ReRuns / Television

Boy Meets Cult: Quick Religion on Boy Meets World (#TBT)

With the Disney Channel reviving the popular ABC sitcom-darling Boy Meets World through its much-anticipated sequel Girl Meets World, the original show (currently in rerun syndication) has nostalgically regained a bit of its social cachet.  In one episode of interest, “Cult Fiction” from ‘97 (online HERE; stream it on Amazon), a lonely and belief-less Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong) falls into a cult, almost loses a mentor, and then finds God.  Even with the blessings of nostalgia, though, many viewers may find this episode to move a bit quickly for its subject matter.

BoyMeetsWorld_CultFiction1In this episode, the wayward Shawn is invited to join a group of “lost souls” at local gathering The Centre after he is harshly confronted by his mentor and friend Jon Turner (Anthony Tyler Quinn) for not having a direction for his life at the ripe old age of 16.  No actualized harm to any youth at The Centre is shown, but the episode asserts that those under the sway of Mr. Mack (Jerry Levine) lose their ability to form individualized thought and perhaps even lose a bit of their cash in trade for a numbing sense of “belonging.”

As David Scott Diffrient points out, most TV portrayals of non-mainstream religious movements are merely routine – TV shows usually depict so-called “cults” as either comically out-there or as dangerously authoritative.  In this way, “Cult Fiction” covers typical ground seen elsewhere like in Everybody Loves Raymond’s 2002 “The Cult” episode in which Robert (Brad Garrett) joins a cult at the behest of his idiot cousin Gerard (Fred Stoller) only to find too much groupthink involved.

Of course, sitcoms like Boy Meets World and Everybody Loves Raymond do not have the luxury of sustaining a detailed plot for even a full hour like their dramatic counterparts, simply because of their structure.  However, with strong ratings and the blessing of broad and devoted viewing audiences, these shows do actually have the option of revisiting important issues over many episodes, which could (but rarely does) include religious belief.

As Corey (Ben Savage) says to Shawn in the episode, they’ve known each other for years and have discussed everything… except for spiritual belief.  “Cult Fiction” seems to be trying to make up for lost time, trying to segue into belief-talk by employing the general umbrella of the stereotypical cult scene.

What makes Boy Meets World’s episode a bit different, though, is that the resolution to Shawn’s cultic dabbling isn’t a generic sense of self-worth or love from friends and family as is the typical remedy, but his rescue is through an actualized belief in a real God.  In fact, sitting in the hospital room with a comatose Turner (who had an inexplicable motorcycle accident), Shawn experiences what is best described as a conversion moment.

BoyMeetsWorld_CultFiction2Talking to the unresponsive Turner, Shawn says he knows Turner’s there even though he’s not responding… and then “God you’re not talking.. but I know you’re here.”  Shawn was “more alone than [Corey] ever knew,” but it wasn’t his friends that pulled him out of the loneliness – it was his realization that figuring out his belief in God was what would fix his emptiness, even if that’s not an “easy” task.

Now, to be fair, the episode leaves a lot left unsaid not just with the cult details, but also with Shawn’s conversion.  Given the middle-America demeanor of the show, one would expect Shawn’s new-found belief to be a Christian one, but viewers only hear “God,” not “Jesus” or “Christ” or any of those other specificities that TV executives like to steer clear of.

The episode is highly condensed, and obviously highly simplified.  That doesn’t mean, though, that there’s not possible meat for viewers to chew on if they are willing to do the unpacking themselves.  Certainly what would be more valuable is if the show had let the religious beliefs develop in nuanced, subtle, and even difficult ways over the seasons instead of playing a bit of quick catch-up.

But better quick than never!  Perhaps the also-coming-of-age show Girl Meets World will show the girls think about belief in a more sustained fashion.  If the success of their predecessor is any indication, they should have plenty of time.

What do you think?  Should Girl Meets World skip the question of religion and just stay light in tone? Or is thinking about religion an important part of growing up?  Did the episode of Boy Meets World make you cringe with its simplicity and quick-conversion?  Or were you thrilled that the sometimes-serious show took on such an important issue?  Maybe Shawn’s talk with God seemed like a pretty real depiction of a refreshingly sincere conversion moment?  

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11 thoughts on “Boy Meets Cult: Quick Religion on Boy Meets World (#TBT)

  1. First, let me be a little nit-picky if you don’t mind 🙂 This is my favorite show. I just want to correct your spelling, Cory’s name is spelled without an e.

