This week, CNN is devoting 6 hours of its prime-time programming to a discussion of three major world religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights from 9-11 pm ET, CNN corespondent Christiane Amanpour will host a series of documentaries called God’s Warriors which focuses on God, politics, and the global fight over religion and power. Tonight, Amanpour appeared on Larry King Live to introduce the program and discussed religion with King and leaders from these various faith communities. I certainly hope that the series is not more of the same. By that, I mean more media focus on the negative aspects of religion. Thankfully, some of Amanpour’s comments give me hope and will definitely have me tuning in for more. Read on for a review of tonight’s discussion.
Amanpour assures us that her documentary series is not more of the same. Rather than focusing on the violence of extremist fundamentalists, she focuses on the adherents to these faiths who seek political power and control in their respective societies. One must initially question how this is not, in some sense, yet another example of extremist fundamentalism. Amanpour expresses frustration over the scarcity of media coverage of religion in this country apart from, again, incidents of violence and hatred. The media’s ignorance of religion might best be summed up by Larry King’s question, “Is religion a failure?” It seemed like Amanpour had to repress a laugh. Clearly religion is not a failure if CNN is willing to devote six hours of primetime programming to this important element of the human experience.
King’s discussion with Amanpour also included four other guests: Reverend Barry Lynn, executive director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State; Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; Dr. Maher Hathout, senior advisor for the Muslim Public Affairs Council; and John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church and president of The Master’s College. All guests were quick to denounce the violence of extreme fundamentalists from their respective camps. However, they could not account for their seemingly overwhelming presence. Amanpour argued that such extremists are simply more invigorated; however, she was not willing to blame the media for often stoking the fire.
Accusations of media responsibility came, obviously, from the guests. Lynn complained about the media focus on vehement violence. Rabbi Hier faults the media for not airing more diverse opinions. Dr. Hathout echoed this sentiment and asked King how often moderate Muslims are given voice in contemporary society. Amanpour (and I strongly agree) longs for more attention to moderate Muslim clerics and scholars who will stare down extremists and denounce their violence as contrary to the heart of Islam.
MacArthur and Lynn longed to settle into a debate over the inerrancy of Scripture, but King would not let them. Though MacArthur was quick to denounce Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell’s condemnation and judgement of an increasingly secular society, he did not hesitate to publicly question Lynn’s salvation because Lynn does not believe in Scriptural inerrancy. Lynn and Rabbi Hier then argued that religious communities need to steer clear of a gate-keeper mentality that swears assurance of the divine mindset.
Given the lively debate around King’s table tonight, Amanpour’s series should be of great interest to us all.