After watching Peter Jennings’ three hours special “Peter Jennings Reporting: Jesus and Paul, the Word and the Witness.” last night I stand by my original prophetic assessment of “Three hours of crap.” Of course when predicting the outcome of an ABC special on Jesus that is just as prophetic as saying that the sun will rise tomorrow. There were some initial reports that this special might not be all that bad. It was quite evident that they were trying to avoid an outright hatchet job and they did present what they would consider fair and unbiased. The majority of the experts were the usual parade of the theologians that we have seen many times before on A&E and Discovery channels attempts at religious history. Though they did have some people who might actually have thought that Jesus was God. But I also suspect that their replies were edited or shown out of context. The first hour on Jesus was pretty mild with a cursory overview of his life, though it was almost totally devoid of references to miracles.
They talked about the Crucifixion being “the most horrible form of torturing and killing that the Romans could devise.” I believe the first known practice of crucifixion was by the Persians. Alexander and his generals brought it back to the Mediterranean world — to Egypt and to Carthage. The Romans apparently learned the practice from the Carthaginians and modified it to be even worse.
One interesting exchange was between Jennings’ and a Franciscan Monk at a Church built at the Grotto of St. Paul. Jennings insisted that St. Paul’s conversion was a process and was not instantaneous. Of course this view point has no historical credence and is the opposite of what the Book of Acts says. This argument was made by appealing to religious psychologists about conversion. Mainly this argument is made to deny the miraculous conversion of St. Paul, because miracles can’t exist. The no miracles allowed dogmatists insists that any explanation must fit within the tight parameters of this belief. While for the vast majority of us religious faith in Christ is a process, this does not deny that in some instances in history that God has miraculously converted people. Alphonse Ratisbonne an agnostic Jew might be another example of someone who was not only converted to the faith but was infused with knowledge about Catholic doctrine. His brother Theodore also converted and became a priest.
One of the usual suspects was Robert Funk from the Jesus seminar. Almost the first sentence out of his mouth was that he believed that Christ didn’t say or do something. Those belonging to the Jesus seminar are like those old pull string dolls that can say one or two phrases because of a little plastic record player embedded within. Pull the string of a Jesus seminar theologian and you will get “Christ didn’t say that” or “It was added later”
One of their efforts at being fair was quite laughable. In the segment on St. Paul they had this one Baptist pastor, Rev. Butts, who had difficulties with some of Paul’s hard sayings, especially on homosexuality. This became the typical muddled argument that God loves everybody, God loves those who have homosexual attraction, thus God loves homosexual attraction. These weren’t the actual words but this is really the core of the argument. This part of the interview was obviously in the pastor’s office and it was very laid back and pleasant. Immediately after this they showed past protests of idiots holding signs like “No Fags in Heaven” and such. This was their attempt at balance by showing the conservative view or at least what they think it is. They also talked about and wondered how Paul could be such a “moral puritan” and still write such beautiful things about love as in 1st Corinthians 13.
The main thrust of the Paul segment which was about two-thirds of the show was that Paul was the Co-founder of Christianity and that without his abilities that Christianity would never have spread. This was the type of heavy skepticism we would expect in a show such as this. They really didn’t want to seriously tackle the question of whether Jesus was indeed God and at the same time they didn’t want to offend Christian believers.
Of course we will never see Peter Jennings doing a special on Islam or any other world religion in the same way.
Fr. Johansen of Thrown Back also has his own review which includes this great line.
“Going to John Dominic Crossan or Bishop Spong to learn about Jesus and/or Paul would be like going to Robert Sungenis to learn about astrophysics.”