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Monday, November 19, 2012

Homeland and Religious Faith & Behavior

Homeland has become one of my favorite television shows. Briefly, it is the story of a Marine (Nicholas Brody) who is rescued after 8 years of being held captive in Iraq. He's immediately hailed as a hero and is tapped as a possible candidate for Congress. Not everyone thinks so highly of him, however. In particular, one CIA operative (Carrie Mathison) is convinced that he was turned while in captivity and is now working on behalf of a notorious Islamic terrorist (Abu Nazir). We do learn early on that Brody has converted to Islam, but it isn't until much later in the first season when we learn whether or not he has been turned (I'm not telling).

The series and the acting are compelling. Damian Lewis, who plays Nicholas Brody, is excellent as a former POW trying to reintegrate himself into society and reacquaint himself with a wife and two kids who had given him up for dead (indeed, his wife was about to marry Brody's best friend). And Claire Daniels is convincing as Carrie Mathison, a brilliant CIA operative who suffers from bipolar disorder and you are constantly wondering what she's going to do next. The show also features one of my favorite actors, Mandy Patinkin, who is probably best known for his role as Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride ("Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die"). (In addition to being an actor, Patinkin is also an accomplished pianist and tenor vocalist.)

There is one thing that bothers me about the series, however. It doesn't seem to take religious belief seriously. To be sure, the show makes it abundantly clear that Brody's conversion to Islam is genuine. For example, he steals away whenever he can to fulfill his duty to pray daily (he doesn't tell anyone that he has converted to Islam), and when a Qur'an is damaged, he takes great care to dispose of it properly. However, Brody also drinks to excess regularly, and he cheats on his wife more than once -- not exactly behavior one associates with being a devout Muslim. I suppose one could explain his behavior away by saying he's not quite right in the head because of the time he spent in captivity, but I get the sense that the show's writers really don't think religious belief really matters, that faith is more of a hobby than a way of life, and it doesn't have much impact on peoples' behavior. This is not to suggest that people of faith always follow the tenets of their faith, but there's overwhelming evidence that they are far less likely to engage in what most people consider to be inappropriate or deviant behavior. Unfortunately, not everyone seems to have figured this out.

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