You Shall Know the Truth

For centuries the question “what is truth” was debated by philosophers and theologians, but in the television age these questions are answered by network executives, political activists and an aging soprano, Barbara Streisand. These are perplexing times and it should not surprise us that relativists have abandoned truth, but we seem to have reached the point where the line between truth and fiction, entertainment and news, education and indoctrination is so blurred, that even those of us who believe there is truth may find it difficult to find the “pony in there somewhere.”

Two recent television projects help illustrate this.

First Jesus, Mary and DaVinci, an ABC show based on The DaVinci Code.

As Albert Mohler points out, The DaVinci Code started as a highly imaginative fictional thriller based on “a seemingly unmanageable mix of plot structure, conspiracy theories, and mountains of detail about Catholic orders, renaissance art, theological heresy, and theoretical mathematics.”

Mohler goers on to say, “Devotees of suspense novels read for the sheer pleasure of the intellectual engagement — not so much with big ideas, but with the conspiratorial mind. Brown took a big risk in this novel, betting his narrative on a conspiracy involving virtually everyone even remotely connected with Christianity throughout the last 2,000 years. The forces arrayed in this conspiracy include the Knights Templar, the Masons, the Roman Catholic Church, Interpol, and a secret society known as the Priory of Sion, which is claimed to have included as Grand Masters no less than Sandro Boticelli, Isaac Newton, and, of course, Leonardo Da Vinci.”

“The Da Vinci Code”‘s driving claim is nothing less than that Christianity is based upon a Big Lie (the deity of Christ) used by patriarchal oppressors to deny the true worship of the Divine Feminine. Still hanging in there? If you thought “The Last Temptation of Christ” was explosive, “The Da Vinci Code” is thermonuclear. The book claims that Jesus Christ was married to Mary Magdalene, that a child was born of this marriage, and that Mary and her child fled after the crucifixion to Gaul, where they established the Merovingian line of European royalty.

Art historians may quibble with Dan Brown’s details, and mathematicians may take issue with his summary of the Fibonacci Sequence, but as a theologian, my problem is the author’s toying with such an easily dismissed heresy. Brown has crossed the line between a suspense novel and a book promoting a barely hidden agenda, to attack the Christian church and the Gospel.”

By the time ABC turned this into a news/entertainment vehicle an expert panel was assembled to give the “fictional’ work some credibility. By mixing respected academics with quack theorists, and by referring to Dan Brown as a historian instead of novelist, the viewer is seduced into thinking they are watching a documentary analysis of serious import, instead of a rehashing of retread, easily-debunked pop theories.

Even the NYT media critic, Virginia Heffernan, seemed stunned by what the network was trying to pull off. Among her comments:

“Its logic is of an especially enervating kind. Like a seatmate on a train who voices ardent ideas about Procter & Gamble’s Satanism, the ABC special is both amusingly audacious and profoundly irritating. If you’re not freshly familiar with the invariably eclectic materials under discussion, you can express only general skepticism, which makes you a sucker. You’re suddenly in the camp of the uptight “orthodox,” those joyless suppressors of truth who enjoy none of the pleasures of heresy. The more attractive option may be to keep quiet¢â‚¬¦”

“Early in the show, too, Ms. Vargas asks a series of questions that begin with, “What if we told you,” which suggests that the ideas that follow are being proposed so that viewers might entertain them as beliefs and thus be entertained, while not informed. This is a curious approach for network news¢â‚¬¦”

“Jesus, Mary and da Vinci” has, however briefly, provided common cause for feminists and Catholics who are discouraged. Formally, it mixes fable with history in an absurdist way that, while indecent as documentary, can nonetheless activate the intellectual immune system in viewers, implicating them in the drama of historical debate. That’s an exciting aim for network documentaries¢â‚¬¦”

The blurring of fact and fiction was revealed in CBS controversial production of a Ronald Reagan miniseries.

In this production CBS enlisted the liberal James Brolin to play Reagan, included a fictional scene about Gays and Aids in which the scriptwriter had Reagan saying AIDS patients deserved their fate, because “they who live in sin shall die in sin.” In another scene Reagan said, “I am the Anti Christ.” Eighteen separate scenes were identified as being fabrications that did not reflect an accurate view of Ronald Reagan. After attempts to rewrite were rebuffed by the leftist scriptwriters, Les Moonves shifted the series to Showtime.

The reactions were instructive.

Political operatives saw the issue as another skirmish in the culture war.

Eric Alterman,a media analyst for the Center for American Progress, a new Democratic think tank said.
“It worked. They’re really good at this. I don’t really blame them for it. They’re not historians. . . . They’re just cultural warriors, and they’re winning.

Another Democratic strategist, Jim Mulhall bemoaned the fact that, “the network that Edward R. Murrow built, dedicated toward being independent, apparently is a thing of the past.”

I ask myself, does he even KNOW that Murrow would be the first to denounce blurring lines between news and entertainment? Murrow would be delighted to turn up a factual account detrimental to a politcal opponent, but it would have never occurred to him that he could just skip the fact-finding required by journalism and just write the unflattering lines himself!

Barbara Streisand (Brolin’s wife) saw it as a blow against artistic freedom. “I am deeply disappointed that CBS, the network that in 1964 gave me complete artistic control in creating television specials, now caved in to right wing Republican pressure to cancel the network broadcast of the movie The Reagans. (And I say MOVIE – because this is NOT a documentary – it’s a television drama.) This is censorship, pure and simple. Well, maybe not all that pure. Censorship never is.”

She points out that there have been unflattering shows about JFK, which could have been hurtful to Jackie Kennedy, obviously not capable of understanding that these portrayals of a philandering JFK were based on facts. One also wonders how the thin-skinned Streisand would react if a creative miniseries about her, fabricated lines voiced by her character, things like: “Ronald Reagan was my favorite President, I loved his economic policies.” Somehow we all know her attorney’s FAX would be buzzing.

What most advocates of the miniseries don’t seem to comprehend is that Ronald Reagan is a REAL person, there are witnesses to his words and behavior, and that when dealing with history, even a MOVIE and TELEVISION DRAMA ought to favor truth over a lie.

The late Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death) said this about the effect of television. “I think it accurate to call television a curriculum. As I understand the word, a curriculum is a specially constructed information system whose purpose is to influence, train, teach or cultivate the mind and character of youth…I refer, first, to the fact that television’s principal contribution to educational philosophy is the idea that teaching and entertainment are inseparable…The name we properly give to an education without prerequisites, perplexity, and exposition is entertainment.”

An entire generation has been educated by a media system with a diminishing desire to embrace and adhere to a standard of truthfulness. The result? A society in denial and in bondage to its own web of fabrications.

Jesus said, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (Joh 8:32)

The truth is precious. Creative artists now believe that their imagination is not only useful in fiction, but can actually be used to create their own reality and consumers seem unable to discern the difference or to care if there is one.

When we reach this point the word of the Apostle Paul is applicable. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. (Ro 1:18)”

The loss of truth among humans is not just some interesting sociological trend to be observed and documented–it is a violation of our human nature and of God’s laws written in our hearts. Such laws are violated at our peril.

‚© CRS Communications 2003

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