Mortality, Morality, and Friendship: What “The Good Place” Teaches about the Good Life

A six-week, free online course offered through the Center for Religion in Public Life and Boston Avenue United Methodist Church

Thursdays, April 21 – May 26, 2022. 7-8 p.m. Central time.

To register, just send an email to

This class uses the comedy series, “The Good Place” (TGP), to teach several basic concepts about philosophical ethics.

TGP, all 4 seasons of which are available on Netflix and Apple TV+, wrapped stories and problems of social ethics and morality inside of a hilarious comedy. The series follows four human beings following their deaths in a place they are initially led to believe is TGP. However (spoiler alert), it is not!

The audience follows the relationships of these people, along with their good place architect (a demon in disguise as a good guy) and a being who knows everything that has happened in the universe, throughout the series.

Along the way, the audience is taught ethics and given the opportunity to examine deep life questions. Indecisive professor of moral philosophy, Chidi, is the lead teacher. Eventually they all contribute lessons: selfish “I don’t owe anyone anything” Eleanor, impulsive “toss a Molotov cocktail” Jason, attention-obsessed “name dropping” Tahani, yearning-to-be human Michael, and everybody’s friend but “not a girl” and “not a robot” Janet.

Course Info

For the class, you’ll be invited to watch one or two episodes of TGP per session. Then on Thursday nights via Zoom, we’ll discuss topics, questions, and ideas presented or evoked by the episodes. Questions and topics will include:

  • What do we owe to each other?
  • What is the relationship between morality and happiness?
  • Mortality gives purpose to our lives. Morality gives guidance to find that purpose.
  • Can individuals and groups improve, morally? If so, what is required?
  • The basics of virtue ethics, deontological ethics, and consequentialism.
  • The necessity of friendship to the moral life.
  • How do we understand the relationship between a moral life and life on the other side of death?
  • How might Christian perspective be in conversation with the philosophies depicted in TGP?


Class leader is Dr. Gary Peluso-Verdend, president emeritus and executive director of the Center for Religion in Public Life at Phillips Theological Seminary. He is also a fan of TGP and the moral philosophies which inform the show.

Caution: While this series includes a serious and vitally important subject, it is also a comedy. The characters utter many lines for laughs. Between Eleanor who turned down almost nothing for pleasure, Mindy who is bored silly in a neutral place, and demons who revel in torturing the vulnerabilities of the human body, body functions and sex are in the script frequently (not fully any episode but lines in nearly every episode). Also, no one can use “swear words” in The Good Place. But there are plenty of creative substitutions. So, if you tend to be offended by any of the above when utilized in a comedy show, you’ll have to hold your nose.


Class schedule:

Please watch the episodes on Netflix or Apple TV before the discussions. Discussions will be from 7-8p, central time. We’ll use Zoom. You’ll receive a link for the discussions prior to the first session. Before each session, you’ll also receive an email with a few opening questions. You are also invited to submit your questions and discussion topics to Gary PV anytime before the session begins.


April 21

Season 1, episode 2 “Flying”

Season 1, episode 6 “What we owe to each other”

April 28

Season 2, episode 4 “Team cockroach”

Season 2, episode 5 “The trolley problem”

May 5

Season 3, episode 3 “The snowplow”

Season 3, episode 4 “Jeremy Bearimy”

May 12

Season 3, episode 7 “The worst possible use of free will”

Season 3, episode 11 “Chidi sees the time knife”

May 19

Season 4, episode 10 “You’ve changed, man”

May 26

Season 4, episode 13 “Whenever you’re ready”


To register, just send an email to


Recommended overviews of the show:

Seasons 1-3:

Season 4 overview (no video compilation available):

Regenerating the Spirit of Democracy

Regenerating the Spirit of Democracy is an online, free course offered by the Center for Religion in Public Life at Phillips Theological Seminary, organized around the question: What can communities of faith and spiritually-grounded persons do to regenerate the spirit of democracy in the U.S.? If you seek a democratic spirituality that values equality and justice for all as much as freedom, then this course is for you.

Course Info

Democracy in the U.S. is under siege. Forty percent of the population does not vote. Voting districts are gerrymandered to make it possible for political minorities to rule. The concept of facts has taken a beating. Scientists and other experts are besieged. The quality of conversation and argument is woefully low. The courts are highly politicized. Author after author argues democracy is being undermined, often through seemingly democratic means. Our founding myths are unraveling, and what will replace them is at the center of the new uncivil war.

