In this section we’ll be working on some TV series involving religion to allow ourselves to discuss and generate an appropriate response to proliferation of social discomfort in the main screen. We will conclude by placing some key elements to process the advance of evangelism in Brazil and Latin-American.
The woman reduced to the mother of Judaism for utility purposes
Unorthodox (2020), in Spanish Poco ortodoxa, tells the story of an orthodox Jewish girl that ‘breaks up’ with her Hasidic community in Williamsburg, New York and starts a new life in Berlin. This Hasidic community is formed by a very orthodox group of World War II survivors from Hungary, who believed the holocaust was a ‘punishment from God’. To avoid another ‘divine wrath’, the community migrated to Brooklyn where they founded a life style under a very strict interpretation on the Jewish law. This interpretation includes things such as arranged marriages, reducing intercourse to reproduction, families with an average eight kids, women shaving their heads as a sign of respect for their husbands, a daily study of the religious and rejection to most things regarding modernity.
Author of the Unorthodox book (that’s mainly inspired in her life), Deborah Feldman (2020) stated that these closed off communities in the middle of a hyperconnected world will become more isolated each passing year, but simultaneously people that were already on the brims of society will get pushed out. According to the author, some community’s life styles like Satmars are still surviving because even though their percentage of fugitives has increased by 10%, for each person that leaves there’s one that stays. And there’s also the fact they have so many children that even when some choose to leave, there’s still many members that stay. People that stay within the community have become even more extreme. The middle ground is fading, in both their world and ours.
The Zeitgeist is shaped by the polarization. In an interview Feldman (2020) states that very orthodox people have started to participate in politics even though they’re highly critiqued for not working and living out of subsidy. Ultraorthodox people are a big part of the Israel demographics that is constantly growing. Because they reproduce at a much higher rate than secular Jews, they will soon be in the majority and will form a hegemony in terms of political power. Then we will have the equivalent of Sharia (Islamic law) in Israel. Halacha (Jewish religious rules) will rule over everyone if we do not watch out, says the author of Unorthodox (Feldman, 2020).
Why does this story generate fascination and empathy with a culture that seems so foreign to ours? We could hypothesize that the somewhat conspicuous exaltation of the harshness and imprisonment of tradition that the Hasidic community entails, may have as its counterpart the praise of the neoliberal powers that currently use religious discourses to indoctrinate, as it is evident in some Latin-American countries.
On the one hand, the series shows the passage from the enclosure of religious tradition to the regime of contemporary hedonism of capitalism as represented in the city of Berlin, which is «seen» as the pinnacle of opportunities. The exaltation of the renunciation of this religious tradition can hide a glorification of the hedonism of capital. In short, in Unorthodox we can read that the Kakon that the West pretends to attribute to Williamsburg is revealed as an extimacy that the cultural and religious walls fail to stitch together. This way, the Hasidic community turns a bit Unheimlich for the Heim that West knows.
On the other hand, we are interested in emphasizing that, in the face of a world that is increasingly related to an open set that leads to the unlimited as a complement of the fall of the father’s name, the answers are more dictatorial and closed, both for the orthodox communities and for those that promulgate at all costs with capitalism.
In fact, neither orthodox of religion nor orthodox of capital. Heretics. Miller in «In Praise of the Heretics» (2017) affirms that the heretic is sustained in the logic of the non-all since he seeks to be unique, breaking down the dogma of the closed sets. The heretic is the one who makes his choice, for this reason he could be placed on the side of particular, of an experience.
We are interested in highlighting things from the series, to outline an answer on the success of religious TV programs, that it is Esty’s departure from his community what the viewer expects to find. Additionally, fiction works a series of themes that are juxtaposed having as a complement the fall of the name-of-the-father: the androgynous demeanour, at times, from the protagonist; the symptom of vaginismus and sexual pleasure; abortion; the role of women in religion making the sexual intercourse exist in the mother with the sense of populating the hole left by the Shoah; and exile: always feminine.
