God In America: Vignettes Of Christian Evolution

God In America: Vignettes Of Christian Evolution October 12, 2010

PBS has a new series called “God In America” that features Stephen Prothero, author of our current Patheos Book Club selection “God Is Not One.” I didn’t really know what to expect and what I found was interesting and uninspiring.

I’m a religion geek and I find all things religious rather fascinating, yet I’m also a Pagan who finds the expressions of Christianity somewhat tedious. Watching each well-told story of the evolution of Christianity in the United States is interesting. If I were Christian I might think it fascinating. However, the whole first section of the series leaves me cold.

Early America was far more diverse than simply one group of Protestants in contention with another. The Indigenous faiths were diverse and fascinating, and the surviving indigenous beliefs still are amazing. The Africans carried Yoruba and Islam with them. There were Jews among the early settlers. The rolls of soldiers in the Revolutionary War contain Muslim names and an imam served a community of about 80 Muslim slaves on Sapelo Island, Georgia.

Religion is a broad subject and if you cannot be comprehensive then you must be subjective. I suppose PBS has done a fine job of telling stories about the most interesting turning points in American Protestantism. They sprinkled in some Catholicism and vaguely mention Pueblo faith for diversity, but the rest of the show is about white people worrying over the right and proper way to relate to Jesus Christ.

Which is a shame, because the history of religion, and of religious diversity, in America is a bright, vibrant contentious story. The Deists, the Freemasons, the Atheists, the Enlightenment, the Muslims, the Jews, the Indigenous faiths, the importation of African religions all contribute to the fascinating relationship with religion in America. Colonial America wasn’t as religious as we are today. All of these riches were at PBS’ disposal and they chose not to use them.

I’m probably nit-picking. The name of the series is “God In America”, not “The Gods Of America”. This is the story of Yahweh in America, a God foreign to this land, driven by dominance and jealousy, and this is the story that PBS tells. It’s interesting if you find the intricacies of the Christian faith curious. If you find religion interesting but have a commitment to diversity, this is dry stuff. It’s like going to Baskin-Robbins and all they have is vanilla.

It has been a long time since I have become this irritated with something dominated by the Christian faith. It truly annoys me that my tax money is being used to fund a program that states the norm is Christianity, preferably Protestantism, and if you’re not worried about the intricacies of this faith then you are irrelevant to the tapestry of religious expression in America.

I suppose I should be thankful they didn’t capitalize on the annual October interest in the Salem Witch Trials but I’m just annoyed. I wasn’t this annoyed last night, but watching the series again this morning raised my hackles. What hope have I of my religion being recognized for it’s contributions if even the Muslims and Jews are still being ignored?

I’ll be joining in the live chat with the producers this afternoon at 3PM EST/1 PM MT.

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