Atheist activist Sam Harris recently proclaimed on National Public Radio that America needed a lot more mockery of religious belief. "I think the criticism of irrationality just has to come from 100 sides all at once," he declared. "In the entertainment community, maybe you'll just have people making jokes that are funny enough and true enough so as to put religious certainty in a bad light."
Harris said he's been trying hard to make contacts among the mind-benders in the news and entertainment media to find those God-scorning people who feel "a profound sense of relief that comes with hearing somebody call a spade a spade."
Why does taxpayer-funded NPR, or anyone else for that matter, care what atheists like Sam Harris think? They are squarely in opposition to public opinion. According to a recent Zogby/American Bible Society poll, 84 percent of adults are not offended when they hear references to God or the Bible on network television shows, and 51 percent say entertainment networks should develop shows with positive messages -- and even specifically refer to God and the Bible.
So who is paying attention to Sam Harris? The entertainment television industry.
After Mel Gibson's "The Passion" box office tsunami two years ago, the conventional wisdom had it that Hollywood finally had accepted the marketability of faith-based programming. Not so. The Parents Television Council has completed its seventh study of the treatment of religion on primetime network television, evaluating TV shows during the 2005-2006 season, and the numbers are stunning.
From a quantitative standpoint, the total number of treatments of religion has been reduced by 50 percent in the past year alone. And when religion is part of the storyline, more often than not it is not a positive thing: Television today regularly mocks the clergy, religious laity, church doctrines and religious institutions.
Religious people are often portrayed as frauds or the world's biggest sinners. NBC's "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" featured a nun who kicked a black man in the face after calling him the N-word. ABC's "Boston Legal" had the man who had sex with a cow protesting he was a church deacon.
Or take an episode of ABC's "Desperate Housewives," where Gabi, one of the titled housewives, had sex with a teenage boy, who told her: "Me and my friend Justin had this bet to see who could lose their virginity first this summer at Bible camp. Guess I beat him to the punch." Why Bible camp? Why not?