Four TV Shows from the 90s that Shaped American Spirituality – WEEK 4 – Sex and the City

Sex and the City 1Okay, so I’m shrinking this series down to “Four TV Shows….” from “Five TV Shows.” It’s mostly due to work load in the next couple of weeks. So, this will be the last one….

Series Summary

In the late 90s, HBO started becoming perceived as less of simply a cable video store as it started producing more of its own original content. Some of Hollywood’s talented younger writers, directors, and producers saw in the premium channel less restriction from Standards and Practices censorship and more creative license for their product. Consequently, HBO started producing edgy, highly acclaimed original series such as The Sopranos, Oz, and a critical darling targeted at young women called Sex and the City.

Of the shows that I’ve written about thus far, I’ll freely admit that Sex and the City is the one which I’ve seen the least and know the least about. But I’ve seen enough, read enough, and talked to enough young women to understand its societal impact.

In many ways, SATC was considered a knockoff of an earlier network sitcom called The Golden Girls, which was only able to get away with half of its content because people considered little old ladies talking about sex as cute, quirky, and harmless enough.

The show follows a New York City writer named Carrie Bradshaw. Carrie is also the show’s narrator and every episode is structured around an article she happens to be writing that week for a relationship column in a New York newspaper.

Sex and the City 3While in the 80s a weekly show like Sex and the City, starring mostly women, addressing the content matter that it did, would have most likely been considered nearly unconscionable by the collective American public. But by the late 90s, it was met with great critical and consumer fanfare. In its six season span, the show collected 54 Emmy nominations, 24 Golden Globe nominations, and 11 Screen Actors Guild nominations.

And finally, it’s easy to denounce the overtly lewd and immoral content of the show. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting such criticism of the show is unwarranted. It unquestionably is. But I will say this…..Sex and the City is yet another painful reminder that Hollywood beat us to the punch on an important issue and our Christian inactivity allowed shows like SATC to be the first to shape young minds (including many Christian young minds) about human sexuality. In other words, the Christian Church, by and large, shied away from openly and honestly addressing the delicate issue of sexuality for years and years and years. And while there is such a thing as an inappropriate fascination with the topic, its preposterous to have young people learning about sex primarily from locker rooms, or the internet, or premium cable TV, especially when you consider how much it’s on the minds of sexually maturing human beings.

GOD is the one who created humans to be sexual beings. Yes, God invented sex! God even inspired nearly an entire book of the Bible to be recorded about it – you know that one that remains virtually unstudied in most Bibles – Song of Songs? If we as Christian leaders and parents don’t have the courage to address difficult topics with young people who are naturally going to be curious, they’re eventually going to be instructed by someone (or some show) that shapes their understanding of what exactly is sexually “normal” and “healthy.”

What was “magical” about the show?

Even apart from the risqué content of the show, from what I’ve seen, I found the show virtually unwatchable because of the main character’s notorious overuse of “puns” – the lowest, most groan-inducing form of humor I can imagine. The show is littered with them. My personal preferences notwithstanding, the show was, and continues to be, enormously influential.

To get a feel for how much impact the show actually had, particularly on young women, just consider this list. These are all items that were maybe around prior to SATC, but were, for the most part, considered social “norms” by the end of the show. I’m not saying each was directly caused by SATC influence, but the show certainly presented all of these as viable, fairly common, trendy options.

Sex and the City 51) Extravagance in fashion, especially shoes – the fashion of SATC is the aspect of the show that actually garnered the most awards. The show spawned fashion lines and is the reason that many young women wear unthinkably high-priced shoes to proms and weddings called Manolo Blahnik’s.

2) Having a gay best friend – Several of the characters on SATC have close gay friends in addition to their network of four girl friends. Again, I’m definitely not suggesting that people didn’t have gay friends prior to SATC, nor am I suggesting that most friendships with homosexual men are disingenuous. That’s ridiculous. But, if we’re honest, these types of friendships did become trendy, almost as a way to publicly express how open-minded and culturally diverse you were. Furthermore, if I was gay, I’d be a little offended and skeptical of some young women who were potentially using me as a fashionable accessory, sort of like how very wealthy and famous people are often, at times, understandably skeptical when people pursue them in dating relationships.