The interesting thing about this is that the series shows not only how the Orthodox Jewish community reduces women to the maternal, but that the pressure of conception turns a woman into a womb that gestates, upholding the religious descent. Bodies are bound and reduced to reproduction, but there is no law, however orthodox, that is valid in the face of pleasure, which is always heretical of tradition. This, returns in the symptom of vaginismus as the body rejects the master of procreation. The series portrays the pressure to conceive in the manner of a «being named for» (Lacan, 1974, s/p), since Judaism is a religion that is transmitted through mothers. In an era where multiculturalism is questioned, where women’s rights are not equal to those of men, female protagonists of the liberation from patriarchy foretell the success of the series, as it shows a space between the exit of religious orthodoxy and the intersection of post-politics and treatments of bodies. In this regard, Eric Laurent (2002) in Symptom and Nomination states that
…the limit is found as the necessary bar above the A. Thus, every society has its limit, which is defined by internal processes. The limit of the qualifying work of our civilization has a very specific name: human rights. (p. 111)
When the lead of the series has an ultrasound to monitor her pregnancy, the doctor lets her know that she can have an abortion, if that is what she wants. A woman’s right to decide over her body is present in the series. However, the main character’s response maintains her cultural background in her desire to continue with her pregnancy, despite questioning the traditions of indoctrination over her body. It also highlights the tension between a women’s struggle for legal, safe and free abortion and the current anti-abortion movement. These anti-abortion religions know that controlling «tiny lives comes in handy to control life itself. But this is always done in the same way: by the imperative of reducing women to mothers» (Brousse, 2019, s/p).
Within the community, women are reduced to motherhood, but in the series, we see different versions of playing this role.
We can find a contemporary variation of the «double mother» that Lacan (1956-57 ) alludes to in relation to Juanito, Gide and Leonardo in the face of one of the names given to the fall of the symbolic role of the father, the paternal absence: Etsy’s mother and paternal grandmother. Although her grandmother represents and maintains the «common welfare» of the community, it was with her that she sang, a task that was forbidden in the presence of men. The ability to sing is what allows her to win a scholarship and make a name for herself. Her mother, who left the community ― because she fell in love with a woman ― in an attempt to uphold her motherhood and her status as a woman, lost legal custody of her daughter and moved to Berlin. Under Lacan we could say that a mother can desire as a man but love as a woman. In one of the few scenes shared between the main character and her mother, before their encounter in Berlin, the latter gives her a German passport. Although the young woman rejects it, she hides it from her grandmother in order to keep it. The passport symbolizes being part of a global logic that overlaps with her sense of local belonging to the community in which she clings to her grandmother, and through her to a model of womanhood. Every secret is a secret of bliss and, above all, feminine. Even if it is not yet revealed, the passport acts as a title in Esty’s pockets. We can think that given the decay of Oedipus and the symbolic role of the father, it is because of the feminine that resides in the mother that Esty found a way out of the confinement that was becoming fit in her community. n the female character «we can see the sudden turn of fear into endless courage, when one hits what should be respected» (Miller, 2010a, s/p) A separation act that occurs while she is pregnant, with the help of another woman, her piano teacher, with whom she secretly took lessons. She arrives in Berlin in search of a woman; who becomes her mother after the family secret is revealed and, perhaps, a different version to inhabit her own female duality.
The woman purposefully reduced to a fertilizing body
Not only the woman/mother/womb as the core of a successful series appears as a theme with a Jewish Orthodox background, but also as the backbone of a future that is projected as a possible Christian transmutation.
The Handmaid’s Tale was written by Margaret Atwood in 1984. An adaptation of the book was made into a movie in 1990, with a script by Harol Pinter. However, it was at the present time that the series created by Bruce Miller (2017-) became a publishing and visual success. Why such a success after almost 32 years from the publication of the book? What relationship can we establish between this story and the movement of the so-called fourth wave of feminism and the rise of religiously oriented authoritarianism in our contemporary world?
On that subject, less than two years ago, M. Atwood, in a letter she sent to a local newspaper, asked: «What kind of country do you want to live in? This is a direct address to the abortion debate. The title of this text is blunt: «A State of slavery?» (Atwood, 2018, s/p). This is the way the 80-year-old Canadian author calls out a state that forces its women to continue with unwanted pregnancies. Weeks ago, she had already burst into the discussion with a message to former Vice President Gabriela Michetti «Don’t look away from the thousands of deaths each year from illegal abortions. Give argentine women the right to choose» (Atwood, 2018), she had asked through social media. Today she returns, but with a more extensive and insightful text: \»Women who cannot make the decision on whether or not to have babies are slaves, because the State claims their bodies as property and the right to dictate the use to which their bodies should be put under» (Atwood, 2018, s/p).
