A few weeks ago, FOX aired an episode of Glee called “Grilled Cheesus”. Now, before you stop reading, hear me out, because I know there are a lot of Glee haters out there. I’ll admit it, the show can be incredibly stupid, and the liberal anti-establishment part of me hates that I’m watching a massively popular show, on FOX nonetheless, that includes almost entirely covers of pop music. But regardless of the rest of the show, “Grilled Cheesus” is the best religion-themed episode I’ve ever seen, and shows that Glee isn’t afraid to push the limits and throw out taboos, despite its mainstream appeal.
The episode starts out in typical Glee fashion when the increasingly obnoxious Finn sees the face of Jesus in his grilled cheese sandwich. He decides to pray to his sandwich (though not before he eats half of it), asking for a win in his upcoming football game. And if this act wasn’t irritating enough, he then tries to convince his glee club to start singing songs about Jesus because his prayer to half of a grilled cheese sandwich got “answered”. What begins as a silly and shallow depiction of religion, however, soon becomes serious and emotional when Kurt’s dad has a heart attack and enters a coma that he may not come out of. Kurt, who is openly gay and professes his atheism at the beginning of the episode, is emotionally devastated, and frustrated by the attempts of his friends to use religion to comfort and him and help his dad. This becomes the central conflict of the episode; the almost entirely religious glee clubbers want to pray for and comfort Kurt (through song of course!) but because Kurt does not believe in God, he sees this not as a favor, but as an attack on his beliefs.
The rest of the episode becomes a sort of power struggle between the atheists, Kurt and Sue, and the religious people, mainly Mercedes and Rachel, with Finn going through his own bizarre adolescent-like religious struggle. Towards the end, though, we see the main characters experience transformations, and largely through beautiful songs, they show how they have changed. I will not give too much away, because I think this episode is absolutely worth watching even for Glee haters, but what we realize by the end is that the relative “truthiness” of the respective religions is unimportant compared the pain and worry that Kurt goes through, and the importance of friendship and comfort in the face of it.
Religion is a topic that most television shows, especially comedies like Glee, try to avoid. It is nearly impossible to discuss religion without insulting one group or another, and based on Hulu reviews, this episode was no different. Most of the reviews were from either atheists or religious people who thought the show was attacking their particular belief. Glee, however, has shown that it is not afraid to tackle taboo topics like sex, teen pregnancy, homosexuality, etc., so it was no surprise that it took on religion, despite the inevitable outcry from religious and nonreligious people alike. Instead of making the episode about which religion is right though, it made the discussion about how people use religion in their lives. Though Kurt sees the religion of his friends as a threat to his own beliefs, he soon realizes that all they are really trying to do is comfort him. The episode is more about friendship, doubt, faith, and the way that people deal with emotional grief than religion itself. In this way, it blew me away that a mainstream show on FOX, which just a week earlier did an episode about Britney Spears and sex riots, could so tactfully, yet so daringly, produce an episode not only about religion, but about the existence of God. They managed to present reasonable arguments for both sides, and in the end taught a lesson that was neither an answer to the question of God nor a cop-out, but, in my opinion, a wise and constructive way to approach religion, not in terms of truth or faith, but in terms of how it affects people’s lives. Whether you like Glee or not, you have to applaud it’s willingness to push boundaries, throw out taboos, and hit the tough topics head on.