Red Carpet Culture War

Maybe it’s not the big-time red carpet.  Not the Emmys, the Tonys, or the Grammys.

But the People’s Choice Awards this year are promising to give people a chance to vote for their culture-war preference.

According to the Christian Post, The Bible and Liberace are going head to head.

In the category “Favorite TV Movie/Miniseries,” voters have placed these two at first and second place so far.

The Bible Miniseries?

The Bible Miniseries?

The Bible series has been a favorite among evangelical viewers.  Produced by “Touched by an Angel” star Roma Downey and her husband Mark Burnett, the project hoped to bring the Gospel message into the homes and hearts of millions.  As we’ve noted here on ILYBYGTH, the producers even hoped to bring The Bible into America’s public schools.

...or the story of this tempestuous love affair?

…or the story of this tempestuous love affair?

“Behind the Candelabra,” on the other hand, tells the love story of the flamboyant entertainer Liberace and his much younger lover Scott Thorson.

What do the people like better?  We’ll find out soon…


Creationists Love The Bible

The young-earth creationists of Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis endorse The Bible.  Not just the Good Book, but now also the Good Movie.

Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell (MD) reviewed the new ten-hour History Channel film on the AiG website today.

I believe the folks at AiG will agree with me when I say this: they have a tendency to be extremely particular about the company they keep.  They only endorse those who agree on the importance of a young earth and a six-day creation.  Even other conservative Christians will come into AiG disfavor if they dispute those ideas.  Recently, for instance, founder Ken Ham took the 700 Club’s Pat Robertson to task for making nice with evolutionary science.

So when an AiG reviewer praises the new Bible film as something that “allows the plain truths of biblical history from the time of our origins to speak and connects those truths to the relevant issues of life,” it says a great deal about the content of the film.

Mitchell notes that the film depicts a literal world wide flood.  “Even in its opening scene,” Mitchell writes,

“a believable Noah recounts the six days of creation for his seasick family in a massive, storm-tossed Ark in a Flood that is clearly global. The worldwide scope of the Flood is portrayed by the graphic of a flooded planet and the narrator’s confirmation that the floodwaters had ‘engulfed the world.'”

Mitchell notes the necessary shortcuts that a ten-hour film must make in condensing such a massive set of books.  In the end, however, Mitchell believes that the film is true to the original.  The best proof of the film’s merit will be, in Mitchell’s words, that

“The Bible will likely lead many to Christ. Why? Because it presents the Bible’s history as real history—instead of eroding trust in God’s Word from the very first verse. Because it demonstrates the relevance of the Fall of mankind soon after creation to all the evil that has ever cursed our world. Because it depicts the Old Testament sacrifices that God intended to prefigure the ultimate sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). And because it presents the Bible’s history as a continuous narrative of God’s plans for us from creation through the covenant people of Abraham and Moses to Christ and the early church, thus showing how Jesus Christ is indeed God’s answer for the sin-guilt of the entire world.”

As long as important doctrine is respected, it seems, including the truths of a young earth and a six-day creation, Answers in Genesis is happy to endorse any work that will lead to more conversions.

As we’ve been discussing lately, the Hollywood Christian power couple behind this film have advocated for more Bibles (books, that is, not films) in public schools.  If ardent young-earth creationists can endorse the film, what does that tell us about the sectarian intentions of the filmmakers?

Celebrity Bibles in Public Schools

If you haven’t bothered reading the book, since you knew the movie would be coming out soon, your plan paid off.

Hollywood Christian power couple Roma Downey (“Touched by an Angel”) and Mark Burnett (“The Voice,” “Survivor”) have produced a ten-hour Bible series for the History Channel.  Their massive movie project is not the sum total of their Bible ambition.  As they wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal, they also want to see more Bible in public schools.

Evangelical Protestants have largely endorsed the new Bible series.  Emily Belz wrote in World Magazine that the parts she saw seemed “theologically orthodox.”  Writing in the Christian Post, George Tunnicliffe declared, “This Time, Hollywood Got It Right.”

In Burnett’s and Downey’s WSJ op-ed, they argue that cultural literacy demands a thorough knowledge of the Bible.  This is not a religious mandate, they insist, only an educational one.  Young people won’t understand basic cultural references without reading the Bible.

Their argument raises some perennial questions about the teaching of the Bible in public schools.

As they correctly note, the Supreme Court in 1963 explicitly stated that the Bible could and should be used in public schools.  It must not be read devotionally, Justice Tom Clark wrote, but it should be used to teach students about culture.

However, as we have seen recently, such Bible courses in Texas have often lapsed into evangelical exercises.  Professor Mark Chancey of Southern Methodist University found plenty of devotional training packed into public-school Bible classes.

Nor should this surprise us.  As I found in my study of the first decade of Protestant fundamentalism, Bible classes in public schools often attracted irresistible public support during the 1920s.  At that time, support usually came from Protestant activists, with opposition from Catholic and Jewish groups.  Such religious dissenters often insisted that “non-devotional” study was just a ruse, meant to sneak Protestant religiosity into public education through a back door.

Do Burnett and Downey want to sneak religious proselytization into public schools?  They say they do not.  Merely to understand Shakespeare, for instance, students should be familiar with Bible language and stories.  The Bible, the celebrities argue, is a foundational text of our culture.  Not including it in public schools means depriving students of basic cultural literacy.

“Can you imagine,” they ask,

“students not reading the Constitution in a U.S. government class? School administrators not sharing the periodic table of the elements with their science classes? A driver’s ed course that expected young men and women to pass written and road tests without having access to a booklet enumerating the rules of the road?”    

Of course, this is the second half of the Bible dilemma.

Not only do religious dissenters fear that purportedly non-devotional Bible classes will serve as a cover for proselytization, but dissenters, pluralists, and secularists fear precisely the celebrities’ attitude toward the Bible.

Burnett and Downey join the conservative evangelical Protestant tradition on the question of Bibles in public schools.

By insisting that the Bible is the cultural equivalent of the US Constitution in government, the periodic table in chemistry, or the road rules in driver’s ed, these Bible-loving celebrities suggest that the Bible is more than just a good book.  After all, the Constitution and the periodic table are more than just good things people should know about.  They are foundational documents that contain essential truths of government or chemistry.  The implication, though the celebrities would likely deny it, is that the Bible is more than just a storehouse of cultural referents.  The implication is that the Bible contains the eternal truths young people need.

By describing the Bible this way, Burnett and Downey suggest that the Bible is not only important for its cultural information, but also for its religious message.