PBS does provide some wonderful documentaries and coming October 11th they are running “God in America,”a six hour series on how religion has shaped the history of the United States. What you can expect is a fair and balanced view without a harsh bias, which is sometimes a welcome relief to heated rhetoric of both atheists and christians (though I love a good debate). Whether you agree with their beliefs or not, the religiously minded have been involved in abolition, women’s rights, taking care of the poor and attacking social injustice. On the other hand, you can find religious bigots causing social injustice, starting class warfare and generally trying to justify the keeping of slaves and the keeping of women as baby-making housewives. Oh, and did we mention burning witches? I know, it’s hard to let go, but I don’t remember any atheists, agnostics or deists being swept up in a witch hunt in America. Outside of the U.S., sure commie atheists in the Soviet Union went on political witch hunts–but wouldn’t you rather be shot by firing squad then burned alive?
To me, one of the biggest proofs that reason has progressed and overcome intolerance and stupidity regardless of religion is that both sides of any issue justify their position with The Bible and God. While we must certainly acknowledge the faith of great individuals in a supreme being, I honestly believe these individuals would have been just as great if they had no belief. It is the power of individual philosophy, a wrestling with social ideas, ethics and morality that march civilization forward. You’ll notice that most religious folk apply reason to The Bible and ignore ridiculous edicts to stone homosexuals but heed the call to “Love thy neighbor.”
As noted on the homepage for the series by one of the chief consultants, StephenProthero, a professor of religion at Boston University, a large percentage of church-going Americans do not know their religious history and get it straight from the pulpit. They may be shocked and also delighted by this series which from what I’ve read so far since it will be a general overview. America is not the Disneyesque version of religion that conservative Christians imagine. I do not want to overlook the good deeds done by the god-fearing past, but there are many dark spots along the way.