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PBS's New Ban on Religious Programming

On Tuesday, the Public Broadcasting System’s board of directors decided that member stations could no longer add religious programming. The board was applying a 1985 rule that all PBS shows must be “noncommercial, nonpartisan and nonsectarian.” But the decision was a compromise -- allowing stations that currently run religious shows (mass for shut-ins, Mormon devotionals, etc.) to continue existing programming.

Practically, few will notice the change. PBS was hardly a haven for religious programming to begin with -- only 6 out of 350 member stations run shows considered “sectarian.” And the future ban does not concern programs about religion, only programs that express a single religious viewpoint.

Yet the PBS board’s decision on religion has some consistency problems. If its concern was constitutional -- a belief that publicly-funded institutions should never accommodate sectarian institutions -- then the decision was timid and hypocritical. If Catholic mass for shut-ins on PBS violates the separation of church and state, why isn’t existing programming banned? If it doesn’t violate the First Amendment, why forbid such shows in the future?

In addition, the strict application of the “nonsectarian” standard would seem to require the strict application of the “nonpartisan” standard. For all its virtues, PBS has occasionally been a platform for political leftism. In November, 2002, for example, Bill Moyers used his show NOW to argue:

The entire federal government -- the Congress, the executive, the judiciary -- is united behind a right-wing agenda for which George W. Bush believes he now has a mandate. That mandate includes the power of the state to force pregnant women to give up control over their own lives. It includes using the taxing power to transfer wealth from working people to the rich….And if you like God in government, get ready for the Rapture.

Whatever you think of his arguments (and I don’t think much of them), it is difficult to deny that they were partisan.

I have never been a PBS skeptic. It is sometimes argued that public broadcasting is an anachronism -- created to provide an alternative to three, dominant networks. With 500 cable channels blooming, why not let the market rule and allow PBS to thrive or die on its own? But PBS has value as one place on television where the market doesn’t always rule -- a tiny, frankly elitist corner of cable where seriousness and quality sometimes matter more than ratings. I have always thought that the NewsHour, Charlie Rose and Great Performances were worth the price of Moyers (who no longer has his own PBS show). Children’s programming on PBS, in particular, is usually superior to the unremitting commercialism of cable offerings.

And I am not arguing that Moyers should have been silenced -- only that diverse views should be represented on PBS on more than a token basis. This is the nature of genuine pluralism -- the kind of pluralism the NewsHour (on which I occasionally appear) practices.

But public institutions -- from courts to schools to PBS -- often adopt a different, thinner version of pluralism when it comes to religion. Instead of accommodating diversity, it is easier just to silence religious people in public venues. And so every moral and philosophic viewpoint deserves an equal hearing -- except the religious ones.

I remember as a youth watching the PBS series Cosmos, hosted by Carl Sagan. I did not miss an episode or a word (which says something about my nerdiness in 1980). Sagan’s clear purpose in that series was to promote naturalism. He began with the words, “The cosmos is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be.” This statement is not science; it is philosophy -- a kind of secular sectarianism. Nature can be studied with a telescope or a microscope. But naturalism can’t be demonstrated with such instruments. It is a faith -- more or less likely, according to our lights, but still a faith. So why should the faith of naturalism be protected by a public commitment to pluralism, but not religious faiths?

The PBS decision seems to be an expression of this weak and partial pluralism -- but not a particularly extreme or influential one. Even so, I’ll keep watching Charlie Rose.

Update, 5:17 p.m.: A reader informs me that Bill Moyers still has a regular show on PBS, Bill Moyers Journal, which I should have noted.

By Michael Gerson  | June 18, 2009; 1:53 PM ET
Categories:  Gerson  | Tags:  Michael Gerson  
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Have you ever seen a religious broadcast about Judaism, Muslim or Hindu? Yeah, me either.

Posted by: Grandblvd03 | June 18, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Funny. I'll be watching Bill Moyers Journal tomorrow night on PBS. I see that fact checking is still not a priority for the WaPo opinion page.

Posted by: Amminadab | June 18, 2009 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Why should our taxpayer dollars subsidize religious programming which is already tax-exempt?

Stuff it.

If I wanted to live in a Red Bushie Talibangelist Theocracy, I'd live in Iran.

NO! I'm an American!

Posted by: WillSeattle | June 18, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

-laughs- Yeah, he's not arguing that Moyers should be silenced. Why silence someone who is right most of the time just because Gerson (who is wrong most of the time) disagrees with him. Before we start silencing people who make sense, we should get those that don't make any (Beck, Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Hannity... hell, all of Fix News) to shut the heck up.

