CSI star William PetersonReligion is all over the place on network TV series now. Many programs just can’t seem to resist bringing it up, and the treatments are typically fairly sympathetic though by no means without nuance or sophistication.

For example: following up on last week’s interesting comment at the end of the program, in which CSI team leader Gil Grissom suggests a sense of moral decline in America (see my article of last week on that episode), last night’s episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation moved thoroughly into spiritual and religious territory.

The story concerns the investigation into the death of a woman found crucified in the sanctuary of a Catholic church, having been beaten previously and strangled by a rosary. Much suspicion is directed toward a Catholic priest and an automobile dealer, both of whom have known the woman since high school. The priest, it turns out, was having an affair with the woman.

The church holds some very unhappy secrets, you see. But the episode is no slam at the church—it is instead a fairly sophisticated look at how flawed human beings try to live out their relationship with God, and how those who don’t have such a relationship get on without it.

The events of the story bring out the religious beliefs, or lack thereof, of some of the central characters in the series. CSI Sarah Sidle makes it clear that she is pretty much of an atheist, though not adamant about it. Detective Brass shows himself to be very unsympathetic toward belief in God.

Marg Helgenberger (as Det. Catherine Willows) and William Peterson (as Det. Gil Grissom) of CSI: Crime Scene InvestigationThe two central characters of the show, however, are both shown to be Christian and in fact Catholic. Early on in the story, detective Catherine Willows—a former stripper and the daughter of a mobster—who is one of the team leaders, lights a candle in the sanctuary, makes the sign of the cross, and says a prayer for her father. Shortly thereafter, in a conversation with Sarah Sidle, Grissom states explicitly that he is a Catholic, though of a non-churchgoing sort who attaches intense spiriitual significance to everday life—suggesting something of an early-Church point of view, a very interesting and laudable approach to Christian faith and worship.

Earlier, in a rather startling moment at the crime scene, Grissom said to Brass, "Christ died for our sins. I wonder whose sins [the murdered woman] died for?"

This bald statement of the central tenet of Christianity is rather a departure for Grissom, who has never shown adherence to this faith before in the program, to my knowledge.

While expressing a strong faith in Christ, Grissom shows a wise skepticism toward the church and its human failings throughout the episode, an attitude which all Christians should share. In addition, Grissom interprets the events and spiritual implications of the story events with impressive astuteness.

Gil Grissom has always been the emotional and moral center of the team, and this explicit embrace of Christianity suggests an interesting new direction for the show. It could be a one-off, of course, but that seems unlikely given the explicitness and directness of the religious treatment in last night’s episode, and in any case the knowledge of Grissom’s and Willows’s spiritual backgrounds will continue to color our perceptions of the show.