NEW YORK - After numerous allegations about liberal bias at the broadcast networks, an intriguing hourlong "20/20" grants airtime for five religious conservatives to explain their belief in Christianity's central miracle, the bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave.
ABC's "Resurrection" program airing 10 p.m. Friday (WJBF-TV, Channel 6) also brings on liberal theologians to dismiss the Easter story as a misunderstanding or a myth rather than literal history.
The timing of "Resurrection," with correspondent Elizabeth Vargas, is odd and indicative:
- Odd because it comes nearly eight weeks after Easter (three weeks if you're Orthodox). However, this allowed for rousing scenes from this year's celebrations of the Resurrection in Jerusalem and California.
- Indicative because this is sweeps month, putting millions of ad dollars at stake in the networks' scheduling roulette. ABC is betting that Jesus might overcome CBS' "Daytime Emmy Awards" and NBC's "Law and Order: Trial By Jury."
This counter-programming was perhaps inspired by the initial ratings (which later plummeted) for NBC's "Revelations" miniseries, a rip-off of those purportedly biblical "Left Behind" novels about the End Times.
Or perhaps the inspiration was the novel "The Da Vinci Code," which provided the springboard for a 2003 Vargas project that was more showbiz than newsbiz. Vargas spent a full hour examining whether Jesus married Mary Magdalene who then ran off to France with their offspring.
"Resurrection" features U.S. evangelical stars like William Lane Craig who find a good historical case for physical Resurrection and Christian liberals like the University of Notre Dame's Rev. Richard McBrien - who figures if an Easter photo had been taken, Jesus wouldn't have shown up on the film.
Another Catholic, the Rev. Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, genially spoofs the idea that the disciples were simply fooling themselves and felt: "Why don't we think happy thoughts?"
Included are the observations of historians Albert Baumgarten of Bar Ilan University and Daniel Schwartz of Hebrew University, Jews who don't accept Jesus' Resurrection. Baumgarten maintains Jesus' tomb was empty and notes the Jesus movement's astonishing expansion while one would have expected it to collapse once the leader died. Both phenomena demand explanation, he thinks.
Something extraordinary convinced the disciples that Jesus was alive, Vargas concludes. The conservatives say it was his physical appearances.
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