Minister of Science and Chief Protector of the Faith

Saturday, January 12, 2008

CNN's "What Would Jesus Really Do?"


On Christmas Eve, 2007 CNN aired a program called "What would Jesus really do?" [ 2, 3 ] with host Roland Martin. The show was a sequel to a previous program of the same name that was aired in April of the same year.

The focus of the program was to discuss how Jesus might have weighed in on modern-day issues. The questions were posed to two contemporary religious authors, Mark Ellingsen and Gary Cass, and then Martin would give his final analysis.

Martin has become a popular pundit on CNN since the begining of the year. according to his website, "Roland S. Martin is a nationally award-winning and multifaceted journalist. [...] With extensive roots as a reporter and manager in radio, television, newspaper, and the Internet, Roland S. Martin is a multimedia journalist who can do it all - report it, shoot it, write it, produce it, edit it and voice it. He is the ultimate cross-trained journalist! Learn more about the newspaper editor, TV commentator, radio talk show host, web publisher, and book author!"

I actually watched one of the airings of this program, and was dismayed at the presentation. The majority of the program was just Q&As with people on the street and talking heads not saying very much. You can read the transcript of the show at this link.

I was struck by several things in the program. For one, the portions of the program when the questions were asked of the authors was very brief, giving each of the speakers only twenty seconds to speak before Martin gave his final verdict.

This seemed a ridiculously short amount of time considering that these questions were the main focus of the show, and that the subjects being discussed did not seem to be the kinds of issues that should be discussed in a such a limited framework. Also, it seemed inappropriate to have a verdict rendered, especially considering how poorly the subject matter was treated.

I felt that the format of the show was mindless and contrived. Neither speaker was given enough time to speak, and having the host render a verdict made the whole thing sound like a kangaroo court. The even had a buzzer sound to indicate that each authors time was up, presumably to lend the program a "game show" sort of edge.

The views expressed as "Republican" and "Democrat" were consistent with certain things said by some politicians and pundits, but were overly broad. I could not help but feel that they were trying to put words in either party's mouth. The point of the show just seemed to be a condescending and self-righteous put down.

I felt that the program did a disservice to religion by treating the subject matter in such a frivolous manner, treated the Republicans like they have no heart by only allowing a warped portrayal of their views, and gave a distorted picture of Democrats as self-righteous and condescending.

I did generally agree with the views that were expressed by the Democratic author, Mark Ellingsen, but I felt that the Republican author, Gary Cass, was out of his depth. It seemed unfair to the Republicans that they were represented by an individual that was clearly an extremist. That said, what the two authors and Martin said were at least interesting, and so I present the most salient points of the program below.

Roland Martin, CNN Anchor: OK, here's the first question, gents. How would Jesus vote on the death penalty?

Mark Ellingsen, Interdenominational Theological Center: Well, I don't think Jesus took a side on Democrats and Republicans, but he and historic Christianity have some views that really help us to do politics.

And on most issues, the Democrats take those views right. On the death penalty, for example, yes, the Bible teaches an openness to the death penalty. But Jesus has this hangup about forgiveness. Jesus has this hangup on justice.

Roland Martin, CNN Anchor: Let's go, Gary. What say you?

Gary Cass, Author of "Christian Bashing": Well, with 20 seconds, we know that Jesus did not forfeit the moral law. He said, I came to uphold it. And if you take someone's life, an innocent person's life, you forfeit your right to life. The cross of Jesus Christ is proof that the death penalty is something that God takes seriously, where Jesus Christ himself died for my sins. So, I believe that Jesus would support the death penalty.

Roland Martin, CNN Anchor: I got you. And I would disagree. I think that Jesus would not support the death penalty, because that would not give people an opportunity again to give their soul to him. So, I would disagree on that one. CNN

Cass is echoing an argument I first heard from former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. The cross of Jesus Christ was a device created by the Romans to torture and kill people, and Jesus was not put on the cross for murder. This is a very weak argument. The evidence that Cass cites does not apply.

Roland Martin, CNN Anchor: All right, gents, how would Jesus vote on the war in Iraq? You each have 20 seconds.

Gary, you go first.

Gary Cass, Author of "Christian Bashing": Well, I absolutely believe the Republican position is the right one. Self-defense is a duty we all owe to ourselves, our families and our neighbor. And it's the first duty of government. A strong defense is essential.

The Iraq war was justified on the basis of the intelligence that we had at the time. So, self-defense and liberating those under tyranny are Christian virtues...


Roland Martin, CNN Anchor: OK.

