It would be naive to expect a thoughtfully deep look at religion from TBS' caffeinated, hyper "Network Earth" series, so we'll settle for entertaining. But the misleadingly titled "God's House," the series' hourlong, Christmas season survey of new trends in American-style Christianity, is only occasionally engaging--and hyper as usual.
Apparently, God's house doesn't include Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Native Americans, New Agers and the rest of America's religious non-Christians. A better title might have been "And You Thought Christians Weren't Hip," as the "Network Earth" correspondents bounce around the States sniffing out the coolest, wildest, strangest, biggest and most mediagenic Christian images possible.
It's hard to say what it all means in the end, except that it's really, really popular. Pope John Paul III, dubbed here a "superstar," fills stadium after stadium. We are told that one of every three Christians in the world will be Pentecostal by 2015. (Whether we believe that is another thing.) So-called "contemporary Christian music" sold 500 million records last year and is aired on more than 1,000 radio stations.
The large numbers of Protestant faithful who go virtually unrepresented in this report may find this to be a huge takeover campaign by fundamentalists appropriating pop culture for their own ends. Media tycoon Pat Robertson frankly describes it as getting out the message of the Gospel with the most contemporary means possible.
That also includes very contemporary cash flows, which "God's House" makes clear are flowing like torrents into the coffers of a wide variety of Christian institutions and grass-roots groups.
Racial divides, media spinning, mosh pits, cable networks--Christianity just ain't what it used to be, but what it has become may be one of world religion's most curious meldings of the sacred and secular.
* "God's House" airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on TBS.