Where is religion discussed intelligently on TV? The Daily Show

Mark Oppenheimer writes about religion and Jon Stewart:

Stewart and his writers have realized that good theology — getting people’s beliefs right — happens to make for good humor. Consider a bit that aired last October, in which Stewart interviewed cast members Samantha Bee and Wyatt Cenac on the differences between Mormonism and traditional Christianity. Bee, a fair-complected Canadian, was playing a Mormon, wearing a shirt that said “Team Mormon”; and Cenac, a black man of Haitian ancestry, was wearing a shirt that said “Team Normal.” Bee began by complaining about the tee shirts they were made to wear: “Why is Wyatt ‘Team Normal’? That implies that Mormons aren’t normal … We are not a cult. Mormonism is a proud religion founded by a great man who was guided by the Angel Moroni to golden plates buried in upstate New York that he placed in the bottom of a hat where he read them using a seer stone.” Matters devolved from there. Team Mormon and Team Normal began arguing about which group is crazier: the one that believes Jesus was born of a virgin and the Holy Ghost, and that he rose from the dead and ascended to Heaven, or the one that believes all that plus the story that he then returned to Missouri.

It gets better from there.

One of Oppenheimer’s insights:

the point is that Stewart and his writers convey more specifics about religious practice in less than four minutes than any documentary or nightly-news segment I’ve ever seen.

And the implicit message is one that religion scholars are always trying to convey: all religions have beliefs that seem bizarre to outsiders, and “cult” is often just a word to describe the other guy’s religion. The Daily Show approaches American religion in the spirit of tolerance, but not with the wimpy, eager-to-please hand-wringing that characterizes so much liberal dialogue in this country. Rather, religions are shown to be strange and possibly cringe-inducing: our job is to take an honest look, then tolerate them anyway. It’s a call to rigorous citizenship.

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