Last week, I was asked by a commenter here if I really "think the media has it in for Christians."
I did a little empirical experiment this weekend that you can do yourself to find out. On Saturday, I turned on the television with my two kids and flipped to CNN to check the news. They were in the midst of showing a documentary on Jesus Christ, presumably because of the Easter holiday. I said to my children, "Watch this. We've just turned this on and we haven't seen anything about this program's perspective yet. But because I know how the media works, I know without a doubt that it will be critical of historic Christianity, and I can tell you that within the next few minutes, we will see at least several of the following five people: John Dominic Crossan, Bart Ehrman, Amy-Jill Levine, Elaine Pagels, or Marcus Borg."
The reason I mentioned these names is because all of these five are ultra-liberal scholars who categorically reject the truth claims of Christianity. Crossan and Borg are members of the Jesus Seminar, which scholars both liberal and conservative characterize as residing on the radical fringe of liberal scholarship. Pagels is a devout evangelist for the "Gnostic Gospels," the Nag Hammadi writings that were written centuries after the life of Christ and found in Egypt in the 1940's. Ehrman is a disaffected former "fundamentalist" who has built a career attacking historic Christianity. Levine is a feminist scholar who believes the New Testament is anti-woman and anti-semitic. And yet some (or all) of them have turned up on every documentary I've seen on a secular network in the last five years on Christianity. Despite the hundreds of scholars, both conservative and liberal, doing first-class work, the media continues going to the same five people for the same perspective over and over and over again. Why would that be?
Sure enough, within less than five minutes, we saw Bart Ehrman and Amy-Jill Levine on the CNN documentary. My kids were somewhat impressed at my prognosticative ability. Then I flipped over to PBS. To our surprise, they were showing a different Jesus documentary. "Watch," I said. "Same rule applies, sight unseen." And again, within five minutes, we saw John Dominic Crossan, Bart Ehrman, and Elaine Pagels. In other words, in less than ten minutes of random documentary-watching on the subject of Jesus, we saw four of the five people I had named. By this point, my kids were really impressed.
To be sure, each of these programs attempts to present some semblance of an appearance of "balance." They'll do this by invariably bringing in one of two people: N.T. Wright or Ben Witherington III. One or the other of these guys will provide the "conservative" viewpoint in the face of the scores of predictable liberal scholars. Both of them are okay (though even as token "conservatives," Wright, while personally believing in Christ's bodily resurrection, thinks it's basically optional for Christianity, while Witherington believes that the apostle John didn't write the Gospel of John), but why don't we find any of the hundreds of other good, conservative scholars working in the field on any of these programs? And why are they always outnumbered five or eight to one? And, why, for that matter, don't we find anyone other than the same five people pushing even the liberal perspective on these shows? Is it possible that the producers of these documentaries have a preconceived story they want to tell, and they like the way these guys usually tell it?
Does the media have a built-in bias against Christianity? You tell me. Biblical scholarship is not a tiny, arcane field with only a handful of knowledgeable experts. How is it that I can name most of the guests that will be appearing in any CNN/Discovery Channel/History Channel/National Geographic special sight unseen? Try it yourself if you don't believe me. Memorize (if you don't know them already) the five names I mentioned, and the next time you're flipping through channels with someone and you see a documentary on Jesus or early Christianity, tell them immediately who is about to appear. They'll be amazed and you'll look incredibly smart. But in reality, it won't be intelligence that caused the feat, it will be the tired and predictable (and lazy) bias of the mainstream media.
Related Tags: biblical scholars, biblical scholarship, CNN, PBS, Jesus documentary, Jesus documentaries, Jesus Seminar, John Dominic Crossan, Amy-Jill Levine, Bart Ehrman, Marcus Borg, Elaine Pagels, N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington, Discovery Channel, History Channel, National Geographic