I apologize for not writing recently.Â I’ve had a bad cold, which meant a lot of lying on the couch watching TV.Â We don’t have cable, so we get about 8 channels, and at least 4 of them usually seem to be broadcasting Protestant sermons.Â It’s been interesting watching them.Â Based on my completely unscientific sample, there seemed to be two kinds of shows: megachurch meetings, in which a professional-looking woman or man explains how following the Bible will improve your everyday life.Â The advice in these is usually helpful common sense: be positive, exercise self-control, be nice to people, support your kids’ self-esteem, pursue your interests with energy, etc.Â They’re like Oprah with a much larger studio audience and a much much more limited book club.Â They appeal to the average American’s desire to improve his or her life in concrete ways: get a better job, better relationships, feel happier and more purposeful. I don’t believe that the Bible is divinely inspired, but I didn’t feel threatened by these shows.
The other kind of show I saw was frightening, at least to me: the us/them peddlers.Â These shows attacked “unbelievers,” questioners, Catholics (which surprised me), and their preachers promised (vague) heaven to the obedient and (graphic) hell to everyone else. These shows feed the human tendency to pump ourselves up by scapegoating others–and they had much, much smaller audiences, at least the ones I saw.Â So maybe it was all the cold medicine, but I was at least comforted by the thought that all the religious revival going on in America might not be fed so much by a rejection of science or fear of people who are different as by a lot of people needing more help than they’re getting in making their lives and relationships work out better.
Which isn’t to say that these non-hating average folks can’t also be led somewhere ugly if they have blind faith in their Oprahlike preachers.Â But I think what we’re seeing in the across-the-board rejection of the war, the tentative acceptance of stem-cell research, etc., is that Americans are much more practical than theological.Â If we could just show how the theory of evolution helps balance your checkbook, keep your kid off drugs, and build a faster, cheaper car, “intelligent design” would be dead in the water.