Fundamentalist Religion and TV Documentaries, A Problem?

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

There is a trend today on television that is disturbing and I think harmful to our Country, yet we are powerless to halt its’ progress. This occurred to me as I watched an edition of ABC’s Primetime-Nightline entitled “Battle With the Devil”, which was advertised as a show that “investigates the belief in satanic will or possession by a demon”. I’d DVR’ed it because from the description, it was supposed to present various people who purport to have had demonic possession and or experiences of Satan. It also promised to include exorcists, psychologists and various other experts. The beliefs and actions of people always interest me. The more bizarre the belief system the more interesting I find the person. I’m fascinated by human extremes and as a therapist I’m always trying to puzzle out what makes someone tick. When the show ended though, I found myself angry at it and feeling somehow abused emotionally. That feeling began my train of thought that led to this post.

The show was a one-hour presentation of stories of demonic/satanic possession, those possessed, and those who purport to cure/exorcise the possession. It viewed each story it presented uncritically, with only the blandest of challenges of the statements made by those interviewed. The gamut ran from Catholic Priests performing exorcism. A soft interview held with theVatican’s chief exorcist. A Southern Church, whose Minister believes demons infest us all and where at each service he and the parishioners cast out their own demons. An eight-year-old boy church member, had his demons cast out under the gaze of his approving father, whose own demons were excised earlier. There was an interview with a heavy metal rock star who’s become devout and stated that the music itself could lead to possession. A man, who was a “Meth” addict and cooker for 20 years, found Jesus, became a minister, and was now working with prisoners while collecting pay from the government for his services. This Minister claimed that all addiction could be cured if you only had faith in Jesus and that addiction was the result of satanic possession. Finally, to the son of the family that had to abandon their house in the story of “The Amityville Horror” claiming that the house was haunted because his father practiced Transcendental Meditation a doorway to demonic possession. There were two psychologists, one for 30 seconds saying he felt the evidence showed that the supposed cases of “demonic” possession could be explained by today’s knowledge of brain function and psychological pathology. The second Psychologists, whose interview was much longer, said that he believed some cases of possession had demonic causation. That was the extent of critical commentary made during this show. You can judge for yourself, skimming the show:

http://abc.go.com/watch/primetime-nightline-beyond-belief/SH55131205/VD55136065/battle-with-the-devil

What was disturbing about this show was that it not only promoted Christianity as the one source of salvation, but that it promoted the same old “scare em to death” tactic that has worked for years when used by politicians and by hucksters. It was an uncritical presentation of the beliefs of some Christians, masquerading as a news documentary. If this were but a single phenomenon, there wouldn’t be a problem with it, providing it was correctly labeled. This is not a single phenomenon it is a trend on many networks such as National Geographic Channel, History Channel, Discovery Channel, and even the Biography Channel.

Television is all about Ad money via viewership. TV News departments are part of networks entertainment divisions. The fundamentalist Christian Movement is a burgeoning market and so naturally, networks will try to grab their viewership. There are many diverse Christian TV networks and channels on their own and that is how it should be because people have the right to express their beliefs. In my opinion, though when purported investigative news documentaries are used to promote certain religious beliefs then some line of responsibility has been crossed. If Fundamentalism in Christianity were just another faith in the pantheon of religious belief, then there is little cause for alarm. Most Christian fundamentalism today finds itself intertwined with politics and the Republican party, therein lays the danger to our nation and to the Constitution. It is bad form and bad business, criticizing any form of religion in this country, except if you’re Muslim it seems. So we have in the Christian Fundamentalist movement what is a hybrid political institution beyond criticism in the mainstream media, due to the medias fear for their profits. That is not a healthy political situation.

Now here is the rub. We cannot, nor should we, have government intervene to ensure presentations that are more balanced. Like FOXNews, this is and should be constitutionally protected speech, no matter how one agrees, or disagrees with the content. This goes to the heart of the First Amendment in both religion and speech. While we have nominal control over TV via the FCC, they should and could not intervene on the side of more balanced programming. Therefore, while I do feel that this is a trend that could destabilize our political system, we cannot risk the systems viability. Is there no solution?

My only thought on a solution is reforming of our educational system so that it focuses on teaching students to think critically. A nation of predominantly critical thinkers, then would have the tools to finally keep and reap the benefits of our Constitution. This prescription doesn’t deal with a particular political cause, or even the issue I present; it is a necessity of running a Republic that bestows democracy to its citizens. In a system where the will of the people has weight, then people need the education to make rational decisions. While I believe that is a solution, I recognize it is more than a tad utopian. A population bereft in the ability to think critically is one malleable to demagoguery. This has been true of the politics of our country since its inception. Is there a more practical solution? What would you suggest that I’m missing? Perhaps though my fears are unfounded and I am overreacting to this show and TV’s trends? Is this the case? 

