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-by Douglas L. Leblanc


The Mars Hill of Television

After enjoying a devoted following on the cable network Comedy Central since 1993, Politically Incorrect is poised for a pop-culture breakthrough: In January, it will move to ABC, where it will follow a more serious approach to current events-a little show called Nightline. This young, scrappy program deserves the wider exposure, because in terms of breadth (if not always depth), it is the Mars Hill of popular television. Where else would the maverick Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong discuss theology with Ian Anderson, lead singer of Jethro Tull?

Like the Greek philosophers described in Acts 17:16-34, pi creator and host Bill Maher shows a boundless intellectual curiosity, but the show's endless fascination with the new precludes finding authoritative truth in ancient sources. Maher has an infectious laugh, but the constant efforts at building a better one-liner sacrifice insight for a quick jolt of humor. And on the great Stoic-Epicurean divide, he casts his lot firmly with the Epicureans. ("Now, I'm not recommending excessive drinking, illegal drugs, and fast women--although they've always worked for me--but isn't America all about at least having the choice?")

Like Mars Hill, Pi has room for all gods; on the show, filmmaker John Milius once described himself as a pagan, to the cheers of the audience. Like Mars Hill, Pi is mostly bemused by Christians who make claims to knowing the one true God.

In its brief history, this irreverent show has addressed an impressive array of topics with moral or religious dimensions. In his book Does Anybody Have a Problem With That? Politically Incorrect's Greatest Hits (Villard, 1996), Maher writes: --No longer will anyone need to reveal an abusive husband, a money-hungry boy, parents who drove them to murder by callously eating ice cream in front of the tv. Why? Because the last name in blame is now upon us: genetics.

--Recently, there's been a trend in America that I find very disturbing . . . rewarding immoral and illegal behavior ...

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