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Joint PBS-NPR Series Details Rise of Fundamentalism

June 3, 1992

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ When the world in which we live becomes too frightening, human nature compels us to find something worth believing in.

To some, though, there is something more frightening than fear - the fervor exhibited by religious groups seeking to dispel such chaos with conformity.

″The Glory and the Power, Fundamentalisms Observed,″ is an impressive series of joint broadcasts by PBS and National Public Radio that begin June 15 (check local listings).

The massive project documents current fundamentalism, religious beliefs that seem to grow in direct correlation to worldwide levels of crime, disease and social anarchy.

Work on the series began four years ago. It is produced by the William Benton Broadcast Project of the University of Chicago in association with the BBC, PBS, NPR, and WETA-TV and WETA-FM of Washington, D.C.

It is comprised of three, one-hour PBS films and four, half-hour NPR broadcasts.

The television installments, which run on successive Mondays, chronicle American fundamentalism, the radical Jewish movement leading West Bank settlements in Israel, and the rise of Islamic government movements in Egypt.

The common thread through all - despite differences in culture and definitions of God - is the undying belief held by each disparate group that their way - and only their way - is right.

The first PBS installment, titled ″Fighting Back,″ takes an inside look at militant anti-abortionist and Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, and at America’s pre-eminent fundamentalist college, Bob Jones University in South Carolina.

Filmmaker Bill Jersey shows Terry being interviewed on a Christian television talk show stating ″God put me on this Earth, for this hour, for this purpose.″

That purpose, Terry says, is ″to put child killers in jail.″ It is an endeavor he likens to the Nuremberg trials, where Nazi war criminals were tried and convicted ″for crimes that were legal at the time.″

On the Greenville campus of Bob Jones University, Jersey follows the student body of tie-clad men and long-skirted women to class and chapel.

In home economic instructor Diane Hay’s class, female students are instructed in the ways of ″God’s Dress-for-Success Program.″

″Now there’s not a chapter and verse that says ’Thou shalt not wear thy skirts only so many inches from the floor,‴ Hay tells her attentive and well-scrubbed pupils. ″But the men themselves tell us that more they see of a woman’s knee, the harder it is for them to control their thoughts.″

University chairman Dr. Bob Jones Jr. tells Jersey’s camera that the only right way to live, and to avoid burning in hell, is to dedicate one’s life to Jesus Christ and the literal interpretation of the Bible.

Jones also denies that his campus racially discriminates, though the university bans interracial dating. When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, a former student notes on camera, Jones refused to fly the campus flag at half-mast and called the civil rights leader an ″apostate.″

The segue from ″Fighting Back″ to the next two PBS episodes is succinctly offered by series narrator John Hockenberry, who observes that fundamentalism can most often be described as people looking for order in a disorderly world.

Installments two and three are titled ″This Is Our Land″ and ″Remaking The World.″

In the former, Israel’s Gush Emunim (″The Bloc of The Faithful″) are observed in their efforts to settle the West Bank. To the Gush Emunim, the indigenous Arabs displaced by their housing tracts are enemies to the Jewish people.

The Gush Emunim believe it is their inalienable, God-given right to build and live in the West Bank, regardless of whom they displace. To them, the land is as precious as the Torah.

″I’m here because my forefathers from 3,000 years ago came here,″ says Daniella Weiss, a leading member of the Gush Emunim. ″That’s why I’m here.″

It is a sentiment that is echoed in ″Remaking The World,″ though the speakers are Arabs and their credo is Islamic law.

In the NPR broadcasts, the spectrum of fundamentalism is broadened to encompass the ebb of Roman Catholicism in Central America and the complexities of the Sikh movement in India.

But no matter how broad spectrum, there is a fundamental difference between fundamentalists and those who are not.

Those two camps, as described by Hockenberry, are ″those who believe in one true path to God and those who believe there are many paths to truth.″


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