Over the past week or two, I’ve been watching “Deal or No Deal”. It’s not a show I’ve ever watched before, but given that our former next-door-neighbour has been on it, I thought I’d watch to see her on TV. If you’re not familiar with the show, then I’m not going to explain it here – watch an episode online and you’ll get the gist of it within about two minutes. One of the things that’s fascinating about the show (at least to me) is the spiritual or religious element to it.
You may be thinking, “Spirituality? In Deal or No Deal? How ridiculous!” But let me outline what I’m talking about:
- There are several ‘superstitions’ in the programme, for example: “The curse of the newbie” – the newest contestant to join the programme is thought to usually have red (high) numbers, so they rarely get chosen. I’ve also seen things like everybody holding hands – as in a seance.
- More than that, the way the whole show is put together has an air of superstition about it. When someone gets a run of red numbers, people virtually pray for a blue (low) number. The way Noel narrates the show, and the way the contestants talk, the thinking seems to be try really hard and get a blue number. Although ultimately they know they can’t control it, they seem to believe that there is some kind of transcendent destiny about what numbers they pick: if you try hard enough, fate will reward you with a better score.
- Speaking of reward, the way Noel Edmonds talks about the final amount is entirely geared around getting people to continue. I’ve heard the phrase “life changing amount of money” frequently. Contestants have to have a list of things they want to accomplish if they want to go on the show. In other words, the prize money is seen as something to improve people’s lives: it’s not just money – it’s money with the power to make your life better, and fulfil your dreams.
- Finally, on more than one occasion Noel Edmonds has called those visiting (i.e. the audience) ‘pilgrims’.
So, let’s put this all together. On Deal or No Deal, contestants try to make the right choices / do the right things, in order to manipulate something transcendent / supernatural (i.e. fate), in order to accomplish ‘paradise’ – or at least, (some of) their goals in life. Does that sound at all familiar? That is the message which Deal or No Deal is implicitly sending out, even if it’s not explicit.
What’s so tragic and yet so depressingly predictable about Deal or No Deal is the way the contestants seem to universally buy into this kind of thinking, even if the boxes are completely random and the contestants have absolutely no control over which they pick. These people seem to think that if they can just manage to choose the right boxes, they’ll get the highest amount of money and their lives will change forever. (If you listen carefully to what Noel Edmonds says, he strongly encourages this way of thinking). What’s sad about this to me is that it’s ‘religion’ all over.
Religion says, “if you do this well enough you’ll be acceptable to God, and he will bless you”. Look at any religion you like, except for Christianity, and that’s the message that you get: try hard enough, appease the gods, and you will get ‘success’ (however you define it). The point is, it’s all down to your effort. You try hard enough, you obey the rules to a high enough standard, and you get rewarded. It’s like a cosmic vending machine – put the right good deeds into the coin slot, and blessings come out at the bottom. I think that’s not far away from the message of Deal or No Deal.
This is not what Christians believe. What Deal or No Deal offers is what the Bible calls idolatry – belief in a false god. The show encourages belief in some kind of fate or chance – something which, as we see time and again, is no god at all.
By contrast, the Christian God is the God who created the universe, the God who does not demand obedience of us for us to be acceptable to Him but freely gives forgiveness and bestows blessing out of love. He is the only the only one who can make a difference. As He says in Isaiah 44:
I am the Lord,
the Maker of all things,
who stretches out the heavens,
who spreads out the earth by myself,
who foils the signs of false prophets
and makes fools of diviners,
who overthrows the learning of the wise
and turns it into nonsense,
who carries out the words of his servants
and fulfils the predictions of his messengers
God is the only one who is able to do what he promises. Nothing else is worth believing in.
I came across this quote from John Stott earlier today, which I thought would be worth quoting here:
There are many ‘Jesuses’ on offer in the world’s religious supermarket , and many of them are false Christs, distorted Christs, and caricatures … if we want to grow into maturity in Christ, we need a vision of the authentic Jesus . . . Away with our petty, pygmy, puny Jesuses . . . if that is how we think of Christ, no wonder immaturities persist . . . nothing is more important for mature Christian discipleship than a fresh, clear, true vision of the authentic Jesus.’ (John Stott, in a sermon preached in Oak Hill Chapel 2003)
What Deal or No Deal offers is a distortion of Christ and what he offers. Deal promises fulfilment, happiness, a change of life – but will disappoint in all three areas. Deal enslaves people to money and to the potential that it brings; Christ brings freedom. Christ offers life in all its fulness – and he is the only one who is able to do what he promises. The Deal or No Deal gospel is one which is not worth believing in.