Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Don't bother me with pesky "evidence"

Courtesy of my daily e-mail from the Texas Freedom Network:

E-MAIL FROM THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT
Text is taken directly from e-mails written by religious-right groups. The Texas Freedom Network does not edit the content for grammar or accuracy.

Date: February 28, 2007
From: American Family Association
By: Don Wildmon

The Discovery Channel documentary slams Christianity

The documentary claims that the tombs of Jesus, Mary, Mary Magdalene and a supposed son of Jesus —Judah— have been found, thus making the Bible and two thousand years of history a lie.

According to the Discovery Channel's documentary "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" airing Sunday, March 4, the bones of Jesus-- buried with His family -- have been found. In addition, the documentary says that Mary Magdalene and Jesus might have had a son named Judah.

Here is what The Discovery Channel says about the program and the Christian faith: "All leading epigraphers agree about the inscriptions. All archaeologists confirm the nature of the find. It comes down to a matter of statistics. A statistical study commissioned by the broadcasters (Discovery Channel/Vision Canada/C4 UK) concludes that the probability factor is 600 to 1 in favor of this tomb being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family."

Having watched how Hollywood portrays Christians and Christian values for the past 30 years, it is clear that Hollywood considers Christianity its greatest enemy. Because of our silence, Christianity is the only religion they feel free to attack!

It is time for Christians to send a message to The Discovery Channel and Hollywood that enough is enough! Don't stay silent while The Discovery Channel and Hollywood continually attack our faith and our values.

The documentary was produced by James Cameron, whose claim to fame is directing the movie "The Titanic." Saying that Cameron is qualified to make a documentary on Jesus is like saying Hugh Hefner is qualified to make a documentary on abstinence before marriage!
Having not seen the documentary yet (and I doubt Rev. Wildmon has either, unless he has a time machine), I can't say much about its production values, attribution of claims, or the general quality of its historical research. I can say that there is not very much harm in presenting information about something that somebody found somewhere and letting people draw their own conclusions from it. The e-mail above does not challenge the veracity of any claims made by the documentary--it barely scratches the surface of identifying any claims made by the documentary. In fact, Rev. Wildmon does not challenge a single assertion made by the publicity for this documentary. He does say this, though: "The documentary claims that the tombs of Jesus, Mary, Mary Magdalene and a supposed son of Jesus —Judah— have been found, thus making the Bible and two thousand years of history a lie."

I guess one man's metaphor is another man's lie. Rather than critically examine archaeological evidence that may or may not have any impact on his faith, he would stick his nose back into an old book and pretend it isn't happening. And he would have everyone else do the same.

But it doesn't stop there. See, presenting evidence that might contradict one man's narrowly-drawn version of reality isn't bad enough...there must be a bigger bogeyman behind the scenes. He identifies the documentary as a broadcast of a Canadian network, a British nework, and the Discovery Channel (whose umbrella corporation is headquartered in Maryland), and then makes the following statement: "Having watched how Hollywood portrays Christians and Christian values for the past 30 years, it is clear that Hollywood considers Christianity its greatest enemy. "

Huh?

How did we get to Hollywood? And what happened 30 years ago?

Oh, right. Hollywood is run by liberals, liberals hate America, America is Christian to its core, and therefore Jesus is going to kick our asses...the argument goes something like that. Point being, it's a docu-freakin'-mentary. At least try to formulate a coherent argument that addresses the evidence it presents.

Or is "Hollywood" a code word for something else???...

"Don't stay silent while The Discovery Channel and Hollywood continually attack our faith and our values." He isn't so clear what he wants his peeps to say to the Discovery Channel and Hollywood (oh my!), but I'm not exactly his target audience. I guess something along the lines of "Your objective and corporeal evidence offends me. I object to your displaying it on a basic cable network most people do not watch on a Sunday night." Come to think of it, that is easier than actually crafting a counter-argument.

I should note that I am not out to offend or denigrate anyone else's religious beliefs. I should also note that I do not believe for a millisecond that people like Don Wildmon would ever extend to me the sort of courtesy I tried to extend in the previous sentence. So anyone with tender religious sensibilities should just skip the rest of this paragraph. Now then, it may seem easier to draw life lessons from an ancient book of fairytales that has not been edited since at least the 5th century AD (or CE). But really, in the face of a second-rate documentary by the guy who brought us The Abyss, I guess peddlers of a rather poorly-edited anthology of uncertain attribution and extensive internal inconsistencies should be worried about the staying power of their wares.

That said, there are many valid criticisms of the documentary's facts (remember those?), such as the following:
Stephen Pfann, a biblical scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem who was interviewed in the documentary...is even unsure that the name "Jesus" on
the caskets was read correctly. He thinks it's more likely the name "Hanun."

Archaeologists quickly discounted the theory that the boxes contained the bones of Jesus and his family because the names inscribed on the boxes were quite common in the region during the 1st Century.
So how's about we quit the whinin' and the bellyachin' and let the documentary stand on its own (possible lack of) merits. I have no idea if the documentary is any good, or in the least bit convincing. If it shakes Christians' faith to the core, that's their problem, and it would only prove that Don Wildmon is not very good at his job. See, faith isn't supposed to depend on facts or evidence anyway, remember?

