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Idol Chatter

This year the Charlie Brown Christmas special was pre-empted by President Obama’s Afghanistan speech, leaving the holidays to be celebrated by the likes of “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy,” which, it must be said, have their own way of keeping Christ in Christmas. On “American Dad,” MacFarlane’s culture-war complement to his animated sit-com “Family Guy,” Stan Smith, a chunk-chinned, lunk-headed CIA employee naturally defends not only truth, justice and the American Way, but Christianity, and not just Christianity, but the rapture-ready kind. In last night’s Christmas show, Stan is peeved to be left behind when he arrives in church to find the pews empty of everything but the Sunday best of those attending the Christmas service–even the “phony Christians” who only show up on Christmas and Easter.Stan, of course, demands a recount. When Jesus arrives to engage the Final Battle against the Anti-Christ, Stan angles to be raptured. Instead, Jesus steals Stan’s wife, leaving Stan to go the Tribulation alone. The surprise of the episode was not that MacFarlane’s writers are still working the rapture nearly 15 years after the first Left Behind novel appeared. (f generals are always fighting the last war, satirists these days seem to be stuck spoofing the last regime.) It’s that they squeezed a few decent rapture jokes out of the gag, mostly by playing the rapture scenario literally–those of us left behind with the clothes, it stands to reason, are going to be able to see check out all those good Christians naked as they rise to heaven. My favorite gag is during the montage showing the saved streaming skyward from several cities: Vegas yields one lonely sin-free soul.Roger, the marooned alien from another galaxy–a galaxy where Paul Lynde is popular–speaks for liberalism on the show, and he gets some good digs in (“Virgin birth, water into wine. It’s like Harry Potter but it causes genocide and bad folk music”) before the rapture stuns him into believing. “Someone call Mel Gibson and apologize,” he says.The episode soon runs out of steam, moving on to parody sci-fi flicks as Jesus and the Anti-Christ engage in the Final Battle. The deeper implication seems to be that religion, especially the cosmic clashes forecast in pre-millenialist theology, shares a common source with our other myths. But my hunch is that the writers have just seen a lot more “Star Wars” than they have read John Nelson Darby. American Dad!

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