I just finished watching a well done piece of propaganda, produced by CBS News. As I write these words it is Easter Sunday which, this year, falls in the middle of the Passover holiday. It seemed appropriate to click on a video entitled “Faith in America: a History,” which I was sure would be a celebration of America’s tolerance and religious diversity. Traditionally, this is a time of year when secular networks tap into the holiday season by showing movies like The Ten Commandments or Ben Hur. A documentary on America’s various religious communities seemed to fit that tradition.
Of course, in a historical narrative it would be only honest and fair to mention the sad times when discrimination peppered our history. These would legitimately include, among other examples, early anti-Quakerism, the antagonism the Mormon Church faced, anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism. However, I assumed that the thrust of the show would express pride and gratitude for our amazing country.
In all fairness, the site that linked me to the video didn’t include the subtitle, A history of Catholic, Jewish and Muslim intolerance in America, which, despite some grammatical awkwardness, might have warned me of the show’s slant. But I never saw the subtitle.
By the end of the documentary I was shocked breathless. Here is my summary of what I saw: Evil Republicans, especially Donald Trump and anyone who supports him, are channeling anti Catholic biases of earlier years in America along with Nazi sentiments in Europe to promote baseless, superstitious fear of and harm to Muslims. End of story.
I must sadly acknowledge that the show was extremely well done. As a homeschooling mother I wanted to watch it with my children, get their feedback and then watch a second time, pausing every few minutes to point out or send them searching for rebuttals to the half-truths, false associations, misleading language and blatant disregard for history that made up the bulk of this shameful anti-American propaganda. While not on the level of a Leni Riefenstahl documentary, it was most impressive. (Did you see how I manipulated you there? Leni Riefenstahl was Hitler’s favorite director. Her 1930s movie Triumph of the Will was an effective, ground-changing work that helped Hitler solidify power. By making an analogy to Ms. Riefenstahl, I encouraged you to compare the CBS documentary to her work, leading you to associate the CBS film I’m discussing with a Nazi production, ergo CBS is like Hitler. That is one of the types of manipulative propaganda for which you should be alert should you choose to watch the CBS film.)
I would strongly encourage anyone who saw this piece to take the time to factually refute it and consciously address the tools of disinformation it employs. Too often, we have an underlying gut feeling that something is wrong but don’t bother to intellectually enumerate the problems. CBS is relying on Americans’ notorious lack of historical knowledge coupled with ignorance of current world affairs to encourage viewers to adopt a highly subjective and partisan attitude.
My homeschooling students are grown and I trust that I taught them well enough that they can dissect this program themselves should they choose to see it. My days of running history seminars for children are over for now. However, in closing, I’d like to offer one story from my childhood that in a very personal way exemplifies religion in America to me.
As Easter always falls on or near Passover, this time of the year in Catholic parts of Europe was often a period of fear and bloodshed in the Jewish community. Catholic services too frequently ended with mob violence against the Jewish community, resulting in horrendous pogroms.
In contrast, I grew up in a mixed Italian-Catholic and Jewish community in New York. In days when mothers didn’t view themselves as their children’s social directors, neighborhood children grouped into de facto play groups. My two best friends growing up each lived down the block. I attended a religious Jewish school; Beth, whose family belonged to the Conservative movement of Judaism went to public school; and JoAnn and her siblings were stalwarts of the local Catholic school.
One year, on Passover, Beth’s grandfather, who also lived on our block, died. The funeral took place on the holiday and JoAnn’s mother offered to watch one toddler grandson at her house during the ceremony. My parents thought I was too young to go to the funeral but old enough to stay home alone while they attended. About an hour after they left, JoAnn came running over to say that her mother needed me to come and bring food with me. Her mother’s young charge was crying and she wanted to give him something to eat. In grief and shock at the sudden loss of her father (the burial was less than 24 hours after the death) Beth’s aunt had not sent any food with her son. Yet JoAnn’s mother knew how careful we were with kosher food on Passover and didn’t want to offer the very young child anything, not even a fruit, that might show any disrespect for our religion. To me, that, rather than the agenda-driven, political cudgel CBS produced, represents faith in America.