The claim of equality for all persons has always been more of a hope, or a disappointment, or an outright fiction rather than a reality. In today’s era of reckoning, more Americans are seeing that the grounding stories white people have told about the U.S. need serious correction, if there is to be a nation at all. And white Christianity has, in the words of one author, been the pole holding up the tent of white supremacy.

As the U.S. becomes a no-majority nation, with new challenges and new opportunities, white Christian Nationalism grows more and more detrimental to the democracy the nation needs.

Democracy in the U.S. needs a new heart, a new spirit. For we who reject white Christian Nationalism: what can people of faith and people with deep spiritual/moral convictions do to regenerate democracy in the U.S.?

This online, free course is for adults who reject the wall-building spirituality of Christian Nationalism. It is for those who seek a democratic spirituality that values equality as much as freedom, a spirituality that will foster the moral emotions necessary for the world’s first successful experiment in becoming a vibrant multicultural democracy, with liberty and justice for all.

The five sessions are:

Paying attention to the spirit of democracy
What is democracy and why is it in trouble
The spiritualities of capitalism, the Christian Right, and democracy
Evidences of a healthy democracy
What can people of faith, of spirituality, and/or of moral depth do to regenerate the spirit of democracy in the U.S.?

Each session will feature a presentation by Dr. Gary Peluso-Verdend, executive director of the Center for Religion in Public Life. In addition, Dr. Peluso-Verdend recorded interviews with four leading authors on the question of this course: Robert P. Jones, Jack Jenkins, Kelly Brown Douglas, and Diana Butler Bass.

Please email the Center,, to indicate your interest in the course. Dr. Peluso-Verdend will email you when new content is posted, to solicit questions, and to remind you about the Thursday discussions.

Course YouTube Playlist

Bursting Wineskins

America’s myth is breaking. The deep story is unraveling. That mix of fact and fiction, the story Americans tell about who we have been, what we are, and where we are headed is dysfunctional. New wine is bursting the old wineskins. Some of us cheer the myth’s end. Others fight to preserve it. But, in our highly agitated and fearful culture, we wonder: what will replace it?

Course Info

For all of American history and myth-making, from the days of Spanish, English, French, Dutch, and Portuguese colonials until today, Christians have left fingerprints all over. For better and for worse, we have amended the soil of American culture for OUR sake, optimizing it for OUR growth. We have lent stories and symbols to the nation in hope of creating, to paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, a nation with the soul, if not the form, of a church.

The results are decidedly mixed.

What the nation most needs from Christians today is an honest appraisal of our own contributions to forming “a more perfect union,” confession of our complicity in arranging social hierarchies to benefit our interests, and our most expansive understandings of how to neighbor each other and live well on this relatively universe-rare biosphere.

Elected officials in some states blunt legitimate criticism and debate in public schools regarding America’s story. They may prohibit the teaching about America’s original and ongoing sins. But Christian congregations are free from that outside interference. No one outside ourselves can stop us from looking in a full-length mirror.

This class will provide a few angles of vision into that mirror.

Each lecture/presentation will include stories and primary documents illustrating divergent ways Christians have tried to shape American culture and will raise the question, “What now?”

A personal note from Gary Peluso-Verdend:

I have spent all my adult life as a student of how Christianity functions in American public life. Although a far lesser percentage of Americans are affiliated with congregations today than they were when I graduated seminary in 1981, Christian churches still have the attention of a sizeable percentage of the population.

Especially over the last 40 years, evangelical Christianity has been a loud, often effective, public voice for a particular American myth and way of being in the world. Not all evangelical Christians are aligned with America First Christian Nationalists. But their strength in the states that carry outsized weight in the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College has given them profound influence. From my point of view, that influence is a hindrance to the U.S. becoming a robust multicultural democracy and has wrapped Christianity in American nationalism, as well as white supremacy, to the detriment of Christianity and the nation.

There is a deep anti-intellectual tradition in American Christianity, particularly in the heirs of 19th century evangelicalism, which very much includes my own United Methodist people. But there is another tradition in Christianity that values fearless scholarship, truth—found through conversation and argument-lost-rediscovered-repeat—, the experimental method of growing knowledge, and using every bit of the mind-body-spirit God has given each of us to contribute to more just and compassionate communities. I am committed to this latter tradition.

I offer this class in service of a church that has something intelligent, true, and helpful to say. I believe there are intersections between the best of what Christianity offers and the best of what America promises—including defining what “best” means!

The old wineskins are bursting. The time for new wineskins, a new story in which to live, is now.

Course YouTube Playlist