Faith on the telly

Participants in the discussion: former prime minister Ruud Lubbers, Bishop Frans Wiertz, network manager Ton van Dijk and theologian Erik Borgman (photo: Joost Goes)

A symposium was held today about the role of religion on Dutch national television. Not surprisingly, the openly religious networks play a marginal role on tv, and that was one of the main reasons for this symposium. Catholic tv head Leo Fijen’s proposal of forming a single front in the struggle to bring religious programs back in the heart of national tv was met with general approval. He also suggested that religious programs should be aimed at as large an audience as possible and not solely to the regular viewers. If taken up, that suggestion would be a major change for the networks, who up till now have only catered to their own small world.

Former prime minster Ruud Lubbers made some pointed comments about the relations between the networks and politics. He said that politicians are often behind the facts, so religions should not sit back and wait for them to catch up, but take actions themselves. That is very important, I believe. Go out into the streets, present your programs to the world, and don’t hide in your comfort zone merely because your programs are of a religious nature. As Bishop Wiertz said, Christianity especially has a character of witnessing of the faith.

The goals expressed (at least those I’ve heard about now) are lofty, of course. But I can’t help but think they’re still quite sedate and general. When a bishop speaks about the general elements of witnessing and ‘giving meaning’ to life, and about the role that Christianity played in shaping our culture, that is not enough. It’s all fine to speak of those things, but people find sense and meaning in all kinds of things, or so they sometimes think. An attitude like that, while not incorrect, won’t sway Joe TV-Watcher. He’ll also take the past role of Christianity as read and do exactly nothing with it.

General suggestions are not enough. We need detailed plans, input and changes. Today’s symposium works, but only as a prelude to more extensive developments and changes. Let’s hope and pray that that may be the case.

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