MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

GOD, TRUTH AND CHARLIE BROWN

Good Grief! TV's finally discovered that Canadians are crazy about religion

JOCELYN DINGMAN December 3 1966
MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

GOD, TRUTH AND CHARLIE BROWN

Good Grief! TV's finally discovered that Canadians are crazy about religion

JOCELYN DINGMAN December 3 1966

GOD, TRUTH AND CHARLIE BROWN

Good Grief! TV's finally discovered that Canadians are crazy about religion

JOCELYN DINGMAN

Dingman on television

IS THERE really a great pumpkin who flies over the earth on Hallowe’en giving candy to children? Or is there, rather, a man in a red suit who brings them gifts at Christmas? On the recent TV special It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, Linus and Charlie Brown batted this question back and forth for a while till Charlie finally said: “We’re obviously separated by denominational differences.”

To Canadians well past the Santa Claus stage, denominational and doctrinal differences are still matters of enormous interest and importance. It’s been said that when young Canadians meet they quickly find out what church each belongs to. (The other important question is: “What does your father do?”) Even non-believers take sides, which is sometimes puzzling to immigrants from Britain and Europe who are often genuinely indifferent to religion.

The big change of the past few years is that we’re now allowed to carry on these fascinating arguments publicly; and that a lot of the discussion is taking place on television. For instance recently on TBA, a nightly Toronto magazine show, Gordon Sinclair visited the minister of Simpson Avenue United Church where, long ago, he went to Sunday school. They had a big argument about Noah’s Ark, and it turned out that Gordon, though an atheist, is a fundamentalist atheist. When the minister said he thought Noah’s Ark was a myth, Gordon was almost as shocked as his own grandfather would have been.

Not long ago Pierre Berton had a Dutch Catholic couple from Vancouver on his show, who told how they had not only left the church but lost their faith over their decision to use birth-control pills. Their sincerity, thoughtfulness, and forthrightness made this a particularly rewarding half hour. The astonishing thing, though, when you think about it, is that we met these good people not at the home of friends, where they could speak frankly in private, but on a television show broadcast at dinner time on a weeknight.

Nowadays it’s almost always laymen who want to debate the pricklier questions of faith and order, while clergymen seem to prefer discussions about things like Christ’s will at work in the world. This proved to be particularly true at the special “teach-in” on Anglican - United Church union, which the CBC taped with an invited audience and then showed for an hour and a half on a Saturday morning. Three students who were at the teachin were so annoyed by the whole thing that they issued a statement saying it was a “disaster — a kiddies’ show.” I didn’t think the show was quite that bad, though I’m certainly glad 1 didn’t actually have to go to the teach-in.

There was a panel of six, heavily clerical and all male except for Adrienne Clarkson of Take Thirty, who is an Anglican lay woman. The panel exchanged brotherly sentiments, and the audience expressed prejudices. An Anglo-Catholic lady jumped up and asked: “What provisions will be made for those who wish to remain Anglican in communion with the See of Canterbury?” Ouch. A United Church minister asked when the Anglicans were going to open their Communion table to members of other communions. Ouch. The Primate of the Anglican Church said soothingly that tensions between conservatives and evangelicals went right back to the New Testament. Maybe it wasn’t exactly a stimulating program, but it did give some idea of what the churches are up against in their efforts to achieve union.

As for Ft’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown — which was supposed to be for kids — most people know by now that Charles Schulz is a Christian who sometimes uses his Peanuts cartoon to express religious fables. What happened on the show was that Charlie Brown got nothing but a bag full of rocks for his shell-outs, and Linus waited and waited but the great pumpkin never came. The message, as best I could interpret it, was: “To him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken away.” That’s a hard message. You can see why even religious people prefer to sit around arguing about things like Noah's Ark and the apostolic succession.