It has been said that “war divides, game shows unite.” Actually, that has never been said until this very moment, when I made it up, but it is certainly true. I myself have (semi) fond memories of my entire family gathered around a clunky television set watching The Price Is Right. I can clearly recall the very svelte and nattily-dressed Bob Barker against a matte of 1970s brown, dark red and ochre colors. A full one third of the time I never found out the answers because I couldn’t hear above my clangorous siblings, and another third of the time I couldn’t see the fabulous prize because my dad was blocking the screen while he gently strangled the wire antennae on top of the T.V.
And yet my memories of The Price Is Right are indeed fond, and I’m not alone: the game show about guessing how much a bag of frozen broccoli is compared to a deluxe placemat set is in its stunning 40th year on television.
The Game Show Network is now all but promising that, on August 23rd, they will unveil what will be the next The Price Is Right: The American Bible Challenge.
Their confidence is well-grounded. As Senior vice president of programming and development David Schiff puts it: “…the Bible is the most popular book of all time…There’s no denying that it has an incredibly continuing relevance in hundreds of millions of lives. We believe it is perfectly acceptable for us to take that material and those facts and turn it into a game. We’re excited about this, and we have the ultimate confidence that this is going to be a really well-received series.”
Popular comedian Jeff Foxworthy will be the Bob Barker of The American Bible Challenge. Foxworthy is no stranger to this kind of role, having previously hosted Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?
In a nutshell, The American Bible Challenge looks to be good, clean family-friendly fun. In addition, while it may not live up to the sheer success of The Price Is Right, it has its venerable predecessor beat hands-down in one area in particular: the attention on mere cash and consumer goods will be turned instead to Scripture, and therefore (one hopes) to its Divine Author. There will be no prizes, since the contestants’ winnings will go only to charities. What could be bad about any of that?
Presumably nothing. Here’s what I don’t know: how Catholic-friendly will it be? David Schiff is certain that viewers “will find the show very educational, very interesting, very provocative and very inclusive…We don’t want to exclude anybody and we have not.” I don’t doubt him. But I doubt very much that the show will be basing its answers upon a Catholic translation of the Bible—surely a Protestant translation will be favored. So, for instance, that probably means questions related to the Old Testament will never touch upon the Books of Wisdom, Sirach/Ecclesiasticus, Judith, Baruch, Tobit, 1 or 2 Maccabees, or upon certain parts of Daniel and Esther.
These parts of Catholic Bibles are sometimes referred to as “deuterocanonical” (“second canon”), but for all practical purposes they are simply part of the Bible, and no more “deuterocanonical” than any other part. And they are definitely not “apocryphal” (as many Protestants refer to them), meaning “of doubtful authenticity.” We don’t doubt their authenticity one bit–they are as inspired by God as the four Gospels. Hopefully this will provide a nice occasion for Catholics to become more acquainted with these parts of Scripture, but might there also be a danger of concluding that they aren’t really necessary? It’s possible.
I also do not know yet how those passages that have a certain understanding within the Catholic Church will be treated. For example, if questions touch upon the sixth chapter of John, will it be in a way that undermines what the Church teaches about the Eucharist? The fact is, many Protestants simply and honestly don’t believe that, in those passages, Jesus is talking about his literal Body and Blood being consumed. Catholics do. How will the producers of the show handle that? Will it even come up? Again, I don’t know—specifics are somewhat lacking in the various reports and news releases I’ve seen. A frequently recurring description is that the show “focuses on themes prevalent in pop culture.” Examples of questions, according to Belief.net, are:
Can you recite the names of the 12 Disciples? Can you identify the first person to see Jesus after His resurrection? Which words describe Delilah: a) A high priestess of Baal; b) Peter and Andrew’s mother; c) Samson’s barber; or d) the author of the Song of Solomon?
Speaking as an average Joe Catholic, I already feel a mild internal buzzer go off: “12 Disciples”? Don’t you mean “Apostles”? Maybe I’m splitting hairs, though. The real question down at the bottom of the line that has to be asked is, interestingly, the same question that frequently comes up in Protestant/Catholic dialogue: who has authority? Who decides what answers on the show are correct? Wait, I can answer that! Our faithful and well-meaning Protestant and “non-denominational” Christian brothers and sisters do, who are unfortunately (we have to insist) in the wrong on a couple of points of faith.
Perhaps the larger question, then, is: will that really matter on a game show, the purpose of which, as David Schiff puts it, “is to entertain, not convert anybody”? Probably not. Then again, virtually nobody in our present culture seeks to convert anybody. That’s just not what Americans do. Yet, people are converted every day (as in, “to turn towards”), drawn by whatever irrational force seems attractive and comfortable. Some Catholics, whose culture of faith has already shrunken to a dry husk of what it has been in other ages, may well be drawn into a “non-denominational” form of Christian belief that shines a bright but cold glare in which the deeper mysteries of our Catholic faith easily get lost.
My opinion, based on what I can see, is that Catholic families should feel completely free to watch the show, and I’m all but certain it will be a pleasing experience that will create great memories for a lot of people. But I would also recommend: don’t get too comfortable. Catholics and Protestants share a great deal in common, and true ecumenism focuses on those commonalities. Beyond that, though, are some very real differences.
I suppose the beer industry can lend Catholics its rule of thumb when it comes to The American Bible Challenge: enjoy responsibly.