Gary Cass, Author of "Christian Bashing": ...just as Christ defends and liberates his people.

Roland Martin, CNN Anchor: All right.

Let's hear from the left.

Mark Ellingsen, Interdenominational Theological Center: Yes.

Gary didn't say everything about what a just war is. Even if we grant that this was a war of self-defense -- and it certainly wasn't -- it's not a just war, according to the Christian faith, if you are gaining something from it.

And we -- our American companies are gaining a lot of oil reserves from this war. It's not a just war. The Democrats are right.

Roland Martin, CNN Anchor: Well, I don't think Jesus would be for the Democratic side or Republican side, because Jesus had enough power to have peace, regardless of your actual beliefs. CNN

Cass' argument is really lame, but by casting Jesus into the role of a superhero that would just wave a magic wand and fix the problem, Roland Martin has completely missed the point of the question and sidestepped the issue entirely. He wins the prize for most ridiculous answer on this question, in my opinion.

Roland Martin, CNN Anchor: Let's bring back again Mark Ellington, our house lefty, and on the right, Gary Cass. OK, gentlemen, how would Jesus vote on the issue of immigration? You each have 20 seconds. Mark, start with you.

Mark Ellingsen, Interdenominational Theological Center: Jesus has a bias on behalf of those who are getting the shaft. In fact, his favorite people, the Jews, were illegal immigrants. They didn't their papers. Jesus is against those who exploit the poor. This is actually what's happening with regard to the way in which the fat cats are who are employing illegal immigrants and getting cheap labor. Jesus is against that kind of practice. The Democrats have it right.

Roland Martin, CNN Anchor: I certainly appreciate it. Thanks a lot. You say Democrats have it right. Let's go to you, Gary.

Gary Cass, Author of "Christian Bashing": No, I do not think the democrats have it right. I think we have to balance the rule of law with compassion. Most illegal immigration is based on some notion that people have a right to a better standard of living. If that was true, why aren't I living with Bill Gates? We don't do that because you can't simply move in where you want just to improve your standard of living. We have compassionate exceptions for political refugees, we spend billions feeding the poor all around the world and no one will die if we secure our borders. It's like I get to go to heaven through the door. I can't - I've got to go over the fence.

Roland Martin, CNN Anchor: You should know, Republicans get more time on the issue of immigration. I'm soccer both of you are wrong. This is Jesus' world, there could be no borders. There's no feed for illegal immigration. I'm sorry, he wouldn't support either position. But I'll say, sit back, hold tight. Both of you please stay with us. Our next vote is coming up, how would Jesus vote on the very controversial topic, same sex marriage. That's going to be a hot one.

And I realize not everyone in the world is Christian. So what do non-Christians do this time of year? Do Hindus put up Christmas trees? I'll ask one next. And he'll be joined by an atheist who says this whole time of year sucks. He said it, I didn't. You'll want to stick around for this conversation. CNN

Most illegal immigration is based on people looking for work and employer getting employees that cost a lot less money. A "right to a better standard of living" has nothing to do with it. Even if it was, Cass not living with Bill Gates is not evidence of his false claim. The statement is non sequitur.

Roland Martin, CNN Anchor: It's probably safe it say that the Bible is quoted more often on this social issue than any other in this country. I'm talking about same sex marriage. Republicans and Democrats are generally split on the issue. And just like we did before. We're going to ask how would Jesus vote? Here to answer that question on the right again, Gary Cass, on the left Mark Ellington. OK, we know this is a controversial topic. How would Jesus vote on same sex marriage. Gary cast you're first up. Twenty seconds.

Gary Cass, Author of "Christian Bashing": Jesus affirmed the natural created order. He said for this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and two shall become one flesh. Marriage was created by God for happiness an procreation. Homosexuality is forbidden because it violates the natural order and violates the Seventh Commandments. It's Gospel, Jesus is the bridegroom redeemer.

Roland Martin, CNN Anchor: Gary, appreciate it, let me go to Mark.

Mark Ellingsen, Interdenominational Theological Center: Roland, I want to be clear that I've been agreeing with you that you can't say Jesus was a Democrat flat out. Just that Democrats have a it right more often. When it comes to homosexuality, the Bible doesn't condemn committed relations. And we've got to remember what Jesus said, before you get all bent out of shape about the speck in your neighbor's sexuality, don't forget the log in your own heterosexuality.

