Friday, September 17, 2004

God on PBS

Our local PBS affiliate on Wednesday night aired the first of a two part program called The Question of God. Based on the book of the same title by Harvard professor Armand Nicholi, the show traces the spiritual development and ideas of C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud. Last night's segment, which was two hours long, was interesting and instructive.

The narrative of the lives of these two men was punctuated by panel discussions led by Nicholi himself on some of the religious and philosophical issues raised by the biographies. The panel was an eclectic group consisting of two atheists, two new-age types, two traditional Christians, and a film-maker who looked like he was spending the evening wondering why he was invited.

Unfortunately, the atheists came across as having the better arguments throughout the show. Whether this was because of the way the program was edited or because the Christians simply had no compelling reply to the objections that were raised to their faith, I don't know. Even so, it seemed to me that the arguments of the atheists were vulnerable, but they were usually allowed to stand as the last word.

I also felt that the new-agers were given entirely too much face time. Their position, articulated with noticeable condescension, seemed to be that the truth of any religious belief is ascertained by one's intuitions and that whatever speaks with greatest forcefulness to your heart is true for you, and that's the end of the matter. Any talk of reason, logic and evidence is pretty much irrelevant.

Now there might be a grain of truth to this, but it's nonetheless a sure-fire discussion stopper. If God exists is a true claim simply because the idea of God has purchase upon my intuitive faculties, then how does one argue or discuss a contrary position? One can only nod politely that that's an all-well-and-good view for the person who holds it and then turn his attention to those at the table for whom the claim that God exists is objectively true or false and with whom one can have a conversation.

Despite these quibbles the show is worth watching, and even if you missed part one, you can still catch the second segment at 9:00 P.M. next Wednesday, September 22nd.