Is God the missing character in ‘Downton Abbey’?

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Shown left to right: Elizabeth McGovern as Lady Cora, Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith, Dame Maggie Smith as Lady Violet.  RNS photo courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE.

Shown left to right: Elizabeth McGovern as Lady Cora, Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith, Dame Maggie Smith as Lady Violet. RNS photo courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE.

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(RNS) The third season of the megahit television series “Downton Abbey” wraps up on Sunday (Feb. 17), capping another must-see run of ruin and redemption at Lord Grantham’s stately English manor. Yet some are still left puzzling over the absence of what should be a leading player in this colorful cast: God.

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  • Julie

    I didn’t live back then, but perhaps people didn’t wear their religion on their sleeves as so many American’s do today. It was part of life, but not their perceived identity. Living a religious life, instead of just talking about one. God is mentioned, Church of England and the Catholic Church is mentioned – the disagreements between the two are fairly accurate from what I know. But as for adding more God, I don’t see that its necessary. And I’m a fairly religious person. As for the household accepting a homosexual the way season 3 has shown… I think that is more of a stretch of the imagination than the God thing. Although, that would be an example of living a Christian life, and not just talking about one.

  • penny

    I’ve been watching another British television series, “Merlin,” about the magician in King Arthur’s court. It has struck me that while the series has plenty of Druids, there is not even a glimpse of a priest, a church, or a cross on a shield or anything to suggest that Camelot of old England may have had some Christian influence, for good or ill. I don’t object so much as note that perhaps, writing Christendom out of plot lines is a new development. That’s okay — perhaps not historically accurate, but there it is. The worst thing we can do, I think, is insist that television series carry our banner.

  • John McGrath

    Well, they were all willing to go to war, or support war, so they must have been Christian under all the emphasis on family only.

  • Ian Tagan

    If you owned many thousands of acres of land and employed hundreds of people and lived in a magnificent castle, in other words an aristocrat, why would you want a jesus who was a sheep herder, who communed with fishermen and the likes, and who opposed money lending etc? Religion, especially christianity was for people like Mosley, for the meek, not for aristocrats like Lord Grantham.

  • John McGrath

    Actually Lord Grantham and his kind did have a God by whom they believed that they were blessed and entitled. God was worshiped at the source of authority and legitimacy. God ordained the monarch (Dieu et mon droit) and then the authority of God passed from the monarch to the established nobility and from them down to the commons, with ranks within the commons. There was no need to make a fuss about this and no need for ostentation about all this. It simply was the order of the universe and the order of society. The church existed to serve this hierarchy and perhaps to make it kinder (but often to make it sterner). Lack of religion in individuals does not interfere with this order as long as the monarchy, the nobles and the church as institutions operate.

    This notion of God is part of every empire. The Catholic Church for instance believes that authority comes from God to the pope and then to bishops and rulers and then down to the obedient faithful. Simply how the universe is structured. Period. Not to be questioned. But the Catholic Church, unlike the Anglican Church, contends with rulers and monarchs for supremacy so it makes a big deal of itself in a showy way.

  • Ian Tagan

    the authority is thought to be from from god to Christians. Not to others. gods authority certainly does not come down to researchers at Harvard for example. These days god’s authority avoids intelligent people.

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  • We should not confuse churchiness and religiosity with faith, or the absence of Jesus-talk with the lack of faith. Nor should we forget that no western industrial culture is as loudly religious as is our American culture. “Downton Abbey” is set in a different time and place. Different cultural norms were – and to a certain extent still are – in play. There are always boundaries between that which is public and that which is private, but no two cultures draw the lines in exactly the same places.

  • Leo

    Now they would all be talking about the infiltration of Islam, which has been made possible simply because the Judeo-Christian religion has not been important to them. As it is said, you don’t bother the Anglican church, and it won’t bother you.

  • surgeon john

    What is missing in” Downton Abbey” is what is present in “Chariots of Fire.” A hero like Eric Liddell, whose life is informed by his Christianity and appreciated, especially by the reigning aristocracy, for what it can teach us all.

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  • David Gibson

    Surgeon John:

    The Eric Liddell reference is a very good one, and an element to be explored. Though it’s not clear how someone of his background might come across the paths of the Crawleys. Let’s hope for Season 4!

  • John McGrath

    God is not absent. God is there in the behavior of the characters. This is revealed especially in the last episode. There is constant expression of gratitude, very Eucharistic. There is the constant emphasis on relationships of love and respect, despite differences in ethical norms. A reflection of the two great commandments of Christ.

    A lot of talk by religionists about religion is not nearly as close to the spirit of the Gospels as the emphasis in those how on gratitude and on loving relationships and learning to respect those with whom we have differences.

    Perhaps God is more honored by Christian behavior more than by Christian talk.

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  • “Perhaps God is more honored by Christian behavior more than by Christian talk.”

    John, I don’t think there is any “perhaps” about it.

    We sometimes seem to have lost the ability to discern the presence of the Holy Spirit unless it is very loud and in large print.

  • And wearing a name tag.

  • john gallagher

    You don’t have to be a world class athlete or a missionary whose death is mourned by all England to be a person of consequence whose life was informed by her Christian faith. My mother, who passed away just last Wednesday, had the strongest and most well informed faith of anyone I knew. Despite being abused herself as a child and suffering many long years in an abusive marriage, she somehow raised seven children to become decent, loving spouses and parents; all able to cast off the yoke of alcohol and abusive personality themselves. Nothing short of miraculous! Surgeon John

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  • RonHelf

    Religion and television? Check out Call the Midwife and Rev.

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