News earlier this week (HT: John Bales) is that PBS is going to grandfather those stations that have been airing “sectarian” religious programming but they’re not going to allow any new religious programming. I’ve been wondering for sometime why Deepak Chopra is allowed to peddle his religion via publicly funded (and now digital) air waves? A columnist for the Washington Post doesn’t get it. He thinks this is great but one wonders if he realizes how profoundly religious much of the “self-help” programming (e.g. Wayne Dyer) is? Jay Sekulow thinks it’s a bad idea but his argument is pragmatic more than it is principled.
Of course the difficulty is in the adjective “sectarian.” The Oxford American defines sectarian as “rigidly following the doctrines of a sect or other group .” What in the world is “non-sectarian” religion? By definition all religions are inherently sectarian. A religion makes claims about God, man, heaven, and hell (or the lack thereof). Consider the annual programs hosting critics of historic Christianity that always air learned discussions and documentaries at Easter and Christmas usually concluding that really intelligent people could never believe historic Christianity? Isn’t that “sectarian” programming? The Jesus Seminar “is certainly sectarian”?
Forgive my cynicism but it’s hard not to think that the adjective “sectarian” was meant to protect freedom of PBS to continue to broadcast religious programming that doesn’t offend the mainline, mainstream cultural elites. In their world, “non-sectarian” means “The National Cathedral” or some other form of neutered quasi-unitarian, universalist pablum. Speaking of the devil, why isn’t the UUA or any of the seven sisters of the mainline “sectarian”? Don’t they believe that nineteenth- and twentieth-century higher-critical liberalism is true and historic Christianity is essentially false? Isn’t that “sectarian?” The UUA is sure God is not three persons, that “he/she” cannot be three persons and still be one, that they are right, that there are multiple paths to “God,” and that those who claim that the historic Christ of Scripture isn’t the only way to God. That’s sectarian. The problem here isn’t the move to exclude religious broadcasting from PBS. The problem is in the definition of what qualifies as “religious.”