Roland Martin, CNN Anchor: Mark, you made a big mistake, you didn't answer the question. The question there was same sex marriage. And I got to agree with Gary, if we have anything in the Bible, he did speak about man marrying woman, I would disagree, fall on the Republican side of that one. You got the issues confused. But it's OK. You'll have another shot at social security, that's the next question we have. Both of you please stick around and tell us what you think about that one and folks, let's also be real, for the most part, Christmas has nothing to do with religion. It's about shopping. That's where my next guest comes in. His message, please cut it out, stop it -- international. CNN

LOL! They are all idiots.

Roland Martin, CNN Anchor: OK, guys, how would Jesus vote on social security? Mark, batter up.

Mark Ellingsen, Interdenominational Theological Center: Republicans got it wrong when they want privatization. Jesus warns against that kind of free market unbridled capitalism. He wants us to be able to protect ourselves from ourselves. That's why he had it with the Book of Acts when he had his followers get a social system. We had had Paul do it and when he had the 16th century reformers set up a welfare system in the 16th century.

Roland Martin, CNN Anchor: Time's up, got to go to Gary.

Gary Cass, Author of "Christian Bashing": No, Jesus would support privatizing it because social security is a family duty and we're to honor our father and mother by supporting them in their old age. Only those without families, widows and orphans deserve any kind of financial assistance.

Roland Martin, CNN Anchor: Hey, I think Jesus would disagree with both parties because they've done a horrible job of fixing the problem. CNN

Cass is saying that people that are older should not get any kind of assistance unless they have no family. He appears to be ignorant of the fact that social security is not a hand out or charity. Citizens pay for their own security during their lifetime.

Martin is not much better. Social security is not really in any trouble, as long as the government pays back all of the money that has been borrowed against it over the years. By making adjustments in how the money is collected, such as raising the income level of those that pay into it, would alleviate any other shortcomings.

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At Sat Jan 12, 10:41:00 AM, Blogger Freida Bee said...

This was the most innane conversation I've ever heard (well, read.) Hypothetical conversations about what Jesus would do. If I were to imagine the same, I would completely disagree on most points and that just goes to show that this whole thing could be taken differently for each person adn you might as well be asking, "What does your own moral compass tell you about...?" Who that claims to be Christian would say, "I think Jesus would do ..., but I think... is right?" They are one in the same in my view and I do not agree with any of these guys. First off the premise is flawed, because there is not even evidence the person who was names Jesus would even support the bible, which they use as a foundation for their suppositions. Thanks for posting this and I'll try not to write a sub-blog here in comments. This shit irritates me to no end.

At Sat Jan 12, 01:12:00 PM, Blogger Dean Wormer said...

I'm pretty sure Jesus would smite the whole lot of 'em.

I'm not sure what "smite" means but it's pretty damn serious and they wouldn't like it.

But if you really want to engage in this exercise I'd begin and end by reviewing what Jesus looked like.

He's the world's first hippy.

Which makes it doubtful he would vote GOP.

At Sat Jan 12, 04:47:00 PM, Blogger Swinebread said...

Sounds like a game show where everyone loses.

At Sat Jan 12, 05:44:00 PM, Blogger Comrade Kevin said...

Broad issues like these do not lend themselves well, or at all, to short sound-bytes.

They need to be fleshed out and above all, serious time needs to be contemplated to answering these questions. They are valid, but one sentence responses do not begin to do justice.

At Sun Jan 13, 07:21:00 AM, Blogger Randal Graves said...

Ask me who to smite Lord, and they shall be smoten!

Dr. Zaius, Jesus IS a superhero! Surely you haven't forgotten about that swell cape in The First Letter to a City That No Longer Exists 54:29-36, have you?

At Sun Jan 13, 08:07:00 AM, Anonymous Agent Orange said...

Don't you hate it when politicians try to drag poor old Jesus into the issue. Especially when, if the New Testament is to be believed, Jesus tried so hard to stay out of politics.

At Sun Jan 13, 11:04:00 AM, Blogger Distributorcap said...

freida bee nails it - what a ridiculous exercise in mental masturbation.

I felt that the program did a disservice to religion by treating the subject matter in such a frivolous manner

this is CNN (in a the deep James Earl Jones voice) -- what do you expect? (sound more like Fran Drescher) -

At Sun Jan 13, 12:00:00 PM, Blogger BAC said...

I agree with Freida Bee, too. Programs like this do a disservice to religion. The media, in general, is not very informed about religion or how to talk about it. And presenting a dission in game show format is not going to help.

Programs like this are, sadly, one of the reasons why I have a job. People believe this misinformation, and then try to use religion in a way not intended by our founders.


At Sun Jan 13, 08:45:00 PM, Blogger Westcoast Walker said...

