God in America (2010– )

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A promotional look at Christianity in the USA since Columbus
23 October 2010 | by (Canada) – See all my reviews

A miniseries like this is likely to be controversial... as is a review of it.

This was an interesting, if biased, three-part miniseries (in six parts each about 55 minutes long on the web) on Christianity in the US. I found the first 4 hours to be the most useful, perhaps because I didn't have as much familiarity with early US religious history as I do with the last 80 years or so.

The title "God in America" does tell you what to expect -- it's not Allah in America, or Buddha in America, or even Religion in America. Although the series does make some very brief examination of other religions ("Judism" as one person calls Judaism, and Islam) and also very briefly looks at atheism, it's almost entirely about Christianity, and presenting it in as positive and patriotic a light as possible, subtly questioning the First Amendment separation of church and state, while still appearing educational.

More time should have been spent on discussing the religion of native Americans, as their god(s) have been in America far longer than any more-recently-imported gods. Other than a brief prelude in the first episode, they are completely ignored.

Also ignored, Lief Erikson discovered and temporarily settled somewhere in America (perhaps Newfoundland or Massachusetts) for the European Vikings in the decade 1000-1010. He had battles with native Americans, although there didn't appear to be an attempt to convert them. Lief was a Christian at the time, and had spread Christian beliefs in Greenland.

I didn't know much about the original European religions imported to the US, so I was surprised to learn of the strong Anglican roots of the southern colonies, something they share in common with English-speaking Canada of the times. It was surprising that they omitted the fact that it was forced to become the Episcopal church, to avoid allegiance to the monarch of England, while the Catholic church was not required to do the same for its allegiance to the head of state of the Vatican.

All favorable religious claims are taken at face value, and unfavorable religious claims (such as those supporting slavery) are glossed over. They seem to have missed the New Testament verses Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 3:22-4:1, 1 Timothy 6:1-2, Titus 2:9-10, and 1 Peter 2:18-25. Slavery is wrong, but you can't say it's not Christian. If the US Civil War came to be about a Christian argument about slavery, then some explanation as to why these verses don't count, and yet deserve to remain in the Bible, really needs to be there.

The series strongly links Christianity to liberty. For example, it is shown as the underpinning of the black civil rights movement, but it is not shown as also the religion of the anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-black KKK at the same time (in fact, I never heard KKK mentioned at all, despite their infamous flaming crosses), and it is not shown as also the primary opposition to the LGBT civil rights movement of recent decades (not mentioned at all as a civil rights movement). Last, the Christian hostility to atheism is viewed mostly as how atheists used the courts to attack Christianity, and were viewed as un-American. Despite now being the second-largest group in the US, after Christians, their own story is largely ignored except as how Christians viewed it. We never learn of their thought processes, and their world views.

The Christian activist Rick Warren is mentioned in the final episode as an example of the way religious groups were stepping back from politics. But later, the series omits his controversial appearance at Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration (they show the inauguration, but don't mention Warren here), after his anti-LGBT advocacy in Uganda in 2008, which likely contributed to the Ugandan "kill the gays" bill the same year he spoke at Obama's inauguration.

For perspective, it would have been useful to compare the religious history of Canada, a nation that I wager is at least as diverse of religious opinion as the US, despite the video's bold (and wrong) claim that the US is the most religiously diverse country on the planet. In both countries, Christians are said to make up about 82-83% of the population, and no religion is the next largest general group at about 12-13%, followed by Judaism at about 1-2%. The largest Christian denomination in each is Catholic. This doesn't seem diverse to me, and certainly doesn't indicate the US as unique when Canada has strikingly similar numbers. The UK, which plays the role of "baddie" in this series turns out slightly more diverse, with about 47% Christian, 46% no religion, 3% Muslim, and 1% Hindu.

I'm also baffled that the series omits almost entirely the Mormons, with only a brief mention of the Latter Day Saints, not mentioning that they dominate one state, and are a fast-growing religion. They should have said whether, for purposes of the miniseries, they were considering Mormons to be Christians, as many Christians do not.

And although Scientology is a small movement, it has very big name publicity, and being grown in the US it deserves a mention.

Perhaps most bizarrely, the series paints Obama as a new unifying Christian president, despite the fact that he rejected his own United Church of Christ pastor when the election campaign got tough, and that nearly 20% of the US population now say he is Muslim.

Anyway, to sum up, I recommend the first 4 hours or so, because (assuming they are accurate) they present a basic outline of the history of Christianity in the USA, which is useful to understand how the past is influencing things today. The final 2 hours or so are less useful. I'm certain that the 20th century and current events are covered better elsewhere, although perhaps not in a single film.


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