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Christians & The Separation Of Media And Life

I’m a big fan of This American Life, so it was gratifying to see host Ira Glass, an atheist, say that Christians get a bad deal from the media. What’s interesting about the clip above is his saying that he noticed a big discrepancy between the way Christians are portrayed in the media, and the actual Christians he knew personally. And not just mainline Protestants, he says, but even a fundamentalist colleague.

Speaking of media distortion, did you see this funny satire [1] of the American media? It asks the question, “What if the foreign press covered America the way the American media covers overseas?”

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28 Comments To "Christians & The Separation Of Media And Life"

#1 Comment By Thursday On June 11, 2013 @ 6:49 pm

If you want a good example of what Glass is talking about, I’d advise you watch the Emma Stone movie Easy A. If any other group than Christians had been portrayed that way in a popular movie, there would have been an incredible outcry.

#2 Comment By Art Deco On June 11, 2013 @ 7:26 pm

The satire fails when it occurs to one that there are actual differences between political societies, making a certain sort of diction appropriate in one and not in another. I doubt there are more than two or three Latin American countries where an ordinary American correspondent would make use of these tropes (and a political sectary like the late Penny Lernoux would have used different tropes).

#3 Comment By shecky On June 11, 2013 @ 8:34 pm

Wasn’t the guy in Three Kings going off to pray, Ice Cube, as a Muslim?

#4 Comment By EliteCommInc. On June 11, 2013 @ 9:39 pm

“If any other group than Christians had been portrayed that way in a popular movie, there would have been an incredible outcry.”

That’s a hard movie to watch. One hopes that is not going on among HS students.

But I do agree.

#5 Comment By Darwin’s S-list On June 11, 2013 @ 10:36 pm

I really like Ira Glass. He initially comes across as the apotheosis of SWPL nebbishness, but if you listen long enough, it becomes clear that he has no use for easy cliche’s regardless of whom they comfort. He also uses radio to tell a story as well as anybody in the medium.

May he thrive.

#6 Comment By tricstmr On June 11, 2013 @ 11:44 pm

I’d have to agree (also an atheist) that many times christians–especially the standard ordinary christian folks that we all know–are not really represented in the media. Instead, you see stereotypes and a focus on “the crazies.”

Now–a couple things to notice:
1. Some of this may come from the focus on “christian leaders”–as defined by the most radical people who claim to be leaders in the christian world. When you focus on Pat Robertson–you are going to find a lot of crazy. If you were to talk to my cousin Tom–who’s pretty close to what I’d describe as a “fundamentalist catholic” (I know it’s odd–but I was at a catholic mass where they spoke in tongues… )–you’d find someone who’s really smart, really good, and who I totally disagree with about politics, religion and other such topics–but who is not an asshole at all. He’s a good man and he tries to do what is right.

2. Another aspect is that good people like my cousin Tom–well–they’re just not considered media worthy. Who wants to hear about sane people who are deeply religious, but tolerant, considerate, and who manage to get along with people different than themselves.

I do, but apparently media types of all kinds (whether right or left wing media) don’t talk about these people at all.

3. I’m not sure that most atheists are portrayed as all that reasonable in mainstream media either. They like to pick the strident ones–the crazies–also. They don’t try to find people like me–who are atheist, but who have lots of christian friends and who are rather impressed with the new pope–even if we don’t like a number of his positions.

Overall–it’s just so much easier to focus on simple stereotypes rather than trying to convey the complexity of most humans. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

“The aim of science is to seek the simplest explanations of complex facts. We are apt to fall into the error of thinking that the facts are simple because simplicity is the goal of our quest. The guiding motto in the life of every natural philosopher should be, ‘Seek simplicity and distrust it.'”–Alfred North Whitehead.

This should apply to the media also…

#7 Comment By bayesian On June 11, 2013 @ 11:59 pm

@shecky

Ice Cube’s character SSGT Elgin was very much a Christian. Not sure what you mean by “as a Muslim”.

#8 Comment By Chris 1 On June 12, 2013 @ 12:08 am

My observation is informed by 35 years (and counting) in “the media.”

The harshest critics of Christianity are ex-Christians. The more intensely committed they were the harsher they are … ex-Evangelicals first, ex-Protestants second, ex-Roman Catholics third (though they tend to confine their harshness to the clergy and not the faith per se), and ex-Orthodox Christians last. That last group might be because there are so few of them…hard to tell.

The problem is one of betrayal, those who feel the most betrayed are most harsh, and the Roman Catholics tend to associate their betrayal with clergy rather than Christ.

So Christians are not treated fairly by the media, at the hands of ex-Christians, but it’s hard to think that this treatment was not earned. Doesn’t make it right, but it does make it understandable.

