. His supervisor, a female bishop, is having an affair with his father, who is also a bishop cheating on his Alzheimer's-afflicted wife. He has a friend who is a local Catholic priest connected with the Mafia.
In his ministry, Daniel presides at plug-pullings at the hospital and gives sex tips to unmarried couples. One of his sermons is titled "Temptation: Is It Really a Bad Thing?" No, it isn't, he proclaims, since good needs evil in order to be good. "If temptation corners us, maybe we shouldn't beat ourselves up for giving into it," he concludes, as a girl in a pew looks knowingly at her boyfriend. "And maybe we shouldn't ask for forgiveness from a church or from God or from Jesus or from anyone, until we can first learn to forgive ourselves."
The storylines center on church, but no one demonstrates any reverence or devotion. No one, including the philandering bishops, has any guilt. No one has a sense of transcendence. For the members and leaders of this congregation, their religion makes absolutely no difference in their lives. They live exactly as non-Christians do, if not somewhat worse, and none of it seems to bother them.
But Daniel does have a personal relationship with Jesus. The Son of God appears to him as he drives in his car or reaches for his pills. They have friendly chats. The show portrays Jesus as a bearded flower-child who goes oh-wow at the clouds. He is always laughing. At crucial moments, He gives Daniel the thumbs-up sign with both hands.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus preaches the beatitudes. In The Book of Daniel, Jesus preaches the platitudes. Here are some actual sayings of this Jesus, which in context the show presents as being profound and wise: "Life is hard." "Let him be a kid." "Everybody's got to go through it." "I'm a good listener." "You should laugh more." "Everybody's different."
The whole show is so banal and trivializing, so blasphemous toward the Christian faith and insulting to those who hold it, that many Christians are up in arms over the series, calling for boycotts and demanding that local NBC affiliates stop airing the show.
And yet, those critics are wrong when they say that The Book of Daniel does not accurately reflect America's churches. It actually captures very well many of America's churches. At several points, the clergymen and clergywomen in the show refer to the current conflict in the Episcopal church between orthodox believers and progressives like themselves. "We have an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire," exclaims Daniel, defending his son's homosexuality. "It's time we stumble into the 21st century."
Daniel is simply the face of liberal theology. The same kind of worldliness, cultural conformity, sexual permissiveness, and baptized secularism is rampant in mainline Protestantism. And it is creeping into evangelical circles.
The show might even be useful as a lampoon of theological liberalism, were it not so bad artistically. A drama needs conflict, but everyone here is blissfully unconflicted, and the characters are nothing but attitude and stereotypes. There is nothing to like about any of them. This Daniel would rather play golf with the emperor than go anywhere near a lion's den.