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Transcripts of Patheos' Live Chats with the producers of God in America.

Tuesday, Oct. 12, 3-4 p.m. EDT: series director David Belton -- Transcript
Wednesday, Oct. 13, noon-1 p.m. EDT: producer Sarah Colt -- Transcript
Thursday, Oct. 14, noon-1 p.m. EDT: series executive producer Mike Sullivan -- Transcript

Below is the transcript of the conversation with series director David Belton on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010. For the main landing page go here.

Patheos: Thanks to everyone for being here. We're looking forward to a great discussion with David Belton, series director for God in America. -- 3:01 

Patheos: David is an award-winning director and producer for the BBC who has worked in news, current affairs, documentaries and drama for 20 years. -- 3:01 

Patheos: Thanks to David for being here. With that, let's get started with the questions. -- 3:02 

[Comment From Angus Angus : ] 
Why didn’t you cover the colony of Baltimore and the persecution they faced at the hands of the puritans? -- 3:02

Patheos: Live chat with the people behind "God In America" starting now! [via Twitter] -- 3:03 

David Belton: Hi Angus - so many states, cities, religions. it was tricky to cover them all so we decided we had to go for stories that fed into themes that each hour was devoted to. so the catholics of maryland missed out but we felt we could incorporate that idea in the second hour with the John Hughes story -- 3:04 

David Belton: if i'm slow it's because my typing is fifth grade everybody. be gentle with me... -- 3:04 

[Comment From JenniferB JenniferB : ] 
Wasn't Colonial America less religious than today? -- 3:04 

David Belton: yes Jennifer - it was less religious. i think around 25% of people were churchgoing - yikes don't quote me there but it was definitely the case that less people went to church than today. but as my clever producer just said - that all depends on what your definition of religious is.-- 3:06 

[Comment From corey johnson corey johnson : ] 
what about the Muslims? many of the slaves brought to the US were Muslim. -- 3:06 

David Belton: so for example - people really did believe in heaven and hell so even if not church goers - they certainly had a strong feeling that their future was anything but decided -- 3:06 

David Belton: Corey - I didn't know this one at all. That's interesting. Did they retain their faith? -- 3:07 

[Comment From Matthias Matthias : ] 
What was the most difficult part of condensing hundreds of years of history into 2 hours of television? -- 3:07 

[Comment From corey johnson corey johnson : ] 
yeah, there was an imam on the GA coast with a congregation of about 80 slaves -- 3:08 

David Belton: my producer (the clever one) has just told me that there were muslim slaves who were able to remember the Koran when they came here and write it down.
Maybe she should do this chat. -- 3:08 

David Belton: I think the amount of variation is amazing back then -- 3:09 

David Belton: i was sad that we didn't manage to tell the story of the first synagogue in Rhode Island -- 3:10 

David Belton: which I think was around the 1650s... -- 3:10 

[Comment From Steve Steve : ] 
From what I see, this series seems to be headed in the direction of documenting the development and effect of religion in America. Will it also discuss what the legitimate role of religion should be today and whether religious beliefs have any place at all in influencing the political policies of a diverse society such as ours. -- 3:11 

David Belton: Matthias - you have hit the right question. so much history - so much story. Trying to make it interesting to watch - but feel we were giving the audience a comprehensive sense of what was going on. I wanted to tell good stories but how to do that AND cover 200 years of history in an hour. Tricky. IN the end I went for a single theme - American identity in Hour One - America's national story - Hour Two - and made sure the themes pushed that idea to the fore.
Does that help? -- 3:13 

David Belton: Corey - This from Clever Producer (Callie is her name):
In 1768:
Some of the first Muslims in America were slaves taken from Africa. In 1768, a slave named Charno, who lives in South Carolina, transcribes four suras, or chapters, from the Quran in Arabic. Muslim slaves from Morocco petition the state of South Carolina for their freedom in 1790.

