between the lines logo (anthony asadullah samad)*Now I’m gonna say on the front end, that I’m not fan of reality television.

The most popular genre in television programming has no real redeeming value to changing the realities of the society of which we live. I call it, “Channel Zero.”

But in an anti-intellectual society, channel zero works for people who know nothing about nothing and they are prepared to watch the type of dumb stuff that we all know is scripted reality.

Well, a dumbed down society has reached a new low. It has now included religion as a part of its jaded reality circus. It has caused a stir.

Reality television is scripted for “numbers.” The Kardasians, Jersey Shore, Big Brother, and what I thought was the worse show I ever saw, The Housewives of Atlanta (HOA), are not really reality. These shows “act” as if this is reality and they act out extreme behaviors for entertainment sake. Fools for fame, I call it. I think HOA took black women backwards 100 years. Then Flavor of Love came out and I knew it was all downhill from there.

People want to be famous and television projects imagery far beyond fame—regardless of the value. That’s why people trip over themselves to get on television. The point is all of it is nonsense—not even entertaining nonsense—that is justified because “they pull the numbers.” That’s why people watch high speed chases. They pull ratings because people want to see what they hope will be a fatal conclusion in real time. Next is “extreme reality.”

Extreme reality not only attacks our sensibilities—it offends our sensibilities. Facebook is already running beheading videos. Televised executions will soon follow, because “they pull the numbers.” Nothing is sacred anymore, so when Preachers of L.A. premiered, of course, curiosity was going to pull viewers. What would “the church” have to contribute to this genre?

Turns out, not much—in terms of redeeming social value. But very much, in terms of where does this non-sense stop? Religion is not spirituality. Religion is doctrine—gospel framed as “the word of God.” The spiritual person sees right threw the inconsistencies in the doctrine. The fastest growing segments of the church are non-denominational factions that “design” their own religion. They gave themselves titles and roll themselves out before the people.

I didn’t think I would ever see anything worse than HOA. Then came Basketball Wives, Housewives of Beverly Hills (and Orange County) and The Husbands of Hollywood. Dumb stuff on top of dumb stuff. But Preachers of L.A. is extreme reality of a different kind. The thesis here is that the show is supposed to project the human side of so-called, “God’s men.”

preachers of laHowever, it projects the church, and the men (and women) of the church, in a very shallow, material and decadent way. This show is made to feed the carnal appetite, not the intellectual or spiritual imagination. This is a hit on the church, an institution that is in “rehab.” The church is trying to rehabilitate itself from the very type of imagery that this show projects, of the jackleg, over-materialistic, skirt chasing, prosperity preaching con men that television evangelism has projected for three decades. Well, Preachers of L.A. just brought it back.

“Supersized” (Mega-church) and “Microwaved” (short entertainment driven church services) has caused people to leave the church from the lack of spiritual fulfillment, as religion has become more impersonal and superficial. Then, there the “devil in the pulpit” factor where trust in faith and the faith messenger become conflicted and people’s faith in the church is totality crushed over preacher infidelities. That’s church reality in the 21st Century.

The insincere bible-thumper preying on the flock, vulnerable to the preacher as they (mostly women) open themselves up to religion (literally and figuratively) in search of salvation. It is the worse of what the church has become and several of the figures of this reality show are implicated in such activity. In today’s society, the devil is real and just as likely to show up in a preacher’s robe as in devil ears and pitchfork. But then they’re only human, right?

It is not the total persona of the church, but is certainly a prominent one as the Mega-Church represents the most visible aspects of religion today. Preachers of L.A. distorts both the black church and the black preacher—in a not so positive way. If it was positive, the country wouldn’t be talking about it? I decided to write this piece while overhearing a conversation while sitting in an airport in Philadelphia last weekend. People are offended, and think L.A. is crazy.

They think Hollywood going straight to hell in a hand basket, anyway. L.A. is Hollywood. We just put sacrilege on T.V. L.A. is now leading the extreme reality movement.

Preachers fightin’ and arguing on television, in between getting in their Bentley’s and Benz’s, is not the depiction the struggling church wants to project. The only preacher on the show that does not play into the decadence and materialism is the white one. What’s wrong with that picture? What’s wrong is it also is a reflection of the city itself. That’s the buzz.

The first thing, Mega-preacher (one of the few with credibility), T.D. Jakes said, “This is not L.A. That’s a bunch of N****** stuff.” He was offended that people would play with religion this way. Other preachers in Los Angeles have stood up in protest over this depiction. Yet, it hasn’t offended the subjects of the reality show. Some of these preachers just see this as an “extension of their ministry.” They’re telling people “God led them to do this.” The God I know don’t have a tolerance for toying with people’s spirituality. God is not in the nonsense business. He doesn’t put people—particularly preachers—in reality shows. Now, the devil might.

It’s in line with what people will do for fame…including sell their souls.

One of my favorite movie lines of all time, in the movie, Malcolm X, when Malcolm meets the character, Baines, in prison and talks to him about Islam for that first time. Malcolm asks him if this religion is some new kind of hustle. Baines responds, “God’s word ain’t no hustle.”

I think the public is being given a false depiction of a great tradition, the black church.

I think God’s word is being hustled with this nonsense, Preachers of L.A.

Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist and author of, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21 Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com and on Twitter at @DrAnthonySamad.

anthony asadulla samad