Spiritual Themes in TV’s “Big Bang Theory”
I love finding Spirit in the midst of ordinary life. The Divine reveals itself at the dinner table, walking in nature, doing the dishes, in conversation with a friend and for the purposes of this posting on an often hysterically funny television program. The Divine is spread throughout every episode of The Big Bang Theory. Mythic and spiritual themes are captured in these often annoying, weird, self-absorbed characters.
I do not think that this is necessarily the conscious intention of the writers. None of them sat down with the goal of exploring The Devine Feminine or The Sacred Masculine but those spiritual qualities show up throughout life often without regard for human conscious, deliberate plans.
In this blog I will highlight four ways in which spiritual themes flow.
THE DIVINE FEMININE: I usually picture the Divine Feminine as a wise, all-knowing, powerful, high priestess in flowing robes with lots of jewelry surrounded by spiritual symbols. In this program she is imaged quite differently. Originally Penny was presented superficially as not very intelligent, uneducated and more than a bit sexually overactive. But within a few episodes it was clear she has more street smarts and relational sense than all four of the guys combined. Increasingly she has a role of humanizing the guys especially the very annoying Sheldon. In the third season the show added Bernadette and Amy as love interests of two of the men. In part because they do not conform to worldly standards of physical beauty their presence helps to round out and complete the image of Devine Feminine. Bernadette becomes the fierce advocate for her husband Howard who is quite smarmy. She ferociously advocates for him and at him when he is being sleazy. She refuses to let him be less than he truly is. Amy is the challenge for and to Sheldon as she calls him out of the ivory tower of his exclusive reliance on his mind and phobic avoidance of his body. The relationship goes on for years before Sheldon will “engage in coitus” (Sheldon’s antiseptic term for making love). In the relationship he becomes softer and more humane. His body and soul come alive because of the influence of the Divine Feminine which is the civilizing element in the process.
SACRED MASCULINE: In mythologic literature the masculine is found only after descent into some sort of profound, dangerous journey. In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy the wizard Gandalf the Gray defends his friends by descending to the gates of hell in a long battle with the monster Balrog. He emerges as Gandalf the White now possessing his full powers. The descent in this program is less dangerous but no less profound. The guys descend from the unbalanced reliance on the limited world of science which is a metaphor for mind, logic and ego. Over the years each of them learns to descend into a fuller life employing all their senses and skills. This does not mean that they are no longer geeks. Rather their oddness becomes more whole not denied nor, for that matter, something to be cured. The Scared Masculine is often portrayed as the Warrior King which these men turn upside down. This is called ‘Geek Chic’ by some. It is the mega-geek Sacred Masculine. Just as it is important to have a much wider image of the Divine Feminine than the elegant high priestess it is vital to have this alternative image for men which does not fill masculine stereotypes.
THE SANGA-THE BELOVED COMMUNITY. Buddhists speak of having three places of refuge: the Enlightened One (the Buddha), the Dharma (the teaching) and the Sanga (the community). This program provides a beautiful image of community. Those who previously had been bullied, despised and rejected create a place where they are each honored and held. They are welcome in this community and no one is left out. They spend time playing Dungeons and Dragons. They speak Klingon. They own action figures. They play electronic games for hours. These games are the sacred rituals of their community. Three-dimensional chess and other board games are as much a sacrament as any formal church ritual. Their community enriches and sustains them.
THE SHADOW: The shadow is always present in human life as the underside of our actions and modes of being. In this show it is not the usual dark and dangerous unconscious impulses but more their childlike, naïve, often silly and immature style. They are geniuses who are stunted in their lives in the outside world. Some of the funniest scenes occur when the comedian Bob Newhart appears in Sheldon’s dreams as an exasperated Obe Wan Kenobi and coaches him with a sort of sardonic wisdom. This is a great example of the Jungian Archetype of the Puer (eternal child) and senex (wise elder).
In many ways this is the story of all of us and our quirky, odd, immature habits as we try to find a community in which to mature. It is clear that all of the characters love one another in their own quirky, wounded way.
Fans are often asked to vote for their favorite episode. For me the highlight is not any one single show but is the reliability of the community and humor and images over time. I become a sort of pseudo member as I watch each week from my favorite spot on the couch.