Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Why tell the truth when a caricature will do?

Americans get accused of not knowing anything about the outside world. To some extent that is true. Our news and entertainment is all internally focused. I'd like to think that post 9-11 people are more aware of the rest of the world.

However, it isn't true the Brits are much more aware of the outside world. Sure, they are more familiar with Spain and France because they summer there, but they are pretty ignorant of Americans. Not the American government, that gets plenty of play, but rather Americans - the people.

Again, news and entertainment contribute to that. Not all 60 million Brits can travel to America, so they have to rely on what they see on TV. And what they see on TV can be so atrocious at times that it hurts. It is so much easier to draw a caricature than to tell the truth.

Last night on Channel 4, they had an hour-long program about Patrick Henry College called "God's Next Army". The show was basically a scare-fest of how culturally conservative evangelicals were going to run America. That was the clear bias. As if they had some sinister plan. The best they could come up with is that conservatives would like to overturn abortion and keep gays from marrying, yet the voiceover kept reminding the viewer that "these students want to ensure America becomes a Christian republic"

The whole thing was utterly ridiculous. It wasn't that Patrick Henry College doesn't have some serious problems as an academic institution. It certainly does. As one of the commentators from the Channel 4 forum pointed out,
"the most alarming part was where the 'history' 'teacher' was explaining how little countries are objectively not as good as America and don't deserve freedom or independence...Oh and the campaigning for the privatisation of the welfare state. Oh, and the campaigning agains compensation for people who have been poisoned by asbestos. Oh and the bit where the 'biology' 'teacher' explained geology in terms of the Noachian flood.

The problem was how the show was shot. We saw lots of people praying and singing. I know...very scary. It wasn't like they were praying for bad things. They were praying for mundane stuff like "guide Derek in his future decisions" and keep "[some female character] from falling into sin."

To show us how powerful this tiny school of 300 students truly is, we saw the college kids going up to Capitol Hill to speak, unannounced BTW, to some staffers in a Congressman's office. One of the staffers even had nice things to say about the school. The President of the College, Dr. Michael Farris, bragged they had one alumnus in Karl Rove's communications department and several others as staffers on the Hill. Finally, we watch as several of the students participate in doorbelling and phonebanking in the Virginia governor's race. They were all helping the Republican candidate, Jerry Kilgore. He was defeated by 5%.

In addition to these moments, they had interviews with the incoming freshman. 80% of PHC's students are from culturally conservative Christian homeschooled situations and they spoke that way. A very limited worldview and could only really spout basic talking points on the issues. These kids were articulate, but they were still kids. They stated stuff like abortion and homosexuality is wrong. That "the Earth is the Lord's and everything in it is his" as a reason to want to abolish taxes. A co-ed group was discussing the role of women in leadership positions and one girl said that since the boys didn't throw to her in ultimate frisbee, women can't be leaders. (Mrs. Expat Teacher almost reached through the telly to shake some sense into this girl).

So we were suppose to be scared. Scared that America will be overrun with these kids.

However, let's stand back and look at the facts. First, the college only has 300 students total. All the Ivy league schools graduate more than that each year. PHC is not the only place that produces America's leaders. Second, almost anyone can show up on Capitol Hill and meet with a staffer. That isn't a problem. Third, having someone in Karl Rove's office and having some alumni working on the Hill isn't a major accomplishment. We don't know what the person is doing for Karl Rove. He might just be an assistant. Also, each member of Congress has a staff of 20 or more. That is 10,000 jobs to go around. Having a few of those is hardly perfect position for a revolution. Fourth, Kilgore was beaten by Tim Kaine, a Democrat who was very open about his faith and his time as a missionary in Central America. The show didn't highlight the possibility that one can be a Christian and be a Democrat (who are perfectly acceptable here in the UK). Finally, why not follow around seniors rather than freshmen? Because by the end of one's university years one has more life experience and some of the hard edged "money quotes" would have softened. It is much easier to use a young, inexperienced kid to create a caricature than to really delve into the many complex and confusing aspects of the intertwining of religion and politics in America.

Generally, television stinks, but lazy television is dangerous. PHC and socially-conservative Christians are no more posed to 'take over America' than any other number of causes and special-interest groups, but you'd never know that by watching "God's Next Army"

Update According to ChristianityToday, PHC has had a serious shake-up with 1/2 of their professors leaving over academic freedom and the school's commitment to open discussion and dialogue. Seems like PHC is even less of a threat then Channel 4 would like us to believe.

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