There are any number of reasons one might cite for the prominence of religious rhetoric in American public discourse in the last decade, but religion in the political sphere is almost always mobilized in relation to conservative ideologies, either supporting them or responding to them. On dramatic television, meanwhile, characters grappling with religious texts, religious difference, and quotidian, lived religion, abound.
The Good Wife features religion in all of those contexts, but to me the most intriguing is Grace Florrick’s religious awakening and her mother Alicia’s reactions to it. Alicia is established as liberal, secular, and a loving mother. All in all, she respects her daughter’s autonomy, and does her level best—often succeeding—to withhold judgment. Through this relationship, The Good Wife demonstrates a side of religion rarely seen on TV. Here the secular liberal tries to make sense of religion’s centrality in a loved one’s life. That strips this relationship of the incredulity that often serves as the liberal reaction to religious rhetoric in the political sphere.
In “Parenting Made Easy,” however, what had been Grace’s hobby turns to crisis. In this clip, Grace goes missing; Alicia is terrified. When found, Grace is in church, quietly being baptized. This incident puts religious awakening in the role usually reserved for teenagers binge drinking and having unprotected sex. Baptism figures as the ultimate terror for a liberal parent. The child in this scenario is literally lost and feared violently abducted, and the culprit is Christianity. Later, Alicia needs Grace’s new Biblical expertise for a case she is arguing, so the episode ends reestablishing Alicia as the liberal, tolerant parent. But can one conversation override the literal equation of baptism with child abduction at the heart of the episode? Does The Good Wife ultimately succumb to the repetitive discourse of liberal and religious as (terrifyingly) incompatible? This show is often a welcome relief from the idea that religion, in all its forms and uses, is solely the domain of conservatives, but does this episode make that reevaluation impossible?