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TV & Film: The dilution delusion

"TV & Film: The dilution delusion" Continued...

Issue: "Caveman with convictions," April 20, 1996

And this is precisely what Mr. Smith toils to do. Even while insisting that "the experience of religion" is not a legalistic routine, he practices yoga, follows Islamic rules of prayer (5 times each day), sweats through marathon meditation sessions, twirls with Sufis, and still attends the Methodist church regularly. Such religious syncretism, of course, is what the children of Israel tried when they wanted to worship both the God of Abraham and the pagan idols of their neighbors. The real God did not approve.

The one sobering experience that might have given others reason to reconsider such religious broadmindedness was his daughter's marriage and conversion to orthodox Judaism. She died only last year, and Mr. Smith reports that he drew great comfort from sitting Shiva for seven days. Nonetheless, he refuses to draw a conclusion about death except to say that there is a life hereafter. It could be in reincarnation or it could be heaven, but hell is a part of the picture he refuses to consider (even though most of the religious traditions he claims to follow do speak of a hell). As for his daughter's understanding of God, he preferred to recall a childhood conversation in which one of his girls declared that "God is everything-everywhere. God is in me."

Even though Huston Smith claims to have experienced religion "from the inside," he embraces nothing more than an external etiquette of spirituality, observations of exotic ceremonies and the practice of a self-imposed morality. His phrase, "religious traditions," is code for walking by ritual, not by faith.

Such religious syncretism could be very appealing to a post-Christian America. Even the "do your own thing" generation is forced to admit that the selfishness of the '60s has borne rotten fruit. Postmodernists would like "values," "virtues," and "meaning to life" without having to bother with truth. They want a religion that makes them happy, but that makes no demands. The answer is to make up one's own theology, picking brightly colored packages from the supermarket of the world's religions.

"Religious traditions" may well provide a convenient counterfeit in place of Christ's call for a personal relationship with God. If recent history repeats itself, audiences can watch for films and television programs that extol the merits of generic religious practice, while conveniently avoiding the dilemma of confronting the truth. After all, Huston Smith seems too busy "seeking" to be engaged in actually meeting God.


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