    Second, I thought this article was interesting. I think this show was incredibly well-done. Though Boy Meets World hadn’t previously delved into religion, I don’t think they needed to. Shawn had always been lost and troubled. He had gotten into problems time and time again with little home support. It’s understandable that in his teenage years, Shawn would get himself not only into this cult, but debating religion and belief for the first time as he is trying to make meaning of his life. He caught himself in a downward spiral until he found what he thought would fix it (the cult). I think a lot of teenagers go through a time of questioning and self-doubt and this was a natural course for Shawn.

    I don’t think Boy Meets World needed to discuss religion more thoroughly or sooner. I think this episode accomplished what it needed to and it remains one of my favorites of the series. (I am actually more bothered by the fact that we don’t see Mr. Turner again in the series than I am about the lack of religion in the rest of the show). I think Boy Meets World purposely avoided much more religious discussion and I feel this was a good move. Boy Meets World DID talk about so many moral topics and I feel as though those who are religious can feel connected to those topics on a religious level but those who are not religious do not feel isolated.

    It’s also important to note that while there is a lot of progression in this series, most topics are discussed in one episode only.

  2. I just saw this on TV. I was feeling nostalgic and saw it was on. I was a little bothered the show seemed to suggest that you cannot feel as sense of self-worth and you are lost if you don’t believe in God. It’s just not true.

  3. Pingback: Boy Meets World Reunion Countdown: The 10 Saddest Episodes

  4. Actually, Disney’s Girl Meets World has already hinted many Christian characters several times (Lucas is disturbed by the theory of Evolution in one episode, and Riley’s family prays and talks to God in another episode, among other things). I’m glad that Disney plans to address these concepts, for a few reasons. Mainly because they’ve already introduced and warmly welcomed gay and lesbian characters in shows like “Good Luck Charlie”…

    • What’s wrong with gay and lesbian characters?
      & Lucas has never been disturbed by evolution, and Riley’s family has never prayed and spoken to God.

      I think it’s you who wishes the show to take a Christian root, and you who are disturbed by evolution.

      • Lol no I literally just watched Cory and topanga pray with riley so YOU are wrong. Maybe you should do some research. Plus evolution is an idiots theory. You are a fool to believe it but hey…if u want to be related to mighty Joe young cool bUT I’m NOT. Animals have no souls or spiritual connection to God humans do. Uhh..just shut u down…Ohhhhhh…YEEEAAAHHH

        • I hope you are not one of those people who thinks evolution states that we come from monkeys. Evolution never claims that we are descended from monkeys or apes as many seem to think it does. Yes, we are related. We’re all primates. All of life is connected. You even share as much as 50-60% of your genetic code with many plants or trees (about 97% with chimps). Only small deviations of the universal genetic code (DNA) can lead to a different species. This is a biological and mathematical fact. We have done testing and know this to be true. You can claim not to have a common ancestor with a gorilla, but that doesn’t mean you are right. Evolution takes place over millions of years for large species. But we see it take place in our lifetimes for things like bacteria and viruses. Macroevolution is just microevolution over a much longer period of time, but the processes and mechanisms by which they function are precisely the same.

          Evolution is an “idiot’s theory”? Actually, a theory in science means it has been tested and backed by evidence and is considered as fact. The word “theory” has a different meaning in science than it does in common vernacular. But hey, I guess I should trust the word of some random person on the internet rather than centuries of biologists and other scientists who are actually qualified to study the subject, eh? I hope you actually take the time to learn about evolution and what it is. This refusal to accept scientific fact because of religious beliefs is one of the major reasons why America is failing to keep up with other industrialized nations in terms of science literacy and education. It has cultivated an anti-intellectual movement by some factions and has led from things such as the denial of global warming, to electing a man who revels in his own ignorance.

      • Actually they prayed before dinner in that one episode about telling the truth. And I’m not sure of the whole ‘evolution’ thing but they did discuss God in girl meets beliefs.

  5. I am curious exactly what the character of Cory Matthews believes in…

    In BMW and GMW he talks about “the Universe” in a way that seems to indicate that the Universe is a self-aware Personal force. But when Topanga cooks a ?chicken? Cory prays “The world has a lot of beautiful things… look what she did to your chicken”… So is Cory in his beliefs talking to the Universe or perhaps another Deity? Does Cory believe that the Universe itself is Divine?

  6. I want to say how amazing it is to have a show like girl meets world that is not afraid to talk about God. Thank you this world needs more shows like this.

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