And The Winner Is …
You may all congratulate me. Please don’t form a crowd; line up, and I will accept your accolades individually. And, of course, I will pose with you for pictures. Autographs? Happy to oblige. While I would prefer believing that those reading this column have eager reactions to this announcement, I suspect the majority are pondering, “Oh, what is he doing now?” Allow me to expound.
It won’t come as a surprise to you that interest in religion has declined. This is true in many countries, but especially in the United States of America. According to the good folks at Gallup, there has been a sharp 20% decline in religious memberships since 1999 and, more startling, half of that just in the past couple of years. Explanations for the decline are almost as numerous as the number of people publishing on the subject.
Fortunately, I, the Man Behind the Curtain, have an idea that is all but guaranteed to have the multitudes rushing back to their local church, synagogue, mosque, ashram, fellowship, society, broom closet or wherever else religion is practiced. Frankly, the brilliance of the idea humbles me. And here it is: Religions need an awards show.
Bear with me for a moment as I explain in detail. This morning, as I was doing my morning treadmill time, I had the television tuned to a news program. As the program’s hosts had already reported on the latest coronavirus numbers, political scandal, and best recipe for Irish soda bread, and there being nothing else world-wide of interest to report, they focused on the announcement of which films are up for this year’s Academy Awards, the Oscars, in which there are 24 categories.
Full disclosure: I dislike awards programs in general as the awards usually appear to me to be less focused on quality and skill and more on influence on the judges. But I am the first to recognize that whichever movies win for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress are guaranteed to have people rushing back to the theaters to see them or, more likely these days, stream them at home on one or more of their digital devices.
So, why not the same for religion? All that’s needed are categories, specially designed awards (instead of an Oscar statuette, I envision a glowing orb), congenial and engaging awards show hosts (I believe Joel Osteen, Franklin Graham, and Susan Frederick-Gray would make amiable co-hosts), and a couple of committed paparazzi, and houses of worship will soon be flooded with overflows of congregants.
I know what you’re thinking: “Gee, Mike, do you happen to have any categories in mind?” Rest assured, I do. Here are a few, in no particular order, for you to mull over. They are the same categories currently used by the Academy, as I felt they would be most recognizable to the public.
Best Costume Design: This will be a tough category to judge, and there will be much grumbling among those not winning this award. Certainly, Buddhist and Hindu religious leaders enjoy wearing colorful designs, but so do Sikhs and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Unitarian Universalist stoles make the cut. The area of contention will be if accessories are considered in this category. If such is the case, the Catholics use of the thurible could gain votes for them. However, the beautiful and well-wrapped turbans worn by Muslims and Sikhs, and Orthodox Judaism’s tallis and phylacteries could put those groups in a three-way bid for the award.
Best Original Screenplay: This category will likely be the one most in contention. Let’s face it, all religions began with a story and some are epic. Buddhism’s and Islam’s founders led lives that were as compelling as they were inspiring. Christianity has a story grounded in a simple, martyred man. The Old Testament kicked off three major faiths and reads like “One Thousand and One Arabian Nights.” This year, Unitarian Universalism will be hoping for a nod from the Academy of Religious Awards, but isn’t even likely to be nominated. The Las Vegas buzz, however, is that UU is a lock for the Best Short Documentary award.
Best Original Score: This category, unfortunately, leaves out Islam and Mandaeism as neither approve of music, but that leaves pretty much all of the others. Points would have to go to the Buddhists for their creative use of bells (when have you ever failed to be moved by a well-played Bonshō?). However, for sheer number of hits, year after year, Christianity has the edge. But Christianity isn’t a religion but is made up of thousands of denominations, and the breakdown gets a bit daunting as not all Christian religions catalog their music. The Methodists alone have almost 900 hymns, Episcopalians have around 600, and frankly, there’s shared use of many hymns among all the Christian faiths. Las Vegas odds makers could make the Latter-Day Saints the front runner if only because the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has been nominated a number of times for, and won, the Grammy.
Best Visual Effects: While all religions have their miracles and appearances from a deity, Judaism is the easy winner here. Come on, who can compete with the creation of the universe, a humankind-ending flood, parting of the Red Sea, extensive plagues (Think of it: Raining frogs? Acres of Locusts? Awesome!), a man being swallowed by a giant fish, plus battles galore? The special effects would be amazing! Rumor has it that Sophia Coppola, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, and Woody Allen are in a bidding war to buy the rights to make the ultimate biblical movie (Allen has his heart on playing God). Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, Uma Thurman, and Arnold Schwarzenegger are on the edges of their seats waiting to see a script.
I believe that now you not only see my point about the value of awards, but support this most brilliant of ideas. Houses of worship throughout the country will be bursting at the seams and religion will be saved. Oh, yeah, just one more category that I feel should be mentioned:
Best Short Subject, Comedy: This is the only sure-bet category. And, I will thank each and every one of you when the award is presented to me.
This week’s Street Advertising Smile: