Patricia Heaton spent nine years as the devoted stay-at-home mom, never-can-win daughter-in-law and voice-of-reason wife Debra Barone on the popular sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond," winning two Emmys in the process. Now, Heaton, a conservative Christian, emcees the straight-to-DVD film "Thou Shalt Laugh," a stand-up comedy concert featuring seven Christian comedians. Heaton spoke to Beliefnet about the spiritual value of comedy, what she learned from "Raymond," and raising kids--while staying true to her values--in Hollywood.

Patricia Heaton
Listen to Patricia Heaton Talk About:
  • 'Raymond' & Her Spiritual Life
  • Her Spiritual Journey from Catholicism
  • Raising Faithful Children
  • Her Favorite Prayer

    Watch Clips from "Thou Shalt Laugh":
  • Gilbert Esquivel
  • Jeff Allen

  • What is a Christian comedian, or Christian comedy?

    The material itself [in "Thou Shalt Laugh] doesn't deal directly with Christianity at all. You just know that what you're going to be listening to will be safe for the family. But these guys are all really accomplished, and I was surprised to find that there were so many of them, and they have these thriving careers.

    I'm not sure that there was such a big difference between what these comedians did and what you would get from, say, Ray Romano or Ellen DeGeneres, who do really great comedy that's for the whole family. I think that this is more about countering this idea that if you're a Christian, you don't go out and have fun, and you don't go out to be entertained, and you're some kind of dour, Bible-thumping killjoy who doesn't want to have any fun.

    People tend to be easily offended when it comes to religious humor. Do you see value in comedy about religion?

    I think there's a difference when you make fun of yourself and your own behavior, and when you dishonor or disrespect Christ. If you're making a mockery of Christ is one thing. But if you're just joking about human foibles and weaknesses, I think that's perfectly acceptable. And if you're Christian and you go to church, there's a lot of stuff you see that drives you crazy, that you can make fun of, and everybody who's a Christian knows that.

    Garrison Keillor, in his "Prairie Home Companion" shows, is always making jokes about Methodists, and it's very funny, and it's very warm, and it's loving, and it's true. Look, bottom line is, we're all human beings, and so there's always funny things to joke about.

    Do you think that comedy and humor can play a role in deepening people's faith?

    Obviously I love comedy, so I definitely think that people can really be reached through it. When you bring people into a place where they're comfortable and they're enjoying themselves, they're more open to hearing a message.

    With "Raymond," there were so many wonderful themes about relationships and love and forgiveness and faith in the show that were just beautifully woven in. Maybe you didn't even know you were hearing it, but I think it's the one thing that attracted people. It was consistent about this [being] our family: These are our issues, and this is how we forgive each other, and this is how we go through. It was all done with humor, and I think it's what made us hugely popular.

    Was there ever a time where you wanted to bring your faith more explicitly onto the show?

    I didn't really need to, because they had set it up that the family is Catholic, and it was in the fiber of who they were. They went to church. There would be lines referring to, "We're going down to the church charity sale," or that the kids were in a Catholic school. And we often went to the priest to talk about our marital problems, so it was pretty much woven into the fabric of the characters.

    There was one episode which dealt specifically with Ray not going to church and the rest of the family going. There was a point where Ray asked Deborah why she goes. And the writer sat down with me and said, "What would you say to this? As Deborah, what would your answer be?" And I said, "Well, I guess I would say I go to church to realize that there's something bigger than me, and to thank God for my family and my kids and my husband, and to pray for the strength to get through another day with my kids and my husband."

    So in that way, again, I was able to directly say something about faith. Not the deepest thing, obviously. We weren't discussing the transubstantiation or anything but making that a part of the fiber of a family, which you don't see on any other show.

    Why do you think it is something that's virtually absent from TV?

    You write from what you know. If you are not a Christian and that's not part of your everyday life, then you wouldn't know how to bring it into the show comfortably.

    The thing about "Raymond," though, almost everybody on the show--whether they were Jewish or Christian or some other religion--practices their faith, goes to temple, goes to church, is a part of some spiritual community. So the idea that the Barones would practice their faith was not an unusual concept for the writers of our show.
    As a conservative Christian, do you find it hard, personally, to be in the minority In Hollywood?

    I think I actually thrive on it a little bit. It's certainly never dull. I always have a battle. I'm sort of a contentious Irish type. I'm kind of a loner in that sense in this town, but then I am always surprised when I get insulted or attacked, even if it's kind of backhanded. I'm always surprised that people say the things they say, because of just basic decency and politeness--I'm trying to be polite and decent and open-minded toward people, and I don't always get the same thing back.

    What kinds of things have people said?

