One of the many, many things that we GetReligionistas do not do very well is handle religion news carried on broadcast and cable television. There is, however, a good reason for this. Actually, there are several of them. One is that I don't watch very much television. Not because I am some kind of elitist snob. It's just that I'd rather watch movies rather than news. I would rather read the news or interact with multimedia news online. Surprise.
I realize that there are some wonderful archives of television news stories online. However, the whole matter still seems to be rather hit and miss. And the "miss" side of things really ticks me off.
Take, for example, what I understand was a rather interesting 20/20 feature the other night on hell. What time does 20/20 come on, anyway? However, I know about the piece because Jeffrey Weiss wrote about it the other day at the Dallas Morning News religion weblog:
I'd love to post a link, but the stupid ABC site is just about unnavigable and I can't find what I heard last night. But I noted two interesting items:
(1) In an extended discussion about the Christian idea of salvation, including an interview with what was described as an evangelical pastor, I never heard the word "Jesus." Maybe I missed it?
(2) The segment claimed that Satanists are all actually atheists. And interviewed a self-styled Satanist who filled the bill. That seemed to be a serious stretch. It's not like there's a Satanic "pope" who sets "doctrine" for everyone who claims to be a Satanist, after all.
Now if you go to the 20/20 site, you will find a story, "Touching Heaven and Hell -- One Man's Brush With the Beyond Changes His Life," by reporters Sylvia Johnson and Rob Wallace. It starts like this and quickly turns into yet another standard-issue NDE ratings booster:
Matthew Dovel says he calls himself "a hostile witness to heaven and hell." Dovel is one of the thousands of Americans who have reported what are called near-death experiences. Although science can find no facts to support the notion that people have actually glimpsed the afterlife, many people brought back from the brink of death swear they've been to heaven.
Far fewer report visiting hell, but Dovel believes he's seen both. And he's had a few brushes with death.
That doesn't seem to be what we want to find. So maybe what we are looking for is this Good Morning America story about one evangelical pastor -- repeat, one -- wrestling with timeless issues of God, free will and theodicy:
A prominent Tulsa, Okla., minister was scandalized not by sex or embezzlement, but by his belief in hell. When Carlton Pearson began wondering if modern believers still need a medieval pit of fire, it cost him his congregation.
Breaking news: Christians only believed in hell during the Medieval era. Forget all of those Eastern Orthodox icons, passages in the New Testament and other hellish references in the early church. And forget John 14:6, while we are at it.
But it appears more likely that the story for which Weiss saw a promo was this 20/20 feature by Rob Wallace and Farnaz Javid: "The Fascination With Hell's Fury -- Hell Has Played a Role Across Cultures and History, but What Does It Mean Today?" And, yes, if you search the short print version of the report it appears that the word "Jesus" is "not found."
We are told this:
This afterlife for so-called sinners has fascinated society since the dawn of time. The very thought of the place inspired Dante to write his "Inferno," giving us history's most detailed description of the underworld.
Since then, artists from Michelangelo to Marilyn Manson have shaped our opinion of the infernal abyss. Most religious teachings describe hell as the netherworld anyone might end up in who strays from the straight and narrow. That view seems to be changing in this age of logic and political correctness.
A decade ago, 56 percent of Americans polled said they believed in hell. After the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the number shot up to 71 percent (polls conducted by Harris and Gallup), then fell in recent years, but this pattern is not a new phenomenon. Man's definition of the abyss has shifted since the dawn of humanity. And through it all, it seems the more sinister hell is made out to be, the more it is mocked and embraced. It is a surefire punch line on television and in movies, and it's used to market everything from comic books to chewing gum.
This report, however, is only 626 words long (whew, as opposed to 666). Surely this is not the whole story on such a complex topic. And, alas, there are no atheist Satanists in sight. Perhaps that was in a different feature?
That's how things go, when you try to cover television online. The images flicker past or you miss them altogether because you have to do something like cook supper for your family, take a walk or go to church. Then it is hard to find what you are looking for with the search engines.
So let me end by joining with Weiss and asking: Did anyone see any of these reports? Are there illegal versions of them somewhere user-friendly, like YouTube?