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Worshipping the boob tube - R.H. Joseph

Typical of a medium that panders to the broadest possible demographic with lowest common denominator material, the new television season is loaded with shows about a benevolent deity solving personal problems.

Only rubes believe television's scheduling of so many religion-themed shows is evidence of anything other than the networks making a buck off the same thing organized religion has been exploiting for years.

The desire for this sort of programming, this particular message, has virtually nothing to do with spirituality. It is solely concerned with self-interest: You matter. You're special. He's taking time to solve your problems.

Current programming is not evidence of a religious renaissance. Who but the obsessively self-absorbed are attracted to such pandering? These people are consumers whose sole concern is to surround themselves with self-affirming illusions.

Spirituality is an unrelated phenomenon. The existential sense of well being concomitant with spontaneous spirituality precludes the insatiable yearning for self-affirmation.

Only those experientially estranged from the absolute, the transcendent, have reason to assert The Big Guy is out there somewhere.

Ironically, such individuals never appreciate that their own self-absorption is the source of their sense of separation. Television has been feeding off this existential uncertainty for years.

Prior to this year's glut of television divinities we witnessed a surfeit of lawyer and forensic shows, each of which looks for truth, for a definitive answer, and provides it. Cries of Hallelujah! abound once every 60 minutes.

But the uncertainty of the self-absorbed remains unassuaged.

Astute television programmers know what astute philosophers of religion have always known: Those who demand that truth recapitulate their perceptions will forever find their desires unrequited. They are, therefore, infinitely exploitable.

"Science is going to discover truth tomorrow," they say. "God's going to show up tomorrow."

The more circumspect differ only in degree. "Though it probably will not happen in our lifetimes, in principle it may be said that one day science will fully understand the nature of existence." "Though no one can say when a deity will appear, have no doubt it will happen."

Sadly, the foolish, the self-absorbed are condemned to chase this most juicy of carrots throughout history never appreciating that concomitant with this pursuit of the illusory is their knowledge of the absolute. Truth simply isn't what they want it to be: a reflection of their perceptions, a reflection of themselves.

America may be the most faith-obsessed of the industrialized nations but it is not the most spiritual. Truth is transcendent, omnipresent; it is intuited, not the object of a conscious, self-aggrandizing act of faith.

Ironically, distracted by their profound self-absorption the masses suffer an alienation exacerbated by this obsession with faith.

Truth is not faith dependent. Only a commitment to the verity of one's perceptions, one's beliefs requires an act of faith.

Faith cannot make the illusory real. Hence the uncertainty.

Television programmers may not understand the phenomenon but they certainly perceive it. "Give 'em God, it makes 'em feel important."

Ironically, the self-absorption obfuscating awareness of the absolute engenders humanity's ever-fruitless pursuit of truth through science and religion. Always the faithful obsess over their own perceptions, presuming truth to be found therein.

It matters not whether one pursues or abjures knowledge of the senses, either course admits to a commitment of faith in the truth of the perceived.

Herein lies the error spoken of in the Hebrew Bible. This "sin" is not original, the "fall," the "expulsion" from the Garden finds its genesis in self-absorption and the act of faith.

Self-absorption and the commitment to the truth of the perceived attempts to render concrete that which is inherently transcendent. Hence the uncertainty plaguing the faithful.

Of course the new television season offers them hope. It also offers them illusory sex, virility, violence, happiness, and friends.

Better still, a number of the new programs also offer the tastiest of religion's enticements, the illusion of a transcendent soul, life after death. Who but the self-absorbed demand a transcendent self?

To understand the boob tube is to understand religion. If you turn the thing off what happens to the omnipresent?

R.H. Joseph is a longtime employee of the News Daily. His column appears on Wednesdays. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 252, or by e-mail at rjoseph@news-daily.com.