Posted by: jalabar1 | June 18, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

"PBS's New Ban on Religious Programming"

Good. Now make it retro-active and take away the tax breaks religious institutions get.

Posted by: rcubedkc | June 18, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse

What's the big deal? PBS broadcasts other fictional stories.

Posted by: ahashburn | June 18, 2009 2:55 PM | Report abuse

PBS does present Paul Gigot's right wing views of the economy and society, so in part it "balances" Moyer's left/populist views.
As for Carl Sagan's "naturalism" and PBS. Sagan is a scientist, and perhaps he should have prefaced his observation about the universe as a physical entity being "all that there is" by saying that "from the perspective of science," which is the same as saying on the basis of reality.
Sorry if Gerson now views this as bias against other explanations of what the universe is. In truth, Sagan is fact based. The rest is just hopeful opinion.

Posted by: gratianus | June 18, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

As for government funding, I feel the same way about the arts. Why do we have an endowment for the arts? Arts can have meaning that supports only a particular point of view and that view could be considered a philosophical view. No state supported religion? No state support art!

Posted by: jhtlag1 | June 18, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Without going to the Constitution, the ban makes wonderful common historical sense: Religion in all forms is Evil. Nothing has screwed up American politics these past 30 years like the involvement of low-level cult Christians taking on Fascists notions of our country.

You haven't seen the high tide here, Gerson, to the Counter-Revolution against creepy radical Republicanism. You do not distance yourself very well intellectually.

When was the last time you called off the crazies killing abortionist doctors? You too have blood on your hands, so don't talk like a choir boy about the great principles of Catholicism.

Posted by: walden1 | June 18, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

What a shock. Gerson is trying to silence the ONE station that hasn't been A SLAVE to his NEOCON AGENDA.

Posted by: dogsbestfriend | June 18, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Will the ban apply to alternative-spirituality programs featuring Deepak Chopra and the like? These are clearly religious in nature and have often appeared on our PBS affiliate here in Philadelphia.

Posted by: marc4 | June 18, 2009 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Gerson just inspired me to give more money to PBS.

Posted by: kurthunt | June 18, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Leftists today do not seek a separation of church and state, they seek to implement the secularist/socialist goals of separation of God and state. Gerson has accurately pointed out the flaws that exist in trying to follow that policy. It is inherently intolerant.

Posted by: SayWhat4 | June 18, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps God would like to address this issue. God, go ahead...

Crickets chirping...

Posted by: Bartolo1 | June 18, 2009 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Has anyone ever considered that Jesus Himself advocated the separation of church and state when He said: "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and render unto God that which is God's"?

Posted by: TESimonton | June 18, 2009 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Gerson, one of the conservative movement's biggest hacks, wants readers to take him seriously.

How can a person who believes in invisible beings be taken seriously? And especially so, a person who slyly mocks those (Sagan) who don't believe in invisible beings?

Would you accept the ramblings of a child who insists he has invisible friends?

Posted by: bluester | June 18, 2009 4:18 PM | Report abuse

TESimonton - Yeah, I gotta think that over the 2000-year history of Christian thought, and especially the 250-or-so-year history of the evolving American constitution-based republic, that someone has made that observation before.

Posted by: bobsewell | June 18, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

The author's assertion that "PBS has value as one place on television where the market doesn’t always rule" is laughable in the extreme. Back in the day, PBS broadcast truly educational television, often lectures from outstanding educators. They would be videotaped by teachers across the nation, or assigned as homework. Today, PBS is merely another highbrow channel chasing ratings. Ratings bring donations, which allow over-produced series. If you want truly educational television, you need to turn to private companies that produce videos of, yes, prominent professors giving inspired lectures.

It is time to pull the plug on PBS.

Posted by: JohnF1 | June 18, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps the Rev. Mike somewhat resents Moyers's highly effective use (which, despite the Rev.'s ignorance continues on PBS each week) of television, a medium which unfailingly exposes Gerson himself as a wanker.

Posted by: misterjrthed | June 18, 2009 4:44 PM | Report abuse

PBS has done numerous programs on religion as well as Moyers and the weekly series Religion and Ethics week is still on. What does Gerson want the Bill Donahue Mel Gibson show?