    There's a way that sometimes people talk to me where they kind of bash me. These are people who like me. If they didn't like me, I would be dead. I think--because they feel so certain in their opinions--they feel that gives them the right to be rude and to tear me down a little bit, and I've had that happen to me a number of times. I've found that people feel very free to say insulting things, not about me personally, but about the things I believe. It's sad, because I really could care less where people are coming from, politically, religiously.

    As an actor in this town, it's so hard to maintain a career. It is such a dog-eat-dog world here, and you can work your heart out to do a project, and it just doesn't go. And to me, that connects me with all these people, because we all work so hard, with zero guarantees. And I'm always surprised when people throw up these divisions, as if that really matters in our day-to-day life of trying to be an actor and have a job and raise a family.

    It's not dull. I'll tell you that. I don't like to be bored. I'm certainly never bored here. It really makes you have to examine your beliefs and say, "You know, is this worth it? And is this true? Is it worth standing up for this?" Anytime anybody is rude, it makes me double-check my own behavior to make sure I don't do that to other people. So, it keeps you on your toes, for sure.

    Have you found it harder to keep to your values with the fame you've gotten from "Raymond"?

    Patricia Heaton on 'Raymond' & Her Spiritual Life
    It changed my life a lot, and I feel I was so overwhelmed with having my kids and raising my kids and working that I had very little time for spiritual [pursuits], like Bible study or prayer group or anything like that. And it did take a toll on me.

    I'm finding right now that this is a time when I am able to go back to my women's group, and I didn't really realize what a desert I was in, because I was so busy. And because also, I loved working and having my kids, and there's all this stuff going on.

    A lot of that, all the shiny, sparkly things go away, and you're having to really look at stuff, and you realize, "Oh, well, here's this big, gaping hole here, and here's where I really need pumping up again." So now I've gotten an opportunity to get back to reading and studying and praying more, which I didn't have much time for.

    How old are your kids now?

    Seven, 9, 11, and 13.

    How do you keep them grounded?

    They go to faith-based schools and we go to church every week, and we pray together. And we're pretty tight-knit in that the boys are all very close in age, so outside of school, they're mostly with each other. Our oldest one is just starting to get out there a little bit more, and we'll hopefully see if the values that we hope that we've been planting have taken hold.

    That must provoke a lot of anxiety.

    Actually, I am pretty trusting. I'm also very nosy, so I know exactly everything that's going on in their lives. I know their cell-phone numbers and their e-mail addresses. I'm not afraid to read them. So, I'm really still way on top of it.

    Can you tell us about your spiritual journey from Catholicism to where you are now?

    Patricia Heaton on her spiritual journey
    I went through a thing of being brought up in pre-Vatican II [Catholicism], where the Mass is said in Latin and you covered your head in church and fasted on Friday, no meat, and all this stuff. And then, Vatican II came along. A lot of those things changed. We were still doing a lot of the ritual.

    And then, when I went to college, I found when I went to the Newman Center, which is the Catholic center at colleges, that it was very liberal. They were tossing everything out. I was kind of angry--it's like, what do you mean? Here I've been killing myself and feeling horrible about myself, trying to keep all these rules and never being able to, and now everybody's saying, "Oh, it doesn't really matter. You don't have to fast, or you don't have to do this." And it almost was because things were so liberal that I started thinking, "Is this the whole thing?" You know, "What is real? What is true, and what's not, and how do you tell people something for so long and then turn around and say, no, that's not the case?"

    So after I moved to New York after college, I started just exploring other churches. I also found that, in the Catholic Church, there wasn't teaching and studying of Scripture. It was mostly the Mass and the ritual and a little homily, and that's it. So once I started going to Bible study, I started really looking at what was done in the early church and just reading what Scripture said. And I found that that teaching was very important, and I wasn't getting it at the Catholic Church.

    So I've been to a lot of different churches and, right now, we're in a Presbyterian church. But one of my kids was baptized in the Episcopal church, and so we've been sort of a little bit all over the place. And mostly I've found that it's about the actual congregation you belong to, where you're living, as opposed to what the denomination is.

    I think that the main difficulty for me, when Catholicism was this idea that was really deeply planted, was that you exist either in a state of grace or out of a state of grace, and God forbid you should get hit by a bus when you're out of a state of grace, because it's all over for you. And, I think that set up a horrible thing in me, that my salvation was not secure. I think that would be the main problem I had with the Catholic Church. I don't even know that that's [still] taught, but that was so ingrained in me. And that unless you went to confession, that you would still be out of a state of grace. You had to go to confession, get back in a state of grace.

    So it just seemed very tenuous to me, and I don't know who can live like that, thinking, "Am I going to hell today, or not?" What I found in the Protestant faith was that your salvation is secure, and that the rest is process. So that would be, I think, the big step for me.

    Was it hard for you or for your family to go through a transition like that, or was it more of a natural process?