[link to CSAM page] -- 3:14 

David Belton: Steve - Not so much. I think we wanted to offer up a sense of how we have got to this point and why religion remains so vibrant and indeed provokes questions like yours. Once we have got the debate going - then we can hand it over to people who hopefully feel better informed -- 3:15 

[Comment From Joel Joel : ] 
What do you believe the future holds for God in America? -- 3:15 

David Belton: but check with Mike Sullivan on wednesday as he will have a view on that -- 3:15 

David Belton: Schempp - yes we did ignore the facts but not the prevailing notion: that those who came here, came to end the relationship between church and state -- 3:17 

Patheos: Compare the beliefs of early Americans #godinamerica [via Twitter] -- 3:17 

[Comment From Schempp Schempp : ] 
Jefferson was not a "Christian" in any modern sense of the term. He cut out from the Bible all references to supernaturalism, and specifically rejected that Jesus had a divine origin. It was soundly rejected by the Founders to make any reference to "divine providence" or beg for any "blessings" from a god. -- 3:17 

[Comment From Judas Ghost Judas Ghost : ] 
I've read in a few articles that the producers for the series are non-believers or don't practice a particular religion. Do you think this had any affect on the series? From what I've seen, it's remained impartial, which is impressive. -- 3:19 

[Comment From corey johnson corey johnson : ] 
cool, thanks for the link -- 3:20 

David Belton: Taylor - Yes - thats true. Put that down to storytelling. Let me explain. I wanted Cane Ridge to treat the sense that rebirth was a very big thing for people back then. That needs time and care. The method behind methodism, I felt, could wait until I'd established that point - taken care of it properly. Hence the division. -- 3:20 

[Comment From Taylor Burton-Edwards Taylor Burton-Edwards : ] 
I found your coverage of the Cane Ridge revival both enlivening and missing a major point. I think you captured the feeling of those revival meetings well. Content-- less so. One comes away with the sense that people had profound religious experiences that then led them to all sorts of reforms. What we know about the preaching (especially by Methodists and Finney) is that the call to engage such reforms was deeply embedded in the preaching itself. It was never just "me and Jesus" or "me and God at the last judgment" but rather "the Judge is among us now-- how shall we live and change our world in response?" -- 3:21 

David Belton: Amy - the politicisation of the religious right -- 3:22 

[Comment From Amy Fowler Amy Fowler : ] 
I watched the show last night with my husband and we were talking about what the major "theme" would be today. Is it Islam? Religious diversity? The Religious Right? If you have to make a show for the last ten years, what would you choose for the theme? -- 3:22 

David Belton: Watcheronthewall - not sure we insinuated anything. said Catholicism was the prevailing religion in Europe and had been for a while. ended the program with the idea that prevailing religious denomination - Protestantism - was going to have to readjust to incorporate Catholics. sorry for delay. terrible typist -- 3:23 

[Comment From Ryan Ryan : ] 
Did you cast the actors who played historical figures? How did some of them, like Michael Emerson, come to be involved with the project? -- 3:24 

David Belton: Ryan - I met with Michael over some dinner and we hit it off. I just thought he's a fantastic actor - not just in Lost but from his days as a Shakesperian actor. I needed someone who would relish the language -- 3:24 

David Belton: Raymond - too difficult for me that one. I'm British. There are at least eleven words in your question I don't understand -- 3:25 

[Comment From Raymond (San Diego) Raymond (San Diego) : ] 
Great story last night. The actions of Bishop Hughes would today be considered (not illegal but) inappropriate for a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) leader. Did this directly lead to the start of the IRS gag rule? or was there some back and forth before Government sought to silence the pulpit? -- 3:25 

[Comment From Guest Guest : ] 
You have a dilemma, don't you, in that American public religion has basically been Protestant and mostly evangelical. But then we want to stress pluralism, so want to cover others. I and my colleague have a book coming out, The Bible and American Culture, of primary documents that show the Bible's role in movements in US history and life. We hve the same problem. -- 3:26 

David Belton: Judas -- Thanks. (wow - never thought I'd write that). No my agnosticism didnt affect the way I approached it. I was endlessly fascinated by the stories and the idea of how religion plays such an intweresting role in the USA -- 3:28 