Posted by: MerrillFrank | June 18, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

I LOVE PBS. GERSON IS JUST ANOTHER RIGHT WING DEMAGOGUE. we already have so many religiously based programs hogging our cable sites that who really needs more. if i wanna good laugh i can turn my channel to programs such as the 700 club and laugh at all the so-called voices of god until tears run down my cheeks. with PBS ican watch educational programming. if i wanted a theological education i could go to church or enroll in such institutes of high esteem such as BYU, oral roberts or one of the southern "white boy" colleges that preach white racial dominance or "BE A MEMBER OF GODS OFFICIAL LOST TRIBE" nonsense. HOORAY FOR PBS!! PROGRAMMING WITH A PERSONS BRAIN IN MIND!! the only time they make me feel guilty is at pledge time when i don't always have the money. "ALLTHINGS CONSIDERED"; pat robertson can't even make me feel that guilty! G'DAY!

Posted by: wa_idaho_lonewolf | June 18, 2009 4:51 PM | Report abuse

It's not a new ban; it's enforcing a rule that was created in 1985, during the administration of that paragon of lefist elitism, Ronald Wilson Reagan.

Posted by: JohninMpls | June 18, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

BILL MOYERS still has his own program!

Bill Moyers' Journal
Friday, June 19, 9:00pm
Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee.
Bill Moyers' Journal
Friday, June 26, 9:00pm
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.S. Merwin.
and there is plenty of religion on the other channels, the Rapturists are there and the fundies. We have a religious channel called Vision TV which represents more sane religions.

Gerson is not only wrong-headed, he doesn't even do any research for his whining.

It's incredible that a talented writer like Froomkin is fired while WaPo keeps the Bush-toady-preacher, Gerson,

Posted by: mtw0310 | June 18, 2009 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Gerson, Gerson:
How many mistakes did you make in this article? At least 2, and your assumption that PBS doesn't show your side is just ludicrous. The fact that you then mention Charlie Rose destroys that argument; he does show the right-wing arguments that you heavily favor.

If I were your editor, I'd tell to go back and fact-check it.

But this is a blog, and Gerson can get away with saying anything, right?

Posted by: spenceradams | June 18, 2009 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Gerson says the PBS programming he enjoys is "worth the price" of Moyers. Hmmm? Sort of the way I feel about the Washington Post, online. It is worth the price of seeing Gerson and Will in the comments. It is a close call, though.

Posted by: kermit5 | June 18, 2009 5:25 PM | Report abuse

ah, no more Missa Luba, no more Negro(gasp) spirituals praising god, no more classic music written for the church praising religion, no more paeans to the complete list of Jewish religious holidays including all 8 days of Chanukah; and no more Whale & wolf worshipping with Paul Winter & friends.

Gonna clean out huge blocks of time for the White house to program with its ever growing agenda.

Posted by: poppadata | June 18, 2009 5:28 PM | Report abuse

Dan Froomkin gets fired, but we still get to read the swill from this author? And Krauthmammer? And Kagan's ridiculous article yesterday? What is happening to the Post?

You fired the wrong man...

Posted by: chop1 | June 18, 2009 5:50 PM | Report abuse

I would think Gerson would be happy that this isn't retroactive. Seems that any of these stations that would want religeous programming would have already had it.

Posted by: dougharty | June 18, 2009 5:57 PM | Report abuse

“noncommercial, nonpartisan and nonsectarian.”: If PBS's new ruling is to be truly fair, will it remove the self-agrandizing psuedo-psych programs by Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra and others who are granted public broadcasting air time to sell their religion, and assocated books books and trinkets?

Posted by: Tdcashmn | June 18, 2009 6:06 PM | Report abuse

OMG! Where oh where can I find religious programming in today's media marketplace?

Isn't listening to "Puff the Magic Dragon" a religious enough experience for you?

There is always Krista Tippet's pablum all day long on MPR and if that's too ecumenical, you can always drive outstate where all there is is preachers and country music.

Posted by: aredant | June 18, 2009 6:09 PM | Report abuse

I don't want a dime of my taxes or a dime of my contributions to PBS to go towards proselytizing Goofball Gerson's superstitious beliefs.

Do it on your own dime, Goofball.

It's bad enough that I have to pay for your Crusade in Iraq and for your six-year-long contributions to the BushCo cataclysm.

Posted by: pali2600 | June 18, 2009 6:35 PM | Report abuse

Michael Gerson is a former WH speechwriter, no experience in any other area. That he is given a column in the Washington Post, my "hometown newspaper," is beyond me. What does he know that I do not? Religion and PBS may preoccupy Gerson, but not me.

Please go away.

Posted by: harper-d | June 18, 2009 7:08 PM | Report abuse

I am appalled by the firing of Froomkin and the retention of syndicated and FoxNews "all-star" Charles Krauthammer, the imperious neoconservative and utterly predictable snark with no primary sources. That the Washington Post has done its cost-cutting on the Froomkin side led me to cancel my subscription. On-line is good enough for me, but the days of Bradley, Woodward and Bernstein are long gone.