3) Multiple boyfriends back-and-forth – dating became a nearly all-consuming lifestyle with SATC. Dating multiple people until some public proclamation of “exclusivity” is made is fairly common today. This isn’t necessarily inherently good or bad. I’m just saying, it’s a new normal.

4) Occasional one night stands – promiscuous sexuality is not new to mankind or the American public either. However, fairly or unfairly, for a long time the general public perception was that while male hormones were almost uncontrollable, women needed to play defense. SATC unapologetically said that previous “norm” was passé, that women can/should play offense too. And now we’re seeing a fairly historically unique social phenomenon where both men and women are willing sexual aggressors, and the end result is more offense than an Arena League football game. There is very little stigma in “hook-ups” any more, to such a degree that it is considered normal to have had a few.

5) Women primarily with careers outside the home – yes, lots of women worked and worked outside of their homes prior to the mid 90s. But there are now more women currently in college than men. That’s never happened before. It suggests we have a growing trend of women who are not having kids, women who are not raising their own kids, stay-at-home dads, and women who identify themselves primarily with their profession. That’s historically unique as well.

6) Glamour of Manhattan – SATC was not the first or only influence in the fascination with New York City. But along with shows like Seinfeld and Friends, SATC certainly contributed to the allure. Seeing single people in their 30s and 40s living uninhibited, exciting lives led to an influx of young people moving into the city. This is different from previous eras in NYC history where people moved there because they had to for work, but tried to move out of the city once it was feasible for work and finances.

Okay, so how has it influenced us…spiritually?

1) Gender Distortion

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Are you entirely comfortable with this as the biblical image of the ideal woman?

To some degree, I think the gender distortion presented by Sex and the City wasn’t created in a vacuum. I think it was a bit of a reaction to gender distortion that was previously presented in a Leave It To Beaver era. No, Sex and the City doesn’t present God’s intention for Christian young women. However, I don’t think that a different generation’s depiction of an admirable woman was necessarily perfectly biblical either – barefoot in the kitchen, primarily capable of simply having kids, making dinners, and cleaning clothes.

Contrast both of these depictions of women with Proverbs 31. Here, the Bible says that a “wife of noble character” is not only hard to find, but also “worth far more than rubies” (Prov. 31:10). Such a woman is…

  • hard-working and responsible –  “She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands” (vs. 13); “She sets about her work vigorously” (vs. 17); “She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.” (vs. 27)
  • ambitious – “She gets up while it is still night” (vs. 15)
  • financially savvy – “She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.” (vs. 16); “She sees that her trading is profitable,  and her lamp does not go out at night.” (vs. 18)
  • possesses a certain amount of physical fitness – “her arms are strong for her tasks” (vs. 17)

(By the way, this might be a good time to remind readers of the site that we are always interested in your feedback. Please forward all complaints to pastorjameshein.humanresources.superoffended@gmail.com.)

  • generous – “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.” (vs. 20)
  • strong and respectable – “She is clothed with strength and dignity” (vs. 25)
  • has a sense of humor – “she can laugh at the days to come.” (vs. 25)
  • wise – “She speaks with wisdom” (vs. 26)

And yet, while she has all sorts of great attributes that the world would likely applaud, the greatest thing about her is that she loves her Lord and Savior – “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (vs. 30)

Okay, so my point is that in a sinful world, almost every cultural depiction of a what a woman “should be” is going to be a little different from the Bible’s picture of godly femininity. Sex and the City presented the ideal image of woman as strong-minded, independent, ambitious, and highly sexual. Previous eras of TV presented the ideal image of a woman as passive, quiet, respectful, and virtuously pure. Isn’t it possible that the Bible might present something different, but better? Isn’t it possible that the ideal woman could be presented as both sexual AND pure, respectful AND ambitious, strong AND complementary? In short, the Bible says “Yes. Such is a woman who fears the Lord.”

Sinful hearts are inclined to make good traits into ultimate traits. Accordingly, an ideal goal for a woman should not be to be “strong” or it will compromise another good trait. Rather, if her goal is to be “godly,” she’ll get “strong” thrown in.

