Image via RNS/ABC/Trevor Adeline

Seger, who said she has seen only trailers of the series, says there can still be a market for such shows among Christians, like herself, or Jews.

“A Christian audience can get hooked on exactly the same things that any other audience does: violence, blood, sex, etc.,” she said. “As Christians, we might want to be high-minded and enlightened but that doesn’t mean we are.”

Renee Gadoua 06-08-2015
Photo courtesy of HBO / RNS

A still from “Vice” episode, “A Prayer for Uganda.” Photo courtesy of HBO / RNS

A growing number of LGBT Ugandans are fleeing to neighboring Kenya to escape violence and persecution, a Ugandan Catholic priest says.

People are beaten, raped, evicted, and dismissed from their jobs because of their sexual identity or orientation, the Rev. Anthony Musaala said during a talk at All Saints Catholic Church as part of a monthlong visit to the United States and Canada.

Even associating with or advocating for LGBT people may spur discrimination, he said.

Photo courtesy of HBO / RNS

Photo courtesy of HBO / RNS

The only murky thing in Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, HBO’s scathing new documentary is: What will happen to the church that sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard built more than 50 years ago after it airs?

The two-hour film directed by Academy Award-winning director Alex Gibney is a merciless examination of the Church of Scientology, the religion/business/self-help empire created by Hubbard, who died in 1986. The film, which airs March 29 on HBO, alleges the church has practiced physical, psychological, and financial abuse of its current and former members for decades.

And while the film is based on Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright’s 2013 book with an almost identical title, the film manages something the book could not — it allows viewers to look into the eyes of former Scientologists as they describe years of abuse they say they suffered willingly at the hands of the church and the ultimate toll it took: lost relationships, broken lives, empty bank accounts, and more.

The film is so unsparing — particularly in its portrait of David Miscavige, who became the church’s “ecclesiastical leader” after Hubbard’s death and reportedly rules it like a tyrant — that the filmmakers and others who study Scientology say they hope it will prompt internal changes and greater transparency in the church, something it has resisted in the past.

Juliet Vedral 09-12-2014
Image via TheLeftoversHBO on Facebook.

Image via TheLeftoversHBO on Facebook.

As a native New Yorker, I can never forget Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I was in college, but heading to my part-time job that morning. My car was being fixed, so my father drove me to work. There was an unusual amount of traffic and as we turned on the radio, we heard a reporter talk about a plane that hit the World Trade Center.

The first thought we had was that this was an accident. It had to be an accident, right? As we listened to the reports though, the second plane hit and it was clear that something was very, horribly, terrifyingly wrong.

From our office in Queens, we watched the towers burn and then collapse. The image of the great cloud of smoke and debris encompassing the skyline has been burned on my brain. And a few days later, while handing out sandwiches to mourners at the makeshift memorial at Union Square with my parents’ church and non-profit organization, the feeling of hugging a total stranger while she wept on my shoulder will never leave me.

It is impossible to forget.

I must admit the timeliness on the part of HBO to air the season finale of The Leftovers in the week of 9/11. Tom Perotta, who authored the play on which the show is based, purposely included allusions to 9/11. Rather than a theological treatise on the Rapture, it is a beautiful case study in grief and the excruciating tension between the desire to move forward and the need to remember.

Juliet Vedral 08-20-2014
Image via TheLeftoversHBO on Facebook.

Image via TheLeftoversHBO on Facebook.

Editor's Note: Spoilers ahead! You've been warned.

Over the past eight episodes of The Leftovers, HBO’s latest drama based on Tom Perrotta’s play of the same name, viewers have been treated to a case study in grief and faith in the midst of a life-changing event. Unlike the Left Behind series, which incorporated Christian triumphalism with terrible theology, The Leftovers examines the deeper human and spiritual issues of what would happen were two percent of the population to suddenly disappear. It is powerful and beautiful and really hard to watch (especially Episode Five). It asks the question: does life go on when your world is changed forever?