Posted by: harper-d | June 18, 2009 7:14 PM | Report abuse

In typical Republican fashion, Mr. Gerson again sets up a straw man. I have not heard that the PBS decision had ANYTHING to do with separation of church and state. And a number of PBS stations, notably WGBH in Boston, broadcast (and even co-produce) a wide range of programs tracing the history of various theological traditions as varied as Judaism (Abba Eban, "Civilization and the Jews"), Sikhism (PBS's Independent Lens, "Dream in Doubt"), and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (PBS, Frontline, "The Mormons").

Of course, no one could expect an adviser for George W. Bush to have much concern for facts.

Very bizarre. The WaPo publishes Michael Gerson, it publishes George Will, it publishes Charles Krauthammer, none of whom seem to live in the fact-based universe, and gets rid of Dan Froomkin.

Posted by: edallan | June 18, 2009 7:36 PM | Report abuse

Thanks to Will Seattle, rcubedkc, gratianus, walden1, dogsbestfriend, kurthunt, Bartolo1, TESimonton, Bluester, wa_idaho_lonewolf, JohninMpls, and pali2600. Sometimes, when you are surrounded by only crazies, you begin to think that maybe YOU are the crazy one. Thanks for reminding me where the sanity lies.

One of the things that has started this country down the wrong path is that people refuse to compromise.
Religious services and doctrine are already subsidised by us all, whether we agree with that doctrine or not. We don't need any of it on PBS.

Check out the American Humanist Association, the Center for Inquiry, or Washinton Area Secular Humanists.

Posted by: SecularHumanist | June 18, 2009 7:44 PM | Report abuse

I'm all for keeping the religious programs on. It's give the public a window to see how these whirling dervishes use magic to deceive the masses. Light a candle, say some magic words, a puff of smoke and a tinkling symbol… “Voila”. Jesus is called down from heaven at the priest whim and changed into a cracker.

Posted by: Independent109 | June 18, 2009 7:56 PM | Report abuse

There was no way that Froomkin could survive once that Marcus Brauchli arrived from his short-lived reign at the Wall Street Journal.

Of course, BushCo refugee Gerson is still here -- sucking oxygen and life out of the Post, its readers and the English language.

Who's next? Robinson?

(And they wonder why the Post continues to circle the drain.)

Posted by: pali2600 | June 18, 2009 8:05 PM | Report abuse

There is no need to put more religious programming on PBS. The government has no business endorsing a particular religion and PBS is one of the last places there is any sanctuary from the rampant religosity that premeates America.

Posted by: ElectricBill | June 18, 2009 8:07 PM | Report abuse

Lose Gerson, bring back Froomkin!

Posted by: imback | June 18, 2009 8:47 PM | Report abuse

i recently axed really offers little to us who do not care for the shows currently offered. News is not news and to be truthful the first thing i axed was the upper cable channels as CNN-Fox-MSNBC are so partisan it is useless to watch. PBS has become drone-city with repeated specials like Celtic name it...sad. The constant hammer of fund raising and Nova/Science i replaced with Netflix and their good stock of documentaries, which i can watch online. PBS is no longer needed like Amtrak....get rid of has become a home to news caster wannabes....

Posted by: Timray18 | June 18, 2009 9:57 PM | Report abuse

I cannot believe that this moron still has a job at WaPo and Dan Froomkin is gone.

It speaks volumes to me that you still have a spot for Bill "the Bloody" Kristol, David "please don't wake me" Broder, Michael "Dear Leader" Gerson and the editorial stylings of Fred "a growth on Cheney's backside" Hiatt, but you don't have room for Froomkin.

The Post can't go out of business fast enough. You guys are idiots.

Posted by: don41na | June 18, 2009 11:05 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Michael. I always find your writing thoughtful and balanced, but obviously coming from a particular viewpoint. (The general idea of an opinion writer, after all.) What I really love, though, are all those writing to complain that you are still writing for the Post and telling you to go away, etc., all while reading you and the comments. If you actually did go away, who would they complain about next?

Posted by: LouBear | June 18, 2009 11:20 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't mind silencing Gerson, not once has he gotten anything right! Good on PBS it seems to be one of the few stations that one can count on, to get to the truth of the matter, can Washington Post claim that? I think NOT! Gerson is redundant, he is a writer that is well pass his prime. He should have been a reporter in the Days of prohibition when corruption was almost accepted, he would have fit right in with the other corrupt reporters. Gerson is a Republican Hack, a shill, a partisan dinosaur!

