Columnists > Soul Food

Rich and smart

Ted Turner flaunts his money and his lack of wisdom

Issue: "Midterm elections 1998," Nov. 14, 1998

If you were to ask Ted Turner why he has enthroned himself as a leading spokesman to save the world, he would answer simply, "Because I am rich and I am smart." Mr. Turner, the founder of CNN, owner of the Atlanta Braves, and current vice chairman at Time Warner, has lately emphasized both qualities, which he hopes to parlay into a world platform for his concerns. Named Time magazine's "man of the year" in 1991, the billionaire Turner was described as the "Prince of the Global Village." Last year he broadened his role with a $1 billion pledge to the United Nations to support health and social welfare causes in poor countries. Speaking recently in Chattanooga at the annual meeting of the Society for Environmental Journalists, Mr. Turner called for a new revolution to save the world, "a mental revolution ... more important than the industrial revolution." Ted Turner divides the world into two groups: smart people and dumb people. Smart people understand the threats to the future posed by overpopulation and bad environmental practices. The "dummies" are either unaware or unconcerned about the immensity of these problems. "We've got to figure out how to get the dummies on our side," he said. "And there are lots of them, too." Although he acknowledged that smart people are outnumbered, "Who would you put your money on to win over the long term?" he asked. "A well-organized bunch of smart people or disorganized dumb-?" The audience of 500 journalists responded with gasps and laughter. Mr. Turner's solution to overpopulation is limiting families to one new birth. He never offered a strategy to enforce this limitation but claimed, "The pressure on the environment would be dramatically reduced each year the population is cut back." He puts his money where his beliefs are. Much of this year's payment to the United Nations has gone for "reproductive services and education." He acknowledged that convincing the dummies to quit having babies would be difficult because reproducing is built into our nature. "That's why sex is the thing that got our president into so much trouble," he concluded, providing the speech's most outrageous non sequitur. Asked if the media could influence changes in attitude by addressing spiritual issues, Mr. Turner gave a two-fold response. He first praised certain religions, "like Indian religions where nature was god." Their religion was "good," he contended, because they believed people could live in harmony with nature. But when it comes to Christianity, Mr. Turner continued his attack that began several years ago when he called Christianity a religion for losers. "Christianity is not an environmentally friendly religion," he claimed. The Judeo-Christian religion "says man was put on the planet to dominate. He was given dominion over everything and his salvation was that he was to go out and increase and multiply." Mr. Turner's twisted understanding of the Christian view of salvation and environmental stewardship took an even stranger turn when he added, "Well, we have done that [increased and multiplied]. And we have done it to the point where in Calcutta, it's a hell-hole." Somehow Mr. Turner failed to recall that Calcutta's hellish problem is a product of several thousand years of Hinduism, a religion that worships nature as divine. While Ted Turner may appreciate the Transcendental religions, his own worldview is clear-cut Naturalism. "You will do a lot better at saving yourself than praying to somebody to save you. I think the savior is right here. With our current technology, we can save ourselves." What does it mean, "to save ourselves?" Mr. Turner's concern is for the continuation of the human race: "Humanity under its current course of action is heading for extinction." He says his message of salvation is motivated by a concern for people, although his concern does not extend to everyone. When he heard of the 39 suicide deaths of the Heaven's Gate cult in California, he shrugged, "There are already too many people on this world. If a few crazy people want to get rid of themselves, it's a good thing." The message must be preached that heaven is on earth, Mr. Turner claimed, and he is not about to consider any beliefs about life after death. "I don't like singing hymns anyway," he quipped. Ted Turner's agenda is no secret. While his philanthropic enthusiasm will bring some obvious aid to troubled areas, much of his plan is built on an antagonism to the cherished beliefs of Christians. His distorted view of Christianity goes unchallenged in media coverage-an obvious benefit of media moguldom. How can his prophetic utterances be taken seriously if his understanding of the present situation is so erroneous? It's not because he is smart; it's because he is rich.
-Mr. Brown is president of Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn.

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