2) Overt Female Sexuality

There is absolutely no mistaking how far the “normal” for female sexuality that is presented in Sex and the City is from God’s design. One of my favorite biblical warnings about human sexuality is what the Apostle Paul says to the Ephesians, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality.” (Eph. 5:3) What was once “hinted at” on TV, SATC went ahead and told the whole secret.

When Paul writes to the Romans, he mentions the commonness of departure from God’s design for human sexuality amongst females as a benchmark for how far a society has fallen from God – “Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.” (vs. Rom. 1:26) For one reason or another, historically, women have generally been more virtuous in the arena of sexuality. When the morals of females go downhill, a society’s hope for sexuality as God designed is all but gone. In SATC, the women give away what previous generations would have paid money for, but now it’s considered being “sexually liberated.” It’s not hard to imagine what long-term implications there might be if this becomes the average woman.

It may sound like I’m being unfair in finger-pointing here at women. I certainly don’t blame all women, or only blame women, or even primarily blame women for the broken sexuality of the 21st century. To be perfectly honest, I primarily blame us men. A recent survey I was reading of 29,000 people at North American universities suggested that 51% of men and 16% of women spend up to five hours per week online for sexual purposes, and another 11% of men spend anywhere from five to 20 hours per week. And this information should be processed while understanding that statistics on sexual behavior that might have a social stigma are notoriously underreported.

You see, for many men, the advent of pornography that is easily accessible, affordable, and anonymous, has, as Naomi Wolf in New York Magazine put it, turned “real naked women” into “just bad porn.” Culturally, one unfortunate end result of this is that it has suggested to many young women that they need to some how keep up with pornography if they are ever going to find real intimacy with a man who can more easily get his sexual fix elsewhere. And some women, the Sex and the City girls included, have taken the “may as well join them” attitude about sex.

But there is hope. As C.S. Lewis wrote in “The Weight of Glory”:

“Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased….Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness.”

NET takeaway: Socially, our current understanding of human sexuality is a fairly strange and heart-breaking place. But there is One who not only promises satisfying intimacy, but himself designed it, and is willing to guide us in it if we let him. Sex and the City 4

Five TV Shows from the 90s that Shaped American Spirituality – WEEK 3 – The Oprah Winfrey Show

oprah 1Sometimes when the devil comes, he’s not wearing horns or carrying a pitchfork. Who would honestly be led astray by that anyway? No, he’s a fallen angel. As an angel, and supposed high-ranking angel at that, I’m assuming he’s intelligent and insightful (Gen. 3:1), beautiful in his own way (2 Cor. 11:14), and intimidatingly influential (Eph. 6:12; 1 Pet. 5:8). How persuasive would one have to be in order to convince an army of angels as well as the first humans to do the dumbest possible thing they possibly could and rebel against their God?

Therefore we should not be surprised if/when Satan comes through the message of someone who is talented in all of the ways mentioned above in addition to being a sympathetic, attractive figure.

Series Summary

oprah 3The Oprah Winfrey Show did not start or end in the 90s, but the 90s are when Oprah exploded in popularity and separated herself from the pack of afternoon talk shows.

Oprah Winfrey was born as the product of an affair between Vernon Winfrey, who was on Army leave, and Oprah’s mother, Vernita. In her childhood, bouncing around from Mississippi to Nashville to Milwaukee, Oprah encountered painful obstacles like poverty and repeated sexual abuse. But Oprah’s troubled upbringing always still incorporated church. In an article in Christianity Today (1 April 2011), LaTonya Taylor writes that “Even as a little girl, (Oprah) was attentive on Sunday mornings. . . In fact, the next day on the playground at Wharton Elementary School, Oprah would often repeat the Sunday sermon, using notes she had taken at church.  She called it the ‘Monday morning devotion.’  She had learned the Golden Rule, written it over and over, and carried it in her school bag.  She wanted to be a missionary. . .”

And a missionary, with her own unique theology, is exactly what Oprah would ultimately become. Just ask her. In a January 2011 interview with Piers Morgan, she said, “This isn’t about me. I am the messenger to deliver the message of redemption, of hope, of forgiveness, of gratitude, of evolving people to the best of themselves. So I am on my personal journey. My personal journey is to fulfill the highest expression of myself here as a human being here on earth.”
So make no mistake, Oprah has “pastored” more people than I, or most all pastors, ever will.

To this point, I still really haven’t summarized the show, only Oprah the woman. But, you see, there’s no way to understand the content of The Oprah Winfrey Show, or its impact on the nearly 22 million (mostly female) daily viewers, without understanding the woman herself.

When the show began broadcasting nationally in 1986, it followed the familiar format of most afternoon tabloid talk shows. However, by the mid-90s, as Winfrey gained more creative control, the show addressed broader societal topics such as geopolitics, spirituality, social issues with celebrity involvement, and of course there were episodes sprinkled in that included enormous giveaways, where audience members received items like new cars or vacations.

What was “magical” about the show?

So how did she do it? How did Oprah rise to become arguably the most influential woman on the planet, the first black American billionaire, and what Dr. James Eckman (author of “The Truth About Worldviews”) called “the high priestess of a Postmodern spirituality”.….“leading 22 million people down a path filled with spiritual half-truths and lies.”

In short, I think Oprah came off to people as real at a time when everyone was questioning what “real” really was. In 1988, TIME magazine put it like this:

“As interviewers go, she is no match for, say, Phil Donahue…What she lacks in journalistic toughness, she makes up for in plainspoken curiosity, robust humor and, above all empathy. Guests with sad stories to tell are apt to rouse a tear in Oprah’s eye…They, in turn, often find themselves revealing things they would not imagine telling anyone, much less a national TV audience. It is the talk show as a group therapy session.”

In some ways, it was simply a perfect storm of circumstances. Here sits our late twentieth century country, more affluent than any place in world history, but still filled with miserable people. The people are spiritually hungry after being taught for a hundred years that you cannot trust what you read in the Bible or what you hear from the so-called spiritual institutions. People were craving meaning, hope, and practical theology. And they’re living in an increasingly pluralistic society due to global mobilization and other modern communication means (like the internet) that shrunk the planet. And here comes along this young, tremendously likable, black woman, who, against all odds, becomes one of the biggest celebrities. As Kathryn Loften, a Yale professor of American and religious studies and author of “Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon” put it, Winfrey’s unlikely rise to spiritual leadership precisely explains her appeal: “She represents — in her race and gender and origins — being utterly outside established power. This is appealing to people who associate religion with controlling authority, rigid dogma or social adherence. This is a religion for those who don’t want to be religious, but want to feel revelation.” In other words, Oprah was the embodiment of a person who taught that you could leave behind organized religion, with all its stuffiness and corruption, but continue the spiritual pursuit. And such theology, at least in the world of Oprah, apparently leads to great success.

This belief was painfully obvious at times on Winfrey’s shows. Both her New Age pluralistic spirituality and her gigantic influence can be seen, by way of example, in her open support of Rhonda Byrne’s 2007 book “The Secret.” Oprah summarized the book and its philosophy by saying on her show, “We all, human beings here on earth, create our own reality. We create our own circumstances by the choices that we make and the choices that we make are fueled by our thoughts. So our thoughts are the most powerful thing that we have here on earth.” Winfrey’s stamp of approval on the book immediately transformed it into a NY Times best-seller.

Perhaps the best demonstration of Winfrey’s non-Christian spirituality was seen on a 2007 episode, where she had a very telling interaction with Christian audience members. Here’s a brief summary of the dialogue:

Winfrey:  One of the mistakes that human beings make is believing that there is only one way to live and that we don’t accept that there are diverse ways of being in the world, that there are millions of ways to please God and many ways, many paths to what you call God.

Audience member 1:  And I guess the danger that could be in … I mean it sounds great at the outset but if you really look at both sides. . . .

Winfrey:  There couldn’t possibly be just one way? . . .

Audience member 2:  You say there isn’t only one way.  There is one way and only one way and that is through Jesus.

Winfrey:  There couldn’t possibly be only one way with millions of people in the world!

