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July 1, 2009

Deal or No Deal? Turkish TV Show Has Religions Competing to Convert Atheists

ISTANBUL — Just when one thought TVshows could not get more outrageous, Kanal T comes up with the idea to make an imam, a priest, a rabbi and a Buddhist monk try to convert 10 atheists. While some fear the program could create problems, a sociologist says this just shows the yearning to learn more about religions

A new show set to grace Turkish television screens will see a Muslim imam, a Christian priest, a Jewish rabbi and a Buddhist monk competing to turn 10 unbelievers into devotees of their own faith each week.

The show, "Tövbekarlar Yarışıyor," which can be roughly translated as "Penitents Compete," will appear on Kanal T starting in early September. The imam, priest, rabbi and monk will try to convert at least one person in every show.

Kanal T was launched in January 2008 with mostly female presenters in front of the camera and also has a chairwoman managing the media group.

Seyhan Soylu, a famous transsexual known as "Sisi," is the mastermind behind the new religion-themed program and will be moderated by well-known female newscaster Gülgün Feyman. The show’s producer is model Ayşe Önal.

Kanal T Deputy Director Ahmet Özdemir told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review that the program is the first of its kind in the world.

"The project aims to turn disbelievers into [believers in] God," no matter which religion they choose in the end, Özdemir said, adding that he believes the program will also be useful for those who want to learn more about other religions. "When people heard that we were going to air a program called ’Penitents Compete,’ it was hard for them to see what it was all about, but many people are waiting impatiently [for the show]."

The program will only take place in the studio, unlike shows such as "Big Brother," where contestants are isolated together in a house. An eight-person team of theologians and producers, which Özdemir refers to as a commission, will be sifting through the applicants to check their atheist credentials.

Each week, a different group of atheists will appear in front of the religious leaders. The producers of the show are well aware that there is a chance none of the atheists will be convinced by the arguments presented to them. Yet if an ex-atheist is "persuaded" to start following one of the religions, he or she will have the chance to travel to that religion’s center, whether Jerusalem for Christians and Jews or Mecca for Muslims or Tibet for Buddhists.

Show’s commission

"The commission will also follow them after the show. They can’t see this trip as a getaway, but as a religious experience," Özdemir said. "People are free to believe in anything they want. Our program does not have a say."

The yet-to-air program has already drawn reactions from many people, mostly Christians. Hakkı Devrim, a television commentator and columnist for daily Radikal called the idea absurd and said such a show insults religion.

"Religion is not a science, and it is not open to discussion," Devrim said, adding that the program offers atheists a chance to voice their own thoughts.

"If I had to describe it with a word, it would be ’unsuitable,’" said the columnist, who advised Kanal T not to take the risk of airing such a show in Turkey.

"It’s not worth the risk," he said.

Prof. Mustafa Çağrıcı, an
Istanbul mufti and the provincial head of the Religious Affairs Directorate, partially agreed with Devrim, saying religions could be discussed, but not on such a television program. He said such an extreme program could create complications in peoples’ minds. "I don’t know about the legal or media process of it, but as an academic, I don’t find it right to discuss religion in such environments," Çağrıcı said. . . . (continue reading)


  1. I'm glad to see a show like this. Of course religion is up for discussion, and this is the way our culture discusses things now.

    Go for it. The Holy Spirit might be at work here.

  2. I don't think the statement "Religion is not a science, and it is not open to discussion" does Christians any favors. Religion is distinct from science, certainly, but it's intertwined. All truth is God's truth, and science points towards God. And the idea that religiion isn't open to discussion seems crushingly disconnected from the Great Commission. Effective evangelization seemingly implies an ability to dialogue (not compromise on core principles, of course, but at least engage the person you're trying to convert).

  3. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought Buddhists didn't believe in a god so they are essentially atheistic themselves right? That's an unfair advantage!