    Certainly I don't think my dad is happy about it. And my oldest sister is a nun, a Dominican nun, so I'm sure she's not that thrilled. But, I have another sister who joined the Russian Orthodox Church, so we're kind of all over the place. We've all been a family of seekers, ever since my mother died when I was young. So everybody's been pursuing a spiritual path.

    How would you feel if one of your children don't continue in the same faith?

    Patricia Heaton on children and faith
    Certainly, if they rejected Christianity, I would have a huge problem with that. Within the Christian church, if they joined a particular denomination or had a vocation or became Catholic, I would not have a problem with that. Any denomination would be fine. Evangelical, whatever. But, I would have a difficulty if they went outside of Christianity.

    I'm not worried about it. I don't see them doing that, but you know, the best thing you can do is pray for your kids and set an example.

    How did you get involved in the anti-abortion group Feminists for Life?

    Being in Hollywood, it's very difficult to be pro-life, and I'd been looking for a way to express those beliefs. I feel that it's an important message, because so many women are exploited through abortion, and that's an aspect of it that I feel NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and NOW don't want to talk about. I feel there's a huge hypocrisy within those groups, because if you are really about protecting women and empowering women, you need to talk about the exploitive aspects of abortion, and they're not willing to do that.

    I'm very proud to be a part of Feminists for Life, because I think they deal with the whole aspect of being a woman. To really empower women, society needs to conform to women's needs, not try to force women to abort their children in order to conform to the needs of society.

    What do you mean by "conform to their needs"?

    That you allow maternity leave, and paid maternity leave, that you have telecommuting for work, that people give families time to work out of their homes when possible, through computers and faxes and cell phones and Blackberries, and that you maybe have a daycare center at your job if you have a lot of moms working for you. That college campuses would have prenatal care for pregnant students and have housing for pregnant and parenting students, have changing tables in the student bathrooms for students who have babies, have telecommuting for classes for students who have babies, daycare on college campuses for students who have babies.

    If you don't have those things, then how are you going to have your kid? What's your choice? How are you going to stay in school? How are you going to stay at your job? We really need to provide choices.

    Do you feel that actors and other prominent cultural figures have a particular responsibility to speak out on these sorts of issues?

    I don't feel they have a responsibility to speak out on this stuff. I just happen to do it because I feel that everything I have was a totally God-given gift. I am first and foremost an actor, and I don't want to have that title "actor/activist" under my name when people introduce me. I'm just an actor. But occasionally I feel it's important enough to put myself out there as a person who can get an audience to shed some light on certain things.

    My husband and I have a production company, FourBoys Films, and through our art we want to promote more redemptive themes in our movies and TV shows, and one we have coming out in February is called "Amazing Grace." It has a campaign attached to it called Amazing Change, about modern slavery and the 27 million people in slavery today, mostly children.

    Through projects like that, that have artistic integrity but also illuminate what we can do as human beings in this world, that's one of the ways in which we reflect our faith and our values. But I actually do not feel that actors have a responsibility to do that.

    Do you have a favorite prayer and, if so, would you recite it for us?

    It's the Prayer of St. Patrick, and I don't even have it memorized, because it's so long. But I have it right here. It was written by St. Patrick, and it's also sometimes called the Breastplate of St. Patrick. It's a really fierce warrior kind of prayer, and that is what I like about it--maybe because I have boys, I'm always in warrior mode. [Recites:]

    Patricia Heaton recites her favorite prayer
    "I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through the belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness, of the Creator of creation.

    I arise today through the strength of Christ's birth with His baptism, through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial, through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension, through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

    I arise today through the strength of the love of cherubim, in obedience of angels, in the service of archangels, in hope of resurrection to meet with reward.

    In prayers of patriarchs, in predictions of prophets, in preaching of apostles, in faith of confessors, in innocence of holy virgins, in deeds of righteous men.

    I arise today through the strength of heaven, light of sun, radiance of moon, splendor of fire, speed of lightning, swiftness of wind, depth of sea, stability of earth, firmness of rock.

    I arise today through God's strength to pilot me, God's might to uphold me, God's wisdom to guide me, God's eye to look before me, God's ear to hear me, God's word to speak for me, God's hand to guard me, God's way to lie before me, God's shield to protect me, God's hosts to save me from snares of devils, from temptations of vices, from everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in multitude.

    I summon today all these powers between me and those evils, against every cruel, merciless power that may oppose my body and soul, against incantations of false prophets, against black laws of pagandom, against false laws of heretics, against the craft of idolatry, against spells of witches and smiths and wizards, against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul. Christ to shield me today against poison, against burning, against drowning, against wounding, so that there may come to me an abundance of reward.

    Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

    I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through the belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation."

    That's it.

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