This chapter concerns the preaching of evangelical pastors. Postman looks in particular at Reverend Terry, Pat Robinson, and Jimmy Swaggart. They are all capable of delivering what Postman calls the “perfect television sermon.” They are theatrical, emotional, and comforting. This chapter thus concerns “television’s version of religion.”
Here Postman returns to an issue he glossed earlier in the book: the absorption of religion by our culture of entertainment. The age of show business has seen the rise of televangelist pastors who are capable of making scripture into entertainment.
Postman claims that religion, like anything else, undergoes a fundamental change when it becomes televised. When we watch a preacher deliver a sermon on television, we are always capable of, at the push of a button, changing the channel or shutting the screen off. Thus a certain kind of secularism hangs over televised religion, as the secular world is only a split second away. Since televised preachers know this, they must make their programming compete with other programming. They offer it at convenient hours, and spice up their sermons with entertainment.
When religion becomes televised, its content is mutated to fit the form of televised media: competitive, convenient, amusing, relaxing, and comforting—these are all traits exhibited by televised sermons. Postman’s point in this section is that literally nothing is sacred when it comes to entertainment culture.
This ought to upset us, says Postman, because television has thus turned religion into something that gives us what we want, not something that gives us what we need. Postman’s worry is not that religion is becoming the content of television shows, but that television will become the content of religion.
Postman here reiterates what’s so dangerous about the encroachment of TV values even in religious spheres—if religion is not safe from being turned into mindless entertainment, then nothing is.