The CBS Nightly Miraculous News by Catherine Fahringer (June/July 2000)

Is there more media coverage of religion than ever before? I ask because what used to be a tedious irritation for me has now become a major source of disgust, frustration and fury.

The media are drowning me in a cesspool of religion. The cover-boy of the April 24th issue of U.S. News and World Report was none other than Jesus, a yellow-skinned one with a suggestion of a mustache and chin whiskers, that scraggly sort of facial hair which means it was grown by someone who shouldn’t have tried. This version of J.C. was preceded by a wan, heavy-bearded Jesus who made the cover of Newsweek on March 27th.

The Newsweek Jesus had a severe case of ectropian, that hound-dog lower-lid problem. The cover story was called “Visions of Jesus.” The yellow Jesus story was called “Why Jesus was killed,” which proclaimed that “Scholars find new clues about the Crucifixion.”

Somehow I was reminded of the tabloids with their astounding revelations about everything from sightings of men from Mars in a Kansas cornfield to a 50-pound baby being born in Mountain View, Arkansas to a 95-pound mother. The San Antonio Express-News, our only “newspaper,” frequently devotes a large portion of the front page to some religious subject or personage, accompanied by a large color photograph. When not on the front page, the religious subject/personage can be found on the front page of the Metro-State section. Most of this religious “news” is about Catholics.

Occasionally, if there is some convention being held in San Antonio by Lutherans or Baptists whose members are squabbling amongst themselves about their church’s position on abortion or homosexuality, that denomination will be front-page news, no picture. We all know that Catholics are more photogenic than Protestants because of their lavish gowns and exotic hats. Business suits and ties worn by Protestant clergy don’t distinguish them from ordinary businessmen. This front-page treatment of non-news occurs several times a week. Some days are double-duty days, with something Catholic making the front page and the front page of Metro-State.

Eat your heart out! On Saturdays there is a religion section behind the editorial and commentary pages. This does not mean, however, that the main body of the Saturday paper will be free of the subject–and it usually isn’t. When I complained to a gay friend (who knows all about discrimination) that we non-theists get no attention, respect or response from the local newspaper, he suggested that I write or call John Gutierrez-Mier. My friend had appealed to this person for some newspaper cooperation in treating the gay segment of our community more even-handedly, and covering their events and fundraisers. He had had a good deal of success because Gutierrez-Mier’s job was covering minority affairs. I responded to this news with surprise, and also with a flicker of hope in my heart.

I wrote Mr. G-M, explaining the plight of non-theists, and voicing the desire to have, at least, some announcement of our meetings in the calendar of events which is printed weekly in the religion section. I admit to trepidation concerning the name of this person (Catholic?) in charge of minority affairs, and my instincts were confirmed when, on the following Saturday, Mr. G-M was featured in the guest column of the religion section, writing about a pilgrimage he and his mother made to Cristo Rey to climb a 4,500-foot mountain with a statue of, surprise!, J.C. on the top. Thirty thousand people were attracted to this event. The climb was hell, but the experience of reaching the top was one of the renewal of faith. Of course everyone prayed and prayed and came down from the mountain with “a feeling of having truly been blessed.” Nothing of substance resulted from my letter or the telephone response from G-M.

I did manage to make the events calendar, if randomly, quite a few times through another Express-News source. Our press releases about special events continued to be ignored, as they have been during the twelve years of my activism. Religion is certainly not excluded from television, even having crept into science programs on PBS. However, it is staple fare for commercial channels, especially our local affiliate of CBS, the home of “Touched by an Angel.” This station is apparently under the control of an evangelical twit. I usually avoid this particular channel’s news program like the plague because it seems the most shallow of the three.

I’ll toss a coin and watch ABC or NBC, not that they’re really better; they’re just a little less awful. On the night of May 15th I was looking for the coffee table, which entailed much paper-sorting and throwing old magazines in a box for recycling.

I had been half-watching something on CBS (that wasn’t utterly icky) during this rare burst of domestic involvement, so I didn’t change the channel. The little preview of news-for-the-evening began, and my full attention switched to the TV.

The lead story was to be about the image of Jesus on a screen door! He was seen not long ago on a tree trunk in a nearby town (that guy does get around). So I watched what must have been a three-minute (minimum) account of this “phenomenon” (in reality, common-as-dirt religious hysteria). Viewers were treated to several shots of the miraculous screen door and words from the owner of the door. Interviews with neighbors and gawkers were followed by more shots of the screen door.

The second miracle-of-the-evening was announced: the made-for-TV movie, Jesus, was to be reviewed. TV viewers were treated to short segments of the film and, again, local residents were asked to express their opinions of the film (got good reviews). Now, would we get to some real news? The answer was a lengthy segment on a local celebrity whose name is Sonny Melendez (I think).

His grown daughter was seriously injured in an automobile accident and was thought to be near death. If she lived, she would be paralyzed. But, the good citizens of this town, of all religious denominations, formed prayer groups which prayed around the clock for the recovery of this young woman. Guess what! She recovered. She was, of course, in a hospital where doctors and nurses were working on her around the clock. She’s going to live; she is not paralyzed. This was declared to be a miracle! In this three- to four-minute segment, viewers were treated to shots of various prayer groups around town performing this “miracle.”

There was also a short interview with the father, shots of the injured daughter swathed in bandages, and comments from various prayer-circle people and the pastors of their churches. Great publicity for religion! The “news” was now over and the weather report was coming up. Surely religion would not creep in. Wrong!

The weather man began his spiel: “A lot of folks have been praying for rain and we’re going to have some!” I didn’t wait for the sports which is a religion unto itself. And those religious demonstrations before, during and after games really turn me off. Instead, I turned off the TV and went to bed to get a grip on reality by reading Wendy Kaminer’s latest book, Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety. Hope to see you buying your copy at the FFRF convention in September. Catherine Fahringer, of Texas, is a longtime Foundation officer and activist.

Freedom From Religion Foundation