A few weeks ago we reviewed Orphan Black for the last time. Religion played an important role in Orphan Black‘s worldbuilding, but the writers never truly moved beyond offensive religious stereotypes. In a show about bioethics, identity, and power, religion should have played a major role in creating diverse characters and showcasing different perspectives. After all, the show’s ultimate thesis was about women having the freedom to pursue their own definition of happiness and fulfillment through self-determination. Different versions of Christian religion and philosophy make an appearance in the show, but they’re never a good thing. In fact, religion ends up being a minor antagonist throughout the show.
The Sims is one of the most popular god-simulation games on the planet. I’ve been playing it since the original Sims game, when babies were made by passionately kissing a bunch of times in a row and children never grew up. Nowadays, Sims 4 is making progressive strides in the world of inclusive gaming. The creators want everyone to feel like they can see themselves represented in their Sims and tell more diverse stories than ever. Most recently, a patch removed the rigid gender binary in the Create-a-Sim workshop. Now you can customize your Sim’s gender, their ability to be pregnant or make others pregnant, and if they prefer masculine or feminine clothing. It’s not total gender customizability, but it’s a new and significant move in the name of inclusivity and representation. We can customize our Sim’s age, education, occupation, and where they live. Sims now come in all colors of the rainbow (literally). Sexual orientation is determined by the player’s will. There are Vampire-Sims, Zombie-Sims, Fairy-Sims, Witch-Sims, Plant-Sims, Werewolf-Sims, Mermaid-Sims, and Alien-sims. So why haven’t the creators touched religion yet? Well, there may be a few reasons, and none of them are great.
It’s often hard to be religious and queer. At least, depending on the religion. Many segments of Christianity as well as other mainstream religious schools of thought put queerness firmly into the realm of “abomination”, to some degree or another. A popular mentality in many conservative Christian sects is that queerness goes against the natural order set into place by God when He created Adam and Eve as partners, making same-sex attraction “disordered”. This often translates to an understanding of queerness as either a mental illness, which could be healed with prayer, or a vice that, like a desire to gamble or steal, can be resisted through faith-based strength of character. While this attitude is not representative of all religion, nor, in Christianity’s case, true to Christ’s actual teachings, the fact remains: it’s damn hard to be religious and queer.
And while it remains hard to find good representation of queer characters, and good representation of religious characters, you’re more likely to catch a Mewtwo at your local grocery store than you are to find a meaningful and balanced representation of someone who ticks both boxes.
Instead, we often see religious characters in genre fiction who, while part of a societal out-group that could stand as a metaphor for queerness, are not actually queer themselves. Furthermore, they often believe or have been taught to believe that this otherness is, yes, an abomination, leading them to make terrible choices based on their internalized hatred of themselves or others like themselves. Perhaps God has singled them out as martyrs, challenging them to live a godly life in spite of their inherent (ungodly) differentness. Unfortunately, these portrayals do nothing but serve the tired stereotype that closeted individuals are often responsible for anti-queer hate crimes, rather than dealing with the more realistic issues surrounding internalized religious homophobia.
Trigger warning for discussions of self-harm and suicide after the cut.
Season 4 of Orphan Black gave us a bigger taste of Alison’s religion. Alison is the stereotypical suburban soccer mom, a “type A” personality decked out in pastels. She’s a W.A.S.P. who stands in great contrast with her darker and edgier sisters Cosima, Helena, and Sarah. It’s no wonder that Alison is the clone with the most pronounced religious beliefs. Sure, Helena was raised by harsh Ukrainian nuns, but their religion hasn’t really been delved into by the show. Alison, on the other hand, wears a golden cross necklace and is often shown attending a Mainline Protestant church with her family. Her religion was involved in many minor scenes of this season, and she could be the doorway to a very different kind of religious representation in our scifi media.
We’ve discussed before on this blog how few and far between characters of faith are in pop culture. When they do crop up, it is often of the extremist/terrorist/serial killer variety. The only other time it seems to come up is as the butt of a joke—literally. Far too often, religion is only brought up in a comedic line to get some laughs. Religion, how do we mock you? Let me count the ways.