The video of the dialogue became sensationally popular online, followed up by many further videos of Oprah popping up, espousing her spiritual beliefs which bible scholars pointed out were NOT compatible with orthodox Christian truths. For instance, Winfrey has stated that she used to believe that Jesus Christ came to die and save us from our sins but has come to understand that Jesus came  to teach us how to be enlightened people, as though Jesus was just another Buddhist zen master.

oprah 2Today, the orthodox Christian community has become a little more savvy in diagnosing Winfrey’s non-Christian spirituality, but for the most part, the damage has already been done. “Many will turn away from the faith….many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.” (Matt. 24:10-11)

Okay, so how has it influenced us…spiritually?

Postmodern New Age Movement spirituality defines truth in a self-centered manner.  No one’s ideas are allowed to be critiqued. Every system is perceived as equally valid. Truth is established through personal experience. And since experience is considered to be incredibly individual and usually private, you’re not allowed to challenge anyone’s experience because, after all, “you don’t know me.” And this is why the Confirmation verse of 21st century Postmodern spirituality has become “Do not judge.” (Matt. 7:1)

Oprah convinced millions of young American women that…..

1) …relationship with God comes apart from relationship with his Church.

The Bible says, “No, it doesn’t.” “(You are) fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household,built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Eph. 2:20-22) According to the Bible, IF you are connected to the biblical God, you WILL be connected to his” body,” the Church.

2) …there are numerous routes to find God.

The Bible says, “No, there aren’t.”I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) In fact, the Christian faith is SO exclusive when it comes to salvation through faith in Jesus alone that the early Christians referred to themselves as members of “THE Way” (Acts 9:2). “One of MANY equally valid but obviously conflicting ways” or something else equally Postmodern was never seriously up for consideration. So, while I can easily label Oprah as a generous philanthropist, a barrier-breaking trailblazer, and very intelligent and successful woman, I can’t call her a Christian on the basis of how the Bible defines a true believer.

3) …the gospel is primarily about you, your feelings and opinions, your wants and desires, or your fulfillment.

Satan doesn’t make you spiritually blind by covering your eyes entirely. He does it by diverting your eyes from God to yourself. And any philosophy that has its main goal as personal empowerment is a devilish gospel that’s all about you. That is the devil’s gospel.

The actual gospel is about Jesus. Personal empowerment is a good thing, but according to the Bible, personal empowerment cannot be achieved apart from relationship to Jesus, the one you were built and redeemed for.

Consider the following….

OUR CREATION – “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” (Col. 1:16)

OUR REDEMPTION – In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” (Eph. 1:7)

OUR CONVERSION – “When you were dead in your sins…God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.” (Col. 2:13)

OUR NEW LIFE – “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Pet. 2:24)

OUR ETERNITY – “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Rom. 6:5)

OUR ENTIRE EXISTENCE – “For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)

See, according to the Bible, my life is not about me. Jesus’ life was about me. But now my life is about him being in me and me in him. Part of the mystery of the gospel is that only if I lose my life for him will I actually find true life in him.

NET takeaway: Personal empowerment, generous deeds, emotional healing, and an open-mind that leads you to show acts of love to those who are physically, economically, or even theologically different than you are all beautiful byproducts of the gospel. But they are NOT the gospel. It’s important to be able to tell the difference.

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Five TV Shows from the 90’s that Shaped American Spirituality – WEEK 2 – Seinfeld

seinfeld 1

If you’re okay with  idea of a Christian pastor writing about Seinfeld, then feel free to skip ahead to the Summary. If not, please read the disclaimer below.

DISCLAIMER:

You’re probably going to see a lot of these in this particular series :). By writing about a certain TV show, please understand that I’m not giving a ringing endorsement of all of the show’s content. A show like Seinfeld, popular as it was, on network TV as it was, certainly more than pushed the envelope at times in its subject matter.

