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From Yahweh to Yahoo!

From Yahweh to Yahoo!: The Religious Roots of the Secular Press

Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 368
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    From Yahweh to Yahoo!
    Book Description:

    Presenting religion as journalism's silent partner, From Yahweh to Yahoo! provides a fresh and surprising view of the religious impulses at work in the typical newsroom by delving into the largely unexamined parallels between religion and journalism, from the "media" of antiquity to the electronic idolatry of the Internet. Focusing on how the history of religion in the United States has been entwined with the growth of the media, Doug Underwood makes the case that American journalists are rooted in the nation's moral and religious heritage and operate, in important ways, as personifications of the old religious virtues._x000B__x000B_Underwood traces religion's influence on mass communication from the biblical prophets to the Protestant Reformation, from the muckraker and Social Gospel campaigns of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to the modern age of mass media. While forces have pushed journalists away from identifying themselves with religion, they still approach such secular topics as science, technology, and psychology in reverential ways. This wide-ranging study--hailed by American Journalism as one of the best books in its field--thoughtfully analyzes the press's formulaic coverage of spiritual experience, its failure to cover new and non-Christian religions in America, and the complicity of the mainstream media in launching the religious broadcasting movement.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09268-8
    Subjects: Religion, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. Introduction: Journalism Facing Faith
    (pp. 1-16)

    The columnist Richard Reeves describes the modern media as being like the weather—always there, always surrounding us, and always a major factor in our lives, whether we like it or not.¹ Yet as we begin the twenty-first century, it seems that virtually everyone—from philosophers to media critics to ministers to academics—identifies the media as a powerful, alienating force that must bear a large share of the responsibility for human beings’ feeling resentful and angst-ridden about modern circumstances. The existentialist philosopher José Ortega y Gasset lamented the “low spiritual plane” upon which the press operates,² and the media...


    • CHAPTER 1 Prophetic Journalism: Moral Outrage and the News
      (pp. 19-32)

      When the Protestant-dominated Long Parliament in England faced an upsurge in polemical religious literature in 1643, it did the accustomed thing: it passed an ordinance that attempted to control the content of printed material through licensing and censorship laws. At the time, a young man was wandering the English countryside, preparing for a ministry that would challenge religious and governmental authority, thereby playing an important role in ending censorship of the press in England and laying the foundations for today’s press freedoms.

      George Fox is best remembered as the founder of the Quaker movement, but the spirit embodied in his...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Profits of Reform: Printers, Capitalists, and the Priesthood of Believers
      (pp. 33-46)

      Soon after Martin Luther posted his ninety-five treatises on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517, he was surprised to discover that he had become, in modern parlance, a best-selling writer. In a matter of days, his message had been translated and reprinted on the newly invented printing press in such towns as Nuremberg, Leipzig, and Basel, and it had circulated so widely that, in the words of the media historian Elizabeth Eisenstein, it had “won top billing throughout central Europe—competing for space with news of the Turkish threat in print shop, bookstall, and country fair.”¹

      Luther was...

    • CHAPTER 3 Skeptics of Faith or Faith in Skepticism? Enlightening the Journalistic Mind
      (pp. 47-60)

      Samuel Johnson was once asked what he thought of the philosophy of Bishop George Berkeley, who, as a “subjective idealist,” believed that reality was lodged only in the mind of God and that matter did not exist apart from its being perceived in the God-given human imagination. Johnson, in a demonstration of disdain, kicked a nearby stone and declared, “I refute it thus.”¹ In this famous gesture, Johnson, the eighteenth-century journalist and lexicographer, conveyed exactly what we recognize today as the journalist’s pragmatic, commonsensical stance toward the great questions of life. We can argue about “reality” forever as the world...

    • CHAPTER 4 Mystics, Idealists, and Utopians: Journalism and the Romantic Tradition
      (pp. 61-75)

      Journalism has always been considered a romantic profession, at least by journalists themselves. The greatest journalistic figure to span the romantic age was Horace Greeley, whose famous statement, “Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country,” encompasses the yearning, the hopefulness, and the grand ambitions associated with the pursuit of the American dream.¹

      Greeley imbibed fully the nineteenth-century atmosphere of romantic idealism and packaged it into what we consider even today as the prototype of the public-spirited American editor. Beneath the Greeley ethic—as beneath the whole romantic movement in America—lay religion, transformed and suffused...

    • CHAPTER 5 Muckraking the Nation’s Conscience: Journalists and the Social Gospel
      (pp. 76-87)

      The humor magazinePuckpublished a satiric cartoon in 1906, depicting American muckraking journalists as Christian crusaders—with S. S. McClure carrying a crossbow in the lead and Lincoln Steffens helmeted and sitting astride a war horse—heading off to do battle with the forces of evil.¹ The muckrakers proudly accepted the idea that their reform movement was being carried out in the spirit of Jesus’ call for social and religious renewal. When criticized for his “Jesus complex,” Upton Sinclair responded, “The world needs a Jesus more than it needs anything else.”² At one point, Steffens planned to write a...

