The Gospel According to Orange is the New Black

“I believe in science. I believe in evolution. I believe in Nate Silver and Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Christopher Hitchens. Although I do admit he could be a kind of an asshole. I cannot get behind some supreme being who weighs in on the Tony Awards while a million people get whacked with machetes. I don’t believe a billion Indians are going to hell. I don’t think we get cancer to learn life lessons, and I don’t believe that people die young because God needs another angel. I think it’s just bullshit, and on some level, I think we all know that, I mean, don’t you?… Look I understand that religion makes it easier to deal with all of the random shitty things that happen to us. And I wish I could get on that ride, I’m sure I would be happier. But I can’t. Feelings aren’t enough. I need it to be real.”

In the final episode of the first season of ‘Orange is the New Black’, the protagonist Piper Chapman offers this scathing commentary on Christian belief and God. The series is well past the first season now but her assessment has stuck with me. There is something that rings true about it. Her tirade articulates some of the most common problems people have with God: His followers, anti-intellectualism, theodicy, hell, salvation and hollow clichés. Her rant is offensive because it’s often true.

“Orange is the New Black” is a hit TV show on Netflix that follows a group of women in a correctional facility. At its heart, it is a drama, but it’s also smart and funny. It offers hard-hitting social commentary so it is unfortunate that the show is also sexually explicit. It may not be suitable for everyone. Be warned, it can be vulgar.

Tiffany “Pennsatuckey” Dogget is the unlovable antagonist of the first season. She becomes a Christian shortly after being arrested for killing an orderly in an abortion clinic. Her newfound faith doesn’t make her a better person though. She is still imperfect. Pointing out her flaws and, consequently, the flaws of Christianity becomes a recurring theme. The writers don’t hesitate to criticize the pro-life movement, faith healing, anti-intellectualism and the overall fickleness that Christianity is known for.

Piper and Tiffany come to blows in the climax of the season finale. After a false conversion and other unsuccessful attempts to “save” Piper, Pennsatuckey declares herself an angel of the Lord and stabs Piper. But not before Piper has a chance to vocalize her distaste for this particular brand of fundamentalist religion. It just may be the most authentic representation of the world’s view of religion.

Do we actually want to know what the world thinks about God? It can hurt to admit weakness, but Piper’s diatribe is a real look into the perceptions that many have of Christian faith. We may be offended by it, but we should still consider that it may also be true. Her criticism can be a good lesson for Christians because it reveals some of our faults.

Christians are anti-intellectual

The world thinks that Christians want to substitute religion for science. Sometimes, we do. Piper is criticizing believers that exercise blind faith. She selects Neil Degrasse Tyson as a representative for critical thinking because he is a scientist. She doesn’t realize that many people of faith are just as rigorous about their worldviews as Neil is. Unfortunately, the low-hanging fruit has come to represent Christianity.

The world needs to know that believers aren’t all stubborn and anti-intellectual. Secular society trusts people like Neil Degrasse Tyson because he is intelligent. In contrast to religion, they appreciate the lack of certainty that science provides because the scientific method implores theories to change when new evidence is found. We should concede the need for certainty because that certainty on uncertain topics betrays our intelligence.

God is arbitrary and cruel

This has to be the most profound criticism of God in the show and in our society.

Some Christians do believe that God weighs in on the Tony awards. Some Christians believe that God makes their sports team win. Non-believers have a problem with a God that controls the outcomes of petty things but doesn’t seem to care about the millions of people that suffer every day, and rightfully so.

The world thinks that all Christians believe that sinners will suffer eternally in hell, an idea that doesn’t make sense to most people. They can’t reconcile an eternal conscious hell with a Loving God. It’s hard to fathom the damnation of millions that were never given a chance to repent.

Our apologetics on these topics are getting us nowhere. It may be time to admit that we just don’t know.

Christianity is nothing more than platitudes

The world is forced to listen to shallow Christian cliches like “God needs another angel”. They think that is what Christians believe. It sounds hollow and is only meant to make people feel better. It doesn’t.

Why can’t we accept that fact that we don’t really know why bad things happen?

Religion makes everything easy

In the show, Piper Chapman had a legitimate episode of grace and forgiveness. She may have even “felt” something during her false conversion earlier in the season. But it had no lasting effect because she was under the impression that religious belief would make everything easier, that it should be certain and unshakeable. It isn’t. For many, religion is supposed to explain all of life’s problems but It doesn’t.

People aren’t stupid, they know that we are just pretending to have it all figured out. It’s time we stop.

Christianity must be proven to be real

Piper assumes that feelings aren’t real. I blame scientism, but Christianity is guilty of minimizing feelings and the experiences of individuals. Feelings are real. Love and heartbreak. Trust and mistrust. Anger and sadness and happiness. Those feelings are just as real as anything else.

Our post-enlightenment need to prove the existence of God is tiresome and unhelpful. In the end, I suspect that most people are willing to appeal to mystery because we are all just agnostics in the end. Not everyone is willing to jump the mental hurdles necessary to reconcile seemingly contradictory evidence. The good news is that they don’t have to. God doesn’t have to be proven to be real.

The Gospel isn’t what Piper thinks it is, though

We need to re-evaluate the gospel that we present to other people because we have failed them. The only gospel that secular society seems to hear is the one that Piper espouses in this episode and that is a weak and ineffective gospel. We need to do better.

And yes, Piper is right, sometimes it is just bullshit. We should be willing to admit that occasionally.