Monday, January 09, 2006

THE CONTROVERSY OVER "THE BOOK OF DANIEL"

I usually stick to covering news regarding radio and music, but occasionally news about the other broadcast medium, TV, comes to light so profoundly that I just have to throw my two cents in. In this case, it was brought to my attention via a heated speech at church this past Sunday.

Apparently, Friday saw the premiere of NBC's The Book of Daniel. According to TV.com the show centers around an Episcopalian priest with a predilection for popping Vicodin, his alcoholic wife, gay Republican son, promiscuous daughter, and equally promiscuous Chinese adopted son. Also included is a caricature of Jesus as a mental image that the title character regularly converses with.

No surprise that the Christian community has erupted in controversy.

I'm not going to comment on the show itself. I haven't yet seen it, so I feel unqualified to speak to the quality of it, whether or not it's blasphemous, sacrilegous or even if it's any good. I won't insult your intelligence by condemning it or uplifting it. Most of the people who are currently condemning it didn't watch it first, and one has to question the integrity of someone who is lambasting something they only know of through second or third-hand information.

What I'm more concerned about is the reaction of the Christian community. There has been a wide range of response, ranging from boycotts to outright death threats. Mind you, these are the same people who cried foul when people called for the removal and boycott of the equally controversial movie The Passion of the Christ.

Just for your information, I'm a conservative Christian. But don't let that keep you from reading. I might surprise you with what I'm about to say: This outcry demanding that NBC remove The Book of Daniel from the airwaves is WRONG.

Yes, I said it.

Again, I'm not defending or condemning the actual show. I don't know enough about it to do either. I am saying, though, that Christians need to be careful about how they go about trying to enforce censorship. Censorship is such a slippery slope, and once you go down it, you may just find yourself unable to climb back up. The trouble with censorship is that it's not only applicable to just one group. If you take away someone else's right to free speech or expression, you are opening the door for them to take away yours in the future.

Look, for instance, at the debacle in Alabama where the Ten Commandments were removed from the courthouse steps. That's a very palpable example of freedom of expression of religion being infringed upon. Yet, how can anyone as a Christian complain about that when we're the very ones who open the doors of censorship anytime something objectionable comes about?

Besides, protesting the show and publishing countless articles and preaching heated sermons about it actually helps the show out. It gives the show publicity that the producers could never buy. The old axiom is true, especially in the entertainment industry: there's no such thing as negative publicity. If you need proof, here are a couple of examples.

(1.) The Last Temptation of Christ. This Scorcese movie was critically reviled. Artistically, it was a failure. I watched it. The production values were terrible. All in all, the movie should've been looking at instant failure and would've been swept under the rug quite quickly. But then along comes Don Wildmon and the American Family Association, running ads in major publications, going on TV, and doing all they could to preach from the highest pulpits about how evil this movie was and how Hollywood was attacking morality and Christianity. Suddenly, the movie was viable, and because thousands of people were made curious about the movie, thanks to the AFA's protests, the movie made more than it actually would've made previously.

(2.) 2 Live Crew's As Nasty As They Wanna Be. Nobody had heard of 2 Live Crew except extreme rap fanatics. Then Tipper Gore and her crowd got all morally indignant about the lyrics of "Me So Horny." There was the ensuing media stink, Congressional hearings, and more circus than P.T. Barnum could've ever hoped for. Next thing you knew, every 12 year old boy in junior high had a copy of it, and 2 Live Crew were topping the charts. This case also ushered in the Parental Advisory sticker and sent a loud message to the entertainment industry that musical obscenity was highly marketable. For the Christian right: mission not accomplished.

Maybe if Christians would stop getting so worked up, they'd take the time and think about the obvious factors: (1.) This show is premiering midseason, which means that it has lesser chances of surviving compared to rookie shows that premiere in the fall. Even at that, it's only scheduled for six episodes at this time, and rumor has it that NBC halted production on the series nearly a month ago. (2.) It's running against ABC's 20/20, CBS's successful Numbers, The WB's Twins, and UPN's popular WWE Smackdown. (3.) Book of Daniel has, to this point, been a ratings disappointment.

"But," replies every Christian I've spoken to about this, "shouldn't Christians stand up? If we say nothing, will that not embolden them to do more of the same?" The answer is not that simple, I guess. Maybe yes, maybe no. But there is a more powerful way to express your disinterest in the show, and that is to turn your TV off. If you don't like it being there, you have two distinct choices: either find your way to another channel or turn the TV off and concentrate on real life.