#9 Comment By Josh McGee On June 12, 2013 @ 12:20 am

I don’t have time to expand on this and am leaving myself exposed to wild misunderstanding, but from the Christian perspective it is arguably a much better position to be in when somewhat reviled/ridiculed than to be generally ignored, so long as this dissonance exists (the portrayal of Christians being much different – worse – than the average person’s personal experience of them.)

There are, of course, other options (being adored, for example), so I am aware that can sometimes be a false, unnecessary choice even within this context. Yet, those two I mention seem to be the major alternatives in the present realm of pop media/entertainment.

#10 Comment By William Dalton On June 12, 2013 @ 1:51 am

I remember that it was on Ira Glass’ “This American Life”, not some Christian radio program, that I heard documented the story of how the APA came to declassify homosexuality as a behavioral disorder, not as a result of any scientific discoveries, but simply as a result of a campaign of lobbying and browbeating. Not what I expected to hear on NPR. And I always find the program worthwhile listening – frequently informing me of other things I did not know.

#11 Comment By Charles Cosimano On June 12, 2013 @ 3:02 am

Ordinary people usually make for pretty dull television. The life of the average Christian down the block is probably as about as uninteresting as the life of the average atheist. It is caricature that makes for interesting stories. Elmer Gantry is a pretty interesting character.

And let us be honest, the Evanglicals really lend themselves to it with their propensity for spouting idiocy, such as “Can a Christian Watch The Game of Thrones?” That sort of nonsense is just begging to be made fun of.

The other thing is that the Evangelical silliness is, for the most part, pretty harmless. So it makes good comedy. It is not the madness of Islam, which can only portrayed as madness with no redeeming qualities. And Catholicism has been an easy target, but now with sado-masochistic lesbian nuns and child molesting bishops it is no longer the stuff of belly-laugh lampoon. That is dealing with the dark side.

Now I could write a very funny movie about Aliens landing in Milwaukee disguised as Orthodox priests because there is already a church here that looks like a flying saucer landed and it would give the aliens perfect cover. They just replace the church building with their real flying saucer and no one can tell the difference. I mean, Greek kind of sounds like Martian…

#12 Comment By spite On June 12, 2013 @ 9:37 am

Its generally more funny if the people your are making fun of are the ones in power, Christians don’t hold that much power anymore.

#13 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On June 12, 2013 @ 9:42 am

Part of the problem Christians face with the media is inflicted by their self appointed media representatives. Think about the mountains of cringe worthy public statements by people like Pat Robertson, Harold Camping, Ray Comfort, Ken Ham, Albert Mohler, Andrew Schlafly ( [2]), and the elusive, yet strangely omnipresent Jack Chick*.

What’s really funny is Pat Robertson has been publicly telling Ken Ham to knock off the young Earth crazy talk. You know you’re crazy when Pat Robertson notices.

I didn’t mention Jerry Falwell because he’s dead. Plus I figured he might be a deep cover atheist because he could knock the insanity out of the park.

* While Jack Chick tracts are comic gold they get handed out by people who really believe that nonsense.

#14 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On June 12, 2013 @ 10:05 am

tricstmr said:

Another aspect is that good people like my cousin Tom–well–they’re just not considered media worthy.

True enough. Basically the media has sampling bias. For every snake handler who dies there’s probably a million normal people. But one makes news and a million don’t.

This is a general problem with the media which is why people who watch too much news develop a skewed view of reality.

#15 Comment By Chris On June 12, 2013 @ 10:16 am

What this says to me is that Ira Glass is more honest than most members of the media, and he doesn’t like cheap shots and dishonest reporting. He actually likes nuance. That quality is rare in humans and extremely rare in our media. Good for him.

#16 Comment By Fran Macadam On June 12, 2013 @ 10:24 am

Jesus sets a pretty high example in peoples’ minds, Christian or not. So when those who identify as Christians fall far short, they are held to that standard by the world and judged hypocrites, even though that standard is one the world doesn’t even try to measure up to.

Is this unfair? You can learn a lot from your critics, because they’ll tell you truths your friends won’t and you can’t. There’s a reason that the most sympathetic and ethical non-Christians have said, as Ghandi did, “I like your Christ but not your Christians.”

#17 Comment By Rheinhardt On June 12, 2013 @ 11:34 am

Media and secular society’s hatred of Christianity does not stem from their lack of understanding Christianity. Mostly, they do and for this reason you have a Hollywood made up of people who have a grudge against what Jesus preached. It is, indeed, a narrow path but God is ultimately merciful to those who confess their short comings. Oh yes, Christians are hypocrites, but they will be the first to admit it.

#18 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On June 12, 2013 @ 12:14 pm

Rheinhardt said:

Mostly, they do and for this reason you have a Hollywood made up of people who have a grudge against what Jesus preached.

