July 23, 2008

The AFA Wants to Bury "The Bible's Buried Secrets"

Don Wildmon confronts reality in the best way he knows.The American Family Association’s Don Wildmon is once again up in arms about reality’s failure to confirm the literal truth of his Biblical beliefs. The PBS program Nova is producing an episode entitled “The Bible’s Buried Secrets.” While there’s no link yet on Nova’s web page for information about the episode, some of the archaeologists involved with it have commented and it sounds like this will be standard fare for the long-running documentary series.

The paucity of specific information about the show hasn’t stopped ol’ Don from bursting a blood vessel or two about the reporting of many of the contradictions known to exist between Biblical stories and the archaeological record. He was kind enough to share his concerns with me in his most recent “Dear Manmeat” e-mail:

Dear Manmeat,

The Public Broadcasting System (PBS), probably the most liberal network in America, will present a program this fall that says the Old Testament is a bunch of made-up stories that never happened. "The Bible's Buried Secrets" says the Bible is not true. It is scheduled to air on November 18.

Producer Paula Apsell said: "...It's (The Bible's Buried Secrets) designed for intelligent people who are willing to change their mind. …it will give intelligent people who want to read the Bible in a modern way a chance. If we insist on reading the Bible literally, in 25 years, nobody will read it any longer."

Among highlights of "The Bible's Buried Secrets":
  • The Old Testament was written in the sixth century BC and hundreds of authors contributed.
  • Abraham, Sarah and their offspring didn't exist.
  • There is no archaeological evidence of the Exodus.
  • Monotheism was a process that took hundreds of years.
  • The Israelites were actually Canaanites.
  • The Israelites believed that God had a wife.
I have often said that PBS should not receive tax dollars. "The Bible's Buried Secrets" is simply one more reason Congress should stop supporting PBS with our tax dollars. Congress gives PBS hundreds of millions of tax dollars to help support the network.
I find Wildmon’s use of the word “liberal” rather revealing in this context. There is nothing particularly liberal about reporting the facts uncovered by investigation and scientific research. The points that Wildmon brings up are no more biased toward some political philosophy than would be a statement that the earth revolves around the sun. The fact is, we have no evidence that Abraham was a real person nor have there been archaeological finds indicating that ancient Israelis ever inhabited Egypt, built anything there, and fled the place to spend 40 years wandering the Sinai. We do know that monotheism was not the primitive condition of religion; there is no doubt whatsoever that early beliefs were polytheistic. One can easily point to any number of early religions including those of the Near East, and the struggle of early monotheistic religions against the prevailing polytheism is well documented not only in the archaeological record (c.f. Akhenaten) but in the bible itself (c.f. the Golden Calf episode in Exodus itself). Monotheism clearly took centuries, if not millennia, to emerge. The Israelites did believe that Jehovah had a bride, or at least the feminine component. Her name is Shekinah and she is referred to in Jewish texts such as the Talmud wherein she is said to grant the power of prophecy. The mystical, kabalistic work Zohar, a work of particular importance to modern day Hasidic Jewish sects, also makes reference to Shekinah.

Wildmon’s apoplexy over a program of the nature of “The Bible’s Buried Secrets” exemplifies the very problem with Fundamentalism and its insistence on literal reading of Biblical mythology. Empirical observation simply does not support the historical accuracy of stories such as that of Abraham or Moses. When confronted by this, fundamentalists twist the presence of archaeological evidence that contradicts the tales upon which they found their belief as a conspiracy concocted to overthrow their religion. Since the stories must literally be true in order for their faith to be justified, anything from the outside world that fails to support those stories must be something manufactured by the forces of darkness. These days, the forces of darkness are personified by a vague application of the term “liberal.” Taken to its extreme, this profoundly twisted and emotionally immature refusal to face the facts is turned into a delusion of persecution. Archaeologists aren’t simply reporting what they have found but attacking the adherents of fundamentalist Christianity. Such flawed reasoning is applied to every aspect of the real world which exists beyond that covers of any particular religious text; it exists as much in fundamentalist Islam, Hinduism or Animism as it does in the literalist form of Christianity. It is equally wrong, equally immature, and frankly equally stupid no matter which religious context one chooses.

In fact, the reaction by Wildmon to a program that neither he nor anyone else outside of those directly involved with it has seen, is a slightly more sophisticated form of the toddler’s argument from “la la la, I’m not listening.” Wildmon knows that his followers weren’t likely to watch anything broadcast on PBS to begin with, but that’s not enough. Wildmon wants to shut down the very possibility that anyone could be influenced by a review of real evidence. He doesn’t even find it necessary to provide a link to any sources that his readers could check and potentially make up their own minds because that in itself would be contrary to fundamentalist thought. Instead, Wildmon is confident that he can simply make assertions and rouse his faithful to action and have them clap their hands not only over their own ears, but over yours, mine and everyone else’s. It’s not enough for a fundamentalist to choose for him or herself not to consider an argument; the fundamentalist feels compelled to prevent anyone else from doing so.

It should be apparent not only from the ridiculous mental deficiency spewed into American culture by Wildmon, but from the history of other cultures that have become dominated by fundamentalist religious thought, that there is no difference between fundamentalism and totalitarianism. The basis for the will to power over the mind of every individual in the fundamentalism-plagued society may be different, but the totalitarian heart of theocracy differs from that of fascism only by its initial motivation and not at all in the ends it seeks. It doesn’t take much bending to twist a cross into a swastika. The first force applied in doing so is the attempt to decide to what information the people will have access.

There is no evidence to support, and much to contradict, the assertions of fundamentalist religion. This is not the fault of some conspiracy but the reflection of reality. The mythology of fundamentalist Christianity is no different than the mythology of Hellenism.

Having said all this, perhaps the next thing the reader might wish to do is to actually look at what the people involved in making “The Bible’s Buried Secrets” have to say about their program.
…Biblical archaeologists William Dever and Carol Meyers talked about the special and addressed the fact that many people will have problems with a film that claims to challenge viewers "to think about the Bible in an entirely new way," according to "NOVA" senior executive producer Paula Aspell. She said the show will examines the message and the meaning of the Bible as it looks for a historical core. "What emerges is provocative new evidence surrounding the origins of monotheism and the ethical code that accompanies it, ideas that change the world and resonate for us today as it did then."

Biblical archaeologist William Dever said the film is controversial, "but it ends on a positive note. It should bring to laypeople a new appreciation of the literature and the history of the Bible. And I think even professional biblical scholars might learn something from it…”


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