WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
House of Cards is full of shocking moments—perhaps famous for them—and season three continues to delight viewers by venturing into the deliciously obscene, the type of drama that made Netflix binge-watching a sport. If you thought Frank Underwood urinating on his father’s grave in episode one was offensive, it gets worse—at least to religious conservatives.
The fourth episode focuses on Frank’s efforts to secure his presidency amidst controversy over his progressive “America Works” jobs plan and a Congress that despises him. His effort to discourage a potential presidential challenger by dangling a Supreme Court judgeship backfires. He’s bombarded by the media with questions about a White House visit from Russian President Viktor Petrov (a not-so-subtle stand-in for Vladimir Putin) and his country’s strict anti-gay policies.
Clearly desperate to avoid the controversies and get back on his scheming track, Frank visits a church to converse with a bishop about the fire-and-brimstone God of the Old Testament, whose character Frank can relate to, considering the methods he used to secure the presidency (ahem, murder). But the bishop disappoints him: “There’s no such thing as absolute power for us, except on the receiving end. Using fear will get you nowhere.”
Unconvinced by this response, Frank asks for a moment alone in the church, where he strides up to the altar and looks at a statue of Jesus directly in the eye. “Love?” he says to it. “That’s what you’re selling? Well, I don’t buy it.” Then he spits in Jesus’s face.
Not surprisingly, the religious right found the scene completely offensive to Christianity and wondered why Hollywood wasn’t equally offending other religions. Bill Donahue of the Catholic League encouraged its members to write to the vice president for corporate communications at Netflix to complain. And conservative actor Robert Davi at Breitbart.com had this to say:
[I]t was more of the disregard for Judeo-Christian values we see happening in American society. I then started my rant. Why wasn’t a wicker [sic] symbol or satanic symbol, or Hindu, or Buddhist or a past Pope or any other religious symbol used? …Why Christ? And then I thought, if they really had balls and wanted water cooler conversation, why wasn’t it a statue representing the Prophet Mohammed? Why? And of course we all know why … because Spacey would have his cajones cut off and stuffed in his mouth the next episode.
Davi went on to rail: “Herein lies the hypocrisy or ignorance of the left. They think it all cool and cozy to piss on Christianity. Maybe, because there is no repercussion? Perhaps it’s time for Christians to start a crusade.”
Why Christ, indeed? Perhaps because Christianity is the largest religion in the United States (not to mention the world) and the statue of Jesus is a highly recognized symbol of the faith? Because the character of Frank Underwood is presumably a Christian (how could he not be as POTUS, right?) and the scene embodies his contempt for anything that stands for good? Because it’s just a television show that aims to be provocative to—dare I say it—make a lot of money?
Frank’s spitting on the statue of Jesus even made me flinch—and I often consider myself an unabashed atheist. Though most atheists hold nothing sacred, some of us recognize that others do, and it’s common courtesy to respect what others value highly. We remain silent when visiting revered places such as chapels or cemeteries. We do as the Romans do. But respecting sacred space and accepting such space as sacred are two different things. I initially thought it was disrespectful when Frank spit on the Jesus statue, and religious people have every right to feel offended. But if Christians were to start calling for his head (and it seems that’s what Davi is suggesting when he says, “start a crusade”), I’d say—spit away. Let’s never forget those around the world who have died and, by offending religion, fought for the freedom to criticize, to dissent, to choose any religion, or not choose any religion at all.
Besides, Frank seems to experience a brief and uncharacteristic moment of regret after he spits on Jesus and reaches up to wipe off the statue’s face—though it results in the entire thing falling to the floor and crashing in a thousand little pieces. Having recognized this move as just a moment of weakness, he picks up a broken piece of Jesus’s ear and says, “Well, I’ve got God’s ear now.”
You’ve got my ear too, Frank Underwood. Keep the obscene coming.