Posted by: nallcando | June 18, 2009 11:27 PM | Report abuse

Gerson -

God doesn't need your help.

As a matter of fact, He told me that He's sorta mad at you for lying and helping President Bush and Vice President Cheney sell a fraudulent war.

Maybe you ougtta let God take care of the God Stuff.

Just a thought pal.

Posted by: palmtree2001 | June 18, 2009 11:29 PM | Report abuse

So now we are supposed to *believe* that Bill Moyers -- the one true voice of reason on PBS -- no longer has a show?

That science is a faith? Good grief!

Gerson, you just don't get it: as soon as you allow a public (tax-payer-funded) broadcaster to televise religious rituals and faith-based proselytizing, you have then opened a Pandora's Box -- allowing every sort of wacko, extreme cult and insane belief to demand equal time.

Pretty soon you'd have that guy with the horrifically creepy smile from Heaven's Gate beaming at you in your living room -- begging your children and intellectually challenged citizenry to join him on the God Ship (hidden in the tail of a comet) by committing suicide, Jim Jones types begging our youth to come to Gianna so they can also commit suicide to "see God" -- and an endless, freakish parade of Gods, Goddesses, Cults, and countless other charlatans selling snake-oil and voodoo dolls, along with all those that believe 'science', 'reason' and 'critical thought' are "religions".

I do NOT want my children exposed to all that rot with the help of my tax dollars.

So what are you recommending here?

Are you really an American?

Maybe you'd be happier in Brazil, where they allow all that garbage on public broadcasting 24/7.

Happy to buy you a one-way ticket if you ever get tired of the non-sectarian USA.


Posted by: Frank57 | June 18, 2009 11:39 PM | Report abuse

I don't recall when it appeared, but Bill Moyers hosted the first serious documentary examining all of the half-truths we were fed during the run-up to Iraq, and the media's complicitness in it all. There was more truth in that one hour of public television than I had witnessed in several surreal years of network newscasts prior to it.

If there is a heavenly diety, may he or she bless and keep Bill Moyers. Honest journalists like him are few and far between these days.

Posted by: B2O2 | June 18, 2009 11:40 PM | Report abuse

Froomkin is gone? When did that happen? Someone care to share the details that are publicly known? Did he get axed by Fred Hiatt to make room for another neocon war criminal?

God, I really do loathe what this paper has decayed into.

Posted by: B2O2 | June 18, 2009 11:45 PM | Report abuse

Hey Gerson - I know that you have a partisan axe to grind with Moyers (whose partisan arguments appear to be more fact- than faith- based), but I find conspicuous by it's absence the thirty three years of Firing Line with William F. Buckley, a man to whom you essentially owe your job.

Spare us the sanctimonious whining about PBS "failing" in it's non-partisan mandate or about it's attempts to retreat to a more objective standard with a pragmatic, non-ideological policy (i.e., permitting the existing programming to remain). I know you'd really like to continue to use government platforms (using my athiest tax dollars) to pump more religiosity down our throats, but the televangelists seem to be making a pretty buck already in the "free market".

Posted by: ruffner_s | June 19, 2009 7:51 AM | Report abuse

Religious programming is best kept off PBS. Shut-ins can get their religion on commercial stations. The Founders of the Republic understood that separation of church and state is the best policy.

Posted by: microbrewjournalism | June 19, 2009 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Personally, I think the whole point of the First Amendment, as it pertains to Religion, has been misunderstood for years. The Government is supposed to "stay silent", NO opinion, for or AGAINST. Think: Hands Off! Don't even "consider" it. Is that, too hard, to understand?

Posted by: teganmcdonough | June 19, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

While I completely agree with your take on this, I also understand why PBS stopped allowing religious programming. If you allow one you have to allow all, and just think of the the Right Wing uproar if PBS ran Islamic services for shut-ins?

Posted by: foxn | June 19, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Leftists today do not seek a separation of church and state, they seek to implement the secularist/socialist goals of separation of God and state. Gerson has accurately pointed out the flaws that exist in trying to follow that policy. It is inherently intolerant.

Posted by: SayWhat4 | June 18, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse
I do not know what you mean by Leftist..
But do recognixe it as a derogatory bigoted prejudical that is practiced by Xians,,

BUT if it helps seperate Church and State .. even further !!

Iam all for it !!

Stange this guys ignorance is so deep..

