Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Oprah Wannbe, God and My Frustration

One of the most frustrating moments I remember, which I suspect is preserved on video somewhere, was an episode of a talk show in Johannesburg.

The host of the show, Felicia Mabuza-Suttle was an Oprah wannabe without either the personality or the intelligence. I had been on her show a couple of times and this was the last time I agreed to be there. The debate was on the rights of LGBT people and I was seated in the front row to participate in the "debate."

The room was hot, very hot. The TV lights were a bit much. And the problem was Felicia kept flubbing her comments, even while reading from a teleprompter. Over and over, the short introduction was repeated until she got it right, or until they could at least splice together something that made her look good.

She was no better during the show itself. And they taped far longer than anything they aired as they spliced bits together to make the show look coherent.

I was getting tired sitting there while she made one mistake after another. Even when she wasn't flubbing her questions or comments, she was inane.

I remember her walking up the aisle in the audience, waving her microphone and then coming up with the "profound" question of the day. She polled everyone as to what God thought about gay people.

I kid you not. Apparently, this creator-of-the-universe type being, was being subjected to an audience poll.

She literally asked the audience to vote by a show of hands. "All those who say God approves of homosexuality raise your hands." And then, "All those who say God doesn't approve of homosexuality raise your hands."

That was when I lost it and yelled out: "And all those who don't care one way or another raise your hands." I threw my hand in the air.

Even if I were to grant the the existence of such a being, which I do not, exactly what would an audience poll prove? Surely, if God were in favor, he wouldn't change his mind to become opposed, lest he offend Felicia's audience.

Surely, what such a being thinks is entirely unrelated to any hands-up poll. Nor do we mere mortals learn anything about what such a being may or may not think on the basis of such a poll. If 51% of the audience said God was peachy-keen with gays, would the other 49% suddenly realize they were wrong?

Instead of discussing actual issues, as they exist here and now, she wanted to spend precious time speculating about what a speculative being may be speculating on his own. Of what use was such a question other than to burn up time for a talk-show host who was in over her head.

When the rights of real people are hanging in the balance I suggest it is best to keep our feet on the grounds and look at the evidence. I sincerely doubt that if there is a God, that any of us actually speak for Him/Her/It/Them, whatever. Those who claim to do so are mere pretenders, acting as if they have divine sanction for their own beliefs. What we really need is facts and evidence, not faith.

A few months later I get a phone call from the South African Broadcasting Commission. They were taping another show with Felicia at their Auckland Park studios and asked me to participate.

I asked for a fax number to send in a written reply—yes, this was when faxes were still in use. I simply explained that while I was happy to participate on any other show, I couldn't possibly endure another marathon session waiting for Felicia to get her lines right. I noted that her questions were inane and that she wasted the time of her audience, her guests and her crew. And, I said, she was out of her depth when it came to discussing issues.

One of the virtues of faxes is they have a physical form, not just an electronic one. I was later told by someone at the SABC that this fax was widely photocopied and distributed throughout the building by staff who were glad someone finally said it. I just couldn't take her, or her show, seriously. The two things I will never forget were the endless retakes inflicted on everyone and her walking up the aisle, microphone in hand, taking a poll as to what God thinks. Even worse, she seemed to think that poll actually meant something.

Human rights, including those of LGBT people are serious issues. And there is a need for reasonable discussion. But those discussions have to be rooted in facts and reality.

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