I tend to bring up the rear of the popular entertainment parade, one indication of which is that I don't have HBO. But Six Feet Under has now finished its premium cable life and is now available to the rest of us who have something more than basic cable. So I'm catching up...at this very moment...as I write.
I've already slipped into the "Hollywood doesn't understand religion" niche with respect to Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. I hadn't planned on diversifying, necessarily, but here it is, right in front of me. My interest was piqued anyway because, way back in a previous lifetime (aka the mid seventies, when I was a graduate student in music history), I worked part-time in a mortuary. And as a priest, of course, I have had a couple of hundred opportunities to interact professionally with the funeral industry. In a way, morticians are para-colleagues of mine.
Now, I don't go looking for reasons to play the curmudgeon. They just find me. In the episode before the one currently showing, David, one of the members of the mortuary-owning Fisher family, anounces that he is being considered as a "deacon" in his church. (We discover this when he explains to his gay lover why they won't be available to get together on Sunday.) Well, that's fine. I grew up Baptist, and deacons were the elected lay leaders of the congregation, the governing board. Very shortly thereafter, however, I'm hearing language that is familiar to my ears: "For David, chosen deacon in your church, let us pray to the Lord," to which a congregation responds, "Lord, hear our prayer." Then follow the next several petitions from the Litany for Ordinations, right out of the Book of Common Prayer. There's a clergyman, vested in alb and purple stole, presiding over a congregation gathered in a large gothic structure. (Later we learn that it's called St Bartholomew's.) And there's David. Is he kneeling, wearing an alb, with a bishop somewhere in the picture? No, he's wearing a business suit, standing next to the clergyman, looking quite beatific.
Obviously, the script writers have chosen to combine the ecclesial and liturgical trappings of the diaconate as it is understood by churches in the Catholic tradition with the function of the diaconate as it is understood by churches of the left-wing Reformation tradition. That's their prerogative, I guess. It's their show. I'm not the dispenser of artistic license, and if I were, I don't think I would be particularly stingy. But it bothers me. It's like when the secular news media mess up on their coverage of religion (which, as far as I can tell, is most of the time). It makes me distrust them when they talk about things of which I am truly ignorant. If the writers and producers of Six Feet Under can't find a way to just pick a church for the Fishers--any church, it doesn't matter--and represent that church accurately and without affectation, what makes me think they can represent, say, the funeral industry, or teenage girls, or middle-aged widows, or not-quite-completely-out gay men, or single straight men who have just moved from Seattle to Los Angeles?
Oh wow...a chance for a live update. Now watching the beginning of the episode I came in during the middle of. David meets the clergyman on the steps of St Bartholomew's and addresses him as "Father." Then Fr Jack, right there on the church steps after a Sunday service, casually mentions that he would be happy to recommend David (who just told him, apparently falsely, that he's been attending another church--St Stephen's in the west valley--for the last several weeks) to the Bishop for consideration as a deacon, since, after all, his late father was one. Makes sense to me. Later, Fr Jack takes David to meet a purple-shirted bishop in an Anglican "dog collar." The bishop promises to let David know of his decision in a week. (I know several aspirants to the diaconate who would like that bishop's address and phone number.) Do you see my point? Most of the outward signs suggest that Fr Jack and the Fishers are Episcopalian. But it's a kind of Episcopalian bad dream.
Even more troubling, of course, is the fact that none of the members of the church-going Fisher family seem to integrate their religious practice--let alone actual faith--into their lives away from church. In this they are certainly not unique, even in the real world (quoth the jaded pastor). But between the four of them, only David's brother Nate confesses any actual faith in God, and then only in a vague "force," something quite a few degrees removed from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Lord, have mercy.