Our freedoms of speech and expression are the cornerstones that this country was founded on. They were established to protect both believers and non-believers and to allow everyone the right to their respective beliefs as well as the right to verbalize these beliefs. You can't remove someone else's free speech without endangering your own. They have just as much right to evangelize as you do, and they have a right to choose to view certain programming if they wish.

It's not our responsibility to tell everybody else what they should do. We need to concentrate on doing what WE are supposed to do and strive for our own perfection. If we do that, there will be no time left for us to try to control the lives of others we don't happen to agree with, much less to control their viewing habits. And for all the crowing about ridding the public airwaves of such things, I have yet to see Christians come up with good alternative programming (and no, blowhard preachers in $5000 Armani suits begging for money doesn't count.) Maybe if we all exercised our freedom of speech and religion and tried a little harder to spread the love and mercy that are crucial to the teachings of Jesus, we would have less of these issues to contend with in the first place.

21 Comments:

At 8:32 AM, Anonymous Henry Neufeld said...

Good post. You help make it clear that it is not all Christians, and not even all conservative Christians, who support the boycott tactics. I can easily see how someone might think The Book of Daniel is a bad show. That's their right, and that's the purpose of a channel changer.

 
At 4:28 PM, Anonymous betapundit said...

I think Christians people would hope that -any- discussion involving Christ would serve to bring people closer to the Jesus and the Bible.

Censoring the discussion, which as you point out is what this is, will only drive non-believers farther away from the gospel.

 
At 8:11 PM, Blogger Sailorcurt said...

First of all, I disagree that a "boycott" is the same thing as "censorship". A boycott is a viable, legal and morally acceptable method of demonstrating displeasure with an entity's conduct, practices or message. A boycott is not a forcible removal of information from the "marketplace of ideas", it is a voluntary demonstration that the information is not a viable product in said marketplace.

If I refuse to watch a show, what legal or moral obligation do I have to keep my mouth shut about it? Aren't I within MY first amendment rights to tell others that I refuse to watch and why? How, exactly, is this censorship? (Of course, the death threats ARE attempted censorship...there are fruitcakes in every walk of life, that's just a fact. Christianity doesn't immunize anyone from being human and being subject to human frailties).

I agree with your pragmatic view that the publicity a show gains by the protests can actually be counter-productive, I disagree that we should sit idly by when a show such as this offends so deeply.

I feel that this show is slander against Christianity. As a Christian, I take it as personally as if the purveyers of this garbage were using my name and visage to specifically represent their warped view of Christianity. I will not sit idly by and allow them to impugn my reputation.

Will I participate in censorship? Absolutely not...I will not condone any forcible action...including legislation...to remove this show from the airwaves. The writers and producers of this show have every right to disseminate their drivel.

And I have every right to express my displeasure in the way that will hurt them the most...by contacting their advertisers and informing those advertisers that I will not partronize their businesses as long as they continue to subsidize slander against me and my chosen religion.

That's not censorship. That's the First Amendment.

 
At 9:11 PM, Anonymous michael said...

And I have every right to express my displeasure in the way that will hurt them the most...by contacting their advertisers and informing those advertisers that I will not partronize their businesses as long as they continue to subsidize slander against me and my chosen religion.

So do you do this with every program on television? With every movie? With every publication that presents a different view? Do you honestly believe Christianity is under attack in America?

Not trolling. Just curious.

 
At 11:47 PM, Blogger J.D. said...

I think it depends on what you classify as a "boycott." If by that you mean you personally not buying a product from an advertiser or you personally not watching a channel, then that's one thing. You're perfectly within your rights to censor yourself. On the other hand if you use the bully pulpit like Don Wildmon and the AFA and spew threats and raise a ruckus and all that, I believe that goes beyond a boycott and well into censorship. Granted you're not blowing up buildings or anything, but it's still a scare tactic.

You certainly have no obligation to keep your mouth shut, since your right to free speech is just as viable. But is it the best idea, considering that quite often the tactics employed by those who are protesting this show tend to backfire, causing more public support and interest for the show in question? I don't want you to get me wrong. I'm not implying by what I said that I think you should have to be quiet. I'm just encouraging more personal discretion in how best to use your free speech (and that goes for both sides.)