The series presents a new political system in the United States. It is presented as «a restoration of tradition» with religious foundations, but with strong rational and scientific arguments: it will guarantee a rising birth rate in a world that, as a result of scientific advances, but also of women’s achievements, has led to a fall in fertility. The series also features flashbacks in which, while describing the new system, we go back in time to those ‘hints’ that could have warned the main character, and humanity, about what was ‘developing’. In the Republic of Gilead, Offred’s body has lost all its rights and her mission in society is reduced to procreation, as imposed by the strict rules established by the biblically-inspired puritanical dictatorship built on the Old Testament that rules the country. Her fertility determines her social place, as well as those of the other castes who, because they are not fertile, are placed in another role. It is a holy trinity that has been updated to the issues of science.
Offred (Defred in Spanish) is the name assigned to the main character when she becomes a maid. The etymology of the term Of-Fred (from Fred) already directly implies the character of the woman as property of a man. In his case, Offred is the «maid» of Fred, the commander. The young woman lives in the house of Major Fred Waterford and his wife Serena Joy, who is sterile, with the sole purpose of conceiving a child for the marriage.
If Offred revolts or if, by reluctantly agreeing to collaborate, she is unable to conceive, death by public execution or exile awaits her in order to die in a colony where she will succumb to the pollution of toxic waste. Thus, the regime controls with an iron fist even the smallest details of women’s lives: their food, their clothing, even their sexual activity.
It is a fortuitous fact that the story told is that of Offred, Fred’s maid whose public role was created by his brilliant wife Serena Joy. The series explains in time flashes how, before the regime was installed, Serena herself was the intellectual author of the need for women to return to their homes to exercise the function of care and to focus on the divine gift: the fertility that she cannot bear. Two women and a man. A man with the power granted by a woman who creates it to stay in her shadow. A body banished from the possibility of pleasure, as a territory of desire of another woman under a man’s power. The question that today’s era raises is the subrogation of wombs in the ruthless horizon of global capitalism. Women pregnant by choice or out of necessity?
In Unorthodox the Jewish community encourages fertilization to sustain the religious lineage, so the practice of the maternal role of the pregnant woman is not excluded. Religion lies in the womb that will give a child to the community. In The Handmaid’s Tale, the maids are women reduced to a gestational womb. Motherhood is attached to the woman who accompanies a man in his power. Children appropriated in the names of religion, morality and the state.
Brousse (2019), in the text we have already discussed, states that
To place the mother in the father’s position when the family is dying and she shows herself to be no more than a herd of slaves led by dictators, is paid for by sacrificing the feminine. This series shows that, by being subjected to the sacrifice of the maternal, the feminine persists, as a reality impossible to overcome (…) Evidently the feminine makes a comeback: sexual desire and love in the maids-reproducers. (s/p)
A common theme that we also find in Unorthodox, the benefit of the deprivation at stake of the symptom of vaginismus is a way of » going on strike » against the imposed role of the mother. At the same time, a woman’s freedom of choice over her own body still remains a crime.
Finally, the ratio of the spoken word for a woman, in the religious cloak of both series, will never be comparable to that of a man. Just as women cannot expose the sheen of their voice to a man within the Orthodox Jewish setting, the maids of the Republic of Gilead cannot access the written word. «The handmaids’ tales» are those breaches that give women back the possibility of telling their story and to make it reach Canada, a bordering country where the regime does not exist. Esty and Offred recover their bodies, in that voice that resonates in the voice of every woman who is deprived
of her own body.
Believer in a state of disbelief
The Young Pope (2016-), by the prestigious Italian scriptwriter and director Paolo Sorrentino, tells the story of the pontification of 44-year-old American Lenny Belardo, who comes to power in the Vatican under the cloak of moderation, at a time when the public’s credibility and faith in their Church are at a low point.
