BARB 'UNDER FIRE'
I am a guest on an upcoming episode of PAX's Faith Under Fire. Here's a Newsday column about the show - they liked our segment.
Putting Faith in the Hot Seat
When it comes to religion, this show spews 21st century fire and brimstone
BY NOEL HOLSTON
February 25, 2005
FAITH UNDER FIRE. PAX TV's religious talk-debate series starts a fresh run
of episodes with an hour devoted to "culture wars," including a segment on
Hollywood's alleged bias against people of faith. Tomorrow night at 10 on
Would Jesus order a burger at Wendy's or stick with the green salad? Is God
a capitalist? Is hell metaphoric or real?
On PAX TV's "Faith Under Fire," questions such as these are debated like
there's no tomorrow. It's a show where clergymen get hot under the collar.
It's "Crossfire" (rest in peace) with a dash of hellfire.
If your notion of religious broadcasting is PBS' "Religion & Ethics
Newsweekly," where correspondents take a "60 Minutes"-like approach to
stories, or ABC Family's "The 700 Club," where everybody testifies and
fellowships, "Faith Under Fire" may be a revelation. If you love to argue
about God and religion, it may be TV heaven.
The host-anchor is Lee Strobel, a Yale-educated journalist who once covered
legal issues for the Chicago Tribune. Since he found Jesus in 1981, he's
become a pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago and is
the author of a string of bestsellers, among them "The Case for Faith: A
Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity."
On TV, Strobel is not a neutral host, but his approach nonetheless is more
akin to Ted Koppel's than Bill O'Reilly's. He doesn't bully and he doesn't
pull rank. He encourages passionate argument, but he tries to make sure his
guests get their fair share of air time, and he doesn't let them talk or
shout over each other for too long at a stretch.
"Faith Under Fire" is at its best when the issue at hand is really
significant - the morality of stem-cell research as opposed to, for
instance, Madonna's embrace of kaballah - and when Strobel has guests who
represent distinct opposing viewpoints articulately.
Saturday's season premiere is thus a little disappointing. The topic,
"culture wars," couldn't be timelier or more ripe for debate, but the guest
array unfortunately runs a gamut of A to about C.
The opening question: Are the news media biased against traditional
religious values? Strobel and his guests, MSNBC talk-show host Joe
Scarborough and radio talker-author Hugh Hewitt, answer yes, yes and yes.
They make blanket statements about the hostility of network news
organizations and major-market newspapers to religion, suggesting that if
those journalistic enterprises were really in synch with America's faith and
spirituality, there'd be as much coverage of those topics daily as there is
of sports or business.
If the producers of "Faith Under Fire" had included a representative of the
allegedly godless news media on the panel, that person might have pointed
out there would be many more shows like Strobel's and the aforementioned
"Religion & Ethics Newsweekly" if they didn't play to relatively tiny
audiences. Not even Fox News Channel, the cable news network apparently
favored by the religious right, devotes a significant amount of time to
Should there be more? Absolutely, but Strobel and his guests are so busy
ganging up on the media - parts of it, that is - that they don't really open
the issue up.
Scarborough and Hewitt do disagree on one point. When Scarborough brings up
the topic of abortion and suggests that public opinion would shift
overwhelmingly to the "anti" column if only a popular magazine such as "60
Minutes" would show the procedure, Hewitt counters that the tide already has
turned against Roe vs. Wade and that such a telecast would only hurt the
Saturday's segment about Hollywood's animus toward religious Americans is
more satisfying. Here, again, there's nobody speaking directly for TV and
movie-makers (philosophical "Deadwood" mastermind David Milch or "Joan of
Arcadia" creator Barbara Hall would have been great). But writers Barbara
Nicolosi and Davin Seay, professing Christians, are lively and don't walk in
Nicolosi, who runs a workshop in Hollywood for screenwriters, says she would
"like to see a Christian on screen once in a while that I actually recognize
as someone that I know." She insists that faith is misrepresented in movies
and TV shows because the people who make it by and large have none.
Seay, whose published work ranges from novelizations of "Touched by an
Angel" episodes to a biography of singer Al Green, says it's naive to think
there's some kind of anti-religious Hollywood "cabal." It's just people
trying to make a buck in a business where nobody's sure what works.
He also argues that there's more moral content in TV and movies than
Christians give credit. "I think there's more discussion of what the truth
is and how we deal with the truth in a single episode of 'The Simpsons'
than, say, 50 hours of a TBN praise-athon."
What makes Strobel's show intriguing and valuable, even in a lesser outing
like tomorrow's, is that it treats faith as something to be examined and
challenged, again and again, rather than as a bunker to hide in.
Copyright (c) 2005, Newsday, Inc.