The drama of incited emotions relating to religion was elaborately crafted to fill television screens for six hours during CNN’s mini-series “God’s Warriors”, but the drama has only increased among the viewing public since it aired, and those six hours have stretched into an ongoing backlash against the program. Actually, both programs: the television series, and the mission of implanting a message about religion in the minds of world viewers.
The language is of “political theology” which, given an opportunity for progression, threatens Western democracy with a looming theocracy.
From the beginning, CNN’s chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour set out to examine the actions and motivations of religious extremists in Judaism, Islam and Christianity. And that, in itself, is a “what’s wrong with this picture?” snapshot of a world-class news network inserting itself as a driving force in shaping culture and directing politics. If you can equate any religious fervor with all religious fervor, you can instill fear of religion in the minds of the “common” people. If you instill fear in people of a “theocracy” being imposed on them by leaders who are faithful to their religious values, you can control the way they think and vote.
And that, in brief, is the “God’s Warriors” program.
Just two days before, the New York Times Sunday magazine carried a long, in-depth essay titled “The Politics of God” by Mark Lilla, author of The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics and the Modern Man. The essay framed the question of God’s place in society as a sweeping picture of moral equivalence between things that are not equivalent, which Amanpour did with the same gravity in “God’s Warriors”. Which, by the way, began airing two days later. Both of these major media institutions used their considerable weight to lead people into suspicion and fear of fervent religious belief. The language is of “political theology” which, given an opportunity for progression, threatens Western democracy with a looming theocracy.
It’s a sinister program, and people have caught on. In the immediate aftermath of CNN’s first night’s episode of “God’s Warriors” on the extremists in Judaism, bloggers and columnists jumped into the cyber-arena and began denouncing the distortions and selective bias in the episode. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) issued a report stating: “While in reality Jewish ‘terrorism’ is virtually non-existent, the program magnifies at length the few instance of [Jewish] violence,” and compared them to “violent jihadist Muslim campaigns” though no comparison is valid “either in numbers of perpetrators engaged or in the magnitude of death and destruction wrought.”
The Jewish audience was incensed by Amanpour’s attention to critics of Israel with no counterbalance, emphasis on the false analogy of extremism among religions. Liberal activist Sharon Cobb, a former contributor to the “NBC Nightly News” and MSNBC online contributor, wrote on her own blog about the fundamental error of the series. “[T]he extremists in Judaism and Christianity are widely condemned within the Jewish and Christian communities, and acts of terror by Jews and Christians are almost non-existent… Orthodox Jews only make up about 10 per cent of the Jewish population, and ultra-Orthodox extremists are relatively rare, And even among the ultra-Orthodox, I am not familiar with any who think killing an innocent person is justified. “
The second night was about extremists in Islam. General reaction in this same public arena was that Amanpour handled this particular topic with utmost fairness. One knowledgeable Middle East observer and writer, on a History News Network blog, called the episode “a politically-correct absurdity” in which “Amanpour made a ridiculous stab at moral equivalence.”
And that’s the danger in this type of “journalism”. In the public mind, seeds of doubt and fear are planted by buzzwords and false analogies. Comparing Christian modesty and chastity advocates to the Taliban is more than ridiculous. It’s insidious. But that occurred in the third segment, “God’s Christian Warriors”. It began by crediting – or blaming – Rev. Jerry Falwell with thrusting religion into politics and elevating “the religious right.” In fact, nearly all of that two-hour episode featured Christian activism in political and legal affairs, trying to restore order to the culture and government of America.
Media Research Center’s Robert Knight wrote in an analysis: “The message at times is so ham-handed during the political segments that anyone with even the slightest skepticism of CNN’s motive should see through it. Ominous music, weird camera angles and one-sided portrayals of key issues are standard fare.” In fact, the profiles Amanpour featured were evangelicals, and mostly preachers delivering fired up sermons to large scale congregations using stadiums, arenas, sound systems and large screens at times. The episode followed some activists through their calls on politicians and prayer vigils at courthouses, but the picture was framed by Amanpour’s narrative on this activism posing an ominous threat to America.
But she missed the obvious. They were participating in America’s legal and political system exactly as it was intended by the Founders, as a representative republic, with citizen involvement. She missed the pre-Jerry Falwell political civil rights activism of Dr. Martin Luther King and other Christians, and she totally missed Catholic social justice and the involvement of the roughly 70 million strong Catholic community in the US in the pro-life movement. She did highlight the powerful impact of Roe v. Wade on galvanizing Christians. She just failed to mention the Catholic involvement, which is considerable.
The History News Network writer notes the obvious that any viewer could see. In this array of vigorous activism, “isn’t it amazing that these Christian ‘warriors’ are using the legal system to try to effect change — rather than flying airplanes into buildings?” But “why does CNN seem obsessed with equating Christian fundamentalists with Muslim ones?”
The answer is simple: to instill fear of religion, and fear of voting for a leader who is informed by their faith.
The good news is, all these people of one faith or another are conducting their own dramatic series of discussions and debates and informative presentations in the arena of ideas available to them. CNN indicated that the network, and Christiane Amanpour, were following public reaction and sensibilities carefully and making final edits to the series as they felt necessary. But they pressed ahead with the message of moral equivalence, and that is so far from true, it’s another case of “the emperor’s clothes” fable becoming a reality in modern media.
In the end, “God’s Warriors” stated that Judaism, Christianity and Islam all believe their religions have the answers for an ordered society. And they do each believe that. But, in spite of the tendentious treatment of Christians in the third and final episode, it was clear that they believe the path to pursuing a just order is through the courts, the government offices, and through prayer.
This seems to pose a threat to some of the major media. The question is not one of whether to elect someone who holds moral values, but rather whose values will prevail?
The great and recently deceased Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger wrote a best-selling book called The Choice of God. In a recent tribute to the prelate and his writings, scholar George Weigel recalled an insight perfectly poignant here, to this ongoing debate. “Cardinal Lustiger, who wrote with great insight about worship and prayer, knew that at the heart of culture is cult. Everyone worships; the question is whether the object of our worship is a worthy one.”
Sheila Gribben Liaugminas is an Emmy Award winning journalist who reported for Time magazine for more than 20 years. Until recently, she hosted the popular national radio shows The Right Questions and Issues and Answers on Relevant Radio. She blogs at InforumBlog.com.