The young pope called himself Pius XIII, the election of Sorrentino was not accidental, as it was the name of Lucian Pulvermacher, a German Catholic priest who was considered an antipope, although not an historical one. He was elected pope by the True Catholic Church in October 1998. He resided in his papal seat in the United States (nationality of the young pope). He was the leading figure of the True Catholic Church, a small group of conclaves, who claimed that Pope John Paul II and his immediate predecessors were neither true Catholics nor true popes, and that a new, legitimate pope could be elected by the faithful remnant of the sedevacantist movement.
In the show, far from holding a modest position among the Orthodox and progressive members of his clergy, Pius XIII states that the Catholic Church has been trivialized, but he doesn’t understand the euphoria of the believers in his presence, nor the commercialization of his image. For that reason, he doesn’t give interviews or speeches in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, with the intention that it is the people who come closer to God and the Church and not the other way around. On the one hand, the pope is a strong believer in the ideals of Catholic Orthodoxy, asserting them before his clergy as well as the faithful. He speaks out against abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality and pedophilia, imposing his will in the form of an authority that embodies an inflexible way of enjoying life rather than a cause that is homogeneous with certain imperatives of the time. The Pope is very young but his ideas are very old and radical. He wants to reinstall the order of the Master’s discourse in its place but he produces instead is a fundamentalism that causes a deep disorientation, from which he is not exempt. The return of his accusatory crushing is the very unbelief in the faith that he proclaims. The pope is a believer in a state of disbelief.
This point seems to be the main focus of the series, Belardo comes to the place of God’s presence on earth, he makes the Other of the Other exist, The Father of the Church. It is in that very place that his torment bursts through: he doubts his belief. The series puts this tension, the non-sexual relationship and the existence of the Other, at the centre. On a more comprehensive level, the series teaches, not without wit, that no matter how successful the discourse of true religion may be in producing meaning in the face of the rampant social regime of non-all, it fails to cover it up. On its own, the drama of the young pope, the man, is going through the abandonment of his parents. The more he takes the place as Father of the Church, the more ferocious is the return of the emptiness caused by parental neglect.
The hole caused by abandonment is compounded by the hole caused by the non-existence of the Other, which the presence of God evokes in the Catholic discourse does not succeed in stitching together. The disagreement between the belief and the non-existence of the Other makes the course of a deeply reactionary papacy more and more authoritarian, grim and dark, with a medieval discourse that shapes a god far from the more approachable values of the New Testament.
The Pope’s restlessness and uncertainty is carried by Sister Mary, a nun who raised him as a son since he was abandoned. In a man’s world, Sister Mary obtains a position of responsibility in the curia, and becomes one of the most influential people in the Vatican government.
This is the overview up to the last few chapters, a turning point for the pope that brings about a turn in the plot. Spencer, his mentor, by way of interpretation, tells him to bury two empty drawers in Venice ― a pope haunted by the shadow of the object. His papacy changes course when it loses what never existed. In a conversation with Gutierrez, Lenny states that Sister Maria has completed her mission, the baby Pope has become a man, he no longer needs a motherly presence.
Finally, he appears for the first time before a crowd of believers in Venice, who receive \with great joy the Holy Father’s message of hope. An act that instils belief. Perhaps, belief is what transcends the act.
In the crowd, the pope with his eye on the slit of his binoculars, is looked at by the gaze of an older couple of hippies, he sees his parents again. They feel his presence and retreat, a real image that breaks through where the fictional false hole of parental neglect should be. A naked reality, the one that gave body to the belief, appears. BOOM! the confusion, a body event, knocks him down on the floor… The Other does not exist.
Riding the wave of the feminine
The Church of Denmark is the largest of the Christian churches in Denmark. Lutheranism is a Protestant Christian religious movement founded by the German monk Martin Luther. In the Church of Denmark, there are two main branches: Grundtvigianism and the Internal Mission, the former having greater influence in the Church of Denmark. The second is an ultra-conservative Danish Lutheran group, created at the end of the 19th century, whose main «mission» is to maintain the integrity of the faith within the frontiers of Denmark.