    • CHAPTER 6 Mencken, Monkeys, and Modernity: A New Metaphysic for the Newsroom
      (pp. 88-101)

      When the young Theodore Dreiser, ambitious, impressionable, and at the beginning of a lifelong rebellion against conventional religion, went to work as a reporter for theChicago Daily Globein 1892, he discovered among his professional cohorts an exciting new guiding philosophy—a metaphysic for the newsroom that probably exists in as many of today’s big-city newsrooms as it did in Dreiser’s time. Among the cynical and irreverent journalists of theGlobe—“hard, gallant adventurers,” as Dreiser described them—Dreiser said he was “finally liberated” from the “moralistic and religionistic qualms” that he had inherited from a rigid and orthodox...

    • CHAPTER 7 Pragmatism and the “Facts” of Religious Experience: The Model for a Synthesis
      (pp. 102-114)

      One fall morning in 1908, the nineteen-year-old Harvard undergraduate Walter Lippmann answered a knock at his dormitory door. To Lippmann’s astonishment, standing outside was a white-bearded Harvard professor, perhaps the most famous writer and thinker of his generation, who told Lippmann that he had come to congratulate him for an article that Lippmann had written for a student magazine. In the article, Lippmann had attacked cultural elitism and defended the values of working people, and it had clearly impressed the social justice–loving William James, the philosopher, psychologist, and author ofThe Varieties of Religious Experience,which laid out James’s...


    • CHAPTER 8 Trusting Their Guts: The Moral Compass of a Doubters’ Profession
      (pp. 117-129)

      E. W. Scripps was a quarrelsome old cuss, a hard-drinking, willful, dominating personality who said what was on his mind and the world be damned. While Scripps may be best known as one of the earliest developers of the newspaper chain, in his memoirs he spent a good bit of time musing about journalistic morals and philosophizing about the conflicting feelings he had about religion’s impact on his professional outlook. “I cannot recall the time when I was not what is commonly called an atheist,” Scripps wrote. “I do not believe in God, or any being equal to or similar...

    • CHAPTER 9 “I Will Show You My Faith by What I Do”: A Survey of the Religious Beliefs of Journalists and Journalists’ Faith Put into Action
      (pp. 130-147)

      Ralph Cipriano is the prototype for the modern religion reporter, at least in the minds of those who believe the media have become secular in orientation, implicitly anti–church establishment in outlook, and interested in covering religion only when it involves the bizarre, the entertaining, or the shocking. “I hung out with a voodoo group and watched them do a goat sacrifice,” Cipriano told theAmerican Journalism Reviewin explaining his editors’ desire that he “liven up” the religion beat he covered for thePhiladelphia Inquirer.“I wrote about a 300-pound former night watchman who was a Baptist preacher and...

    • CHAPTER 10 Religion, Morality, and Professional Values: A Study of the Ethical Sources of Today’s Journalists
      (pp. 148-162)

      In recent years, journalists have appeared somewhat at a loss when faced with ethical conundrums and perplexing moral problems, particularly when they recognize that the public does not necessarily view journalists, as they often view themselves, as guardians of public morality. This can be seen in the frustration many members of the media—especially those in the Beltway culture of Washington, D.C.—experienced with the political scandals that obsessed the nation’s capital after the election of President Bill Clinton in 1992. Washington journalists played a key role, either as the original investigators or as a pipeline for partisan accusations, in...


    • CHAPTER 11 The Cult of Science and the Scientifically Challenged Press
      (pp. 165-178)

      The way theNew York Timesreported it, Dr.Stephen Hawking—despite being confined to a wheelchair, completely paralyzed from Lou Gehrig’s disease, and able to communicate only through a computer synthesizer—managed a broad grin during a Chicago convention of physicists. Hawking, like his fellow “cosmologists” in the audience, was showing his amusement at a comment from a colleague that, at least in broad outline, their scenario of the history of the cosmos was a lot like St. Augustine’s sixteen hundred years ago. The moment of “laughter” and “humility,” as the reporter described it, was something that might have been...

    • CHAPTER 12 The Mind of the Inquiring Reporter: Psychology and the Science of the Soul
      (pp. 179-191)

      Like many famous people, Sigmund Freud had little use for the popular press. “Why [do] you still believe anything you read in an American newspaper?” he grumbled to a disciple in 1928. The article that had provoked Freud’s scorn was aNew York Timesaccount of the controversy created by Freud’s latest book,The Future of an Illusion,where the Viennese founder of psychoanalysis contended that religion amounted to little more than a childish illusion and the projections of wish fulfillments of ancient peoples. The headlines of the article read “Religion Doomed/Freud Asserts/Says It Is at Point Where It Must...

