As much as Christian conservatives (including me) decry the marginalization of Christian faith in the American marketplace of ideas, such media events confirm that the Bible still has an significant role in the conversation, and it is speaking quite clearly. I do not expect a major television network to promote my view of the Bible (which it did not), but I was grateful that, once again, the Bible was being taken seriously in a nationwide forum.
I did notice that the selected commentators tended to accept the biblical accounts where the Bible describes the unseemly behavior of its heroes, yet were easily dismissive of the Bible where it praised the accomplishments of its heroes. Because of the number of "scholars" on the show, it also gave the average viewer the impression that these are the majority and orthodox views of biblical scholarship. There were a few token conservative representatives, but their roles were minimized to that of mere storytellers. The serious evaluation of the validity of the biblical accounts was left to more liberal scholars, which is what I would expect of a major TV network.
The good news (and there is good news):
Amanpour and her producers do not criticize religious faith, but celebrate it. The faithful were treated with respect and reverence, even when their claims were at odds with the host. What I found particularly touching was Amanpour's conversation with an Ethiopian who believed the ancient and original Ark of the Covenant was housed in a tiny, fenced-in chapel in his homeland.
Her conversation with the pastor of the International House of Prayer (and yes, "pancakes" were also duly noted) in Kansas City was quite fair. I could sense Amanpour's disappointment when Pastor Bickle (wisely) refused to identify himself as a "prophet" of God, and also when he would not claim to hear God's voice any more than anyone else. Among the people that cynical journalists usually avoid is rational, reasonable Christian conservatives. They don't fit into the tidy pigeonholes created for them by the media, so I give Ms. Amanpour credit for including Pastor Bickle's reasonable comments, and also her fair treatment of his ministry when she could have easily targeted them for subtle suspicion and ridicule. It seems the most radical thing highlighted about Bickle's group was that they hold nonstop 24-hour prayer and praise services, and that's not such a bad thing to make public.
Credit is also due to Ms. Amanpour for dealing fairly with the highly volatile issue of the original temple of Jerusalem. Walking awestruck through ancient underground caves, she highlighted the limestone quarry in which Solomon's masons removed the gigantic stones used for the temple and other ancient structures. Though the temple mount is commonly identified as the site of Solomon's temple, and that of Herod nearly one thousand years later, many conservative Muslims in the area (who have controlled the temple mount for centuries) vociferously deny the identification, treating it as politically-motivated mythology.
The very fact that Christiane Amanpour was taking her son on this truly spiritual (albeit, sometimes dangerous) journey, spoke of the importance of passing on faith to our children and the next generations.
I confess I missed the first installment of this two-part special, but be assured I will be viewing it online ASAP, and I hope many of you will do so as well. All in all, this was a very good presentation, and Ms. Amanpour deserves credit for a well-done project. The only thing I would have done to improve the show would be to put an Indiana-esque fedora on her head, and a bullwhip at her side.
I was happy to hear that ratings proved well for the show. I trust this will mean more such TV specials down the road, as advertisers are forever eager to put up good money for shows with solid viewership.