CNN on Faith: Feces-Flinging Madness

At the end of last year, the New York Times Executive Editor made the startling (if not fairly self-evident) admission that, “New York-based and Washington-based too probably, media powerhouses don’t quite get religion.”

To solve that problem, CNN decided on a bold strategy: find a Muslim fiction writer who recently authored a critically-panned, evidence-challenged, extraordinarily unoriginal book about the “real” Jesus; a guy who lied on national television about having a doctorate in religious studies when it’s actually in sociology and he boasts no formal training in New Testament literature at all; and hire that guy, representing him as a “renowned religious scholar,” to create a new series called “Believer” where he immerses himself in various world religions.

In other words, pretend that going to some exotic locations, eating some weird food, and participating in some freakish rituals is what makes for “true belief.” Classic CNN.

After all, this is the same network that aired a gross distortion of Christian and Jewish fundamentalism in 2007, allowing foreign correspondent Christiane Amanpour to draw moral equivalence between Christian kids at “Jesus Camp,” Jewish families living in the West Bank, and Muslim suicide bombers. The series, called “God’s Warriors,” was so controversial and intellectually offensive, that multiple companies pulled their advertising off CNN out of disgust.

So how is Aslan’s “Believer” going? About like you’d expect:

In the first episode, Aslan mingles with a group of religious cannibals in India identified with the Aghori sect, which appears to be loosely affiliated with Hinduism. Aslan at one point shares some cooked human brain tissue with them, and on another occasion is the object of an Aghori guru’s scorn, who throws his own feces at Aslan and the CNN film crew.

Eating brain with cultish Hindus who fling poo at the camera – this is how CNN represents religion.

But that’s not all. No, Aslan also manages to find a whack-job who calls himself “JeZus” and seems to have the social skills of Charlie Manson. Although it was oddly fitting that the lunatic CNN found in this quest to depict religious people as crazy happened to be prophetically warning against a coming flood spawned by the horrors of global warming. Now that I think about it, has anyone seen or heard from Al Gore recently? Put the robotic former Vice President in unwashed Hammer Pants, give him a frizzy mane, bushy goatee, and hop him up on some meth and he’s a dead ringer.

But the real joke here is CNN. They hype a series on understanding the most fascinating faith-based groups, but then completely ignore the ones that have transformed the world and affect all of our lives daily. There’s no in-depth coverage of the soon-to-open Museum of the Bible in D.C. that will put on display the divine Book that has changed history. There’s no visit to the immaculately constructed life-size replica of Noah’s Ark near the Creation Museum, featuring honest questions to the hundreds of scientists there about why they think science reveals something about our past that their secular colleagues refuse to accept. No open conversations with brilliant religious philosophers from the world’s major faiths.

No, promising a series on “belief,” they represent faith as an absurd circus of flesh-eating fools and convulsing kooks. Because…CNN.

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Peter Heck

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