    • CHAPTER 13 The Press, Politics, and Religion in the Public Square
      (pp. 192-205)

      It was such a good piece of political gossip, even back in 1950, that reporters probably could be excused for not focusing on the religious angle: Drew Pearson, liberal Quaker and the preeminent investigative journalist in the nation’s capital, was kneed twice in the groin in the cloakroom of a private Washington, D.C., club by the angry and drunken Senator Joseph McCarthy, the anticommunist inquisitor of the early cold war years. The fight—with McCarthy slapping Pearson around “movie-villain fashion” after exchanging insults at a dinner party—was broken up by Senator Richard Nixon, evangelical Quaker, McCarthy’s ally in the...

    • CHAPTER 14 Foundations of Sand: Technology Worship and the Internet
      (pp. 206-215)

      It was meant as a parody, but theBoston Globestill called the wire story about Microsoft’s acquisition of the Catholic church a “serious” statement about the higher power of the Internet and Microsoft’s reverential status within it. In 1994, soon after the Internet had burst into the consciousness of journalists and the public, a spoof Associated Press story datelined the Vatican was put out on the Web, saying that Microsoft planned to buy the Catholic church and had made Pope John Paul II a senior vice president of religious software. Microsoft was so concerned that it issued a press...

    • CHAPTER 15 The Gospel of Public Journalism: The Newsroom Communitarians and the Search for Civic Virtue
      (pp. 216-230)

      I learned recently what James Carey meant when he referred to the use of the wordpublicas the “god term” of journalism.¹ While on a panel at a conference of journalism teachers and academics a few years ago, I warned that the “public journalism” movement was in danger of degenerating into just another newsroom marketing tactic at some newspapers. A woman in the audience, her voice breaking with emotion, asked me if I had any understanding of how many people had given their hearts and their souls to the concept of public journalism and how much hope it gave...


    • CHAPTER 16 Jesus without Journalists: Miracles and Mysteries, Minus Media Reports
      (pp. 233-248)

      In 1945, an Egyptian peasant unearthed an urn that contained what turned out to be one of the greatest finds in the history of Christian scholarship. But before the Nag Hammadi gospels came into the hands of authorities, a key, middle section of one of the discovered texts—the “Gospel of Mary,” ostensibly based on a vision of Jesus that came to Mary Magdalene after Jesus’ crucifixion—was found to be missing, apparently burned by the peasant’s family to kindle the breakfast oven.¹

      The missing parts of the “Gospel of Mary” will be forever tantalizing to scholars fascinated with the...

    • CHAPTER 17 Visions of Mary and the Less Than Visionary Press: Religious Apparitions in the Framing of the Modern Media
      (pp. 249-252)

      The way theColumbus (Ohio) Dispatchdescribed it, there can be little doubt that the sightings of the Virgin Mary are a big and modern business.¹ A Web site devoted to apparitions of Mary and Jesus lists dozens of religious sightings all over the world dating back to 1347, with a star indicating full Catholic church approval, a Bible denoting bishop’s approval, and a thumbs down indicating “discouraged by bishop.” In a droll interpretive dig, the columnist Mike Harden added how disappointed he was that his favorite sightings—Jesus on an oil storage tanker in Fostoria, Ohio, and Christ on...

    • CHAPTER 18 Proselytizing and Profits: The Growth of Televangelism and the Collaboration of the Mainstream Press
      (pp. 253-263)

      In the early 1980s, when I was a legislative correspondent for theSeattle Times,I witnessed what to me was a startling event on the steps of the Washington state capitol in Olympia. Jerry Falwell, the well-known televangelist and the founder of the Moral Majority, brought to the Washington legislature his crusade to inject conservative Christian moral and family values into politics. Replete with a choir singing patriotic and religious hymns, banners draping buses and other vehicles, and well-scrubbed followers passing out literature to the crowd, Falwell spoke to the audience in God- and Christ-laden terms while laying out a...

    • CHAPTER 19 Pluralism and the Press’s Blind Spots: The Coverage of Religious Diversity at Home and Abroad
      (pp. 264-270)

      It did not take theBoston Heraldlong to speculate that the October 1999 crash of the Egypt Air flight might involve terrorism. There was no shortage of suspects, the newspaper wrote on the day after the disaster: the terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, the al-Jihad organization that assassinated Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981, the groups responsible for the 1997 tourist massacre in Luxor or the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.¹

      TheHerald’s coverage was only the beginning of a steady flow of stories in the U.S. media suggesting that terrorism was involved in...

  9. Afterword
    (pp. 271-280)

    The television journalist David Frost always seems to elicit the most candid self-revelations from the Americans he interviews, perhaps because he is British or because his questions are so probing and unexpected. Clearly, he surprised Bill Gates, the multibillionaire software superstar and our era’s most celebrated capitalist, when he asked Gates during a television interview if he believed in God. Gates, who was promoting his new book,The Road Ahead,stammered out a vague and what was intended to be deflecting answer (which, in effect, indicated he was skeptical of the concept), but the expression on his face registered his...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 281-318)
  11. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 319-330)
  12. Index
    (pp. 331-346)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 347-350)