TV and Religion

by Floyd Chappelear
Stand, October 1993

I would like to add some thoughts concerning the way television networks treat the subject of religion.

Numerous surveys have shown that "at best" the media treats religion as if it were an unimportant, insignificant part of people's lives in spite of the fact that when surveyed the majority of Americans claim religion to be "very important" to them. In the media, however, religion is basically ignored. Families are not shown praying before a meal or worshipping publicly. God is simply not a factor in life insofar as television is concerned.

However, this does not mean that religion is ignored. In far too many cases producers will introduce a religious "nut" into a story so as to give a negative view of the subject. Preachers are often shown as predatory and untrustworthy. The "religious right" is vilified increasingly. (The Mainstream Media does not recognize a "Religious Left" nor does it express any concern about it.) Protests from "Christian" groups are ignored and even sneered at.

This does not mean that the religious community is completely held in contempt. On the contrary, the Jewish community is nearly always shown favorably. In fact, no rabbi has ever been shown to be an "Elmer Gantry" type character or in any way shown negatively, so far as this writer knows.

Islam is also given more respect than Christianity. This is not to say that the "Islamic-terrorist" stereotype is not shown. On the contrary, it is shown too frequently, but the religion of Islam is generally not mocked. With that thought in mind, I would like to introduce you to a few comments by Petronella Wyatt, a syndicated columnist in England:

"The satirical television programme Spitting Image has withdrawn a puppet of Christ after protests from viewers. Nothing wrong with that, you might say, except the protesters are not Christians. They are British Muslims.

"It is not that Christians did not complain about the portrayal of Jesus last Sunday as a hippy. They did, except for the Church leaders, of course. But Mr. Bill Dare, the programme's producer, did not listen. It was only when the UK Action Committee for Islamic Affairs pointed out that Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet that he began thinking twice about the puppet's 'second coming.'

"Why? Mr. Dare justifies himself thus. It is acceptable, no desirable, to poke fun at the national religion -- because it is a majority religion. Islam, however, is a different matter -- it is a minority religion and Mr. Dare does not like offending minorities. "

My view, and that of the author, is that Mr. Dare is more concerned that the ones who have threatened the life of Salmon Rushdie ( author of Satanic Verses) might similarly consider him expendable. We know this, when the "Christian" community protested The Last Temptation of Christ Hollywood responded with arrogance and continued to promote the flick. However, when the Islamic community railed against the movie Mohammed it was withdrawn from the theaters.

The media's attitude toward religion is simple. If it is the occult, it will be treated with at worst bemusement but at best with reverence. If it is Judaism, it will always be treated with respect. The New Age is given the most profound respect and deference. Christianity? Forget it if you want respect. It is simply not offered.

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