Dude: Isa was a Socialist

Fei Hu

Posted by: Fei_Hu | June 19, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

For the life of me I can't understand why PBS has not yet been cut loose from the federal government. Before cable the evening programming on PBS was my favorite. But now thanks, in part to Bill Moyers, I don't even pay the two bucks a month to DirecTV in order to receive it. Privatize the kiddy daytime stuff and kill the rest of PBS.

Posted by: johnson0572 | June 19, 2009 12:34 PM | Report abuse

The Public Broadcasting Service serves the public. It's job is not to present diversity (though, by happy coincidence, that often serves the public). Evangelical broadcasting, which is what you are talking about, is by definition exclusive and meant to appeal to a smaller group and serves less of the public. Moreover, it specifically disserves another portion of the public, those who don't agree with--and some who actively despise--specific evangelical teachings.

In fact, evangelical programming in general and Christian programming in specific, promote their own religious viewpoints as truthful and tend to show anything else as, being charitable, erroneous. That is intolerance of diverse views and exactly the opposite of your argument.

So PBS stops new evangelical shows because they don't serve the public. QED.

Posted by: joebanks | June 19, 2009 12:59 PM | Report abuse

There are so many hateful people who write on this man's article/blog. If you really hate him and can't stand him to the extent that you make apparent, why waste your time dignifying his work with a response?

Posted by: Zachman419 | June 19, 2009 1:38 PM | Report abuse

"a tiny, frankly elitist corner"??
It's the only, truly free part of the spectrum. It's listener supported by 'activist' listeners. They have to make an effort to support the station, they vote with their dollars. This is in contrast to the 'market' which is driven by how many passive 'eyes' can be delivered. It rewards hucksterism, "step right up folks, see the amazing the unbelievable....."

One can choose not to watch the crap on cable or broadcast TV, but one can't make it go away. Stop supported Public Broadcasting and it stops.

For the record, Gerson is an evil toady for the extreme right wing.

Posted by: thebobbob | June 19, 2009 1:57 PM | Report abuse

As it turns out, Mr. Gershon, those things that Bill Moyers said in November 2002 all truned out to be correct. President Bush and his team, thought every single one of those things and tried their damnedest to make all of them reality and succeeded on some. Now that he is out of office, we are continuing to hear the stories of prayer to open conferences and meetings. Bible quotes in emails, and exclusion of those deemd not christian enough. The culture of greed and excess, fueled in great part by his tax policies, have had a hand in getting us into this financial mess that we are currently in. You call Moyers comments from 2002 partisan. I call them true If Bill Moyers were able to predict the outcome of football games with the same accuracy he predicted the outcome of the Bush adminstration, he would have a great career as an oddsmaker any vegas sportsbook. It is so surprising that you got this wrong, Mr Gershon, because if there is one thing you really know, its partisan politics.

Posted by: coleary12 | June 19, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse

I had never heard this analysis of Sagan before: that his promotion of science was in fact, Naturalism, some sort of quasi-religious faith. What could Gerson be talkign about?

So I Googled: "Carl Sagan Naturalism".

And got hit after hit at Christian websites promoting Intelligent Design. Not just some of the hits. All of the hits referring to this quote of Sagan's came from anti-science Christian sites. Weird. You'd think that some Sagan fansite would have it too...or wiki or something.

As it turns out, what Sagain ACTUALLY wrote in Cosmos was: "The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be."

Maybe thats how Sagan opened the TV series...or maybe Gerson is borrowing a paraphrase of Sagan used by anti-science religious writers that he's been using as sources. Who knows.

But the idea of Sagan as a faith-based sectarian "naturalist" is bizarre. He was a promoter of science and reason.

Posted by: doryo | June 19, 2009 5:38 PM | Report abuse

Gerson asks, "So why should the faith of naturalism be protected by a public commitment to pluralism, but not religious faiths?"

This is one of my pet peeves. Religions are based on faith, Naturalism is based on "trust".

People treat the words faith and trust as though they both mean the same thing. Then why have two words?

Faith is believing without evidence.

Trust is believing based on evidence and probabilities.

I've heard it said that atheists have faith in evolution. No they don't. They trust the evidence and calculate the probabilities. They make a rational decision that evolution provides evidence. There is no need for faith.

There is no evidence upon which to believe there is a supernatural. For that you need faith.

There is no hope for having a reasonable discussion until we can agree on the definition of the terms.

Marilyn LaCourt

Posted by: lacourt | June 19, 2009 6:35 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the good news. I wish every Christian would shut up for a year. And I would like every congregation, church, synagogue, mosque, etc. taxed. Anyway, this calls for an additional contribution to every PBS station in the area!