I can't finish this post without ridiculing one other part of the e-mail:

The documentary was produced by James Cameron, whose claim to fame is directing the movie "The Titanic." Saying that Cameron is qualified to make a documentary on Jesus is like saying Hugh Hefner is qualified to make a documentary on abstinence before marriage!
Ah, the ad hominem attack, lynchpin of the man with no solid argument in the first place. But really, is a film director making a documentary on Jesus any worse than a glorified televangelist attempting to discuss archaeology?

Also, give Mr. Cameron a little credit for The Terminator, seriously.

In closing, now that I've read about all this controversy, I'm definitely going to watch the documentary (Sunday, March 4, 8 p.m. CST).

1 comment:

tODD said...

Dave, I'm confused. You wrote that "there is not very much harm in presenting information about something that somebody found somewhere and letting people draw their own conclusions from it." And yet you complained about people doing that very thing to Al Gore. And I imagine that, like me, you also got upset when people merely presented information about John Kerry's Swift boat service in Vietnam during the 2004 campaign and let you draw your own conclusions. Why, Fox News only presents information -- they report, you decide! And, of course, sentences like the one of yours I quoted before could be (and have been) uttered in defense of teaching creationism in schools -- a position I was previously unaware of your supporting.

Is there really no harm possible? Or is it that we just don't care when people manipulate the media to smear people who aren't like us? I mean, media attacks basis of some religion = yawn, but media attacks environmentalist = so unfair? Odds are that reflects your personal opinions more than any grand sense of objectivity.

I don't necessarily agree with the approach taken by Mr. Wildmon, but I can't really blame him for trying, either. A whole lot of people uncritically take in what they see in the media -- especially TV -- and all one has to do is make a crackpot claim on a reputable (read, popular) enough source to have it resemble truth. Lacking any way to rebut this documentary with similarly powerful media, they feel their only recourse is to decry its existence. Just like bloggers did with the Swift Boaters or like that movied Outfoxed. The Discovery Channel isn't going to give Christians equal time -- they're likely just interested in the hullabaloo, not the truth, no matter what their name implies. But people generally think anything on the Discovery Channel is science-y, and therefore truth-y. So Mr. Wildmon blames the messenger in whatever context he has access to.

You also deride Mr. Wildmon for not addressing the actual claims made by the documentary. Not to belabor the point, but let's look at your post "The Swift Boating of Al Gore" again. Where did you address the issue of Gore's actual electrical usage? Nowhere. You didn't even challenge the basic assertion made -- namely, that Al Gore might be a hypocrite. Does that mean your Al Gore post was completely pointless? No, it means that your main point wasn't to rebut the claims being made, but rather to alert people to the claims and lament their being made in the first place. Is Mr. Wildmon doing anything different here?

Furthermore, it's not obvious from Mr. Wildmon's letter why you'd expect him to have to list the specific claims of the documentary, much less disprove them. It seems to be a letter sent out to fellow believers -- do you think they need to have the arguments made to them? Does every letter sent out to an environmental action network need to list the basic tenets of global warming science and explain why it really is happening, or does it suffice for them to say "Exxon/Mobil says ..." and have readers grimace knowingly? My point being: was this letter directed at unbelievers like yourself that you expect him to lay out his case?

You continue, with no small amount of insight into Mr. Wildmon's mind: "Rather than critically examine archaeological evidence that may or may not have any impact on his faith, he would stick his nose back into an old book and pretend it isn't happening." So Mr. Wildmon didn't, in fact, think at all about the facts at issue in the documentary? Or are you just assuming that? Because you're reading his call to Christian activism like it's an archaelogical thesis, and it clearly isn't.

(As to "Hollywood", you seem to be intentionally ignoring the use of synecdoche. It may be trite, even a bit of a bogeyman, but it's a fairly clear reference to "TV and (popular) movies".)

I had to laugh when you wrote "I am not out to offend or denigrate anyone else's religious beliefs," and then derided Christianity as a set of poorly edited, inconsistent fairy tales. Yes, and I'm not a racist, but black people are all crack addicts! I mean, you may think it important to respect everyone's beliefs, but you clearly don't, so why bother pretending? Don't worry -- I don't respect everybody's beliefs, either.

Now as to your assertion that "faith isn't supposed to depend on facts or evidence", I think you're confused. Certainly faith isn't derived from evidence, but that hardly means it ignores all evidence to the contrary. In other words, the object of one's faith can be falsifiable. If I believe that the world will end tomorrow and several days come and go, I may lose my faith, but that doesn't mean it wasn't faith to begin with. Besides, the whole point of a given faith system is that it is supposed to represent the facts. In this, science and religions have the same goals.

Anyhow, as to the actual documentary itself, I have read several articles since I first learned of this documentary, and in none of them has anyone not affiliated with the TV show praised the research. Most decry the baseless hype while mentioning many reasons to doubt the central claim.

There. Now I think I have written almost as much as you did.