PBS Spin helps Evil Flourish

The December 30, 2014 episode of "Sacred Journeys with Bruce Feiler" took PBS viewers on a pilgrimage to southwestern Nigeria with three African-American college graduates as they made pilgrimages to their ancestral roots to become priestesses in the Yoruba religion. The amiable Mr. Feiler has had six consecutive New York Times non-fiction best-sellers in the last decade, including travelogues about journeys to significant sites of different religions.

Mr. Feiler appears to represent the progressive-humanist view that all religions are equally respectable cultural aggregations offering differing perspectives on the ultimately unknowable spiritual mysteries. Mr. Feiler does not approach these journeys from the perspective of his own relationship with God, but rather in the spirit of enthusiastic, non-judgmental spiritual tourism. Mr. Feiler calls Yoruba “ancient” and Christianity (which arose 1300 years earlier) “contemporary.” This suggests misunderstanding of, if not bias against, the latter faith.

But far worse is the characterization Mr. Feiler makes later when he breezily describes the beheadings, kidnappings, and rapes that Islamic savages are committing against defenseless Christian families as “violence between Muslims and Christians.” This familiar left-wing lie diminishes these hideous crimes; it is equivalent to calling the Holocaust a war between Jews and Nazis.

Mr. Feiler opens this episode with, “Today organized religion is more threatened than ever.” He doesn't elaborate, but seems to imply that in journeying to become priestesses, his three pilgrims are above the fray of organized religion. But Yoruba is clearly an organized, poly-deistic nature religion, with written scripture that identifies 401 aspects of God.

The pilgrims speak with excitement and trepidation about the three requirements of becoming priestesses: prayer, head-shaving, and animal sacrifice. It is understandable that these sophisticated college graduates would wish to return to ancestral lands to participate in the vivid, emotionally intense rituals of their forbears. But the inevitable subtext pertains to the evils of the transatlantic slave trade. All religions offer an origination narrative. The origination mythology of modern humanism and progressivism is that white Christians cause all the problems in America and the world. And they invented slavery.

This is opposite of the truth. The capturing and holding of persons as chattel began with warfare at the dawn of human history. Christianity was the inspiration that decisively ended slavery in the United States. Involuntary servitude is still widely practiced throughout the non-Christian world.  A UN study lists Nigeria as having the fourth largest slave population of any country in the world.

After meeting the American acolytes, Mr. Feiler comments to a Yoruban priestess, “There is a very powerful message there [Yoruba beliefs] which is that the world can only thrive if humans and the gods are working together.” Mr. Feiler doesn't realize that he has just articulated the principal reason why Africa has failed to thrive. Furthermore, it is because of Islam and the sub-theistic nature religions that Africa remains especially violent towards homosexuals and women. The belief system that Mr. Feiler and the three soon-to-be priestesses gush over can never provide the moral architecture for the rights and freedoms they enjoy as Americans.

Mr. Feiler neither identifies the Yoruba moral code or addresses how Yoruba might lead the priestesses to higher service and compassion. He often uses the term 'Orisha' as another name for the religion. Orishas, translating as “owners of heads,” are deities that control specific elements of nature, including human life. Yoruba seems to be focused around worshipping and sacrificing to Orishas.

Mr. Feiler comes upon a group of young men making sacrifice to the Orisha at the “sacred river.” He whispers: “[They have] taken off the head of a chicken and they are dripping the blood onto the head of the young man, so at the climactic moment of the sacrifice they take the body and toss it into the river. That's the official offering of the animal to the goddess.... As with many religions around the world the holiest moments of Orisha worship pay homage to the gods with animal sacrifice.”

Undoubtedly true. But the religions that provide the moral perimeters of Mr. Feiler’s own life -- an advanced form of monogamy, his beliefs about what constitutes a happy family, the unalienable worth of the human individual as formed in the image of one God -- all derive from Judaism and Christianity. The reasons he might prefer not to see chicken blood dripping down the neck one of his own daughters are based in the spirituality of Judaism and Christianity. Judaism gave up animal sacrifice thousands of years ago and the practice never took hold in Christianity.

Mr. Feiler seems to believe that religious encroachment works only one way: “Orisha is threatened by outside religions.” But when Orisha is brought to America, it is honored as exciting spiritual enrichment. (Of course, American chickens may beg to differ.)

Regarding Christianity in Nigeria, Feiler states, “I have to say I'm stunned by this and it raises the question how can this traditional religion live side-by-side with the more contemporary ones which in many ways are trying to eliminate it?” 'Contemporary' Christianity is trying to eliminate Yoruba? Are Christians slicing off the heads of Nigerian children? Spreading their religion through a dogma of rape? Where are the Christian pogroms? The killing fields where Christians dump the bodies of eliminated Yorubans?

Mr. Feiler asks, “Does this traditional religion have a future in its own homeland? To answer that question I'm off to a local priest. He's offered to do a divination on me. I'm shocked to discover that even he lives next door to a church.” Shocked by a church in a heavily Christian country? Mr. Feiler sits on the ground before the priest and deprecates the Judeo-Christian religions thusly:

“In the west so many of our religious rituals now take place in big buildings where the worshippers are far removed from holy objects and surrogates perform sacred duties. Here everything is more immediate and intimate. It feels more personal.”

Mr. Feiler has come to a priest to receive a divination. Is it more personal because his bottom is on the ground rather than in a pew? Would it be more personal if he were buried up to his neck?

Mr. Feiler's misunderstands “Western religion,” seeming to believe that for Christians the voice of God within the heart depends on the size of a building, or that connection to Christ as one's True Self depends on surrogates with holy objects.

Discrimination also works one way for Mr. Feiler. The culmination of the sacred journey in Nigeria is a mile-long processional to a sacred grove, led by a fourteen-year-old virgin. The night before, a Yoruba priest brusquely ejects Feiler from a closed ceremony. This expulsion causes an insight, the gist of which is Christians are discriminatory, while wise Yoruban priests protect their rituals from outsiders.

But these biases are nothing compared to the filaments of evil unconsciously woven into Mr. Feiler’s offhand reference to a bilateral war between Muslims and Christians. It is even more evil for PBS to sell this misconstruction to its viewers. Mr. Feiler notes military troops coming into town to maintain order during the final procession. “A reminder of violence between Muslims and Christians a few hundred miles to the north.”

Peace and understanding cannot come from such a lie, no matter how beatific a PBS star imagines it to be. The prime minister of Israel recently likened events such as Islamic Boko Haram fiends butchering African children to the Holocaust. To reframe the slaughter of unarmed Christians as a religious war is to provide a rationalization for indifference to this modern Holocaust.