That said, I do think it is important to honestly recognize talent where talent exists. It’s sort of like an adult telling a child they cannot watch a TV show because “it’s NOT funny” when, in truth, the TV show is, in fact, fairly clever, insightful, witty, and funny. Saying “it’s not funny” is probably not the right approach. That might merely cause you to lose credibility with your kids. After all, why would my mom or dad be more qualified than the American majority to label something as “funny” or not? As a Christian, if the show is mean-spirited and immoral, then that is the reason not to allow your kids (or yourself) to watch. But don’t just say it’s “not funny.”

Furthermore, I also think it’s important to recognize that the Christian Church hasn’t historically shied away from culture’s more influential art forms or artists, whether that be in literature, music, painting, sculpting, or theater. For some reason, perhaps American Pietism, the church in our country is well behind in embracing the most influential current cultural art forms. From a mission standpoint, I personally believe this makes it HIGHLY difficult for Christians to meet people where they’re at in life with the gospel.

In other words, I don’t exactly know how to “go into the city” (Jer. 29:7; Jonah 1:2; Acts 17:16), careful not to fully embrace the ways of the city (Gen. 19:1; Josh. 6:18), without ever entering the city. That balance is part of the purpose of this blog.

As I’ve gotten older and grown spiritually, I’ve become a bit more discerning in the entertainment I consume. I would absolutely support someone who avoids shows like Seinfeld for the right reasons. But I also see value in dissecting what impact they have on the thought of the very people we are trying to love, serve, and save with the gospel today.

So…………

Series Summary

I remember the moment I first fell for Seinfeld. It was during episode 34 (Season 3), “The Boyfriend, Part 1.” Main character Jerry Seinfeld was trying to convince his friend Elaine that professional baseball player Keith Hernandez did not, in fact, spit on his eccentric friend Kramer or Jerry’s arch nemesis, heavyset mailman Newman, Kramer’s close friend. I had never heard a conversation so sophisticated and yet so unimportant. It was beautiful in its own way.

Twenty years later, like many men my age, I’ve seen every episode of Seinfeld countless times, can annoyingly recite virtually every line, and still often laugh harder on hearing these lines for the 50th time even more than the first time. Seinfeld became such a distinct part of my life and the way that I think that to this day I have a harder time remembering my childhood address than Jerry’s – 129 West 81st St, Apt. 5A.

I’m sure there will come a day when Seinfeld’s brand of humor is no longer funny. It’ll almost definitely come at a time when the common worldview has shifted, since the idiosyncrasies of (post)modern man is what Seinfeld tapped into so well. But today, as evidenced by the fact that still no other show comes anywhere close to grossing what Seinfeld has in syndication, the series continues to capture the American zeitgeist, perfectly illustrating the foibles of the thought and spirit of our day.

“Isolated, narcissistic, urban, ‘thirty-something singles’ float through their existences trying to make sense out of what they ultimately perceive to be a meaningless, patchwork world. We laugh as we watch these actors portray individuals with no roots, vague identities, and conscious indifference to morals outside their self-determined ones.” (Hurd, R. Wesley (June 1998). “Postmodernism: A New Model of Reality”. McKenzie Study Center.)

What was “Magical” about the show?

In its June 1997 edition, TV Guide called Seinfeld, “the greatest television program of all time.” Why?

As mentioned, in Seinfeld, series creators Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David captured the spirit of the times and brilliantly pinpointed and poked fun at the finicky, superficial, indecisive nature of postmodern people. But the show’s mechanisms were also highly unconventional. Seinfeld, a self-professed “show about nothing” was less about plot line and more about character development, or lack thereof. And yet, despite the rather inconsequential nature of the characters’ day-to-day seinfeld 3lives, all of their storylines ultimately interconnected in some uncanny way. This inevitably resulted not in a positive outcome for the characters (who can barely be labeled as “protagonists” due to their obviously selfish, superficial natures). Rather, in the end, the main characters generally got what they deserved. Even the series finale (SPOILER ALERT) concludes with them being tossed in jail precisely for their lack of concern for their fellowman.

Evidence of the impact of Seinfeld can still be heard in everyday conversations, which often sound like retreads of the sitcom’s classic bits.  Whether slight variations or direct theft of Seinfeldisms, if you’re looking for it, it’s nothing short of amazing how much modern comedy is so transparently driven by Seinfeld humor.

