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Sunday, Bloody Sunday

From sunup to sundown and well into the night on March 4, 2007 – a Sunday, mind you – there was a parade of media messages carrying a single theme: Question religion.


From a lengthy article in the New York Times Magazine on the evolution of religious belief, to a feature on ABC's World News Sunday detailing the growing impact of atheism, to the Discovery Channel's bogus “documentary” claiming the bones of Jesus have been found, the chorus of religion-bashing made it appear the media were out to sabotage faith on the Sabbath. 


Readers of the New York Times were treated, with their morning coffee, to a lengthy piece in the New York Times Magazine by Robin Marantz Henig entitled “Darwin's God.” Henig explored the scientific community's attempt to understand “an inherent human drive to believe in something transcendent, unfathomable and otherworldly, something beyond the reach or understanding of science.” The article focuses on Scott Atran, a man who “no longer believes in God” and questions why so many people around the world do.


Studying the evolution of religious belief is a field gaining momentum, according to Henig. It is less about whether God exists but why belief in God exists. 


The presupposition underlying the entire 8,000-word piece is that evolution is the only lens through which to look at the issue.  Henig never allows an argument to be made for theories like creationism or intelligent design, which would explain the Christian belief that man was created in the image and likeness of God, and therefore predisposed to believe in his Creator. 


Henig concludes the piece this way:  “No matter how much science can explain, it seems the real gap that God fills is an emptiness that our big-brained mental architecture interprets as a yearning for the supernatural.  The drive to satisfy that yearning, according to both adaptationists and byproduct theorists, might be an inevitable and eternal part of what Atran calls the tragedy of human cognition.”


Yes, faith in God is a tragedy. 

On Sunday evening, ABC anchor Dan Harris used a Supreme Court hearing this week on President Bush's faith-based initiative programs to talk about the “mounting assertiveness of atheists who are arguing loudly that religion is not only false but also a threat to civilization.”

Harris interviewed three atheists, and observed that the “atheist argument seems to be resonating right now.”  He mentioned atheist recruiting on the Internet, showed footage of the BlasphemyChallenge.com Web site, and touted atheist summer camps for children and “several best-selling books.”  Atheist author Sam Harris's comments about how religion has “shattered” the world were overlaid with footage of violence in the Middle East


Harris gave evangelical professor Randall Balmer time to counter Sam Harris's assertions, and then cut to an interview with Dan Barker, a former fundamentalist preacher turned atheist who was involved with the lawsuit against faith-based initiatives.

Harris to Barker: “I was speaking to an evangelical minister who described your movement as a firecracker going off in the forest. In other words, you're not really going to make much of a difference.”

Barker responded: “If it's a dry forest it can start quite a conflagration.”

The Discovery Channel capped off the Sabbath hit parade with Titanic director James Cameron's documentary purporting to have found the lost tomb of Jesus Christ, Mary his mother, Mary Magdalene, and in a twist ripped from the pages of The Da Vinci Code, the tomb of Judah, the son of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The brazenly false science behind the film was the subject of CMI editorials last week (see here). 

The film generated a lot of media buzz and sustained attacks from academic and religious scholars.  Whether the buzz drew viewers like bees to honey remains to be seen, but it was a worthy conclusion to the media's March 4 full frontal assault on faith. 

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute (www.cultureandmediainstitute.org), a division of the Media Research Center.