Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head?

A Christian Response to Studio 60

with 4 comments

Back when Studio 60 premiered, I received a number of hits from people searching for this topic. I ignored it at first. But then I found myself lingering on the idea, and pretty soon I was writing this post in my head.

Recall last January when a little show called The Book of Daniel put a lot of us on the defensive. We responded with phone calls and emails, and NBC cancelled the series one week out of the gate. They couldn’t find enough sponsors willing to take the risk that we would not boycott their product in response to their buying air time during the show.

Make of that what you will. Some will call it victory. It represents the kind of change that takes place when your voice is loud enough for long enough. That’s what many of us do when we feel offended.

The first episodes of Studio 60 threw a few digs at Christianity—a skit called “Crazy Christians”; a conversation criticizing people who believe in the rapture; they call Pat Robertson a bigot. It’s an old story, you know. Enough critics, both Christian and secular, have already written that such plot devices are overly cliché. I tend to agree, specifically where Sorkin is concerned since he’s dropped these little jabs in ever since he was writing Sports Night.

While I do not agree with all of Aaron Sorkin’s politics, I do admire his writing. I like the symmetry with which he crafts a scene and I enjoy the meter he employs in his dialog. His plugs for Christianity usually gain attention when he says something hateful, like comparing the 700 Club to a Klan rally (which earned the character speaking a slap across the face, mind you, and from the Christian at that). So incensed do we get that we miss the times Sorkin has written about Christianity and actually gotten it right. It’s a great thing to see.

There was an episode in the second season of The West Wing called “Shibboleth.” The title derives its name from its usage in Judges 12:5-6 as a kind of password. A group of Chinese refugees had escaped to the United States and sought asylum to protect them from their return to China where they would face serious reprobation. Bartlett made to meet with the group’s leader in the hopes of discerning whether or not their claim to Christianity was genuine, or just a clever ruse to avoid deportation.

“Who is the leader of your church?” President Bartlett asked.

“The head of our parish is an 84 year old man named Wen-Ling. He’s been beaten and imprisoned many times. The head our church is Jesus Christ,” said the refugee.

“Can you name any of Jesus’s disciples?” Bartlett asks. “If you can’t, that’s okay. I usually don’t remember the names of my kids, or for that matter—”

“Peter, Andrew, John, Phillip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, Thaddeus, Simon, Judas and James,” answers the refugee. “Mr. President, Christianity is not demonstrated by a recitation of facts. You’re seeking evidence of faith, a wholehearted acceptance of God’s promise for a better world. ‘For we hold that man is justified by faith alone’ is what St. Paul said. ‘Justified by faith alone.’ Faith is the true…uh—” He struggles, searching, and then he says, “Shibboleth. Faith is the true Shibboleth.”

Sorkin wrote that. Liberal and unbeliever he may be, but those words came from his script.

We worry about erosion. We worry about a constant chipping away at our faith from cynical secularism. Well, I know some of you may not like this, but we only have ourselves to blame. This great divide between the sacred and the secular deepened a long time ago.

Around the turn of the 19th century, Christians got it into their minds that the culture of the arts had become too profane. Great minds were asking tough questions about Christianity, and instead of engaging, our ancestral believers decided to focus their energies on a personal, private piety. In other words, we got up and walked away from the table. Think back to the friend that left you at the lunch table that day at school—your animosity then will help shed some light on the animosity we face in the culture today.

I remember stating once that if the Christian community really wanted to respond to the heresy of The Da Vinci Code, then we should write better books. The story and Gospel of Christ has survived 2000 years. A single television show won’t make it go away. The power of its message still retains great strength on the page and on the screen, even if someone else writes it. I know it’s difficult. Many Christian writers have told about how hard it is to get their work seen by important eyes. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying.

How best can we respond to Studio 60? I can think of three ways. One, if it offends you, change the channel. Two, if it doesn’t, enjoy it. Three, if you’re talented, get involved, and join the creative process. A friend of mine felt so much enmity toward V for Vendetta that she wrote a story. She’s out there trying to get herself published. Many of us are. Call me naïve, but I can still hear Robin Williams in my head, speaking lines from Dead Poets Society. “Words and ideas can change the world.” I believe it.


Written by taj

October 20, 2006 at 11:36 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Hey Travis, looks like this show is headed for cancellation…



    October 29, 2006 at 8:43 pm

  2. It is amazing to think that people do not read things in context or what is going on with the story. There are lyrics to the song ‘Witch Hunt’ that state, “We are up in arms instead of on our knees….We are walking over dollars trying to find another dime.” The song talks about being so worked up and going after anyone and everyone that we miss the point.So, often people get their feathers all ruffled that if they stay calm it will blow over.

    The thing to think about with Studio 60 is it is good writing. Anyone that can make others think and challenge them to think outside of themselves and to see other points of view is a good writer.

    I agree with the author of this blog in saying that the Gospel has survived this long and will continue to survive, that one little television show will not bring it down.

    George Webbler

    November 2, 2006 at 4:06 pm

  3. Regarding “Shibboleth:” I still ca’t believe that Sorkin, who is a nitpicking wordsmith, woudl get the names of the 12 disciples wrong. Simon & Peter are the same. He only mentioned one James..he forgot James the Less…

    Brian Weymouth

    March 24, 2008 at 12:19 am

  4. Hey Brian,

    I think the thing to keep in mind is that the character in the episode was only asked to recite the names. He likely listed only one James to cover the two since they both go by James in the Gospels. He lists Simon as Peter (for that was the name Christ gave him), and the character is mindful to include the other Simon as well: Simon Zealotes.


    March 24, 2008 at 8:06 am

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