Since the show concluded in May of 1998, there have been other shows that have shifted the way TV, particularly comedies, have been done. The Office comes to mind. But most critics would tell you that none of them even come close to the continued impact of America’s most beloved “show about nothing.”

Okay, so how has it influenced us….spiritually?

1) The characters never develop

Prior to Seinfeld, the way a story was generally told, in simple terms, was that a character has some sort of humble beginnings (moral or financial or simple naïveté, etc.). The character experiences a conflict which causes him/her to go on a journey. Everything comes to a head, a climax, and finally the character learns an important lesson and the tension is resolved.

If you’ve ever seen Seinfeld, you know that this doesn’t happen in one single episode. The show’s creators were acutely aware that the conventional storytelling method, while compelling, is often not the way life really works. Much of the time, people don’t actually learn the lessons they should, continuously falling into the same traps.

In the show, Jerry, a single, indifferent, semi-famous comedian, is constantly looking for a true companion, but due to his perfectionist, picky ways, he ends up dating a different girl each week. George Costanza, his lifelong best friend, is petty, cheap, dishonest, and constantly jealous of the success of others, yet possesses no real drive to achieve success of his own. Elaine Benes, Jerry’s ex-girlfriend but continued good friend, is assertive, a bit of a feminist, and wants to prove the power of the modern woman. Nonetheless, she’s a bit of a self-righteous liberal, which tends to cause her to fall into the very stereotypes she hates. And then there’s Kramer. Kramer is the do-nothing, know-nothing, but good-natured and good-fortuned eccentric, across-the-hall friend of Jerry. And every single one of the characters ends the series as the exact same person as when the show began. They start the show as superficial, single adults complaining about the minutiae of life, aspiring for something greater but refusing to make the painful changes in themselves that would lead to changes in their lives. They flirt with such changes at times, even holding lengthy conversations and making pacts about things like growing up and getting jobs and getting religious and getting married, but none of them is ever able to fully follow through on the execution. To the characters, life is just too hard and their own comfort and pleasure is just too important. In fact, this lack of development is such an integral part of the show that the very last conversation of the series shows the characters holding one of the same petty, pointless discussions that opened the series – the placement of the second button on a man’s shirt making or breaking the quality of the shirt.

Alright, does this teach us anything spiritually? Yes, something painfully applicable in fact. As the years go by, humans are not only supposed to grow up physically, but it’s also understood that we’re supposed to develop in character. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” (1 Cor. 13:11) Seinfeld is filled with characters who have refused to grow up (i.e. develop). This is illustrated in every episode in subtle ways, such as Jerry’s fascination with Superman and his tendency to eat cereal for every meal.

When you’re a child, your world is very small and you are the center of it. It’s only as you grow up that you realize you are a mere speck on a giant planet which is itself a dot in the universe. When your world is small and your thoughts are simplistic, comfort and pleasure and entertainment, base desires, are generally your only goals. On Seinfeld, there is very little action. Probably around 80% of the show takes place either in Jerry’s apartment or Monk’s cafe, their local diner around the corner. They live in New York City, but their world is very small because they are full-grown children.

Today we have a similar situation/problem – young adults, especially young men, refusing to grow up. Why? In part, seinfeld 2simply because we can get away with it. If your parents are willing to let you live in the basement until you’re 40-years-old and you’re not starving and there’s very little societal shame in not tracking down a job, you can bank on finding boatloads of guys who won’t grow up, who are the center of their own little universe, and who see pleasure as the main goal of life.

The Apostle Paul encourages us to grow up and put childish ways behind us. Culturally though, we’ve responded with a collective “No thanks. Responsibility is scary. I’m afraid of failing. And it’s much easier to play video games.”

2) It was an intensely interconnected “Show About Nothing”

For thousands of years, philosophers have asked questions about the meaning of life. In a fresh way, Seinfeld just resoundingly said, “Life is about nothing.” If that’s true – that life truly is about nothing – then, as the show points out, that reality creates basically miserable, selfish people.