Herrens Veje (the most reliable translation would be The Lord’s Ways or Ride Upon the storm) or its Spanish translation, Los caminos del Señor, which in Argentina has been translated as Something to Believe In (2017-2018) is a Danish series that tells the story of a family with a long religious background of more than 250 years, led by the Lutheran pastor Johannes Krogh. Johannes is married to Elisabeth and is the father of two children: August, a military chaplain, recently married and preferred by his father, and Christian, the eldest son, who refused to continue the family tradition. The beginning of the series is centred on the debate for the election of the new bishop of Copenhagen. In the first instance, the exchange of postulants for bishop revolves around the core of the National Church versus atheism. The main character’s stance is that we must go out and conquer the atheists:
― What do they believe in (…) Let’s bring atheists into the national church to discuss the meaning of life (…) I believe in God. Saying that is more controversial than telling you in detail about my last intercourse (…) I believe in God, it’s something
that generates a sort of uneasiness (…) The modern man needs something to believe in. He needs to assign a thought or emotion to what he cannot quantify (…) I believe in God. I live by that. (Something to believe in, Netflix: 2017-2018, 1.1)
These lines of the main character’s speech demonstrate the reason why Lacan proposed that religion would triumph over science and psychoanalysis, since it allows to make sense of what escapes the quantifying push, the other side of which is the fact that the master no longer functions as a warrant for the exception. The absence of the exception of the father implies a non-quantification, a non-limitation of enjoyment. Its consequence is the epoch of the non-all, which is characterized, among other things, by the multiple. This is a topic that we will address when we discuss the multiple evangelisms in Brazil and on a global scale.
During the period in which the bishopric would be defined between two candidates, Monica (second in the statistics) and Johannes (first candidate), the latter has the following conversation with his wife, Elisabeth:
―Listen to this, love ―Johannes says to his wife. ― It is essential to stop the departure of the members of the National Church, but we cannot expect to reach the numbers we used to see.
― Don’t talk too much about the numbers.
― No, that’ s the lady’s area.
― Don’t call her ‘lady’. She’s the respected rival candidate or just Monica Ravn.
― How about ‘my asexual rival candidate’? That’s funny.
― Tonight is not about being funny. (Something to believe in, Netflix: 2017-2018, 1.1)
In the final debate, the two candidates face each other in a public debate. In which, both candidates explain the Church’s position on Islam.
Monica: It is a world religion. Dialogue is the only way forward. There is room for all of us.
Johannes: Yes. Plenty of dialogue. Without it, we let the extremists control the discourse (Something to believe in, Netflix: 2017-2018, 1.1).
She reminds him of a note he wrote for The Cristian Daily and adds
― Did you change your mind?
― In my article I pointed out that the symbolic books of the national church, which are 500 years old, say that we condemn the Muslims. Islam is an unfaithful religion if you are a Christian, period.
― Do you believe that Muslims are unfaithful?
― Yes. You do too.
― I never said or wrote that.
― Christianity and Islam are two monotheistic religions. They condemn us for separating God into the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
― I think people would like to know what this would mean if you became a bishop.
― Nothing! I simply recognize the symbolic books and will not cowardly bow to political correctness when if you talk about Islam you are labelled a racist.
― So, you’re a coward if you don’t believe that Muslims are unfaithful?
― That’s not what I said and that’s women’s political correctness.
― I guess that’s the gender of my respected rival. You’re a woman, right? (Something to believe in, Netflix: 2017-2018, 1.1)
This debate shows that, in the face of the dichotomy between atheists and Christians, it can be pointed to the bond. Not so in the case of the Muslims, where he «ties himself» to the scriptures and exposes, at the same time, his misogyny as a response to the failure of his calculation that we find in the conversation with his wife, which is why he loses the possibility of being the first bishop of the family. We can see that the structure of the debate between Johannes and Monica is set out in what Hegel called a struggle for sheer prestige, which leads to a master and a slave. Miller in «Woman of Courage» (2010a) uses Hegelian dialogue to argue that it might seem that men come out as masters and women as submissive, but he claims that this is not the case. The man, although he may seem to be in charge, is the slave, the servant. He is so because, in a structural way, the one who comes out as a servant from that struggle is the one who must protect something, in this case the family religious lineage. But if the female subject has nothing to protect, Monica knows that she is not the favourite candidate to assume the bishopric, she is in the structural position of the master. The will without rules such as foolishness, whim, fearlessness, and courage are on the side of the woman; while the Name-of-the-Father is the authority, but as far as the rules go, they become slippery and shaky at the time of their fall. Miller points to a mismatch: the man, master-servant, fits into the master’s discourse. Man masters are always only masters of servants, they are false masters. Whereas female domination is derived from a hysterical discourse, that is to say, from a position of a master without rules who denounces the false master, servant of the rules. “She’s in charge now, he no longer rules.” (Lacan, 1969-70 , p. 137)
This tension between the master servant of tradition and the will without rules/courage ― close to heresy ― is Ariadne’s thread that unfolds in each of the stories.
