Christianity and the Mass Media in America

Christianity and the Mass Media in America: Toward a Democratic Accommodation

Quentin J. Schultze
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 440
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    Christianity and the Mass Media in America
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-87013-952-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    I address in this book the relationship between the mass media and Christian ʺtribesʺ 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 mediaʹs own subnarratives of immanence, which morally assume that human action is the beginning and end of history. Nevertheless, religious groups and the media borrow each otherʹs rhetoric both to embrace...

  4. 1 Conversing about Faith and Media in America
    (pp. 7-44)

    A lexis 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 witnessʹs confession, the judge refused ʺto accept his oath, given, he said, that the witness had destroyed in advance all the faith that could have been put in his words.ʺ Apparently astonished by the story, Tocqueville added to his report the fact that the newspaper offered no commentary about the...

  5. 2 Praising Technology: Evangelical Populism Embraces American Futurism
    (pp. 45-88)

    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. ʺPictures taken by the … telescope have created a phenomenon of sorts,ʺ said CNN television news anchor Lou Waters, ʺwith folks calling in, saying that they see something in these pictures that perhaps others of us do not see. Maybe itʹs becoming...

  6. 3 Leading the Tribes Out of Exile: The Religious Press Discerns Broadcasting
    (pp. 89-138)

    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 would become more democratic, and fearful of Francoʹs ʺcrusade,ʺ some Catholics argued for supporting the new Republican government even in the face of its violence against clerics of the state church. Other Catholics believed that Francoʹs campaign enjoyed clerical support and might, in spite...

  7. 4 Converting to Consumerism: Evangelical Radio Embraces the Market
    (pp. 139-174)

    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 nationʹs attention to Europe as the commercial radio networks already garnered large national audiences. Parker sent questionnaires to the management of all commercial radio stations in Chicago, hoping to gain a snapshot of their religious programming, including how much of it they aired, which types of religious programming seemed to hold listenersʹ interests, and how station management funded such broadcasts. Parker also sent questionnaires to the sponsors...

  8. 5 Searching for Communion: The Christian Metanarrative Meets Popular Mythology
    (pp. 175-220)

    In a short story entitled ʺThe Lost Civilization of Deli,ʺ raconteur Jean Shepherd projects a future world where archaeologists excavate the ruins of the great North American culture of ʺFun City,ʺ 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. The interior of the vault reveals row upon row of reels wound with celluloid and labeled in small script, ʺTV 60 Second Commercials.ʺ Months later the scientists determine in a laboratory that the films were strangely imprinted with images of special...

  9. 6 Communing with Civil Sin: Mainstream Media Purge Evil
    (pp. 221-262)

    In his classic bookPublic OpinionWalter Lippmann distinguished between the ʺworld outsideʺ and the ʺpictures in our heads.ʺ 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 ʺpseudo-environmentʺ—a human creation that people insert between themselves and their external world. This media environment, said Lippmann, is made up of ʺfictions.ʺ ʺBy fictions I do not mean lies,ʺ he wrote. ʺI mean a representation of the environment which is in lesser or greater degree made by man himself. The range of fiction extends all...

  10. 7 Discerning Professional Journalism: Reporters Adopt Fundamentalist Discourse
    (pp. 263-308)

    In 1996Todayshow host Bryant Gumble interviewed former U.S. president Jimmy Carter about his new autobiography. Gumble asked Carter the following question: ʺYou write that you prayed more during your four years in office than basically at any time in your life, and yet I think itʹs fair to say, and I hope this doesnʹt sound too harsh … you are consistently reviewed as one of the more ineffective Presidents of modern times. What do you think, if anything, that says about the power of prayer?ʺ¹

    Gumbleʹs leading question implicitly addresses the heart of this chapter. Should religious faith,...

  11. 8 Praising Democracy: Embracing Religion in a Mass-Mediated Society
    (pp. 309-352)

    In his classic sociology textbook published in 1909, Charles Horton Cooley assessed the relationship between democracy and religion. ʺThe democratic movement,ʺ he wrote, ʺinsomuch as it feels a common spirit in all men, is of the same nature as Christianity; and it is said with truth that while the world was never so careless as now of the mechanism of religion, it was never so Christian in feeling.ʺ Comparing the ʺhigher spirit of democracyʺ to the ʺteaching of Jesus Christ,ʺ Cooley claimed that Jesus ʺcalls the mind out of the narrow and transient self of sensual appetites and visible appurtenances,...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 353-422)
  13. Index
    (pp. 423-440)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 441-441)