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:
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