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

37 thoughts on “Fundamentalist Religion and TV Documentaries, A Problem?

  1. I missed the show! I believe what i belive others must believe what they believe!! It is what it is! you can always ask john travolta and see if he believes demons came here from exploding planet!!!

  2. Mike,

    There were two psychologists, one for 30 seconds saying he felt the evidence showed that the supposed cases of “demonic” possession could be explained by today’s knowledge of brain function and psychological pathology.”

    The horrid case of the Texas Tower terrorist is a case in point where purely physiological manifestations (e.g. a brain tumor) can cause the most “demonic” behavior, yet involves no spirits.

  3. Even liberal Christians are reluctant to criticize even the looniest beliefs of one their sects. That might cause them to look critically at their own beliefs and see the looniness in themselves. The illusion is everything and must be preserved.

  4. I have heard and I cannot find proof…but there is a sect/cult of the RCC that has priests that practice black magic….I do not know if this is true…but if so…I suppose that this would be the proving grounds….

    Again, I was listening the NPR this morning and they were talking about reincarnations…..hmmm

  5. Mike,

    Regarding reforming education to teach critical thought, I read this in the New York Times the other day and thought you might find it interesting.

    “New Approach Proposed for Science Curriculums
    By KENNETH CHANG
    Published: July 19, 2011

    A new framework for improving American science education calls for paring the curriculum to focus on core ideas and teaching students more about how to approach and solve problems rather than just memorizing factual nuggets.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/20/science/20curriculum.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=science%20education&st=cse

  6. Well Gene H.,

    If the schools had not been left with the Standardize Testing Implemented by Bush…Maybe teachers could teach….

  7. Gene and AY,
    What a crazy concept. Teaching children to think! I am not sure that the Religioius Right will allow such a foreign and satanic concept!

  8. I have personal experience with possession; in my twenties, I was possessed by S. Clay Wilson’s Checkered Demon, but he split soon after I stopped reading Zap Comix.

  9. The reason why we have testing today (and the bill was kennedy’s) is becasue teachers weren’t doing a very good job of teaching, especially the poor and minorities.

  10. What was especially ludicrous about this ABC program is the “devil” does not exist. Contrary to Christian beliefs, “Satan” was conjured up by the Jewish apocalyptic writers to take the blame off of Yahweh for all the bad things that were happening to the Israelites in the years during and after the Babylonian captivity. But centuries of teaching about an unseen spirit that lives in the shadows and is up to no-good is hard to undo.

    I totally agree with your projected solution. Critical thinking in this nation is totally lacking. Why else do the majority of people in the U.S. claim Christianity as their religion?

    Good posting.

  11. “When the show ended though, I found myself angry at it and feeling somehow abused emotionally.” –Mike Spindell

    Dude, you need help. Your intolerance of the beliefs held by others is once again shining like a beacon.

    Critical thinking and religious beliefs (faith) are incompatible. They always have been. Care to put your Jewish faith to the test?

  12. KD,

    Go read some more….that was the only thing that Kennedy did for Bush and after that Kennedy would not even answer the phone…..Read the Son of a Puppet Master aka Son of Flubber….You might get some real insight….then again…what use is knowledge to you….

  13. “the son of the family that had to abandon their house in the story of “The Amityville Horror” claiming that the house was haunted because his father practiced Transcendental Meditation a doorway to demonic possession. ”

    The house was “haunted” because his father was running a scam to get out from under his mortgage!

  14. The fundamentalist Christian Movement has been happily at work in this country since the second great awakening:

    “By the end of the 18th century, many educated Americans no longer professed traditional Christian beliefs. In reaction to the secularism of the age, a religious revival spread westward in the first half of the 19th century.

    This “Second Great Awakening” consisted of several kinds of activity, distinguished by locale and expression of religious commitment. In New England, the renewed interest in religion inspired a wave of social activism. In western New York, the spirit of revival encouraged the emergence of new denominations. In the Appalachian region of Kentucky and Tennessee, the revival strengthened the Methodists and the Baptists, and spawned a new form of religious expression – the camp meeting.” http://www.america.gov/st/educ-english/2008/April/20080407113519eaifas0.3545038.html

    As for a television show discussing the devil … I might consider watching if PBS were the presenter … otherwise … well, shallow is the name of the game and fundamentalist Christian thought is about as shallow as thought can get. Only slightly less shallow than the world of business where profit at all costs demands only shallow thinkers need apply. Those two entities have come together under the republican umbrella for better or for worse.

    I don’t blame the public school system. Lessons in critical thinking begin at home. As the child matures so should the lessons. Children and young adults who lack critical thinking skills do so because of parental failure.

  15. After the collapse of the Roman Empire the Western World fell into a thousand years of darkness marked by religious superstition, ignorance and Oligarchy rule. Our children and grandchildren may get to experience that thrill first hand.

    “How can you tell he’s a king?”
    “He isn’t all covered in shit!”

  16. Do tell follower of Flubber….Have you read W’s book? Please tell me where W states that after the Education Bill, the one thing that they agreed to…that Kennedy ever went back to the Whitehouse or returned any of W’s calls….Come on I am waiting…

    But then again…If you would get out of the Marvel paper editions…You might find some books have more than 3 or 4 words connected together…But that is like gasping for air….after a good polish dinner….

  17. As I type this, Animal Planet is in the middle of 5 hours of a show called “The Haunted” (about haunted homes). The Learning Channel is running “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” all day and all night. National Geographic Channel in prime time is running shows about marijuana and women’s prisons. MSNBC, of course, is catering to its usual weekend demographic of prison inmates and serial killers with shows about prison inmates and serial killers. A&E is running “Parking Wars” all day and all night. History Channel is running “Top Gear” (high performance cars) all day and all night. And last, but not least, is Biography Channel. Today featuring the following shows: Haunted History, Ghostly Encounters, Psychic Kids, Paranormal State, My Ghost Story, and 7 hours of “Celebrity Ghost Stories (among the “celebrities”- Barry Williams, Jerry Stiller, and Sammy Hagar)

    What? You were expecting shows about history and science? Are you crazy? (Or should I say, “Are you NOT crazy?”).

    America 2011. Turn on the TV and join the loonies. We don’t want to miss any of this!

  18. @AY, why aren’t you following my freindly advice to stop being stupid?

    You stated. “If the schools had not been left with the Standardize Testing Implemented by Bush”

    I indicated that the Law was Kennedy’s.

    You acknowledged that fact “that was the only thing that Kennedy did for Bush” and then followed it with a non-sequitur “after that Kennedy would not even answer the phone.”

    Now you are just trying to focus on the non-sequitur “Please tell me where W states that after the Education Bill, the one thing that they agreed to…that Kennedy ever went back to the Whitehouse or returned any of W’s calls.”

    Stick to the personal attacks, you aren’t smart enough to develop a coherent argument.

  19. kderosa,
    Maybe you are forgetting that Kennedy agreed to the bill with a promise from Bush that it would be fully funded. Of course, George W. in his usual fashion reneged on the deal and what we were left with was merely teaching to the test. AY is correct in his statement that Teddy wouldn’t give Bush the time of day after Bush lied to him and the American public.

  20. There’s a show titled “Through the Wormhole” that has me vexed. It is a 2 season series with a couple more episodes this 2nd season to go. The first episode title was Is “There A Creator?” There has been a subsequent episode dealing with life after death and the soul.

    What is interesting is that once the question is framed in this maner the show departs for realms of serious scientific weirdness of the cutting-edge kind. The series is a concerted effort to bring the theories, work and conclusions of the most current scientific thought together in a sustained showcase. It’s a good series. From the blurb quoted below:

    “Through the Wormhole will bring together the brightest minds and best ideas from the very edges of science – Astrophysics, Astrobiology, Quantum Mechanics, String Theory, and more – to reveal the extraordinary truth of our Universe.”

    It helps if you’re familiar with the subject matter and the great failing of the show is that any of the several segments within an episode is worthy of a hour or so of their own. There isn’t enough depth but the breath is impressive for a science documentary series.

    I don’t know why they would couch what they are showcasing in language and inquiry so trite. I have thought that perhaps it’s to rope people in that would not ordinarily be interested as well as possibly to minimize any push-back from the folks that think science documentaries should be preoccupied with finding Noah’s Ark. It seems almost subversive to present the information the way they have in some of the episodes.

    Wikipedia gives an episode by episode rundown of the series and you can view many full episodes here They’re are 2 episodes of the 2nd season behind. Some content has been blocked by Discovery (It’s their series) but if you look around the internet you can most likely find blocked eps.:

    http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/through-the-wormhole/

    “All episodes from Through the Wormhole series gathered in one place. Hosted by Morgan Freeman, Through the Wormhole will explore the deepest mysteries of existence – the questions that have puzzled mankind for eternity. What are we made of? What was there before the beginning? Are we really alone? Is there a creator? These questions have been pondered by the most exquisite minds of the human race.
    Now, science has evolved to the point where hard facts and evidence may be able to provide us with answers instead of philosophical theories. Through the Wormhole will bring together the brightest minds and best ideas from the very edges of science – Astrophysics, Astrobiology, Quantum Mechanics, String Theory, and more – to reveal the extraordinary truth of our Universe.”