I think a better use of your free speech (though you're free to do as you wish) is to avoid issues like these and instead engage in meaningful repartee with others about things that matter more than just a short-lived miniseries. I think Christians would be a lot more effective if they talked more about their beliefs and helping others rather than shouting condemnations at what others are doing.

I'm concerned that all this strong-arming sets a dangerous precedent. Picture this: A group of activist atheists decides that they don't like a religious show like 7th Heaven or The 700 Club or take your pick. They mount a campaign causing the show you use to promote the Christian agenda to be pulled from the air. You wouldn't care much for it then, would you?

I was wondering this too, and meant to put it in the original blog post: How come the AFA didn't protest "Brokeback Mountain" and other movies like that? I halfway expected them to come out tapdancing over a gay-themed movie, but they didn't. Not that I want them to protest it, and I mean no offense to the gay community by suggesting it, but I wonder just how and why they pick what to get all morally outraged about?

 
At 8:03 PM, Blogger Sailorcurt said...

"So do you do this with every program on television? With every movie? With every publication that presents a different view? Do you honestly believe Christianity is under attack in America?"

Every program, movie and publication doesn't rise to the level of slandering me, my savior and my religion. Therefore, the answer would be no.

Do I get all up in arms about every program that presents a controversial subject? Of course not. The author of this show could portray himself and his family using drugs, practicing homosexuality and promiscuity and abusing alcohol all he wants...I wouldn't make a peep.

The issue is that he is projecting his behavior onto others and, in the process, implying that such behavior is the "normal" Christian experience.

That, in my mind, is slander (or libel...I'm still not sure...slander is spoken defamation, libel is published defamation. A television show isn't exactly a "publication" but it's not simply someone talking either).

And, yes. Christianity is under attack in America.

JD,

We'll have to agree to disagree on the definition of "censorship". Entreating others to voluntarily refuse to participate in an activity or patronize a business, regardless of how vehement or spirited the plea, is still not censorship...which connotates a forcible denial of the free speech rights of another...but is nothing more than a vehement and spirited expression of one's own First Amendment rights.

As far as your other point. I don't argue that, by protesting, we simply add to the publicity factor, but to say nothing about something that we view as so egregious is tantamount to indicating acceptance if not outright approval of their position.

Your question about the AFA vis a vis "Brokeback Mountain" goes back to the answer I gave Michael earlier in this missive (sorry about the fillibuster). If a producer wants to portray Cowboys as gay, it would be up to the Cowboy community to "raise a ruckus". Although we, as Christians, do not approve of homosexual activity, we do not deny the rights of homosexuals to commit their sins. Jesus never FORCED anyone to follow him. If they refused to make the sacrifices necessary, he simply let them go on their way.

Our role is to express to homosexuals that we feel they are sinning, that they will be accepted by the Christian community but only as sinners (as are we all). That is not good enough for homosexuals, they want to be accepted into the Christian community under THEIR terms i.e. for the Christian community to deny that homosexual activity is a sin.

I will accept any homosexual, drug addict, alcoholic, thief, murderer, etc into the body of Christ as a fellow sinner, but I will not deny that their past and/or present activities were/are sinful; nor will I support the notion that there should be or will be no consequences (either earthly, or heavenly) for their actions.

[/diatribe]

Thank you also for your thoughtful and well reasoned post on my blog. I'm adding you to my blogroll.

 
At 10:10 PM, Blogger J.D. said...

I definitely see where you're coming from, and you do appear to have thought your position out quite well. I'm sure we'll have to agree to disagree about some things. That's the great thing about America. Each of us is entitled to our own opinion.

Quite frankly, when it comes down to it, TV as a whole could use a serious revamp, if the networks were of a mind to do it. That way we could get rid of the scourge called reality television while we were at it :)

Wow, I'm sleepy. Hope any portion of this comment makes sense!

 
At 11:14 PM, Anonymous betapundit said...


The issue is that he is projecting his behavior onto others and, in the process, implying that such behavior is the "normal" Christian experience.


So describe to me what the "normal" Christian experience actually is, and where it came from.

 
At 12:35 AM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

I think this is a case where the show is so terribly bad that the only chance it has to stay on the air, is if enough people bitch about pulling it off the air that a buzz is created, and everyone says 'Wow I gotta see it just to see what all the fuss is about!'.

Just reading about the family and plot was enough to tell me that the show was going to bomb. At this point the only people that can save it, ironically, are the people complaining about it.

 
At 4:53 AM, Blogger J.D. said...

