Barbara Hall is a novelist, a musician and a mom who in between has managed to work on some of the most successful television shows of the past two decades, from "Family Ties" to "Judging Amy." Beliefnet talked to her recently about her newest and perhaps riskiest venture, "Joan of Arcadia."

What made you want to do this show?
My longtime interest in Joan of Arc is really the jumping-off point, but I've always been interested in metaphysics and physics. I wanted to create a show in which I use the fact that I spend all my free time reading about this stuff. I thought, "Wouldn't it be great if that were just homework, research?"

From there it grew into this show about a family recovering from a tragedy and how it affects their spiritual lives, and this girl who is a modern day Joan of Arc, who hears from God in a time when that's the most unacceptable thing, when it can be used in court as evidence of insanity. I wanted to update that dilemma.

Yet on TV these days God seems more acceptable than ever.
But none of those shows identify God. If you want to do the supernatural, that's one thing, and I enjoy that genre, but we're trying to dramatize something that, from my vantage point, could be real. It's not some force, or energy, or the hellmouth-it's God.

Your Ten Commandments of "Joan of Arcadia" have become sort of famous. The first commandment is that God will never identify one religion as true.
Those rules are for my God on my show. I'm not trying to replace Moses. On our show, God can never identify a religion as being right. I don't have any more information about that than anyone else.

But you are thinking about monotheism.
Yes, monotheism indeed. It's God with a big "G," and singular.

Who are your spiritual influences?
I try to read a bit of everything, even stuff I think is illegitimate-the completely out-there stuff-and I read the serious theologians. I read St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Kathleen Norris, "The Parables of Peanuts"-which is quite a good book. I just finished "Under the Banner of Heaven," the Jon Krakauer book. I'm not trying to find a belief. I'm trying to identify the different languages in which people speak to God. So I read about reincarnation and I read Rumi, whom I love.

Did you grow up religious?
Yes, I was raised by very dogmatically religious parents. Not born again, but very strictly observed Methodist practice. My brother is a Methodist minister, and there's just clergy all over my family. Religion was part of the fabric. I went through a period of very loud, noisy rejection, and then a couple of years ago converted to Catholicism.

Who does TV cast as God?
I don't have time to watch a lot of television-it's the dilemma of the television writer. But my understanding is that God is the fixer. He loves us a lot and fixes everything. I don't see God as the fixer. We're not doing that. God works through people. He can guide. He gives Joan information.

He doesn't perform miracles?
Well, on "Joan," we define miracles as occuring within the laws of nature. We have a scene where God says, "I created the laws of physics, what kind of example would it set if I broke them?" That's a big premise.

Joan's brother is a science geek-is he there to make the connections between science and religion?
One thing I want to do is to debunk the notion that science and spirituality are natural enemies. Joseph Campbell said it's impossible to live without a mythology and it always baffled him how we live without one. But we don't. Our mythology is science-actually it's shifting now to celebrity, but we believe deeply in science. We don't realize that science is a very spiritual concept. There are aspects of it that are completely in line with spirituality. Theoretical physics to me is just the math of God. I didn't make that up-Einstein thought so.

My premise is that it's no more ridiculous to believe in God than it is to believe that there are basic forces keeping us glued to the planet. People embrace gravity because someone in a lab coat said so. It's a fascinating theory, but so is God.

Is there a larger point to Joan's interactions with God?
There is the point that God is available to everybody all the time. And a huge step into seeing God is looking for him, and that's what most people don't do. And teenagers really don't. In order to talk to a teenager today-I have a pre-teen-God would have to get her to take the iPod off. Kids don't listen. You'd really have to bust through Eminem to get to my daughter if you're God.

What's your hope for "Joan"?
My purpose is to start the discussion. I have nothing to teach or preach because I don't know. It's a huge part of my spiritual practice that God is a mystery, and there's no way I'm going to break that down. What I wanted was to create a show that would get people talking about the kind of things we're talking about. I have a feeling that people want to talk about these things. People don't have a form in which to talk about them.

Is Hollywood becoming more open to spirituality?
It's part of the dialogue more than it used to be. That's true in the country right now. I'm not sure why it is. There are a lot of theories-9/11 is one of them-but these things come in waves, and right now it's allowed. I don't think I could have sold this show even three years ago.

So are you making the network nervous?
Not yet! Every now and then there are nerves about getting too deeply into theological discussion. [I tell them] we can't do the show halfway. You cannot do a show about God and avoid talking about religion. The show won't have the courage of its convictions if it can't do that.

What about the audience? God is by nature a challenging subject. Can a TV show be successful if it challenges the status quo?
That begs a huge question, first of all that there is a status quo on religion. I reject the notion that there is a single perspective on God. Will I offend anybody? Well, there are people who spend their lives waiting to be offended, so of course they will be offended. I'm not worried about that. I'm worried about being honest about how I see these things and posing the questions. The thing that may offend the most people is my saying that God is available to everyone all the time.

How about the commercial television community? A television show that tells people to take off the iPod isn't going to be popular with advertisers.
That's someone else's job. I won't say that won't happen. But we'll do the show until we can't anymore. When I did "Judging Amy," which showed a single mother who was a little abrasive and sarcastic who forgot to pick her daughter up from karate class, there was a lot of jitters about making her a bad mother. I don't care about that. I can't do a show and not make it look the way it looks to me.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad