So PBS is Going to Shelve Deepak Chopra, Right?

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.”

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  1. And what about Wayne Dyer’s quasi-new-age “power of intention” junk? There’s very little difference between his garbage and that of Robert Schuller. It angers me that my tax dollars go to fund this dung.

    • The way that the media understand the term “sectarian” is as the antyonym to “secular.” I represent media organizations so I understand their thinking and lingo. In their understanding “sectarian” means associated with an established religious denomination or group — a church, a synogoguge, a religious group that is avowedly associated with a church and the like. They would not regard Wayne Dyer or Deepok Chopra as “sectarian” because they purport to be secular mental health professionals and are not associated with an established church. They would also regard “new age” thinking as secular, not sectarian, though a church founded on new age principles could be sectarian because it has “church” in its name.

      I don’t believe this classification scheme has validity, but it does reflect the secular mind. There is an electronic advertisement at the DFW Airport that reads: “In the final analysis, life is about collecting the most fun experiences you can.” It’s advertising some service provider. That always struck me as an explicitly religious statement. Seemed odd to have it in a government-owned airport that prohibits “sectarian” signs.

  2. My thoughts exactly. The only time Christianity is even mentioned in PBS programming is during the annual Christmas and Easter Christian bashes like “From Jesus To Christ”.

    More reason for PBS to lose federal funding.

  3. Why not just boycott PBS and not send in any further private contributions?

    We have a similar thing going on with the BBC’s religious programming. As with the federal funding of PBS in the US, we, too, are obliged in the UK to fund the BBC (annual TV licensing fee). The BBC takes potshots at Christianity with every series they produce on the subject. Whilst some would make an exception for ‘Songs of Praise’, it makes Christianity appear dull and lifeless — a nostalgia-fest for the housebound elderly. No one enquiring into Christianity would be able to bear watching it.

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