If there’s one thing I’ve learned from BBC America, it’s that British reality shows are just as stupid as ours.  And if there are two things I’ve learned from BBCA, the other one has to do with the stunning amount of cash all Brits keep in their attics.  But back to the reality shows, their relative horrors are both depressing and reassuring in that I’m sad the whole of British society isn’t as tweedy and upper class as I’d like, but I’m also a little glad America’s is not the only culture willing to mock our freaks while pretending to help them.  On television.

Most recently, I watched a show called How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, in which a bevvy of beautiful singers and performers vie for the lead role in a production of The Sound of Music.  And I don’t mean “beautiful” in the “well, pretty for a British chick” sense.  These women are actually attractive.  Symmetrical and everything. 

They sing and dance for the judges, and that makes sense.  But they also have to take part in the standard reality competition show bullshit like boot camp and whatnot.  Pity the poor host who has to pretend scaling a muddy brick wall in army fatigues has something to do with pulling off a matinee performance of Into the Woods.

The panel of judges includes John Barrowman of Doctor Who, Torchwood, and awful pop songs fame.  I watch Doctor Who, so I know who he is.  He’s also American, which helps.  The other judges aren’t as familiar to me, since they speak in this weird, effeminate, vowely accent.  Oh, and Andrew Lloyd Webber himself is the final arbiter.  A sort of skeezy, pedo-looking executioner of dreams.  The girls he banishes to the scrap heap have to sing So Long, Farewell before their betters.  It’s like a live-action Abu Ghraib photo.

And terrible reality television seems to have spread through the rest of the world as well.  Sure, we’re all familiar with the things that happen in front of Japanese TV cameras.  But since their screaming, scatological game shows aren’t much different than the rest of their entertainments, I don’t think they count.

Turkey’s Penitents Compete, however, does.  It’s a new game show wherein a Muslim imam, a Catholic priest, a rabbi, and a Buddhist monk all compete to win the hearts and minds of atheists.  If one of these religious figures succeeds in converting a non-believer, the former atheist “wins” a trip to the pilgrimage sight most revered by his or her new religion.  It’s sort of like The Gong Show, except that giant cane doesn’t drag you off stage so much as drag you to hell.

Of course, Turkey’s religious blowhards are all upset.  I mean seriously, it’s like these people would get bent out of shape over a political cartoon or something.  Turkey is a secular country in that there probably isn’t an imam pulling strings attached to the prime minister’s joints, but with a 99% Muslim population, you’d better believe the Islamic clergy has a say in what goes down within its borders.  They say Penitents Compete is a slap in the face of religion.  That it cheapens faith.  That God shouldn’t be used as entertainment.

I’ll give them a pass on the entertainment thing, since I’m sure they’ve never seen Jesus Christ Superstar.  I would suggest they might be swayed by a production of Muhammad Superstar, but aside from having a shitty title, it’s really difficult to launch an entertaining show when the lead actor’s face has to be blurred.

But I agree with the producers of Penitents Compete that their show doesn’t cheapen religion at all.  In fact, it deepens respect for religion by making sure no one will live without it.  See, they hate atheists, and they believe this show will offer contestants the greatest prize of all: belief in God.

Now, a cynic might say that no one can really make such a life-altering shift in his basic beliefs within the confines of an hour-long game show, but I’ve seen otherwise rational people go apeshit after a semi-successful game of Plinko.  Miracles happen.

You might also say that the inclusion of a Buddhist monk has nothing to do with God, as Buddhism isn’t an Abrahamic religion and doesn’t require a belief in any kind of deity.  But I’d argue that a belief in karma is just as idiotic as a belief in an invisible sky god who cries when you masturbate.  Even worse, since if you believe in karma, you also necessarily believe that all cripples deserve it.

So maybe it’s not belief in God that Penitents Compete is championing.  It’s just belief in somethingAnything.  And it doesn’t take some kind of primitive, sun-worshiping cannibal to know belief in something is better than belief in nothing.