I think you just hit the nail on the head, Mack.

As for the "normal" Christian experience, I don't know that there's any one given norm. I would say that in all likelihood the chances of any one American family, let alone a minister's family, having all of these elements is probably a million to one. I'm not saying it can't happen to a family, though. In the case of a minister's family, it would be extremely difficult for him to keep his job if any one family member exhibited too many of these traits, since most preachers' families live under a microscope.

 
At 9:14 AM, Blogger Jens Hegg said...

On another tack this is what I've been thinking about the show recently.

Christians who tend to get all up in arms about social issues often site that 80% of the country is Christian and therefore it is a Christian country with Christian values. 99% of households own a TV. Therefore 79.999% of the Nielson ratings randomly selected households are Christian and should hold Christian values.

If Christians don't want drivel on their TV sets it would help if they didn't watch it to begin with. Yet this drivel is exactly what we get season after season. There seems to be a serious moral disconnect between what people say and what they actually do. 'The Book of Daniel" is just more pointed but "Desperate Housewives", "Survivor" and any number of other popular shows hold deeply anti-Christian values about life in general and the way you should treat others.

As a non-Christian living what I feel is a moral life based on respect for self and others, and as a member of that elite 1% without a TV, I find all this bruhaha to be the height of ironic hypocricy.

Thanks for the insightful post. It makes it clear that not everyone feels it is neccessary to jump out of our recliners and scream at the Powers that Be every time something offensive crosses our path. After all, most of that offensive stuff has it's roots in our own actions.

 
At 10:35 AM, Blogger J.D. said...

True. I've actually heard some of the same Christians who complain about Book of Daniel laughing over what they saw on South Park or Desperate Housewives.

I was reading Don Wildmon's bio on the AFA homepage, and he said he was motivated to start the American Family Association after a night of TV watching with his family. He said he was angry because purveyors of smut were bringing the stuff "into his house."

To me, that's a fundamental error. They don't bring it into your living room. You have to let it in. For instance, if there's someone out there you don't like, and you know he'll curse, swear, and do whatever in your living room, you don't open your door to him and invite him in. Just about everyone locks their doors to keep the unsavory element out. When you turn on your television, you make a conscious choice to allow whatever is on there to remain in your house. If it is patently offensive, it should be fairly easy to banish it simply by pushing a button.

Jens, I think you may have made the best point yet, which is how much better we'd probably be if we didn't have the time-wasting idiot box in the house (and in every room usually) to suck our life away. :)

 
At 8:52 PM, Blogger Sailorcurt said...

1. Perhaps I should have used the term "typical" rather than "normal". In any case, the show (in my opinion) portrayed these people as unrepentant. I am not trying to imply that Christians are perfect. I've done my fair share of things that I'm not proud of and I still commit sins on occasion. The difference is that I freely acknowledge that my actions are wrong and do my human (imperfect) best to learn from my mistakes and not repeat them.

2. I'm not particularly fond of the AFA and don't consider them to be my, or Christianity's, spokesmen. I think they make a career out of provoking the easily provoked to ire. I just happen to agree with them on this one point.

3. Many of you make excellent points. All I can say is that my conscience leads me to speak out about this issue and, so, I feel I must.

4. I have no problem with the "reality shows" other than that I don't enjoy them and, so don't watch. I don't think it's particularly "immoral" for a person to make an ass of himself on TV for money...just stupid. I also have no problem with shows like "Desperate Housewives" other than the plot is asinine, the acting is borderline at best and the entire concept of such an openly and publicly screwed up neighborhood is ridiculous. They aren't insulting me or my religion with such programming, they are insulting themselves.

I agree that we don't have to watch programming that offends us...but if the programming is openly slanderous, should we sit idly by while others impugn our character? There are people out there who have had no experience with true Christianity and will take this show to be an accurate depiction of our conduct. Should we allow that to stand? I think not. Even if it provides impetus for the show to actually stay alive longer, I think it is important to make a statement that the show does NOT accurately reflect true Christian behavior and values.

But that's just me.

If nothing else, this has been a lively and cordial discussion. It just goes to show that people can strongly disagree with each other without resorting to base insults or hyperbole.

Oh, and a correction from an earlier post. I heard today that "Brokeback Mountain" is about "Sheep herders", not "Coyboys". My mistake.

 
At 9:02 PM, Blogger Sailorcurt said...