GEEEZE .... The whole left vs right paradigm is getting kind of stale and shows a real lack of imagination. Most human being live somewhere in the middle and want real dialogue around the complex issues that face our world today.

They are basically using 21st Century frameworks applied to the Jesus of the ancient world. Unless I am completely out to lunch, Jesus didn't appear to be too interested in the larger political order, and most of his teachings related to how you treat other people.

If he was there, however, I hope the enraged Jesus circa the "turning over the tables of the money traders" would show up and overturn their own stupid and flawed way of looking at things. boo ya!

At Mon Jan 14, 01:05:00 AM, Blogger Dr. Zaius said...

Freida Bee: I foud the program rather reprhensible as well. I even felt that they were "nicer" to the Democrats in most cases, but it was still one of the most ridiculous things I have ever seen on television. I almot didn't post it because I thought it would generate no interest, as it was so incredibly bad. What bothered me the most was the host making decisions about who was right and wrong, like he is a freakin' expert. Now you see him on CNN every day. It just makes me sick to think that this is our media. Who are these people? Where do they come from? How do we get rid of them?

Dean Wormer: I agree, Jesus was the original hippy. I don't think Jesus was really into smiting people. That just what his dad and his "followers" do. To "Smite" means to "inflict a heavy blow on, with or as if with the hand, a tool, or a weapon. To drive or strike (a weapon, for example) forcefully onto or into something else. To attack, damage, or destroy by or as if by blows."

Swinebread: Especially the audience!

Comrade Kevin: Yep. They were trying to fit a large subject through a small, incoherent hole.

Randal Graves: I am not sure what you mean. Corinthians I goes up to 16:24. Thessalonians I goes to 5:26-28. Which book of letters are you talking about?

Agent Orange: The whole idea is ridiculous. Those that claim to be closest to Jesus always seem to be the ones that are furthest away from his philosophy.

Distributorcap: Ha! Don't drag Fran Drescher into this. I always kind of liked her!

BAC: As much as I blame the media for this, most of the blame is just people in general. Our country is largely made up of fundmentalist wackos.

Westcoast Walker: "Most human being live somewhere in the middle and want real dialogue around the complex issues that face our world today." Yes! For some reason the media does not feel that rational discussion of the issues makes good telvision or sells their products for them. And you are right, most of what Jesus taught related to how you treat other people.

At Mon Jan 14, 01:37:00 PM, Blogger FranIAm said...

Holy crap. I have not been to many blogs of late because of scheduling issues. Thank God (i am a big God person you know) that BAC pointed me here!

Seriously though- WTF? As a person who considers herself (feel free to disagree) both a person of deep faith and a person of higher than average intellect, this crap pisses me off completely.

You know I recall when those programs were on but I am kind of glad I never watched the idiocy.

WWJD? He wouldn't get into a sound byte pissing contest, I am fairly certain of that.

Idiocy. Inanity. Stupidity. The American way, it seems of late.

This does a disservice to not only to religion, but to any thinking human being!

It is however, a great great post. Thanks Dr. Z!

And thank you for your passionate comments on my blog of late. That was an interesting debate and I personally appreciate that you did the research to ge to the bottom of that remark.

I did not really have a side, but then again I did not really do anything other than post the videos and ask people to invest the time.

So I hope that does not make me sound like an idiot. I really need to figure my time and blogging commitments out to a better end.

peace Bro!

At Mon Jan 14, 04:09:00 PM, Blogger John J. said...

My brain exploded just reading a couple of those quotes; you sitting through that long enough to put this together may just qualify you for sainthood :).
Really quick answers on the questions are possible in some cases though:
Death sentance - Just cite Jesus and the adulteress, clearly against.

War on Iraq - "Prince of Peace" end of story

Immigration - never directly discussed, but "treat your neighbor as yourself" says enough.

Same sex marriage - never discussed, just because he never talked about it doesn't mean he was against it.

Social Security - again, not an issue in that time. Repeatedly against personal greed.

All in all, pretty frivolous as few of these were issues in his time and so he couldn't have made a statement regarding them.

At Tue Jan 15, 08:19:00 AM, Blogger Dr. Zaius said...

FranIAm: Yep. It pissed me off too. It does more than a disservice to religion, it fouls the Christian philosophy. That's far worse.

John J.: Bravo! You gave a better explanation in one comment than they did in an hour on TV. I love your blog! I have blogrolled you.

At Wed Jan 16, 09:57:00 PM, Blogger John J. said...

Thanks, I really appreciate that.

At Thu Jan 17, 06:32:00 AM, Blogger Dr. Zaius said...



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