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You know that feeling of disappointment you get when you tune into your favorite TV show expecting to get a new episode, and it turns out to be a cleverly concealed clip-show? Sure, it’s artfully put together, but you wanted fresh entertainment. Or in the case of “20/20’s” “Seeing and Believing: The Power of Faith,” fresh information.

I’ve always enjoyed when ABC’s John Quinones has taken on matters of faith. Think back to his “John of God” coverage, since Quinones’ coverage is respectful yet colored by healthy journalistic skepticism. In fact, I’ve likened Quinones to “The Mythbusters,” who set out to prove or disprove myths without any real prejudice. So, when I saw that Quinones was part of the stalwart newsmagazine’s two-hour special on faith, I was very excited.

But, instead of getting real insight, we got 10 minute fluff pieces, many of which were taken from previous reports. Sure, I’ve worked for many media companies where content has been “repurposed,” but to pull bits and pieces from exemplary investigative pieces and mush them into Oprah-esque segments about the definition of faith is to do the previous reporting a grave disservice.

Not that “20/20” didn’t try to find some balance some of the less than neutral vignettes. Author/geneticist Richard Dawkins (“The God Delsuion”) and debunker James Randi were interviewed. And they exposed Rev. Peter Popoff’s latest scam–Dead Sea healing water–and presented the heartbreaking story of Nichole, a young atheist in a small, religious town in Oklahoma. But neither story was given enough time to develop properly.

In fact, the only story left to simmer was that of ABC news’ elder stateswoman, Diane Sawyer, who posed tough, probing questions to her subjects. But, even Sawyer’s segment had its drawbacks, which is extremely unfortunate, as I would have enjoyed two hours devoted just to the story of four modern women (would-be nuns) looking to join an ascetic, cloistered community. But, the report seemed to skip between interviews that Sawyer did in the mid-80s with a group of Poor Clares (nuns) in New Mexico and the more recent documenting of the young women trying out the vocation for the weekend.

To top it off, Premiere Magazine/MTV’s Chris Connolly showed up reporting on the mega-selling “The Secret,” but his prime example of someone using visualization to attain a dream, didn’t even mention using “The Secret.”

But, even within this disappointing clip show, there was one redeeming segment that asked if we, as humans, are hard-wired to believe in God. Building on studies by Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania and a founder of the field called neurotheology, the segment explored how the brains of meditating Buddhists’ engage or disengage versus those of Pentecostals who speak in tongues versus those who do not believe in a greater being at all. The results were truly amazing: The Buddhists’ brains deactivated the lobe that controls the sense of individuality, thereby giving themselves over, so to speak. With the Pentacostals, the frontal lobe–the area that controls language–went dark. But this absolutely fascinating topic was given only ten minutes of air time.

So, c’mon “20/20,” show a little faith yourself and your audience–break these segments out into full-bodied shows. Then, seeing would be believing.


While and ABC News have a partnership, was not involved with the production of this special.

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