Turn off the History Channel and Read an Article

Whenever I see an ad for or flip past a showing of one of those History Channel “religion” documentaries—something about Revelation or Nostradamus or the Bible Code—there arises a feeling of all the mighty, righteous indignation my stomach can bring itself to squeeze out. I know, I should enjoy it, it’s just entertainment, like the news, right? It’s part of the variety sideshow that makes religion so much fun to write about in the first place. Who cares if it’s making everybody stupider?

Well now I should at least try to be polite. KtB founder Peter Manseau was featured on the new History Channel show, “The Real Face of Jesus,” about a digital reconstruction of Jesus’ face based on the Shroud of Turin. Religious relics are an area of specialty for him, as you’ll see from his extraordinary book, Rag and Bone: A Journey Among the World’s Holy Dead. But, as he notes in a new essay on the show at Religion Dispatches, they didn’t bother to include the part where Peter pointed out that the shroud is almost certainly a medieval fabrication…

Given the dubious provenance of such artifacts (my clear dismissal of the possibility that the Shroud is what believers claim has apparently been left on the cutting-room floor), I hoped to make the case that the most interesting question to ask of them has little to do with authenticity: Why should physical objects hold such enduring spiritual fascination? In general, it is not the fact of relics that matter, but the stories behind them.

Well, fair enough. Yet somehow, as you’ll see from the promo clip above, I don’t get the sense that the History Channel is going to jump onto the Deeper Questions high road. No, they’ll find every way they can to allow people to go on being utterly mislead about the origin of the object, just as about the usefulness of Nostradamus for foreign policy or Dan Brown’s status as a trustworthy historian. Peter’s right; there is opportunity for a decent show here. All the more repugnant that the so-called History Channel, with zillions of dollars and a platform for informing the public, doesn’t take it.

Read Peter’s excellent, informative article. Read his book. Then get sweaty, cover yourself with a burlap sack, and mail it to The History Channel, 235 E. 45th St., New York, NY 10017. Maybe they’ll make a TV show about it, too.

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.