Reb Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof provides a sound examination of Ted Turner's theology. Tevye confesses that if he were a rich man he could sit with the Rabbi all day long and talk theology. He admits that he wouldn't really know any more than he knew when he was poor, but he boasts, "when you're rich they think you really know."
On Tuesday, August 29, 2000, Ted Turner spoke to the Millennium World Peace Summit to a thousand delegates from around the world. Turner had helped to make the summit possible by donating $300,000 to the effort through his "Better World Fund." Thus, the religious heads of the world gathered — different garbs, colors, and doctrines — to listen to "theologian" Ted Turner solve the mass complexities of world diversity with Sesame Street brainpower. Among those items Ted used to enlighten this vast ecumenical host were these:
"When I was a boy, I was very religious ... (but) the thing that disturbed me is that my religious Christian sect was very intolerant. ... You know, everybody — the Catholics weren't going to heaven, the other Protestants weren't going to heaven, the Jews weren't going to heaven, the Muslims weren't going to heaven, the Hindus weren't, the Shintoists, I mean nobody was going to heaven but just us! ... It just confused the devil out of me because I said, 'Heaven's going to be a mighty empty place with nobody else there.'"
"Basically, we're all the same. We love our children, we love our wives, we love our husbands, we love our religions, we love birds and butterflies, and we love flowers, and we like to go on vacations, you know ... When it's cold, we want to put on a warm coat, and when it's hot, we want to take our shirts off. You know, everybody likes to go swimming, just about — you know, most of us ..."
"First of all, in World War II, people still thought, some people thought, there were more than one race of men. You know, there was a black race and the yellow race and the red man ... (But) the scientists and the archaeologists have demonstrated that we're just one human race. We're one human race! I mean, it's us!
And we all came from Africa originally and spread out all over the world and then we just — Africa! Africa! Africa! Yeah, man! All right. That's where we all come from.
And we got different colors, you know, because the white people lived in the north and the dark people lived in the south. I mean, that's the way bears are. The bears in the north are white and the bears in the south are black ... They're still bears, for Christ's sake!"
On Nuclear Dangers
"You know, we have, I don't know, tens of thousands of nuclear weapons are still pointed at each other in the world today. And they say they're safe! But they can't get the Concorde to take off out of Paris without burning up. ... All of us together can't get a Russian submarine that's sunk in only 300 feet of water, can't get the people to the surface, and yet they say all these nuclear missiles are safe. Don't believe it. I mean, they're not safe at all.
The only safe thing to do is get rid of 'em! Get rid of 'em now! Right on!"1
My friend, Wyman Richardson, wrote to me after this speech saying: "Thank you, Ted Turner, for clearing up so many pesky theological problems. In the wake of such weighty thinking about God, surely all things will be better."
But Mr. Turner does illustrate that in a world crammed with religious naiveté, some of the very rich are just naïve enough to suppose themselves learned. He also illustrates that some of the dumb in our dumb-down world are paid all out of proportion to their theological I.Q.
But the greatest danger of Ted's theology is that it seemed so reasonable to the ignorant. His speech was widely acclaimed and often applauded. Turner further illustrates that the only legitimate intolerance permitted in our day is the intolerance of those labeled intolerant.
Ted and God do have this in common: they both would like the world to be one. Still, after all, it takes more than money to create good theology. It takes a heart bent on holy approval by a God who wants the world to be one, but not at the expense of sound thinking.
Money has a way of making mortals think they are God. I saw a T-shirt, which read on the front: "The Good News is there is a God." On the back it read: "The bad news is you're not Him." Ted should buy this shirt.
1 Ted Turner, as quoted in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Wednesday, August 30, 2000, page 14A.
Calvin Miller is professor of preaching and pastoral ministry at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.