David Belton: Joel - hm...I don't know. what do you think? -- 3:29 

Patheos: See how Protestantism split into several branches with the tree lens. #godinamerica [via Twitter] -- 3:30 

[Comment From Ora Ora : ] 
It's a bit heartening to see that there was so much strife and conflict almost from the get go. Makes one feel a bit less distressed about how territorial and tending toward "we're the only ones who have it right" we are today. -- 3:32 

[Comment From Schempp Schempp : ] 
Judas: It is important to recognize that in polls over the past few years by Pew show that some 14-18% of Americans now consider themselves non-theists, non-believers, agnostics or atheists. This means about 45 million Americans. -- 3:33 

[Comment From Taylor Burton-Edwards Taylor Burton-Edwards : ]  -- To Raymond-- there was no IRS until the 20th century. -- 3:33 

David Belton: I think Ora that that is one of the remarkable things about the US. The debate is alive and going on. Madison may have thought you would all turn unitarian but he created a climate where you would forever debate and argue and stretch into finding new ways to express what you mean by religious liberty. Compare with Europe where the subject is all but dead -- 3:34 

[Comment From Schempp Schempp : ]  -- Taylor: Historians recognize three periods of waves of religious fervor, called "the great awakenings". Each had a period of importance and then a waning. The First Awakening died out before the Constitution was written. The present one is properly known as the "great darkening". -- 3:34 

[Comment From Clay Clay : ] 
A couple of the "experts" you interviewed were awesome and felt so rational and moderate. Did you talk with anyone on the fringe? Do you get to use any of those interviews? -- 3:35 

David Belton: I'm not sure some would agree with you Schempp. Plenty believe that the Great Awakening was not dead so much as dormant in the 1750s and that that helped feed the call for liberty in the next decade. Steve Marini is writing a book about it. Watch out for it - it will be brilliant (like him) -- 3:36 

David Belton: Clay - i talked to people on the fringe but I always felt they had a point to prove - an angle to pursue so as interesting as they were I couldn't see how they would fit in -- 3:37 

[Comment From Raymond (San Diego) Raymond (San Diego) : ]  -- Thanks Taylor, I certainly thought of that (IRS being a more recent invention) as I posted the question, but what I meant in a more general sense: did the Protestants react with separatist uproar to Bishop Hughes' most visible intervention (via his recommendation) into election politics, or did they play the same game in the next election? -- 3:37 

[Comment From JenniferB JenniferB : ] 
Was there a reason you didn't cover the religious hysteria in Salem? Seems like that's what the History channel always talks about this time of year... -- 3:37 

David Belton: JenniferB - I think you've just answered your question... -- 3:38 

[Comment From Joe Seither Joe Seither : ] 
Further to my previous question/comment - after spending so much time with this topic, do you find it ironic that we continue using the singular word "god" rather than "gods"? With the democratization of god, monotheism only exists at the level of the individual. Even within groups of believers - each with a direct and personal interpretation of the deity - there is no consensus. -- 3:39 

[Comment From Taylor Burton-Edwards Taylor Burton-Edwards : ]  -- To Jennifer B-- I was glad to see that basically ignored. Nathaniel Hawthorn made that a far bigger deal than it historically was. And that played right into anti-Puritan politics (of the then right and left) that wanted to brand the Puritans as witch-burners, and so dismiss them entirely. -- 3:40 

Patheos: Chat live with "God In America" director David Belton! [via Twitter] -- 3:40 

David Belton: Joe - yes. Very ironic. From the perspective of 17th, 18th and 19th century though - we did live in a monotheistic culture here. But wait til ep 6 on wednesday. -- 3:40 

[Comment From Rachel Rachel : ] 
Since you're British, I'm curious if you learned anything while filming this project that changed any of your preconceptions about religion in America? Or, perhaps, those preconceptions were proved correct? -- 3:40 

David Belton: by the way Patheos - I am no longer with the BBC but available for work for other broadcasting organisations... -- 3:40 

