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CULTURE DIGEST: NBC’s ‘Book of Daniel’ mocks Christian families; Catholics consider abolishing ‘limbo’; ads add to teen drinking

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–NBC is set to debut what it calls an “edgy” new drama starring a drug-addicted Episcopal priest who has a wife who downs mid-day martinis, a 23-year-old son who is a homosexual Republican, a 16-year-old daughter who sells marijuana and a 16-year-old adopted son who is having sexual relations with the bishop’s daughter.

Though most Christians would see this as a mockery, NBC contends “The Book of Daniel,” which premiers Jan. 6 at 10 p.m., is a serious portrayal of an average American family.

“None of us are perfect,” Jack Kenny, a homosexual who created and produced the show, said in The Boston Globe Jan. 1. “We all have secrets, things we don’t want our spouses or lovers to know we did, whether it’s that extra martini or reliance on prescription painkillers.”

Kenny, who considers his current spirituality a private matter, said the children in the series are like “every teenager I grew up with. Honestly, I’ve had more people tell me, ‘This is so my family.’”

Beyond the dysfunctional family, troubles at the main character’s church include a major financial scandal and a lesbian secretary sleeping with his sister-in-law. And the priest, Daniel Webster, talks often with a flesh-and-blood Jesus, portrayed as a reasonable best friend with a beard and wearing a white robe.

The Christian watchdog group American Family Association is calling on people to protest the show by contacting their local NBC affiliates, sending e-mails to NBC and spreading the word about its content via church bulletins and newsletters.

“You’d be hard pressed in America to find that type of dysfunctional family, and yet NBC is going to portray it as normal,” Randy Sharp, director of special projects for AFA, told The Globe. “They take our Savior Jesus Christ and reflect Him as an everyday Joe. How disrespectful. … We will be recording this show, reviewing it and contacting the advertisers who put their dollars behind this kind of disrespect to the Christian community.”

The last time AFA went after a television show that spoofed Christianity, it resulted in the show being canceled, The Globe noted. In 1998 ABC aired a show about a renegade Catholic priest called “Nothing Sacred,” which was short-lived despite positive reviews.

Kenny insists he didn’t mean for his show to be about religion.

“I have no faith-based agenda,” he told The Globe. “I do think Jesus is always talking to us. I think God is all around us. … I was always raised to have a personal relationship with Jesus, but I never knew what that meant.”

CATHOLICS CONSIDER ABOLISHING ‘LIMBO’ — A Roman Catholic tradition that has been around since the Middle Ages may soon be no more. Limbo, the place somewhere between heaven and hell reserved for unbaptized babies, was discussed among 30 top theologians last month at the Vatican and, because it has never been an official church doctrine, could eventually be tossed aside.

The controversy over limbo began with St. Augustine, who believed baptism was essential for salvation and that unbaptized babies would go to a mild level of hell, according to a report by The New York Times Dec. 28. Later, in the Middle Ages, theologians devised a place called limbo, where infants would be in neither heaven nor hell but would enjoy eternal happiness.

“Children who die without baptism go into limbo, where they do not enjoy God, but they do not suffer either,” Pope Pius X declared in 1905.

But limbo, which has no scriptural basis, has long been considered by many within the Catholic Church to be unnecessarily harsh, The Times said, and even before he was pope, Benedict XVI said he would be in favor of discarding it as a church tradition.

“Limbo has never been a definitive truth of the faith,” then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said in 1984. “Personally, I would let it drop, since it has always been only a theological hypothesis.”

The issue is particularly sensitive when connected with abortion, The Times noted, because if unborn babies are humans, then their souls must go somewhere once they’re killed. And as the Catholic Church grows in popularity in regions of the world such as Africa and Asia where the infant mortality rate is high, limbo becomes an increasingly unpopular idea.

Times reporter Ian Fisher reflected, “While the concerns of the experts reconsidering limbo are more theological, it does not hurt the church’s future if an African mother who has lost a baby can receive more hopeful news from her priest in 2005 than, say, an Italian mother did 100 years ago.”

The leaders currently considering the issue have not said what doctrine would replace limbo, and their final opinion on the subject is not expected for at least another year.

ALCOHOL ADS CONTRIBUTE TO TEEN DRINKING — Despite what the alcohol industry says, a new study has found that alcohol advertising contributes to increased drinking among youth.

The study, released in the January edition of the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, was meant to test whether alcohol advertising expenditures and the degree of exposure to alcohol advertisements affect alcohol consumption by youth.

Researchers randomly surveyed people ages 15 to 26 between 1999 and 2001 and found that youth who saw more alcohol advertisements on average drank more -– with each additional advertisement viewed, the number of drinks consumed increased by 1 percent. They also discovered that youth in markets with greater alcohol advertising expenditures drank more — each additional dollar spent per capita raised the number of drinks consumed by 3 percent.

Youth in markets with more alcohol advertisements showed increases in drinking levels into their late 20s, but drinking plateaued in the early 20s for youth in markets with fewer advertisements, the study said.

“This study is the strongest piece of evidence yet that … if kids see a lot of alcohol advertisements, they are more likely to drink more,” David H. Jernigan, research director of Georgetown University’s Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, told The Washington Times. He added that the findings “call into question the industry’s argument that its roughly $1.8 billion in measured media expenditures per year have no impact on underaged drinking.”

RHODE ISLAND LEGALIZES MEDICAL MARIJUANA — Rhode Island became the 11th state to legalize medicinal marijuana Jan. 3 when the state’s House of Representatives overrode a veto by the governor 59-13 to allow people with illnesses including cancer and AIDS to grow up to 12 marijuana plants or purchase 2.5 ounces of the drug in order to alleviate their symptoms, the Associated Press reported.

Although federal law prohibits the use of marijuana altogether, Maine, Vermont, Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington permit its use for medicinal purposes.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that people who use marijuana for medicinal purposes can still be prosecuted under federal law despite their state’s law, though federal authorities say it is unlikely such action will be taken.

    About the Author

  • Erin Curry Roach