Christianity and the Mass Media in America
Toward a Democratic Accommodation
Publication Year: 2003
The mass media and religious groups in America regularly argue about news bias, sex and violence on television, movie censorship, advertiser boycotts, broadcast and film content rating systems, government regulation of the media, the role of mass evangelism in a democracy, and many other issues. In the United States the major disputes between religion and the media usually have involved Christian churches or parachurch ministries, on the one hand, and the so-called secular media, on the other. Often the Christian Right locks horns with supposedly liberal Eastern media elite and Hollywood entertainment companies. When a major Protestant denomination calls for an economic boycott of Disney, the resulting news reports suggest business as usual in the tensions between faith groups and media empires.
Schultze demonstrates how religion and the media in America have borrowed each other’s rhetoric. In the process, they have also helped to keep each other honest, pointing out respective foibles and pretensions. Christian media have offered the public as well as religious tribes some of the best media criticism— better than most of the media criticism produced by mainstream media themselves. Meanwhile, mainstream media have rightly taken particular churches to task for misdeeds as well as offered some surprisingly good depictions of religious life.
The tension between Christian groups and the media in America ultimately is a good thing that can serve the interest of democratic life. As Alexis de Tocqueville discovered in the 1830s, American Christianity can foster the “habits of the heart” that ward off the antisocial acids of radical individualism. And, as John Dewey argued a century later, the media offer some of our best hopes for maintaining a public life in the face of the religious tribalism that can erode democracy from within. Mainstream media and Christianity will always be at odds in a democracy. That is exactly the way it should be for the good of each one.
Published by: Michigan State University Press
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I address in this book the relationship between the mass media and Christian “tribes” in America. At its core this relationship is a dynamic tension between civil generality, on the one hand, and a sectarian particularity, on the other. The Christian metanarrative of transcendence assumes a theistic perspective where God acts in real human history; this God-oriented view of human affairs is never fully in accord with the mainstream media’s own...
Chapter 1: CONVERSING ABOUT FAITH AND MEDIA IN AMERICA
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Alexis de Tocqueville recalled reading a news story during his visit to the United States in the 1830s about a court in New York where a witness declared that he did not believe in the existence of God or the immortality of the soul. As a result of the witness’s confession, the judge refused “to accept his oath, given, he said, that the witness had destroyed in advance all the faith that could have been put in his words.” Apparently...
Chapter 2: PRAISING TECHNOLOGY: EVANGELICAL POPULISM EMBRACES AMERICAN FUTURISM
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In 1995 Americans witnessed a remarkable technological feat as the Hubble space telescope captured images of the planet Mars and broadcast them via satellites and cable to viewers around the world. As the photographs were shown on television and printed in newspapers, journalists began reporting that Americans saw meaningful images in them—like the interpretations of inkblot designs. “Pictures taken by the . . . telescope have...
Chapter 3: LEADING THE TRIBES OUT OF EXILE: THE RELIGIOUS PRESS DISCERNS BROADCASTING
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In 1936 General Francisco Franco and other military leaders revolted against the Popular Front government of the Second Spanish Republic, plunging the country into a devastating civil war that would last until 1939. American Roman Catholics faced divided loyalties in trying to stake out positions in the public discourse about the war. Hoping that the Republic...
Chapter 4: CONVERTING TO CONSUMERISM: EVANGELICAL RADIO EMBRACES THE MARKET
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When Everett C. Parker conducted the first major study of religious radio broadcasting in America, he had no idea what he would discover.1 It was 1941, and World War II was drawing the nation’s attention to Europe as the commercial radio networks already garnered large national audiences. Parker sent questionnaires to the management of all...
Chapter 5: SEARCHING FOR COMMUNION: THE CHRISTIAN METANARRATIVE MEETS POPULAR MYTHOLOGY
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In a short story entitled “The Lost Civilization of Deli,” raconteur Jean Shepherd projects a future world where archaeologists excavate the ruins of the great North American culture of “Fun City,” known previously as New York. Deep in the remains of a skyscraper the archaeologists exhume the dusty contents of a gray metal vault, perhaps a sacred burial site....
Chapter 6: COMMUNING WITH CIVIL SIN: MAINSTREAM MEDIA PURGE EVIL
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In his classic book Public Opinion Walter Lippmann distinguished between the “world outside” and the “pictures in our heads.” Writing in the early 1920s, he observed the growing role of the mass media in modern society. He cogently argued that the media were a “pseudo-environment”—a...
Chapter 7: DISCERNING PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISM: REPORTERS ADOPT FUNDAMENTALIST DISCOURSE
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In 1996 Today show host Bryant Gumble interviewed former U.S. president Jimmy Carter about his new autobiography. Gumble asked Carter the following question: “You write that you prayed more during your four years in office than basically at any time in your life, and yet I think it’s fair...
Chapter 8: PRAISING DEMOCRACY: EMBRACING RELIGION IN A MASS-MEDIATED SOCIETY
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In his classic sociology textbook published in 1909, Charles Horton Cooley assessed the relationship between democracy and religion. “The democratic movement,” he wrote, “insomuch as it feels a common spirit in all men, is of the same nature as Christianity; and it is said with truth that...
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Page Count: 512
Publication Year: 2003