- Christianity and the Mass Media in America: Toward a Democratic Accommodation
Since the mid-1980s Quentin J. Schultze has been one of the most important scholars explaining the intersection of media and religion. This book is the latest from his significant body of scholarship. With a variety of books and articles in religious and secular outlets that creatively address issues of media and religion, Schultze is uniquely positioned to survey the history and practices of American religion and American media. He makes a sophisticated argument on how that intersection is vital to the health of American democracy.
Drawing from the Chicago School of Social Thought—Charles Horton Cooley, Robert Park, Louis Wirth and James Carey—Schultze constructs five major rhetorical topoi used by Americans to guide their perspectives toward technology and the media. All these topoi were appropriated from Christianity by American Christians and non-Christians alike. The rhetoric of conversion drawn from the legacy of American revivalism views the media as a means to build a better world. Schultze states, "The ways that Americans imaginatively think of the media as means for improving society—whether through public-service campaigns, regulating media content, or winning the nation to Jesus Christ—are formed out of the nation's strongly Protestant and deeply evangelical roots in a sermonic rhetoric of conversion" (11). The rhetoric of discernment explores the ways Americans celebrate their differences as they create specific cultural groups or tribes. Religious groups, for example, create their own tribal media venues to establish their distinctive identity and often to argue with the wider society that they are a significant and legitimate group. The rhetoric of communion is where Americans use national media to participate in and create a "cross-tribal culture" of "shared national sentiment and belief." In addition, there are local versions of communion that create intertribal unity, so Schultze observes that most Americans "simultaneously broke bread at two communion tables—the nation and the tribe" (29). However, many American Christians never felt at home in American society so they constructed a rhetoric of exile. Fearing mainstream culture, exiles feel "vulnerable, beleaguered, and even exploited" (31). They often construct an alternative media and place within society-building a strong sense of self-identity. Sometimes they will even argue for a place in the broader culture and try to find a way out of their exile. Drawing from R. Laurence Moore's idea of religious outsiders, Schultze argues that the exile "identifies the enemies, coalesces the tribe, and directs tribal action toward a 'reclamation' of American life" (32). Finally, there is the rhetoric of praise or the populist impulse. Schultze states, "To be popular in American society, rhetorically speaking, is to be successful, [End Page 499] important, and legitimate" (35). And popularity invites a rhetoric of praise. This populist rhetoric challenged cultural elitism throughout American history. However, media and religious tribes have often clashed over what is praiseworthy as each has different perspectives over "what is or should be praiseworthy in a democratic nation" (40).
Chapter 2, "Praising Technology: Evangelical Populism Embraces American Futurism," ranges over the secular appropriation of the Christian idea of progress, the evangelical Christian belief in the missionary role of the media, the mythos of the electronic church to save the world through technology, and the quasi-religious perspective of science fiction toward technology to argue that Americans often "effortlessly substitute the apparent promises of technological progress for the hard work of communicating with each other" (87).
While most research focuses on Protestant responses to the electronic media, Schultze breaks new ground by investigating the Catholic response to the rise of radio and television in chapter 3, "Leading the Tribes out of Exile: The Religious Press Discerns Broadcasting." In this, one of the finest chapters in the entire book, Schultze shows that religious media need to be included in overall media history. Schultze states, "just as the history of communication is a major part of the 'history of civilization'—culture is expressed and passed along...