CNN religion series is way off the mark

  • September 6, 2007

God’s Warriors, the six-hour CNN special report broadcast over three evenings in late August, was promoted as an even-handed look at the evil that Jewish, Christian and Islamic militants are promoting in the name of God. Hosted by Iranian-born reporter Christiane Amanpour, a CNN heavyweight, the series purported to document the dark taste for violence in all three religions with roots in Holy Scripture, and, by implication, the violence of biblical religion itself.

In its way, God’s Warriors was good prime-time TV, fast-paced and dramatic, full of startling images. Its many interviews offered rare and useful insights into the hate-filled minds of some Jews, Christians and Muslims.

But in the final analysis, the show was a profound misrepresentation that only serves to fuel antagonism toward all religion, all faith in revelation and every attempt to oppose the cruelty of modern times.

Here is an example of how Amanpour makes her points.

To my knowledge, the world’s only terrorist movement that directly appeals to religion for its rationale is Islamic jihadism. This extremist and very dangerous tendency in Muslim culture, which is responsible for the death of thousands of innocent people every year, is fairly and clearly dealt with in the second two-hour segment of the program, called God’s Muslim Warriors. While not really news — headlines, after all, remind us daily of the terrible destruction wrought by religiously motivated Muslim zealots — Amanpour’s report forcefully underscores the remarkable and toxic allure of Islamic radicalism for many young Muslims in the Middle East and in Europe, the United States and elsewhere.    

Fed up with the hedonism and secularism of the Western democracies, and inspired by a vision of theocratic Islamic rule, these people have overthrown at least one government — in Iran — and are now causing tremendous suffering in Iraq, and openly proclaiming their resolve to recreate the havoc of 9/11, the London subway bombings in 2005 and other acts of evil. Such are God’s Muslim Warriors, and we are right to fear and oppose them.

Then, in God’s Christian Warriors, broadcast on the third and final evening of the series, Amanpour interviews the televangelist Jerry Falwell shortly before his death, and a Texas preacher who uses rock-concert theatricality to stir up the Christian faithful to do battle against drugs, immorality and other temptations to American youth.

Thus, a parallel is drawn: Radical mullahs espousing violent revolution and Christians opposing abortion, gay marriage and the wreckage of youth are cut from the same insidious cloth, brothers under the skin — equally dangerous, hence equally repugnant to thoughtful, right-minded persons.

The analogy is absurd, of course, and offensive to common sense.

Apart from a handful of crackpot shooters of abortion doctors — criminals whom the Catholic Church has roundly condemned — Christian activists are often noisy, but very rarely malevolent. We try to get politicians elected who are sympathetic to our views, but we don’t plant bombs to get our points across. The whole idea of maiming and killing innocent (or even guilty) people is profoundly alien to Christian imagination, though this is not the impression an ignorant viewer would get from God’s Christian Warriors.

In God’s Jewish Warriors, as the first evening of the series is called, Amanpour dishes out the same treatment to Judaism. A miniscule racist, violent sect in Israel is singled out as evidence of the wickedness of Jewish messianism based on biblical foundations. As in the segment on Christianity, the misdeeds of the very few are turned into indictments of the religion of the many.

Whose prejudices were served by God’s Warriors? Surely those who share the increasingly popular notion that biblical religion — indeed, religion itself — is the immediate cause of the contemporary world’s most savage acts of aggression. Christians, however, know that exactly the opposite is true — that religion grounded in Holy Scripture, carefully understood and sensibly applied, is a pathway of peace through a violent age and humankind’s best hope for salvation from the social torments that afflict our troubled world.

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