God and the Soaps
Adultery! Feuding heirs! Corrupting power! Battles over babies! They're all found in the Bible and in soap operas.
BY: Ellen Leventry
"He's created his own religious universe," says Logan of Reilly, "It's not specifically Catholic as much as it is Reilly."
Other soaps tried to play ratings catch-up by creating their own quasi-religious supernatural universes. The now-defunct "Port Charles," a spin-off of "General Hospital," which started as a closer look at the personal lives of the young doctors at the hospital, took a dramatic turn bringing in an angel named Rafe, who happened to also be a vampire slayer.
Turning your main character into a servant of Satan may be a ratings-grabber, but soap operas are also dealing with religion in a more realistic manner, reflecting real-life spiritual struggles and situations.
"In 'EastEnders,' alone, the biblical parallels are manifold and too numerous to mention," Yorke says. "The saga... is a saga of free will--where the individuals choose to be either good or bad, but all within have knowledge of the Serpent. The good are rewarded, the bad are punished, and individuals are tested to find out in which camp they belong."
In 1986, "Days of Our Lives" featured a fully realized interfaith love story for the first time on daytime television. Dr. Robin Jacobs (Derya Ruggles), an Orthodox Jew, and Dr. Michael Horton (Michael Weiss), a Protestant from one of the city's prominent families fell madly in love. While he had no misgivings about the relationship, she constantly struggled with what her tradition told her to do.
"It is difficult for the average person to understand how important a person's relationship with God and tradition can be," Weiss commented to "Soap Opera Digest." "It's even difficult for me to understand how someone could choose religion over love--and I'm playing out the story. It's something a lot of fans just couldn't cope with. They wanted Mike and Robin to be together at all costs."
Martha Nochimson, in "No End to Her: Soap Opera and the Female Subject," writes that Robin and Michael "are impeded by the power relationship between their two traditions, which boxes them into such choices as which holidays will be celebrated."
In the end though, Robin ended up marrying a nice Jewish boy, but it didn't last and the "supercouple" soon reunited--only to have Robin and their son Jeremy move to Israel later.
More recently, on "General Hospital," Sonny Corinthos, the resident heartthrob mobster, and his lover Alexis battle over how to raise their daughter, Kristina. Sonny is a card-carrying Catholic, while Alexis is a lawyer who's never shown interest in religion. The couple spars over Kristina's christening and her education, issues interfaith couples deal with everyday.
And while the "hunky priest" as unattainable--or sometimes attainable--object of desire is a common storyline on modern soaps, more realistic portrayals of the clergy are finding their way back to daytime. In the mid '90s, "One Life to Live" introduced the character of Father Andrew Carpenter, a progressive, rock-and-roll loving Episcopalian priest, who offers advice from the pulpit and deals with real life drama, such as his wife having an affair.
"It's very much a throw back to how "Guiding Light" started," says Logan. "Having a spiritual presence at the core of the community.... That whole aspect is kind of getting back to the old days."
Sometimes, though, soap operas can take the religion angle a bit too far. In an effort to gain ratings, the Brazilian soap opera, "Xica Da Silva"--loosely-based on the life of a slave who became one of the most powerful women in the Portuguese colony--featured outrageous storylines, including "devil-worshipping nuns and a gay man whose sexuality changes after a black magic 'snake bath.'" The show succeeded in gaining ratings but also drew the ire of the Catholic Church, which "pressured the network [TV Manchete] to drop scenes of a nun orgy, scheduled to air on Easter week," the AP said.
Still, real life is sometimes stranger than fiction. In May of 2004, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, suggested that a priest who follows the plotline of a soap opera "has a fair bit of literacy about the world we're in--literacy about our culture, about the human heart," according to the U.K.'s Observer newspaper.
And that's a dramatic twist worthy of any soap opera: Priests are learning about life from soap operas--and soaps fans, whether they know it or night, are gaining religious literacy from daytime TV.