The American TV series, The West Wing, tells the story of President Jed Bartlett and his team of bright, young aides over two terms of office. The President is a Democrat, and unashamedly liberal. He reads books and listens to classical music. He quotes Shakespeare and Latin poetry, and is as learned as he is progressive. We see him at the start of his presidency when he is idealistic and forward-looking, and follow him as he becomes tempered by the demands of real politics. He is defeated often and sometimes makes compromises against his own better judgement.
Karl Marx wrote: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” This opinion is fashionable among some secularists: that religion teaches people to be passive and resigned, to adapt themselves to setbacks with low expectations.
On the other hand research by psychologist Kenneth Pargament shows how religion helps people to meet hard times creatively and morally. He uses the phrase ‘religious coping’ and describes how religious practices lead to resilience and self-reliance. Resourceful people do not expect their lives to go smoothly, and do not take problems personally. They draw on their faith to express their suffering, count their blessings, and build a better, fairer world.
They find strength in community and wisdom in their traditions. President Bartlett is a Catholic, open-minded and urbane, but faithful. He is sometimes angry with his God but ultimately his faith is a source of great strength. At the very end of all seven series we see him on a plane, just after the inauguration of his successor. He is gazing out of the window at a blue
sky. His wife asks him what he is thinking about and he says: ‘Tomorrow.’