Why Religion Gets Such a Bad Rap in the Media

Religion is a funny thing.

Most of us don't consider ourselves religious. Religion is what other people believe. We, however, are not religious. No, we simply know the truth — the transcendent truth about life and the environment, broadly stated, in which we live: the truth about where we came from, where we stand within a universal pecking order, and how we relate (or should relate) to others, including our source, whatever that might be. We use our religions, even when we deny they are religions, for a variety of things, all of which are based upon how we perceive the world. Who or what do I look to as foundational, and how shall I respond? How should we respond? Who are we — how do I define insiders? How do I interact with us? Then how do I interact with those outsiders?

Today, our religions might be lumped together and classified as:

-humankind derived from its environment and we must be organized to collaborate with it, and

-humankind was caused by a creator and we ought to live in subordination to that creator.

(Of course this is simplistic, yet it may be a useful way to discuss the topic within the word limit set by PolicyMic editors).

The media – the producers and transmitters of communication – reflect their own various religions. Much of the media observes beliefs in what I call the environmental religion – not the tree-hugger variety, but the beliefs based on findings in science, politics, economy, industry, etc. While creator-denominated media does exist — Christianity Today, Sony Pictures’ Affirm Films, Christian Broadcasting Network, K-LOVE radio network are major examples — these are barely noticeable. There are, certainly, media that are notably sympathetic to creator-denominated religion: Fox News, Salem Radio Network, Al Jazeera, and at least the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, but even these appear primarily driven by politics and science. So the media overwhelmingly works within the scope of beliefs based upon physical evidence and observations of human behavior.

One might think that topics such as technology, economics, politics, health, etc., might be discussed without poking fingers in the eyes of creator-denominated religionists, but it doesn’t seem to work that way. Oftentimes it’s unintended, as in a recent Forbes article. The author described engineering software that “simulates on metal and carbon-fiber structures the same trial-and-error forces that have shaped bone growth over millennia–but repeats them at semiconductor speed until an engineer arrives at a design that meets the need without any excess material.”

A reader might see more similarities between the software and intelligent design, but the author opted to reference his apparent religion, which assumes evolution. Was the allusion to evolution necessary for the article? Certainly not, but the author thought he was referencing an obvious truth that would help explain the process. It probably would not occur to him that the reference would be a distraction for at least some readers.

Sometimes the media not only uses its religion as a source of shared belief and then takes the next step to use its religion to exclude “outsiders.” An essay on HuffPost titled “Saying Goodbye to Tolerance,” rationalizes the exclusion of Christians who politely convey that they are convinced their beliefs are correct. Apparently, the only acceptable outsider is one who supposes his own beliefs might well be wrong.

But the reigning champion of creator-denominated religious intolerance is evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. In a classic interview with Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan at Oxford Union recently, Dawkins has no trouble declaring “the God of the Old Testament” to be “a monster” (around 3:30). Later (14:30) he states he doesn’t “care about what’s good; I care about what’s true.” And what’s true, he insists, is that religion — the creator — denominated sort — is bad. That Dawkins is an expert biologist is beyond question, but his standing among the media as a critic of religion is most easily explained by the media’s appetite for religious criticism (ironically, Dawkins’ theories on “selfish genes” and memes may provide explanations for what Christians call original sin.)

We can take some comfort in the fact that the religiously antagonistic media deal in words, not acts. Terrorists, not media, shot up Fort Hood and flew into the World Trade Center buildings. Even so, a society fractured by deliberate divisiveness – “from one, many,” in the words of a foolish former VP – is neither a healthy community nor a collaborative one. So, in the words of a wiser man, “Can we all get along?”