Posted by: annegreen | June 19, 2009 7:04 PM | Report abuse

It's good to know that you don't give Mr. Moyers much credit for his arguments. I don't give you much credit for yours.

Posted by: ravensfan20008 | June 19, 2009 7:23 PM | Report abuse

It never seizes to amaze me how those who have NO "religious" beliefs are so intently NARROW MINDED... And YOU all say that WE are narrow minded - HA!... I suppose if there was a show on PBS about homosexuality, or abortion that would be okay, and no one would beg to differ... But, talk about JESUS, and everything hits the fan, doesn't it?... He only represents LOVE for all of the above - the homosexuals AND those who have abortions - by the way, even those who still deny Him....

SHOW ME the proof that, since prayer has been taken out of schools, and removed from Public functions (which there are still SOME functions that do pray) that society has gotten better, more peaceful, or healthy, or even safer... Violence is what is going on, generally speaking. And that is better!!!

I'm sure that this posting just may be deleted, because it supports "religion"... Typical.

Posted by: jackaraoke | June 19, 2009 7:39 PM | Report abuse

By the way.... THERE IS NO LAW THAT SAYS "SEPARATE CHURCH FROM STATE"! NONE!!! No ammendment. Nothing. Look into it for yourself.

Posted by: jackaraoke | June 19, 2009 9:17 PM | Report abuse

Since when has PBS followed a "non partisan" format? PBS is MSNBC redux in another time slot.

Posted by: Sigma2010 | June 20, 2009 3:26 AM | Report abuse

Not a fan of religious programming, but it is somewhat telling that PBS considers banning religious programs while Bill Moyers extols the virtue and methods of a Liberian woman who organizes a resistance movement of church women under the banner of "Praying the Devil Back to Hell". There is just a tad of hypocrisy here. Maybe the eccentric Moyers could explain to us the difference. I suppose it depends on which side of the political coin one wishes to use religion as a virtue.

Posted by: Sigma2010 | June 20, 2009 3:45 AM | Report abuse

While I understand that frightwing opinion isn't fact based, is it asking too much for WaPost editors to at least fact check Gerson occasionally? This is another in a long list of columns that he obviously "phoned in" without even minimal research. That a hack like Gerson was retained while Froomkin was dropped is insulting to your readers.

Posted by: fingersfly | June 20, 2009 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Rather than being informational and thought-provoking, Moyers' program is consistently leftist propaganda. "Washington Week" also borders on the left rather than the center. PBS needs to seek balance in its political programming.

Posted by: judithod | June 20, 2009 10:14 AM | Report abuse

Gerson is a fear-monger, just like his mushroom clouds lies he has once again tried to make us believe the religious right is being treated unfairly. Why would anyone doubt the Christian neocon propaganda? Jesus hates the poor, minorities, liberals and gays. Jesus loves war, hate, stealing from the poor and lies. Moyers viewpoint is fact based and under represented in our media. PBS does a public service by airing his show. If Gerson does not like Moyers then don't watch his program. If Gerson needs a fix of lies and anti-American propaganda he has FOX to watch.

Posted by: jimwalksdogs | June 20, 2009 11:27 AM | Report abuse

I reject your argument on its merits. Yes, there is a prohibition on partisan programing as well as sectarian programming but, the nonsectarian standard is constitutional while the nonpartisan standard is organisational. It does not follow that a strict application of the constitutional standard necessitates an equally strict application of the nonpartisan standard. Perhaps Moyers crosses some line, but in the case of partisan questions the line is necessarily blurry in a way that the sectarian line is not. If PBS were to interview a university economist who was critical of the minimum wage's efficacy as a welfare program would that be partisan? Is documenting the melting of the polar icecaps partisan? It is difficult to determine the answers to these questions. A strict prohibition on all partisan programing is not only not desirable but it is likely impossible.

Furthermore, I reject the notion that secularism, or humanism is somehow a religious sect. It is not faith that augers naturalism but it's absence. It may be that the existence of or absence of a deity is something that is verboten to even intimate on public television but it is entirely a different thing to air a science program with occasional anti-supperstitious overtures than to air to air services of a particular religion in their entirety. To suggest over wise is either disingenuous or idiotic depending on whether it is your character or intellect that is deficient.

Posted by: MichaelFoody | June 20, 2009 12:08 PM | Report abuse

If you liberals do not want your tax dollars going to religious programming, then I do not want my tax dollars going to liberal and socialists programming and indoctrination, especially in our public schools! It is a wonder why kids come out of our schools with no skills what so ever, except how to use a cellphone!

