This week’s episode, entitled “Christening,” in which Jim and Pam have their infant child baptized in an unidentified mainline Protestant church (the giveaway is that the pastor is a woman), portrayed churchgoing, clergy, and mission work in a flattering light. It isn’t often that characters on primetime shows are shown going to church—or even having any kind of spiritual life. Inasmuch as primetime TV deals with it all, religion is usually the domain of weirdos, Bible-thumping fanatics, and pedophile priests (although, in fairness, I watch a lot crime drama). Still, for an activity in which 50 million (or so) normal Americans participate each week, churchgoing is obviously badly underrepresented in primetime.
The portrayal of the church itself seems true to life: The church is friendly and welcoming. It’s celebrating a group of young people leaving that afternoon on a mission trip to Mexico. Even Jim and Pam are like many couples who become active again in church after starting a family.
Even more, mopey Toby the H.R. guy is shown having a genuine spiritual crisis. At first he won’t enter the sanctuary. “Me and the Big Guy have a lot of catching up to do,” he said to the camera. When the service is over, he summons the courage to go in. He’s shown standing near the altar, looking up at the stained glass. Job-like, he asks, “Wh-why do you have to be so mean to me?” It takes a lot of faith to be angry at God. After all, he believes that he is talking to God, and that God hears him.
Ryan speaks the only negative word about the church, saying to some of his coworkers before they enter the sanctuary: “Hope you brought your pipes, boys. We’re going to be smoking the opium of the masses”—referring to Marx’s famous comment about religion. But Ryan, as anyone who watches the show knows, has become an incredibly unsympathetic character. He gets in a good line while tapping on his iPhone (or Droid): “Come on! For all their generosity, they password-protect their wireless!”
You can watch the complete episode here.