Jesus preached against a lot of things (e.g. praying in public, the love of wealth, mocking the poor, holding grudges), so you might want to be more specific in your criticism.

#19 Comment By Chris 1 On June 12, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

…you have a Hollywood made up of people who have a grudge against what Jesus preached.

To the contrary, we have many people here in Hollywood who have a grudge against how their denominations and/or congregations treated them in the name of Jesus Christ.

#20 Comment By shecky On June 12, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

bayesian:

Don’t take offense. It’s been a while since I saw the movie. It’s not entirely out of left field for an African American man to be portrayed as a Muslim or praying.

I do think Glass is a little off base here, for a couple reasons. American Christians seem often eager to portray themselves as a fairly extreme and persecuted lot, even among other Christians. And it isn’t only the awful liberal media doing this. The conservative media seems to wear its Christian showmanship on its sleeve in ever more ridiculous displays more with every passing day, it seems. Many Christians , Rod included, seem to lament their loss of influence, despite the durability of Christian culture in the US. Furthermore, people, and Americans in particular, tend to take a dimmer view of mass media that appears to be “punching down”. Glass notes it’s hard to feel sorry for a group that’s a majority. Even moreso when that majority starts dumping on a minority.

A curious thing here is that This American Life hasn’t shied away from focusing on crazy or repugnant Christians over the years. The strength of the show is that it also doesn’t shy away from nuance, such as that story about changing the DSM, where the APA was browbeaten and lobbied into delisting homosexuality as a disorder, even if it turns out it actually was browbeaten by science, among other things.

#21 Comment By David J. White On June 12, 2013 @ 1:56 pm

The problem is one of betrayal, those who feel the most betrayed are most harsh […] So Christians are not treated fairly by the media, at the hands of ex-Christians, but it’s hard to think that this treatment was not earned.

“Earned”?!? Just because you feel “betrayed” doesn’t mean that someone else actually “betrayed” you. If you feel “betrayed”, maybe the fault was yours. I know plenty of ex-Catholics who are angry with the Church and might even described their feelings as “betrayal”, but in fact what happened is that they wanted to do whatever they wanted to do without having to feel bad about it, and didn’t like the fact that the Church said “no”. How does that constitute “betrayal”?

#22 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 12, 2013 @ 2:52 pm

What do Christians need a good press for? Does it make for a better relationship with God? Who cares what the press is saying?

Jesus went further than that as recorded in Luke 6:

22“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

#23 Comment By bayesian On June 12, 2013 @ 5:17 pm

@shecky (greene?)

No offense taken (FWIW, I’m not a Christian). I was just confused by the syntax.

I do recall commentary when the movie came out about how unusual that it was for a Big Hollywood Movie to play a serious Christian straight as a protagonist (though very much a secondary protagonist, a deuteragonist more or less)..

#24 Comment By GCR On June 12, 2013 @ 5:26 pm

I’m a Christian who works in the media (believe it or not, we do exist!), and honestly, I don’t think we do that great a job of portraying ANYONE.
Part of that is just the nature of mass communication – emphasis on the “mass.” Stereotypes are easier when you’re trying to summarize the majority of the world’s population in two paragraphs or two minutes of video.

#25 Comment By GCR On June 12, 2013 @ 6:52 pm

Also, even when the media says nice things about Christians, some Christians still get upset.

Case in point: Tom Krattenmaker has a new book out called “The Evangelicals You Don’t Know,” presumably about the types of Christians Ira Glass would like, and the Gospel Coalition (which I really do not like at all) bashed it to high heaven.

#26 Comment By bigKirb On June 12, 2013 @ 6:57 pm

It’s part of the Christian narrative to be oppressed. Whether it’s real or imagined is irrelevant. All of this “media abuse” is just taken as fact because, well, it HAS to be this way.

#27 Comment By Thursday On June 12, 2013 @ 8:17 pm

Tom Krattenmaker has a new book out called “The Evangelicals You Don’t Know,” presumably about the types of Christians Ira Glass would like, and the Gospel Coalition (which I really do not like at all) bashed it to high heaven.

This is an extreme misrepresentation. The GC review is here:
[3]

From the review, Krattenmaker seems to want to promote a new narrative of evangelicals who agree with progressives (they do exist) = good people, evangelicals who don’t agree with progressives = bad. “They’re not all bad, especially the ones who agree with us” is not much of an improvement, hence the lukewarm to negative review. Now, maybe the reviewer characterizes the book, but it does seem pretty condescending, and hence not much of a challenge to the dominant “evangelicals are evil and crazy” narrative.

#28 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On June 13, 2013 @ 2:02 pm

Re: That’s a hard movie to watch. One hopes that is not going on among HS students.

Uh, not really. Wasn’t the message of the movie that a lot of high school kids talk about sex a lot more than they actually have it?