The show offers a variety of responses to the Sudden Departure of October 14: Kevin Garvey, the police chief who seems to be losing his mind after his wife leaves him for a cult and after his father needs to be committed; Nora Durst, who’s lost her entire family, so she keeps everything exactly as it was when the Sudden Departure occurred; Rev. Matt Jamison, Nora’s brother whose faith has been shaken because he was not taken; the town dogs who have become feral; and finally, the creepiest citizens of Mapleton, the Guilty Remnant, or the GR as they’re “affectionately” known.

This past week’s episode gave us a greater understanding of the GR. Although the nihilistic views of the Guilty Remnant are quite different from those of Christianity, I was struck by their powerful and strategic mission of witness. The cult was formed out of the recognition that everything changed on October 14 and that to pretend otherwise was foolish. The group, in their white clothes, their silence, their stripped-down existence, bears witness to the fact that they are living reminders of what happened. They are fundamentalists about their cause and willing to die for it — even if that death comes from their own hands.

Gareth Higgins 07-08-2014

Studios have been realizing that there is an audience for long-form storytelling that is willing to think.

Vicki Hyman 07-07-2014

“The Leftovers” is an American television series that premiered on HBO in June. Photo court. Paul Schiraldi, HBO/Warner Brothers

HBO’s “The Leftovers” is the feel-good series of the summer, if your summer revolves around root canals and recreational waterboarding.

Indeed, it’s pretty grim stuff — but quite engrossing and worth your time, thanks to intense performances by Justin Theroux and Christopher Eccleston, and the way creators Tom Perrotta, who wrote the book on which the series is based, and Damon Lindelof, best known for screwing up the end of “Lost,” unflinchingly tackle the nature of grief and the limits of faith.

Can you call it an apocalypse if you can still get a decent bagel afterwards? It’s three years after what has been termed the Sudden Departure, when 2 percent of the world’s population — Christians, Jews, Muslims, straight, gay, white, black, brown, and Gary Busey — suddenly disappeared.

Antony Thomas, the 73-year-old British filmmaker behind the camera. Photo: Janet Van Ham, courtesy of HBO. Via RNS

A new film charting Charles Darwin’s passage from Christian to nonbeliever propelled its maker on a similar journey.

Questioning Darwin,” a new, hourlong documentary airing on HBO throughout February, juxtaposes the story of the 19th-century British naturalist with looks into the lives of contemporary American Christians who believe the world was created in six days, as described in the Book of Genesis.

Antony Thomas, the 73-year-old British filmmaker behind the camera, said while his goal was to highlight the way his subjects answered big questions about the origins of life, a loving God, and the purpose of suffering, he found his own answers to those questions changing.

“This is a personal feeling, but I do believe the two [a belief in God and in evolution] are not compatible,” Thomas said by telephone from New York, where he is working on another documentary. “And that is what made this worthwhile for me.”

Charles Darwin (1809-1882), author of “On the Origin of the Species.” Religion News Service file photo

Happy Darwin Day! A time to play pin the tail on the sparrow, partake of “phylum feasts” (potluck dinners where the ingredients come from many different species), and generally give a thumbs-up to evolution’s godfather, Charles Darwin, on his 205th birthday, Wednesday.

A growing number of Americans of varied religious backgrounds are marking the 1809 birthday of the British naturalist whose masterpiece “On The Origin of Species” has never been out of print since its publication in 1859.

Derek Flood 07-30-2013
Jim Wallis appears on 'Real Time with Bill Maher'

Jim Wallis appears on 'Real Time with Bill Maher'

Sojourners president Jim Wallis was recently a guest on HBO's  "Real Time with Bill Maher." In the course of the show Maher confronted Wallis on the Bible, asking him some very pointed questions about some of its more troubling texts. You can watch the exchange HERE.

Maher asks, "How do you reconcile this idea that it all comes from the Bible, but the Bible is so flawed... I mean, it's just so full of either nonsense or viciousness." In response, Wallis steered the conversation back to the topic of social justice and compassion, often overlooked Biblical mandates. Maher objected several times, accusing Wallis of "cherry-picking the good parts" of the Bible while ignoring the bad parts. 

