Religion, whichever it may be, plays a significant role in many people’s lives worldwide.
Not many shows out there dive into it without any reservations, but since it is a part of many societies, it is unavoidable altogether.
Some shows have made some not-so-subtle commentary on it.
Below, we have compiled twelve shows that approached the topic. Whether there are lessons to be learned or caution to be heeded, it is left to the viewer to decide for themselves.
12. The Borgias
Premiering in 2011 on Showtime, The Borgias starred Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia.
It chronicles the corrupt rise to the papacy of Rodrigo. He commits every sin in the book to try to amass and retain power, influence, and enormous wealth for himself and his family.
Albeit fictionalized to some extent, the events depicted in the show shed light on the early days of the Catholic Church, where men used a combination of tricks to try and occupy the most powerful seat in Christendom.
It begs the question, is it all divine and mysterious, or is it men’s work in a bid to control the masses?
11. The Tudors
Like The Borgias, The Tudors is also a period show that follows the rise of King Henry VIII to one of the most memorable Kings in the history of England.
Most sacred books are regarded as the perfect word of their respective deities and thus not open to changes.
Born into a rigid catholic society, Henry had one problem. All his attempts at siring a male heir would bear no fruits. He would blame this failure on his first and subsequent wives.
Divorce was an unheard-of beast during those times, but it did happen in exceptional cases. One had to write to the Pope, who would give or deny his go-ahead on the issue.
Henry was also a shameless womanizer who got infatuated with a beautiful woman as soon as he saw her.
He wanted to divorce his wife Catherine for Ann Boleyn, but the Pope wouldn’t let him. So, as the head of the church and defender of the faith, he changed the bible to allow him to marry.
It makes one wonder how many more little changes have been made that the larger society is unaware of, just so one influential person serves their selfish interests.
10. His Dark Materials
On the surface, His Dark Materials seems like another science fiction show.
Early seasons dealt with the discovery of a powerful substance that would revolutionize people’s understanding of their universe.
The discovery of Dust would give people so much power, thus threatening the establishment.
The establishment, in this case, is more or less a religious body like the papacy. It seeks to control how much people know and understand the universe around them.
We all know control of the flow of information is the first page from the tyranny playbook.
In the final season, multiple characters discover that they had dedicated their entire lives to a lie, and a dangerous one, for that matter.
How many people are little cogs in a larger system whose intentions are not pure? How many lives have been wasted in service of a lie?
Tyrant follows an American man named Bassam, who visits his homeland for his brother’s coronation. Having lived a sheltered life in the West, he comes alive to the reality of life under his brother’s tyranny.
The best weapon that comes in handy is religion. Using Islam, he lords himself over the people, killing anyone who dares to question him.
He makes it impossible for women to learn or lead. Gay people are thrown off storeyed buildings with the sanction of the leader and the Quran. Academics are killed in broad daylight.
How many people fail to live their lives to the fullest because someone else seeks to control everything they do?
08. The Young Pope
Lenny comes to the Vatican as a younger-than-normal man with different ideas about how the church should be and how it should serve the people.
His outlook on many issues goes against what all the older men in the Vatican want.
Although many events are fictionalized, the show demystifies one of the world’s oldest institutions and shows how political it is.
What if it is all just politics?
07. The New Pope
So far, everything we have on this list depicts religion negatively to some extent. And most of what is to follow will also be negative, but something positive might emerge in this entry.
After Lenny falls into a comma, the old guard is brought in again. There is a concerted effort to roll back all the new changes Lenny had made. Most of it is forgettable.
When Lenny wakes up again, however, he delivers a speech showing a brighter future for the Catholic Church.
It is a future that is inclusive, caring, and kind. It might be the only way to get people back into the religion.
In this underrated fantasy show, the world has gone blind due to humans’ exploitation of the earth. Centuries later, everyone has gotten accustomed to being blind such that sight is seen as an abomination. Since many of us can see, we can all agree that sight is not evil.
Leaders during paint sighted people as a threat, and entire battalions are created and dedicated to hunting down sighted people.
To enforce adherence, a dose of religion is present. The Queen uses God to make sure soldiers do her bidding. She uses religion to justify hating sighted people.
How many other groups of people in the real world has religion been used to demonize for the simple reason of being different and in the minority?
05. Hand of God
If there ever were a bunch of really awful people who weaponize faith and religion, it is the characters on Hand of God.
The show follows judge Pernell Harris who suffers a mental breakdown and believes God is talking to him and needs him to be judge, jury, and executioner.
Due to his powerful position, he attracts a bunch of opportunists who use him and his newfound dedication to commit murder and gain money by pretenses without consequences.
It makes one wonder how many powerful people are just deluded, cheating masses with the promise of communion with God.
04. Midnight Mass
Although Midnight Mass is more of a horror show, it makes some interesting observations about religion and believers in general.
It can be argued that most of the characters, including Father Paul, did what they thought was best.
Father Paul would heal people, but his healing would also condemn them to death. Bev believed so much that she was more than okay with letting the islanders face bodily harm because it all came from a man of God.
The biggest question raised here is how much faith is enough and how much is harmful. Can too much devotion to an ideology cause more harm than good in the long run?
03. Under the Banner of Heaven
Andrew Garfield stars in this show based on a true story.
The story follows a Mormon man who starts having a crisis of faith after witnessing some of the most disturbing practices in his religion.
With a large ensemble, the show dives into some of the most profound tenets of the Mormon religion and how they serve to abuse and mistreat women in society and marriages.
As we dive deeper into the story, it also shows how harmful some religious practices could be to individuals and a nation.
02. The Path
When one hears of cults, the most immediate association is with negativity and abuse.
Meyerism, however, was a perfect cult. It might have become a religion if it had gained wider recognition.
This cult was a model cult of what cults aspire to be. It was welcoming, inclusive, open, and modern. It allowed for personal liberty but also fostered a strong sense of community.
A crisis of faith ensues in multiple characters and leads them to search for the truth.
What they find out leads to a collapse of their entire belief system. They discover that some of their most intense and sacred practices originate from a man with perverted desires.
The foundation for their whole religion was an experiment by their founder trying to cure himself of his paedophilic tendencies.
It makes you wonder how many religious practices result from a person or a group trying to feed or curtail their destructive behaviors.
01. The Handmaid’s Tale
From one of the most significant corruptions of scripture comes The Handmaid’s Tale.
In this show, a literal interpretation of a scripture verse sees the rise of an alternative lifestyle that treats women as nothing but property.
The men of Gilead take control of society and divide women into various categories, inspired by a single story in the bible.
Despite being fictional, The Handmaid Tale serves as an eye-opener into what could be if religious fanaticism is left unchecked.
With religious zealots seeking to take control of women’s bodies in various governments worldwide, do the events in the show even seem exaggerated anymore?
And those were our shows that might make viewers question various aspects of their religions and their religious beliefs or lack thereof.
Which question hit the hardest?
Considering how negative it is, did it seem like an unfair look into religion?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Denis Kimathi is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. He has watched more dramas and comedies than he cares to remember. Catch him on social media obsessing over [excellent] past, current, and upcoming shows or going off about the politics of representation on TV. Follow him on Twitter.