My favorite character on The Big Bang Theory is Sheldon. How to summarize seven seasons of him? He’s a theoretical physicist at Cal-Tech who holds four graduate degrees and started college at age eleven. Spock is one of his heroes. He has trouble detecting sarcasm but has made progress in employing it. He drives the other characters crazy with his arrogance, fussiness, and compulsive need for routine, even though they concede that they probably wouldn’t all be such good friends without him.
He grew up in Texas. His father died when he was fourteen. His mother, Mary, appears in a handful of episodes, and while she isn’t in his intellectual league, she keeps him in check with her tough love and good sense. It’s fun to watch their family dynamics and likenesses: like his mother, Sheldon unfailingly makes someone a hot beverage when they’re upset (even as his subsequent lack of empathy turns out to be the butt of the joke). And when they’re together, their differences become more legible too: you can practically see the lines from Mary’s blatant Evangelical Christianity to Sheldon’s atheism, her literalistic reading of the Bible to his contempt for it, her conservative morals to his distaste for physical intimacy (I’m not convinced that’s entirely due to his fear of germs).
Mary last turned up in season seven, episode eighteen, when Sheldon paid her a surprise visit in Texas, only to catch sight of her having sex with a man he doesn’t recognize. Sheldon confronts Mary, who says the man’s name is Ron, they met at (where else?) her prayer group, and they’ve been involved for several months. The conversation proceeds:
Mary: Shelly, I’m sorry that you saw what you saw. I know that this is hard for you.
Sheldon: I think what most upsets me about it, Mother, is the hypocrisy. Doesn’t this contradict all the religious rules you’ve been espousing your whole life?
Mary: You’re right, it does, and it’s something that I’m struggling with these days.
Mary: Because I’m not perfect, Shelly. (beat) And that man’s booty is…
Sheldon: Well, this is confusing for me. But I don’t want to stand in the way of your happiness. So, I’ll condemn you internally while maintaining an outward appearance of acceptance.
Mary: (gravely) That is very Christian of you.
Sarcasm? Nope. And unlike the characters in the scene, the audience gets the joke.
What do Christians believe? That we cannot condone sin – but neither are we to condemn one another. I think of the account in John 8, when a crowd of religious leaders brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus. They made her stand before the group, and they asked Jesus, “In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” I picture them with their faces set, their hearts hard as stone. They thought they were calling one woman out, and getting to trap Jesus in the bargain: either he would order the woman’s death to uphold the religious law, or spare her and undermine his own moral authority. Instead, he overturns their very mindset of condemnation with his reply: “Let any one of you who is without sin cast the first stone.” One by one, the accusers left. Jesus had shown them another way to live.
There will never be a perfect Christian on TV because no Christian is perfect. But Christ, who loves us and gave his life for us, is perfect, and he is the one we endeavor to emulate. When there’s a difference between what our culture at large depicts as ‘very Christian’ and what we know to be genuinely Christ-like, let us strive to live out our true allegiance to the latter – and join in laughing at the former.