Posted by: beaner5150 | June 20, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

you make valid points, but you really should save your breath. Those persons who are blinded by their anti-Christian bigotry (which is well represented on this comments section) have neither the intelligence nor the desire to see the truth that Moyers and Sagan's erroneous opinions are neither provable nor rational. We live in a nation of fools who think themselves wise, yet have the intellectual depth of a thimble. I weep for our children.

Posted by: SteveSchofield | June 20, 2009 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Why ban something that hardly exists in my humble opinion? Let the market take care of it. No interest, no viewers, exit the program!

Posted by: Mecarswell | June 22, 2009 6:37 AM | Report abuse

A number of the above comments have again revealed liberals for the, arrogant, snotty and smug elitists they are. They have no problem using public funds to promote lefties like Moyers and suppressing any views or cultural expressions different from their own.
If you want a station or network that airs leftist philosopies such as that of Moyers, fine. But YOU SHOULD PAY FOR IT! You already have liberal networks and outlets. They're called CBS and NBC.

Posted by: scvaughan | June 22, 2009 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Nature, Nova, Frontline, Independent Lens--just four programs you'll rarely or never see on other broadcast outlets.
PBS allows people to see the world that exists beyond Mr. Gerson's narrow view.
A fifth program worth mention? Bill Moyer's Journal.
You want religious programing or are you just mad that evangelists still have to pay for airtime?

Posted by: 49orfight | June 22, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Yet another instance of Michael Gerson (and paranoid conservatives) making much ado about nothing. Leave PBS alone and get on with life.

That said, remember that education and information tend to have an inherently liberalizing effect: fostering tolerance, intellectualism, nuance, and open-mindedness, all virtues not necessarily associated with contemporary conservatism.

By that definition, PBS is wildly liberal because if asks its viewers to consider other points of view.

Posted by: knightstale | June 22, 2009 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Why don't commercial stations run sectarian programming? They run half-hour programs selling records and household gimcracks. Why not sell salvation and Jesus the same way? PBS, partially taxpayer funded, can concentrate on non-religious cultural artifacts. However, as long as sectarian programming on public stations remains exceptional and limited, let it pass.

Posted by: BlueTwo1 | June 23, 2009 12:28 AM | Report abuse

I happen to be reading "The Varieties of Scientific Experience" by Carl Sagan. Gerson is almost humiliatingly unsophisticated in his beliefs and his defense of same compared with the measured reasoning of Mr. Sagan.

I wonder if he has ever read this book? And I wonder if his blind faith could ever allow him to truly understand it even if he did.

If religion belongs on public broadcasting, then so do straight-faced regular programs on fairies, dragons, ghosts and elves. Alas, the "religious" generally discern some "specialness" about their mythology that merits elevated treatment. Logically unjustified though it may be.

Posted by: xSamplex | June 23, 2009 9:06 AM | Report abuse

Have you ever seen a religious broadcast about Judaism, Muslim or Hindu? Yeah, me either.

Posted by: Grandblvd03 | June 18, 2009 2:26 PM |
Yes, I have seen very interesting programming on Judiasm and Muslims; but I do not recall any Hindu programming, but then I don't watch all tht time. I, personally, enjoy seeing all of the educational programming on PBS whether it is carptentry/religious/cooking/fishing or golf, it is all interesting and I always seem to learn something new about the subject.

Why is everyone so 'scared' of learning something new about another culture, religion or people; if one is so insecure in their own beliefs or non-belief then they should just deal with it.

Posted by: nancycrichton | June 23, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Many of the comments posted here illustrate the problem with public funding of such a network. "The News Hour" is a wonderful exception--but that is largely because it is a self-contained show. The challenge of providing pluralistic "fair and balanced" air time on all the various controversial issues through all televised programming of any network is impossible to meet. Furthermore, the implication inherent in the argument that "PBS has value as one place on television where the market doesn’t always rule " is that someone somewhere should decide what opinions people "need" to hear that are unavailable through usual channels (as it were...)--and that public tax dollars should be used by that someone to make those decisions. That that argument should be made in the name of promoting diversity is more than ironic.

Posted by: ayavelberg | June 23, 2009 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Gerson is a neo-con parrot, right-winger, clown. Extremist is an understatement. The lowest of the low. Writing on behalf of the American Enterprise Institute he makes sense only to other members of his right-wing cabal. That's why Fred Hiatt loves him. Censor PBS, go to war, torture, and stupidity. Michael Gerson you are a reflection of your boss, Fred "Kristol" Hiatt. Bloodthirsty freaks...

Posted by: koolaid1 | June 24, 2009 12:12 AM | Report abuse

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