Oops again. I meant "Cowboys". The movie IS about "Coyboys".

Where's my editor when I need him???

 
At 11:34 PM, Anonymous betapundit said...

Well said, Sailorcurt :)

 
At 4:45 AM, Blogger J.D. said...

I agree, and it's certainly the most lively discussion this blog has seen in its short history.

I've read elsewhere where people have said that they thought if The Book of Daniel was about a muslim cleric at a mosque that there would be rioting in the streets and suicide bombings. I don't know if it would be that extreme, but I wonder if they'd have ever allowed themselves to release something that would offend muslims or any other religious group?

 
At 12:17 AM, Blogger Avanti said...

I stumbled in here after reading about the Book of Danial and have never posted to a blog before. As a happy agnostic, the Christian far right scares the hell out of me. (no pun intended) It's one thing to chose not to watch a TV show, quite another to try and prevent the rest of us from enjoying it. The fundi's want to censor not only network TV, but are after cable TV, and satellite radio and TV. i.e. AFA wants the FCC to shut down Howard Stern on Sirus satellite radio. I once bought every girlie magazine in a 7 Eleven that was being picketed by a bunch of "Christians". just so I could wave them in their face as I walked out.
I respect your right to your faith, to read and watch what you like, just leave me be.

 
At 3:30 AM, Blogger J.D. said...

For the most part, I respect the people on the far right because they're really only just standing up for what they believe in. What scares me are the people who lead them, the people who use the Bible to their own advantage so that they can have power and fame. The rest are just sheep.

However, I'm also frightened by radical leftists, so there's definitely a balance there.

 
At 3:31 AM, Blogger J.D. said...

Oh, and if you look elsewhere in the blog, I wrote about the AFA trying to censor Stern and Satellite Radio. It's a newer post than this one. Enjoy!

 
At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a good post and you are right the more people fight something the more attention it gets. I do not believe that christianity is under attack. I also do not put a christian title on either. Of course if there was a penticle in a court house then the christians would outrage if there was a show that potrayed wiccans as we truly are more will be outraged. It is sad but true I think. People should stop worrying what types of games kids are playing and let the parents do it. Associations and Organizations that complain about entertainment are just trying to push thier view on how kids should be parented. I think parents should choose. Like in that custody battle not too long ago, the courts told them they are not to teach thier child thier religion (both were wiccans). Not alot of huge blogs about it. In a google search titled The book of david nbc downloads the hit was over a million. With that certain case I believe it was less than 250,000. Most of which are christians applauding the violation of the first ammendment. Yet someone posted that it's a violation of the first ammendment not to boycott something. I apologize for the ranting but this country has a dark time ahead of it and things people need to do to fix the government that the people decide on. A democracy is a form of government run by the people for the people. Except in the case of the United States. People shouldnt worry about whats on tv people should worry and demand about new laws and legislations that effect them. In my opinion tv shows and movies and etc doesn't effect me as much. Sorry to rant It's just I am kinda perturbed at alot of things.

Blessed Be,
Enkill Eridos

 
At 1:10 AM, Blogger Kat said...

So, yeah, this is a very old post, but I was curious.

BRAVO!!!!! :-) JD I'm glad you spoke up because I feel much the same way. As a conservative Christian who is a huge Harry Potter fan (yes, we do exist!), I'm very familiar w/people giving opinions on things they haven't personally experienced, so I have great respect for your not making claims about the show itself without watching it. Personally I did watch it and I thought the premiere was a blast! A typical, twisted nighttime soap/dramedy, whose main characters happen to be (or claim to be) Christians. I didn't think the show implied that "typical" Christians are all like that, but on the other hand I view that particular denomination as somewhat liberal (especially on views re: homosexuality) and since I don't belong to that particular denomination, had no personal gripes there. ;-) I usually agree w/AFA but was extremely mad at them over this. IMO, the greatest 'sin', if you will, that most programming commits is omitting the spiritual side of life altogether, and, often, thereby implying it either doesn't exist or isn't important. So to have a show with people not only talking about Jesus and moral & religious issues, but actually includes Him as a character? Awesome!! As someone put it, we as Christians shouldn't be ranting about how horrible it is to have people thinking of Jesus as this or as that... we should be grateful to have them thinking about Jesus, period! (Or, as you say, turning off the tube altogether, as is anyone's right.)

Ok enough rambling for now... and I thought I had a blog post on it myself, but can't find it so apparently I never did.

 

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