Today during my five hour car drive up to Kansas, I listened to a WGBH Forum Network podcast on the NOVA documentary The Bible’s Buried Secrets which aired this past week. As with several other NOVA specials in the past, this documentary is available entirely online for viewing, along with extra features which did not make it into the two hour TV documentary. Since I was not able to see this on November 18th, I’m going to be glad to watch the special sometime on my own schedule with members of my family at home in upcoming weeks.
One of the quotations which stood out most in the podcast for me was the following statement:
You can’t really inquire when you are dealing with fundamentalists.
This comment was made with respect to Christian fundamentalists, who the speaker (I think it was Dr. Lawrence E. Stager, professor, archaeology of Israel, Harvard) remembered from his childhood growing up in the midwestern United States. He was making a point that it is useless to try and suggest people should seek for the truth / inquire for more information and insight when those people are Christian “fundamentalists.”
I think it is VERY unfortunate when Christ-followers project the impression that they “know all the answers” and have all the mysteries of the world figured out. I am not a relativist or an adherent to postmodern philosophies, and I do believe in both the existence of Truth (what one of my college philosophy instructors used to call “Big T Truth”) and that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. I certainly would NOT consider myself “a fundamentalist,” however, if that definition means someone who is not continuing to search for understanding and truth, and acknowledging the limits of human understanding of divine mysteries.
I’m looking forward to watching this NOVA special in its entirety and discussing the multitude of issues it raises. I think Christians should be “seekers” of truth their entire lives, no matter how old or young they are. Based on the conversations in this WGBH Forum podcast, I think our family will have a lot to discuss after seeing it.
My thinking during this podcast was highly colored by the fact I’ve almost finished reading “How to Watch TV News: Revised Edition” by Neil Postman and Steve Powers. Certainly the idea that documentary news like this program is created and designed primarily with the goal of attracting viewers rather than pursuing the truth (which is a point made by Postman and Powers) comes through in the podcast discussion. The sharp time limits imposed by production budgets as well as the producer’s perceptions of what “trailer park America” wants and can cognitively handle were also discussed by the panelists in this podcast.
Often I think people get into trouble when they portray a group of people as having monolithic beliefs and perceptions, when in reality there is actually a great deal of diversity in beliefs, perceptions, as well as customs among members of that group. While I consider myself “a believer” in God and and his Son, Jesus Christ, I also very much consider myself “a seeker” for truth and increased understanding of many topics and issues, including Biblical archeology. I don’t feel threatened in the slightest by the suggestion that as humans, we should inquire more deeply for truth and knowledge, in the context of Biblical history or any other subject. It seems almost unbelievable that Galileo faced persecution and the threat of death by the Catholic Church in the 1500’s when he challenged its heliocentric view of the universe. I do not view the advances of science as correlating to zero-sum losses in the realms of faith and religion. I think it is wonderful to have opportunities to be appropriately challenged to think critically about what I believe and why I believe those things, and I suspect this NOVA special will provide more opportunities to “grapple” with ideas of both faith and history.