The loss of the longed-for bishopric sends him spiralling into alcohol and infidelity. Belief in traditional religion crosses the same crossroads, as in today’s Denmark it is in retreat and is replaced by new and curious forms of spirituality, a sign of the fall of the Name-of-the-Father.
In Herrens Veje the characters are faced not only with a crisis of faith, but also with the difficulty of living up to their beliefs. The crisis of faith is a meeting point with The young pope. If belief binds the subject to the Other to whom he is the custodian of faith, this series implies «the divorce from the ideal; one can do without the ideal and the people, one can do without the Other, the ideals and scenarios that he proposes by a short-circuit that directly releases the bonus of enjoyment» (Miller and Laurent, 2005, p. 312).
Johannes wants his children, with a fixation in the way of a «being named for», to carry the weight of their ancestors who must be honoured, of the sacrifice that must be made, of the duty that must be fulfilled, of the path that must be followed. Their gaze turns to his younger son so that he may reach the glory that has been denied him. August struggles, pushed by his father, between serving God in his country and serving God in the Middle East. He chooses the latter. His stay in the war becomes ominous after killing a Muslim woman and on his return, he suffers a clinical psychosis. Meanwhile, Christian is discovered by a professor and a lecturer for plagiarizing his doctoral thesis. On a trip to Tibet, he confesses to his best friend that he has slept with his wife. Abandoned by his friend, he takes refuge in a Buddhist monastery where he starts his journey so as not to submit to his father’s pressure. He returns to his hometown to become a Buddhist and then becomes a New Age preacher. Towards the end of the story, as an omen of destiny, he becomes a shepherd.
Elisabeth is the family’s backbone, the place where all the men in the family, to a greater or lesser extent, take shelter. We can say that Herrens Veje‘s aim lies in the balance between believing in her ― the expression of the Overself, and believing her ― more on the side of courage (Lacan, 1975). Responses to the feminine that underlie different qualities of faith. Using the formulas of sexuation, we can locate a belief, on the side of the Whole and the exception, that tends towards the orthodoxy of the superego that brings the Other into existence. On the female side of the formulas, we can pose a belief that tends more to heresy, to the signifier of the Other that does not exist.
When Johannes breaks the particular agreement with his wife regarding the non-sexual intercourse, his world, disguised behind a shop window, is shaken. Elizabeth discovers his infidelities and starts a romantic relationship with a woman.
Its creator, Adam Price, presents from the beginning the crisis of two institutions in Danish society, family and religion. The common denominator of the crises is the presence of a woman. The woman who keeps the bishopric, the murdered Muslim woman who later leads to the psychotic outbreak of the heir of the religious caste, the woman who discovers the plagiarism of the thesis, the woman who produces the rupture of the bond between Christian and his best friend and, finally, the woman who makes Elisabeth fall in love. The correlate of the divorce from the Ideal dictates, on the one hand, the imperative of the figurative superego in The Woman, Surmoitié (Lacan, 1972 [2012b], p. 492).
On the other hand, a woman as a belief, in the emptiness of a tornado, who turns over all the symbolic structures to which a man clings, sees the birth of a future reality that is the rise of women.
«Women are more sensitive to the signifier of the Other that does not exist and their social interests are weaker when it comes to the ideal, to which they have less relation to than men» (Miller and Laurent, 2005, p. 108).
This series demonstrates that a woman can either embody the heresy of tradition or push forward an orthodox radicalism. For both extremes, the feminine is its foundation, the starting point of all fiction. It’s necessary to have something to believe in to ride upon the storm