Patheos: Noted! -- 3:41 

David Belton: Yes. Like a lot of (ignorant) Brits, I thought religion in America was the domain of the right wing and had been politicised. "Born again" is a word that in the UK is treated with a fair bit of mistrust. British politicians who talk about god are making the final speech of their political careers. But here, religion s serious and matters and in ingrained in your history. -- 3:43 

[Comment From linda linda : ] 
i may have missed this but why did you gloss over the mormons? -- 3:43 

David Belton: PBS did a two part series on the Mormons recently. So I just felt I wanted to tell the story of how the Catholics suffered prejudice in those years. It amounted I felt to the same point - if you were inside the Protestant tent you were tolerated; if you threatened it, you were in trouble -- 3:45 

[Comment From Joe Seither Joe Seither : ] 
And so I think simply using the plural "gods" more effectively frames or illuminates this domain -- 3:45 

[Comment From Guest Guest : ] 
David, will this series talk about Thomas Paine's "Age of Reason" and if and what influence it had on the free thought movement in America? -- 3:45 

[Comment From Amy Fowler Amy Fowler : ] 
Joe - That's a good point. I suppose calling the series "God In America" only makes it inclusive to a point. -- 3:45 

[Comment From Clay Clay : ] 
Linda, the Mormons weren't glossed over, they were simply one of the many groups growing (and moving west) at the time. -- 3:46 

David Belton: Guest - no it won't. I wish it could. But I think that's worth a whole film - how Paine influenced the Founders -- 3:46 

[Comment From Amy Fowler Amy Fowler : ] 
David - Was there anything in the first third of the series that really surprised you? Anything you didn't expect when you set out to make the series? -- 3:46 

[Comment From Raymond (San Diego) Raymond (San Diego) : ] 
Viewership would probably be less if the series were titled "gods in America" -- 3:46 

David Belton: Joe - it's a nice point but I don't buy it in a series that is taking on 400 years of history. We wanted a title that would bring people to us not create an argument. Let the argument happen inside the films and afterwards (like this) but not on the can of beans we are trying to get people to take off the shelves -- 3:47 

[Comment From Amy Fowler Amy Fowler : ] 
Raymond - I would watch that. It actually sounds pretty fascinating. -- 3:48 

[Comment From linda linda : ] 
only mentioned once, and they were certainly persecueted alot more than the catholics! -- 3:48 

David Belton: Amy - I was stunned by the story of George Whitefield. Hundreds of thousands heard him preach and were inspired. I loved the idea that this Brit - who was staunchly loyal to the Crown - inspired many to think thoughts that fed a revolution! Oh the irony. -- 3:48 

[Comment From linda linda : ] 
i think its interesting that what Anne Hutchinson spiritually experienced is just akin to what joseph smith saw. -- 3:49 

[Comment From Lietta Lietta : ] 
Watching the first installment last night, I pick up the thread theme of the program's message, which seems to be sharing the history of how Christianity evolved in America. So the focus seems singularly on European Christianity in it's formative stages in America. Will there be any part of the show addressing the Indigenous or Native American belief sets and any influence they might have had on formation of Christianity in America? -- 3:49 

David Belton: Linda - yes. precisely. I think that individual experience is central to American religion -- 3:49 

[Comment From Amy Fowler Amy Fowler : ] 
Whitefield was certainly a go-getter! -- 3:50 

[Comment From linda linda : ] 
in fact parley pratt, a key mormon figure is a direct descendent of hutchison! -- 3:50 

[Comment From Taylor Burton-Edwards Taylor Burton-Edwards : ]  -- To Raymond and Joe: And also lower if it were called "Religions in America" (pace Prothero). -- 3:52 

David Belton: Lietta - a bit like Tom Paine - I think that deserves a whole film. We began the series with the Pueblo Indian revolt but I think it did little to address your question - it was still effectively a story of colonialism. Which is a roundabout way of saying - no we're not. But we should. I think there is a whole series that should look at the different influences on religion. No time on ours though -- 3:52 

[Comment From Terry L Terry L : ]  -- Tell us about your personal views of your own religion if any and if by doing this documentary it has affected your life and your religion. -- 3:52 