  21. @Rafflaw, maybe you are forgetting that Congress sets funding levels.

    You also appear to be relying on a John Kerry argument which has been debunked.

    FACT CHECK: Underfunding of NCLB is an opinion and not a fact. Funding for the federal Department of Education grew a whopping 58% under Bush during his first three years, and Bush proposed another 5% increase for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, including sizeable increases in spending for children from low-income families and for special education for disabled children. What Kerry is referring to is an often-repeated Democratic charge that Bush broke a “promise” to fund the law at the maximum Congress authorized. And actually, Bush made no such promise. What he did promise was to “provide the resources necessary.” Many state officials and education experts do argue that even more funds are needed to provide resources necessary to meet the ambitious goals and standards set by the No Child Left Behind Act. Still, what’s “necessary” is a matter of opinion

  22. I would like to suggest eliminating the tax exempt status of religious quackery.

    Tax them like you would any other entertainment company.

  23. Where to begin? First a compliment. At least Spindell didn’t advocate censorship by the Feds.

    Now the critique: Turn off the TV you anti-freedom, crybaby, freaks out there. This is bascially the flippant response given by perverts and deviants on the left when right-wingers were appalled by eftist porn and filth on TV decades ago long gone.

    Consult the Constitution. Only the Feds are forbidden to tamper with speech (expression). The states are thus free to ban porn, religion, or whatever they wish.

    If dirt-bags (Democrats, leftists, lawyers, etc) had stuck to Federalism long ago when challenges went up against porn on TV they would now be able to gleefully get religious programming regulated through their state governments. But since they ducked-out of the Constitution way back when, they now find themselves having to put up with religious programming or documentaries they do not like.

    Nyuk and nyuk.

    Turn around fair play is delightful and be careful that you get what you wish (or so similarly go the sayings).

    Finally, I’m never surprised when leftists wring their hands about criticisms of a religion (Islam) whose founder (at age 54) had sex with a nine year old. Leftists tolerate Islam for this reason and more (the sexual slavery part piques their interest). If someone wants to do a real accurate program on TV about a religion, how about one featuring the sex life of Mohammad?

    The cowards on the left would tremble to do it. Free speech isn’t THAT important to them.

    No free people and decent people interested in liberty believe in compulsory eduction (schooling by gunpoint). Especially when it means to solve the problems of ignorance or morality. Compulsory education is the source of the gravest ignorance in modern times as witnessed by Nazi Germany and the USSR. Fascist pigs do not believe that parents have the right to instill in their own children the beliefs they hold.

    You cannot corrupt other peoples children if you cannot force your ideas down their throats at gunpoint.

    This is why Democrats have become rabid proponents of compulsory education.

    http://mises.org/daily/5384/The-Costs-of-Compulsory-Education

  24. Years and years ago, ABC did another report about a “real life exorcism” on a little girl who showed all of the “classic” signs. The promotion was hilarious, emphasizing how authentic it was, that her condition was unexplainable. So the show spent like 25 minutes pounding into your head that she was definitely possessed and the exorcism was the only way to help her. When the segment was done, the anchor then said in like a five second burst, “The exorcism didn’t work, doctors put her on haloperidol and now she’s fine.”

    They’ve also been shameless promoters of “John of God”, the south American con-artist. And Dianne Sawyer conducted an “experiment” about concealed carry that was more fixed than a WWE match. It made NBC’s explosive-rigged cars look downright ethical in comparison.

  25. What’s needed is an evangelical science movement – one that challenges the fundamentalists on the street, in front of their churches, on TV, and at their weird mis-education outposts like the Discovery Institute. There should be Natural Science Reading Rooms in every town where there’s a Christian Science Reading Room. (How did Mary Baker Eddy get away with that one? The sect she founded isn’t Christian, and it isn’t Science.)

    Why is it that fundamentalists are blind to the internal contradictions of their faith(s)? How is it our schools fail so badly to teach logic and reasoning? Consider the belief in the Devil: if God is omnipotent, how can the Devil contend against him? It must be that God tolerates Satan’s existence and his victories in winning men to his side. But in that case God is evil, since, being omnipotent, he could crush Satan if he chose to do so. The fundies’ God is demonic! If their conception of him is right, he certainly warrant our fear. But our love? Why? He tortures us, and we’re supposed to love him? If it were anyone but God afflicting us with disease and death, we’d call the idea of loving him a case of Stockholm Syndrome.

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