Extreme Spirituality

A Guide to the new reality show God or the Girl

With its mix of equal parts “The Bachelor” and “Jackass” with a spiritual twist, A&E’s new reality series, “God or the Girl” has people talking. The five-part show follows the lives of four young men who struggle with making a decision to pursue studying for the priesthood instead of staying in a relationship with a significant other.

The four “contestants” offer an accurate reflection of the diversity of young adult faith experiences, ranging from highly pious to the irreverent. While “God or the Girl” makes an attempt to honestly portray how these men struggle with their decision, it sometimes stoops to sprinkling in stupid antics that tends to tilt the show in the direction of an extreme sports version of spiritual exercises that has little to do with a real faith journey.

An Unintended Reminder

Despite some obvious flaws, God or the Girl is entertaining; and, let’s face it, a reality program that allows viewers a window into the discernment of a vocation is certainly an anomaly.

Despite some obvious flaws, “God or the Girl” is entertaining; and, let’s face it, a reality program that allows viewers a window into the discernment of a vocation is certainly an anomaly. Regardless of one’s affiliation, “God or the Girl” is an unintentional reminder that a vocation is not simply related to religious life, we all need to consider what sort of life and work we are being called to.

The show ends its run this Sunday (final episode A&E, April 23rd 10PM, epsidodes 1-4 will be rerun that afternoon beginning at 1pm), so for those of you who may have missed the first 4 episodes we offer a brief guide to the major players.

Dan is a self-described “fundamentalist Catholic” from Ohio’s Dominican University. The show captures Dan’s zeal well, but he never seems to truly wrestle with anything remotely spiritual and often looks like a know-it-all who has nothing to learn. In one ridiculous segment Dan carries an 80 pound cross, 22 miles in order to “do something radical for Jesus.” The idea was a suggestion of his spiritual director, whose girth has inspired the name “Fr. Dunkin Donuts” on many blogs. The stunt seemed to serve no real spiritual purpose except to exhaust Dan. While it may have made good TV from the producers’ standpoint, the priest looks like a complete fool for asking Dan to do it and viewers can’t help but start compiling the all-too-obvious list of things Fr. Dunkin Donuts should begin “sacrificing for Jesus” himself.

Mike, a young twenty-something from Pennsylvania is caught between choosing to continue a relationship with his girlfriend and disappointing his priest-mentor who has taken quite an interest in his future. Fr. Pauselli, Mike’s priest, is simply creepy. His clingy attitude toward Mike is highlighted so much that it seems like a competition between the priest and Mike’s girlfriend for his affections. Again the conflict feels staged and has overtones of predatory behavior implicit throughout. Mike has already decided to abandon study for the priesthood in favor of taking a teaching job and continuing a relationship with his girlfriend, Ally.

Steve, a successful businessman, who’s thrown it all away to explore his possible vocation, is the only one without a significant relationship that we see on the show—seemingly married to his work (although we hear he had found a woman he wanted to marry) and yet he deals with the deepest spiritual matters on the program. He takes a mission trip to Guatemala to get a taste of what being a missionary priest is like and to work with people who have literally nothing. He discerns on the trip about what he could offer them, noting that theology gets trumped by the basic needs of human life that people who live in such poverty must deal. Fr. Jorge, the mission priest who is guiding him on the trip remarks poignantly to Steve, “All you can offer them is your life.”

Joe, a resident director, at John Carroll University in Cleveland, has bounced around seminary life for ten years. He’s a bit of a dumb oaf. He travels to World Youth Day to see his German girlfriend and then blows her off for two days. His mother is placing a lot of pressure on him to become a priest but he seems incapable of making any kind of decision. He takes “a pilgrimage walk” from Cleveland to Ontario –a trip where you take neither money nor credit cards—to live off the kindness of others hoping God will provide. Surely most pilgrimage walks don’t include a full camera crew in tow; as a result Joe’s begging for handouts at local diners feels scripted. Moments like this in “God or the Girl” are so artificial they make “Survivor” look like an authentic life or death contest by comparison.