Notice how different this mindset is from what Jesus teaches in the great “Good Shepherd” chapter of the New Testament, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) Now, a fair number of “prosperity theologians” have interpreted this passage to mean that God wants us to have a comfortable, pleasurable life here on earth. Notice, not coincidentally, that’s the exact same end goal of the selfish Seinfeld characters. But, without diving in too deep, we can glean from Jesus’ words here in this passage that life is NOT about nothing; it’s about something.

According to the Bible, life has purpose and therefore we do have something worth living for, which transforms us into more thoughtful, fulfilled people. If everyone simply lives for their basest wants and desires, how laughably disgusting of a world might it be? But if we’re living for something greater than personal pleasure and comfort, well……what on earth would that something be?

Some of the higher, more noble-sounding goals that you hear people living for today are good things like “saving the planet.” Every year NBC changes their logo green for a week and has some of their stars tell us about the importance of recycling and lowering our harmful car emissions.  As you can perhaps tell by my tone, I take John Krasinski’s encouragement to reduce my carbon footprint fairly seriously. But okay, so lets say we do prolong the existence of the planet (and don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we abuse the planet). But what’s the final goal of that? So that another generation can have a planet? And then their life goal is ALSO to preserve the planet for the generation after that? Seems unsatisfactorily cyclical. The same could be said when someone makes a pious-sounding statement about how we’re doing things “for the children.”

Another popular goal is what was referred to in the 20th century as “world peace” but today is called “tolerance.” Basically, we want all humans to get along. Again, this is a legitimate and noble goal, but if it’s made to be the ULTIMATE truth of life, it violates my personal biblical beliefs. Martin Luther once said, “Peace if possible, truth at all costs.” Luther was referring to doctrinal agreement, but it’s a general universal principle. For instance, I’d like to get along with my neighbor, but if I find out that he’s abusing his wife or children, we’re going to have problems – the truth at that point outweighs my desire for neighborly peace.

My belief that salvation comes exclusively through Jesus is probably going to rub some people the wrong way. I’m certainly not going to engage in physical war with anyone over it, unless perhaps I have to someday defend myself. Nonetheless, difference in spiritual beliefs has certainly caused (and continues to cause) wars in the world. Truth claims do tend to put people at odds. But, understand, if you ask billions of Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other to put away their truth claims, YOU are making a truth claim – that world peace is more important than such beliefs. My point is that in order to achieve true world peace, everyone would have to think alike, which means you’d have to suppress everyone’s religious beliefs. And that wouldn’t be particularly peaceful, right? You can’t force everyone to be “tolerant” without being intolerant yourself. There are other points, but the bottom line is that logically life cannot ultimately be about world peace and tolerance.

According to Christian doctrine, life is about more.  True life/full life comes from personally knowing Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. It is in understanding God the Father’s plan/design for your life. It is in recognizing the Son executing a rescue mission to deliver you from your sins, yourself, and hell – an existence apart from God.  Finally, it’s about being filled with the Spirit who makes these truths real in your heart. While we desire to grow in our relationship with this God and recapture the perfect image of God, we know that we are a work in progress in this lifetime and that this will not be fully realized until heaven. That is the goal of life for a Christian. Life, since it is growing in connectedness with an infinite, cosmic God, is then invaluable.

Let me put this a slightly different way. Life is NOT about NOTHING as Seinfeld joked. Nor is life just about a good but not ultimate SOMETHING, as many well-intentioned people would have you believe. According to the Bible, life is the only thing. Poetically and profoundly, life is about the ONE who creates, redeems, and sustains life. And the Bible says the only way to that is in Jesus (John 14:6; John 17:3; and the rest of John’s Gospel).

The hallmark interconnectedness of Seinfeld episodes, in its own way, shows some sort of divine, cosmic guidance to the human existence. But why would a divine being guide events ironically into nothingness? Simply to amuse himself? Or does it make more sense that he is, in fact, guiding events, but for a greater purpose – to develop true relationship with spiritually maturing human beings.

NET takeaway: Life cannot be about NOTHING. If it is, there is nothing “wrong” with stunted character growth, solidifying ourselves as selfish, miserable human beings. If that doesn’t sound right, too empty, then life must be about something more, something bigger, SOMEONE better.seinfeld last