Liveblogging “God in America” on PBS
I’m doing this because… why not? Never done it before, and thought it might be fun. Here’s the official website. Join in if you like in the comments!
Also: Day 2.
Hour 1: “A New Adam”
:02. Our own beloved Stephen Prothero is in the first minute telling us that God thinks we’re special. Did I get that right, Steve? It’s part of a flashy overview that looks excessively even-handed and goes by too fast.
:03. Funded by the Fetzer Institute, like Speaking of Faith. A smaller, gentler, more forgiving sibling of Templeton.
:04. Oh no. Reenactments. All the words come from actual sources. Uh oh.
:05. Prothero on again. “New is the operative word.” He’s looking good. Hair good. Blue shirt unbuttoned. “The new Adam and the new Eve.” He gives the episode its title.
:07. Jack Robinson, Franciscan Friar, speaking for the mendicant conquistadores. Enrobed. Fitting—today is Columbus Day.
:08. Ahh. Wait. Rewind. There were natives here. “Our whole world around us is our religion. Our way of life is our religion.” – Porter Swentzell. Follow him on MySpace.
:13. Wow! I just realized the friar, Fr. Jack Robinson, was a fellow student of mine at UCSB. Crazy!
:14. “European religion would not survive unchanged in the New World.” Thank God.
:16. Having second thoughts about Proth’s hair. But what he’s saying is awesome. They’re talking about the Reformation and the Puritans. I’ve never met an academic who takes so much pleasure in distilling complicated things down to the right soundbytes.
:18. John Winthop reenactment. Mercifully dark and shadowy. “We shall be as a city on a hill.” My roommate thinks it might be a guy from Lost playing him. “That’s him, holy shit! What is he doing in this? In a weird PBS reenactment.” Hey, what are you saying? You’re watching it too, asshole.
:19. Proth: “The fate of the society hung on the religiosity of the society.” The danger for the Puritan colonists: “Miserable failure.”
:21. Roommate still can’t handle that Ben from Lost is in this. Playing John Winthrop.
:22. Anne Hutchinson is on. Read about her in Arthur Goldwag’s awesome recent piece on the site. What do you know? She’s blonde.
:25. Roommate: “And he’s playing Ben! That’s the best part!” “There are so many Lost parallels here. This is crazy. He’s afraid of John Locke…”
:29. Don’t tell me PBS is going to be soft on Hutchinson’s antinomianism.
:30. The pace of the reenactments is glacial. AH is less hot in a bonnet. People didn’t really talk like this, did they? If they did, I hope they didn’t really talk like this.
:34. The scene of a frozen stream during talk about immigration and pluralism. Hopeful music. Prothero says some lovely things. “Who are we? Who are we Americans? … What’s the story that we’re playing out?”
:36. Whitfield replaces Winthrop. Other roommate: “No more Lost.” We might lose him to online poker.
:38. Prothero said “unhaywires.” And “voom.”
:39. Yale’s Harry Stout, rapping on Whitfield. Stout is also wearing a blue shirt.
:42. Ye olde antique map.
:43. Proth’s got some hairs sticking up in back.
:44. Oh no. Whitfield is in a wig.
:44. Roommate #2, on expert scholar Stephen Marini. “What about Louis Black over here?”
:45. Roommate #1 doesn’t get what this part is about. I tell him it’s the birth of evangelicalism as a distinctly American idiom. Right?
:46. Roommate #1: “There has only been one woman commentator.” #2: “It seems to be all men.”
:48. Roommate #1, on appearance of Daniel Dreisbach: “Oh no, another white man.” At least there are a few women in the reenactments. Funny accents. Narrow depth of field.
:50. Roommate #1. “So Americans invented the whole personal relationship with God thing?” Pretty much, I’d say so. Yeah?
:50. #1 and #2 laugh at “weathercock.” #2: “Did he say ‘Intercourse with the almighty?'”
:52. #1: [Returns from getting ice cream in the kitchen.] “Weathercock.” [Laughs.]
:52. From Proth: “That was just the ‘Rooster Church’ in West Barnstable, MA. Interior shots of the pulpit.”
:53. They need to stop showing this crazy portrait of Charles Chauncy.
:54. Interesting that the expert talking heads are more expressive than the reenactors. In a good way, d’apres moi. For the talking heads.
:55. Prothero tells me: “my shirt will be green in hour 3.”
:56. More B-roll of running water. #2: “What’s the point of the water?” #2: “Let justice flow like the rivers of—”
:57. Wow. Proth hypothesizes the American religious story is the exodus story. Big claim! Wow. From slavery to freedom? “It becomes the new world, not just the old world in a new place.” Ends: “What should that new thing be?”
Hour 2: “A New Eden”
:58. #2: “Isn’t Eden when we wipe out the Native Americans? The New Eden includes genocide.”
1:00. Lauren Winner talking. #2: “She’s a winner. Looks like a winner.”
1:02. Roommates very impressed by the size of someone’s sleeves. It just appeared again. #2: “That arm is crazy.”
