A few weeks ago, CNN began a series titled Finding Jesus, subtitled Faith Facts Forgery. I watched the first instalment and most of the second with interest. Not interest in the Jesus story itself—though I rather like it as a piece of creative fiction—but interest in how CNN would straddle the competing worldviews of science and religion, the former relying on evidence, the latter on faith. After all, CNN is not in business to anger the great proportion of Christians in America, yet it also needs to present something more respectable than The Passion of the Christ redux.
What CNN did was to use a lot of dramatization of things Biblical literalists believe, a cute trick since the segments assume reality without CNN actually saying right out that the crucifixion, the resurrection, and other less dramatic stories are, ahem, honest-to-God true. I believe there was no attempt to show scientific reaction to each of the scenarios.
CNN let stand lots of poor reasoning. Here are a few quotes taken from some of the speakers who contributed to the “expert believers” sections: “the shroud of Turin bears witness to the Jesus story,” “blood stains on the head portion likely came from the crown of thorns,” “my gut tells me it’s real [said by a priest],” “the blood stains show the actual blood of Jesus of Nazareth.” And so forth. These were unopposed conclusions without any evidence, but were presented as if they were evidence in themselves! Consequently, there was little to distinguish between real evidence and mere testimonies of belief.
But, to give CNN some due, carbon dating that showed the 16th century origin (vs. 33CE as some guests had been saying) of the shroud of Turin was presented. However, the time given to such direct contradictions to matters of faith was far less than given to dramatizations and testimonies on the literal Christian side. Anyone familiar with dramatic presentation knows that viewers will believe and remember dramatized material more than non-dramatized material. To be sure, the Bible is a far richer source of good stories than is scientifically precise research.
Hence, CNN could have its cake and eat it, too. I found that to be cowardly “history,” but was not surprised. Keep the believers happy while being able to point to a modicum of even-handedness if challenged. My experience of the first and part of the second episodes was not useful enough to continue watching, so I’ve no idea if later instalments dealt with whether Jesus of Nazareth existed at all, discrepancies among the four gospels’ accounts of post-resurrection events, analysis of supposed Old Testament prophesies predicting Jesus, the virtual impossibility of tracing original writings (of which we have none) through many generations of translations, and other features reasonably expected to be addressed in a series subtitled Faith Facts Forgery.
People with a sincere interest in history have some time ago found it is not to be found—at least, not consistently—on the History Channel. I greatly hope that Finding Jesus is not an indication that CNN is following suit, though it is clear that Fox News fans think it already did.