The Book of Daniel aired in 2006 on NBC for just one season. Initially, it was praised as “edgy” and “courageous” but the controversial subject matter in the show–imperfect human emissaries of the Christian faith maneuvering and often failing at their personal journey of faith–was too much for many Christians to comprehend in mainstream viewership. It was dropped like a hot potato. But during the hot button discussions that are swirling today, some of the subject matter is beyond relevant. It is imperative that we ask those questions that it begged to posit: What is faith? How does a person define a spiritual journey?
Aidan Quinn starred as the gentle Reverend Daniel Webster, who struggles with his addiction to narcotic pain killers, and his bizarre visions of the western idea of Jesus suddenly appearing to him in his car, office, during conversations with his bishop, the indomitable Ellen Burstyn. He is faced with a number of challenges that the “faithful” of the Midwestern Bible Belt deemed too inappropriate. Too controversial. Eight NBC affiliates refused to air the program, from Indiana to Amarillo, Texas.
I felt that Daniel deserved another shot. I watched the episodes with a detached interest at first and then began to ask myself, “What offended those eight stations.” As more leaders of the moral majority find themselves in the awkward situation of reexamining the values that drive their political interest and those who hold the reins of power in the construct, Daniel’s story had a certain resonance to me.
His wife struggles with alcoholism, his eldest son is openly gay inside of his family, but does not wish to be defined as Reverend Daniel’s gay son. His adopted son deals with racism and teenage hormones run amok. His daughter deals weed via FedEx and writes manga. Meanwhile, his brother in law has stolen money from his parish, his bishop is skimming his stash of pills and sleeping with his father…so therein lies the dilemma. There are many problems that Daniel is forced to confront in a very human way, while Jesus hangs out with him.
It could have been a good thing, The Book of Daniel. It deals with very human situations put through the filter of spiritual aspirations to rise above that nature.
Aidan Quinn’s performance as the soulful, desperate Reverend Daniel was deeply endearing. He is confused by the complexity of the egos that surround him, but is all the while a loving father and a doting husband. He is compassionate but not as complex, except that he sees Jesus Christ on a regular basis. They could be drinking buddies, for His Dad’s sake.
But it was too much in 2006. I want to ask you a controversial question. Is it too much to take a harder look at the less than pristine existences of good people who struggle with the choice of whether to do right or whether to do wrong? Or is it still too early to take a sincere look at the nature of humanity and the impact of not just our religious, but of our spiritual ideals?