Monday, June 06, 2005

Religion reality shows

A recent, very successful and very interesting reality show in Britain put 3 'regular' men into a monastry and watched them slowly open up and come to a better understanding of themselves. Now, another channel has picked up on the idea and in the latest reality show , participants will 'shop' for spiritual fulfilment by visiting different religions. Judging from the report in the UK's Jewish Chronicle, it doesn't look like Judaism will be picked:
Ms Newton-Wright attended a Shabbat service, baked chalah and spent a Friday-night dinner with Rabbi Aaron Goldstein and his family..... On hosting Ms Newton-Wright, he said: “It wasn’t about converting her to Judaism, but about showing her how a certain time and space in life can be enriching.”
Although she enjoyed the Shabbat meal, according to the rabbi, “she found the text study at the Friday- night service a bit strange.”
Oh well -- doesn't sound like a great loss -- although it's always nice to be picked....
Clearly, in addition to treating religion as a commodity and trivialising it, such a programme misses much of what a 'religion' is actually about. Series producer Josh de la Mare admits as much, although perhaps he didn't realize the full significance of what he was saying:
“[The programme “aimed to encourage non-religious members of the public to take a more spiritual journey in their lives. Participants weren’t required to believe in the God of that religion or believe in the doctrine.”
In other words, it had nothing to do with looking for the greater truths, the depth, challenges or purpose most religions offer, and everything to do with looking at the very surface of the religion, its outer markers, for some kind of internal peace / 'feelgood factor.' Now, I'm not knocking 'internal peace' by any means, but the difficulty of its elevation above most other values by a large chunk of society is exactly what the Chief Rabbi is talking about in his new book. And as R. Goldstein reminds us, the Jewish crowd is very much part of this trend:
“Although the programme is not specifically aimed at a Jewish audience, it does ring true with a certain Jewish generation, who shop around for shuls and seek spirituality through other ways, such as yoga, Buddhism and Kabbalah.”

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