1:02. The majestic Anthea Butler comments: “Ya think there are any black folks or slaves yet ? wait, there was a slave in the corner on that pic. Sigh, groan.” We’ll keep our eyes peeled. Roommate #2: “They also haven’t had any black people speaking.”
1:05. #2: “Are they going to talk about Quakers?” They should. Probably hasn’t come up yet. Well, wait. We’re already in 1776. But we’re in Virginia talking about Baptists.
1:06. #1: “Everybody had good penmanship back then.” #2: “Are they going to talk about the Jefferson Bible?”
1:07. Wow! Proth just called Jefferson “spiritual but not religious.”
1:08. A picture of Jefferson literally cutting up his Bible. #2 is pleased. #1: “If he’s cutting stuff out of the Bible, what about the stuff on the other side of the page? I don’t know if he was literally cutting stuff out.” #1: “You’d have to make sure the other side is cuttable too.” Really good point. Proth’s reply in comments: “re: Bible cutting, Jefferson used two Bibles. Good question Nathan’s roommate.”
1:14. #2: “Are they going to mention Killing the Buddha?” Proth: “Hour six is all about killingthebuddha, nathan.”
1:14. The First Amendment is too ambiguous. Need a rewrite. Proth on-screen: “This is maybe too dangerous.”
1:16. A cloudy scene. I like the atmospherics of nature, but I’m not sure I think the choices are right. Too pretty. Domesticated wilderness. I think it’s hard to do; wilderness is like antimatter to formal religion.
1:20. Important identification of saving by bringing to Christ as saving the nation. Christianizing the wilderness is nation-izing it.
1:22. Trumpets blowing at revivals. #1: “That should happen more often today. Everything should be announced with trumpets.” Slaves mentioned. #1: “Black person! You missed it. #2: “Every time I enter the room I want someone to go [makes trumpet sound].”
1:25. #2 appears moved by James Finley: “The direct witness from heaven shines full upon my soul. Then there flows such copious streams of love that I think I should die with excess of joy.”
1:26. Roommate #1: “Evangelism sounds pretty awesome in the early days.” Me: “Still is.” #1: “It sounds more positive.”
1:26. #1: “Still haven’t mentioned the Quakers.”
1:27. Richard Allen just mentioned. Mormons a few moments ago.
1:28. Roommate #3 just entered. Beautiful scene of James Finley entering lake. Why so many solitary people? Durkheim would say: “Collective forces in [artificially] individualized forms.” His social justice work. Roommate #2: “Cool. He sounds awesome.”
1:30. Finley is saying his writing, and it’s so obvious that it’s writing. Doesn’t seem right. I wonder how else this could be done.
1:32. I like the little verbal hiccups of the expert testifiers. Endearing, but not at all excessive.
1:32. “Evangelical Christianity is about building a new America.” How is this being seen, I wonder, by contemporary Evangelicals? Any y’all out there?
1:34. Proth in comments: “Where is Lauren Winner? I want to hear more from Lauren.” Roommates would agree. But they’re in the kitchen.
1:34. Enter Catholicism. Neo-gothic church. John McGreevy. Marini: “This is the whore of Babylon!” Proth looks and sounds actually bummed about the state of Catholics’ souls: “They’re not accepting Jesus into their heart.” Dire music. Irish Catholics. #2: “My people! We ruined everything.”
1:38. “Dagger John.” “A street-fighter.” John Hughes. McGreevy: “The public schools were engines of converting Catholics into Protestants.”
1:40. Quakers mentioned. Among “other evangelicals.”
1:41. Proth smartness: “The Protestant Bible, the King James, does not have footnotes. But the Catholic Bible does.”
1:44. Hughes’ Catholic rectory interior looks (a) totally correct, (b) beautiful, (c) a place where evil papist plans would be hatched. Protestants should never be allowed to see rectories because they’re just what they’d expect.
1:47. Hughes tells his parishioners whom to vote for. At least he didn’t do it with a pre-recorded audio tape to be played during the sermon, as a certain bishop of Los Angeles did when I was living in Santa B.
1:48. Proth: “Catholicism threatens the whole American project.” Eek. I could get a lot of dirt against him pulling these quotes out of context.
1:50. We’re talking about enslaving and freedom but still no actual slavery. Much. Yet. Tomorrow, praytell?
1:52. Next time: Jews too. Cathy Albanese actually brings Jews in as #2 after Protestants in the narrative of her textbook. But we’ve gotta wait till hour 3. I always thought she was stretching a bit there.
1:53. All done. Oh no! You can “share you’re own personal story in the ‘Faithbook.'” Well, that’s good I guess. But it just sounds yucky. But it’s good. It’s the cacophony choir. We like that.
1:54. Pew is also a funder, along with Fetzer. Good timing. Just last week they reminded us how dumb we are about religion. I see a conspiracy at work.
1:55. Finis. Thanks to all who read and participated. Fun indeed!
1:56. P.S. Next, here in New York, a special about religion in New York hosted by Jon Meacham. Please forgive me if I pass. Eyes tired. Even good TV is evil.
Nathan Schneider is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about religion, reason, and violence for a variety of publications. He is also a founding editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, published by University of California Press in 2013, are God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet and Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. Visit his website at The Row Boat.