David Belton: George W Bush says he was descended from Anne there you go -- 3:52 

Patheos: How were the early American faiths different? [via Twitter] -- 3:53 

[Comment From Joe Seither Joe Seither : ] 
I understand completely - it's not a critique of the series, I'm simply musing about the irony of millions of personal, individualized experiences with god all somehow falling under the same umbrella term - in the singular form. Clearly, if the communion with the deity was a universal, there would be no impetus for schism. -- 3:53 

[Comment From Diane Diane : ] 
I have to say the title was the thing that got me to watch and I enjoyed it! -- 3:54 

David Belton: Terry L - Lapsed episcopalian - pretty skeptical. No change perceived as yet. -- 3:54 

[Comment From Travis Norvell Travis Norvell : ] 
David -- first off thanks for your work. Curious about the balance of Anne Hutchinson over Roger Williams? -- 3:54 

[Comment From linda linda : ] 
what I see is the key message from last night is that salvation was wrestled from the pulpit and the central authority of the church to the self. -- 3:54 

[Comment From Terry L Terry L : ] 
So you are a catholic without all the guilt LOL -- 3:56 

David Belton: Travis - yes - he was thoroughly compelling and I think if i had had more primary source material I think we would have gone for his story but everything he wrote up until 1638 (long after he had been thrown out of the colony) was destroyed and I wanted viewers to get history directly from people - not from perceived ideas of what people might have said -- 3:56 

[Comment From Taylor Burton-Edwards Taylor Burton-Edwards : ] 
Perhaps a better reading-- and one I saw at least-- the locations of the pulpits were multiplied, no longer solely in the congregations, and certainly not solely in congregations with public tax support -- 3:56 

Patheos: David, how about two more questions? -- 3:57 

[Comment From Amy Fowler Amy Fowler : ] 
David, can you tell us what the focus will be on tonights installment? -- 3:57 

David Belton: my fingers ache - i haven't typed so much since my executive demanded delivery of a rewrite in a single afternoon -- 3:57 

[Comment From linda linda : ] 
But what is great about Joseph Smith taught is that women did not need men for their salvation, truly a liberation. He told them that we were the only ones responsible for our relationship with Christ. -- 3:57 

[Comment From Terry L Terry L : ] 
It is an excellent program -- 3:58 

[Comment From Joe Seither Joe Seither : ]  -- Thanks David! -- 3:58 

[Comment From JenniferB JenniferB : ]  -- The message i picked up was that people torn from everything familiar will be forced to invent new religious traditions. that the colonies practiced religious experimentation as well as politcal. -- 3:58 

David Belton: Abraham Lincoln - part one a brilliant story superbly made by Sarah Colt and starring Chris Sarandon followed by fascinating stories covering the creation of reform Judaism and the Scopes trial -- 3:58 

[Comment From Lietta Lietta : ]  -- Thank you David for your response to my question. Wanted for you to know how much we are appreciating this series so far. Expecting that we thought we already knew a lot, it is an educational surprise to learn we don't know as much as we thought we did. : ) bring relevance to the present day controversies. -- 3:58 

David Belton: JenniferB yes - exactly. -- 3:59 

[Comment From Amy Fowler Amy Fowler : ] 
Yes, thanks David! Great program. My husband and I will be watching it tonight. -- 3:59 

[Comment From JenniferB JenniferB : ] 
i agree. great series. just wish there was more! lol -- 3:59 

David Belton: Thanks Lietta - I can say that it was - bar the occasional squall - a pleasure to make -- 4:00 

Patheos: Thanks to everyone for joining us, and especially to David for his time (and all of the typing)! -- 4:00 

Patheos: Don’t forget to check out part 2 of God in America tonight, and check back with us tomorrow at noon EDT for a chat with producer Sarah Colt, who will discuss tonight’s episode. -- 4:00 

David Belton: Finger massage needed -- 4:00 

David Belton: enjoy tonight - its very good -- 4:00 

[Comment From Rachel Rachel : ]  -- Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Can't wait to see tonight's installment. -- 4:01 Rachel

Patheos: Thank you, David! -- 4:01


-- End Transcript --