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:

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. 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!”

  2. 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.”

    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.

  3. “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!

  4. 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….

  5. “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?

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  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. 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!

  10. Well Gene H.,

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

  11. 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
    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.”

  12. I watched about 10 mins of it and thought “More Bullshit” and changed channels.

  13. 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

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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!!!

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