Thursday, April 22, 2010

PBS- God In America

PBS to air new 6 hour documentary this fall entitled God in America. The program will air over a span of three nights on October 11, 12, and 13 covering the history and impact of faith on the American landscape.

[If this trailer gets taken down by PBS you can also see it here along with more information on the program.]
In my opinion, PBS has always done well on documentaries dealing with religion (I was set to see the Buddha but unfortunately had DVR issues and lost the recording). And from what I could tell from the trailer what they mean to cover is the collective faith of Americans and not exclusively America as a Christian nation, as Palin and friends have convinced themselves has always been since our Deist...err, I mean "Christian" slave-owning founders. I'm sure they'll cover the faith and beliefs of the founding fathers but I'm hoping they'll mention historical revisionism and the heroic painting of the Fathers as Bible-thumpin' Christians. I'm also excited to see that the program will also include Atheism and the growing Spiritual but Not Religious along with the political brawls over separation of Church and State.

What do we mean when we talk about God in America? There are many (see links above) who believe that the words 'God', 'faith', and 'religion' exclusively talk about Christianity, as if the words were interchangeable. Sorry kids, they're not. The problem with this narrow mentality is that if the nation were to accept prayer in school they would have to accept ALL forms of prayer in school (see link above). The fundamentalists would rejoice in the streets until their children come home from school chanting 'gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā'.

Parents: "Jason, where did you learn that demonic prayer."
Jason: "From my new friend at school. He's a Buddhist."
Parents: Gasp!

You can't have your cake and eat it too.

The issue of government funds supporting religious groups (and not to forget the Intelligent Design textbooks poorly disguised as science) is that it would have to be all or nothing. This was the issue the founders of the country faced: to discourage the elevation of any ONE group over the rest preventing the fracture of our diverse nation. Faith is integral in the lives of many Americans BUT when we enter into the public square we can not bludgeon everyone else with our faith, nor should we feel our faith suppressed in the public square (which it's not, especially if you're part of the majority faith. There is no such thing as "Christian persecution" in the States. You want to experience persecution, then go talk to the Arab Christians in the Middle East.). Jon Meacham's book, American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation is an excellent source which covers the struggle to create a religiously (but not spiritually) neutral public square. I highly recommend it to everyone, especially those who think the founding fathers were born-again Christians.

Returning to the topic, I hope God in America has time to cover the future of the American religious and spiritual landscape. Even with all of the current religious turmoil in the political and social arenas I feel we as a nation are slowly crawling out of the enveloping darkness of religious tribalism into a new era of enlightenment. Religious historian and author, Karen Armstrong states that we are currently in the second Axial Age, spanning from the era of Enlightenment to today. I don't believe we will ever collectively put spirituality behind us, nor do I think religion is leaving anytime soon (sorry Sam Harris). I don't buy into organized religion but I don't think that religion should disappear, we just need to rediscover our shared humanity. Can we remain religious as members of a 21st century society? Maybe, maybe not, either way there's a lot of baggage we'll have to leave behind.

Oh by the way, for you Lost fans, did you notice Michael Emerson in the trailer banishing someone from a Puritan colony?


Doug B said...

You know what? I don't want to see religion disappear either. But I agree there is a lot of baggage that needs to be jettisoned. Tradition certainly casts a long shadow, however.

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to seeing this one, thanks for the post. My wife and I were just talking about the PBS religion documentaries and what a good job they do of avoiding hype while presenting the facts. Certainly you can't please everyone, but I think they definitely encourage dialog and understanding.

I think they were PBS but not sure, we recently watched a documentary on the Mormons, and one on the Shakers. Not PBS, but also watched Devil's Playground this year, on the Amish kids that are granted their time to sow their wild oats before deciding to commit to the Amish way of life. Facinating.

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