I'm a big fan of Jim Wallis (heck, I blog for Sojourners!), and I appreciate that he moved the conversation away from Maher's attempted divisiveness and back to caring for the poor and immigration reform in this country. He's totally right that caring for the marginalized should be the priority of us Christians, and I understand that he wanted to stay focused on that.

At the same time, I think the question Bill Maher was raising is an important one, too, because it ultimately has to do with caring for the marginalized as well. That is, when the Bible is read in a hurtful way, it can and has been used throughout history to justify horrendous violence and mistreatment. That matters, and consequently it matters how we read the Bible. So as someone who has focused on confronting those "bad parts" in Scripture, I wanted to take a stab at addressing Maher's questions.

Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus lived a comfortable life in 1930s Philadelphia. Photo courtesy RNS.

Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus lived a comfortable life in 1930s Philadelphia, where he made a good living as a lawyer, and she kept a stylish house.


They were secular Jews who sent their children to a Quaker school, and unlikely candidates for the mission they assigned themselves. Gilbert revealed the plan to his wife as he was shaving in the bathroom, so their young son and daughter would not hear.

He wanted to go to Vienna and save 50 Jewish children from the Nazis.

Bill Keveney 06-08-2012
Photo: Helga Esteb /

Stars of True Blood Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer, Photo: Helga Esteb /

On HBO's "True Blood," politics is literally a bloody business.

In its fifth season — which happens to coincide with a U.S. presidential campaign —"True Blood," returning Sunday (9 p.m. ET/PT), explores political maneuverings in the vampire realm between The Authority, a mainstream group that seeks accommodation with humans, and the Sanguinistas, fundamentalists who believe mortals are simply food for their vampire superiors.

"We wanted to play with the politics/religion angle, since that seems to be something that never stops," creator Alan Ball says. "Some of the things being said by some people during the Republican primary were so horrifying to me that I thought, 'What if vampires wanted a theocracy? What would that look like?' Whenever anybody thinks they know what God wants and wants to apply that to government, whether Americans or the Taliban, it's kind of a terrifying thing."

Joshua Witchger 09-27-2011
It's Oktoberfest. A frosty papal pilsner, perhaps? [caption id="attachment_34148" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Photo by Cathleen Falsani"][/caption]
Cathleen Falsani 09-12-2011
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama spent Sunday, the 10th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, by visiting each of the attack sites in New York City, Washington,
Thelma Young 08-19-2011

Broadcaster Tavis Smiley and Princeton professor Cornel West just wrapped up their 18-city "Poverty Tour." The aim of their trip, which traversed through Wisconsin, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and the Deep South was to "highlight the plight of the poor people of all races, colors, and creeds so they will not be forgotten, ignored, or rendered invisible." Although the trip has been met with a fair amount of criticism, the issue of poverty's invisibility in American media and politics is unmistakable. The community organizations working tirelessly to help America's poor deserve a great deal more attention than what is being given.

The main attack against the "Poverty Tour" is Smiley and West's criticism of Obama's weak efforts to tackle poverty. For me though, what I would have liked to see more is the collection of stories and experiences from the people West and Smiley met along their trip. The act of collective storytelling in and of itself can be an act of resistance.

Brian McLaren 03-10-2011

With all the angst about the economy, the deficit, and a looming government shut-down, I'm still concerned that we're treating symptoms rather than diagnosing the underlying disease.

I know something about this. I spent a week in the hospital last year having loads of tests done -- blood work, heart scans, stress tests, and sonograms. I was discharged without a diagnosis, merely with hopes that by treating the symptoms, whatever was wrong would go away. It didn't. It turned out my real problem was a tick-born disease, and once it was diagnosed, a ten-dollar prescription of antibiotics cured me. Without that ten-dollar prescription to treat the real problem, I could have experienced life-long disability.

Becky Garrison 05-21-2010
When I got a press release announcing that Spike Jonze was the executive producer of The Lazarus Effect,
Jim Wallis 06-15-2009
More than the primaries, general election, board meetings, or the budget fight on Capitol Hill, this past week was a high-intensity roller coaster for me. It was Little League playoffs.
Gabriel Salguero 06-12-2009
Much has been said about President Obama's speech to the Muslim world from Cairo, Egypt.