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An Analysis of Religion in the Media

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An Analysis of Religion in the Media

In analyzing religion as it is displayed in the media, one can view a number of patterns that news media use to report on this controversial subject. The book Secular Media, by Mark Silk, discusses several commonly accepted moral themes, called topoi, that are present in the news media’s coverage of religion. Several themes, including good works, inclusion, and opposition to false prophecy, can easily be found when religion is examined in this light. Silk’s writing helps readers to understand what forces are at play when a newspaper decides to write an article on religion by revealing these topoi that allow their stories to be generally accepted by the populace. Indeed, the media both shape and are bound by the moral views of the populace.

While discussing religion in the media, Silk explains that the news media believes that inclusion of diverse religious practices is, to a certain point, a good thing. He refers to numerous examples to illustrate this point. One of his examples is the position of Judaism in America, covering a 1955 article praising the Jews and noting the effect of such articles at decreasing anti-Semitism in the United States. This particular article claims that Jews “have smaller crime, divorce, delinquency, and alcoholism rates than the population at large and more college graduates” (Silk 106) and goes on to discuss how Jews are typical Americans who exist as normal, productive members of society. The media often prints stories about minority religions (at least those it deems unthreatening) seeking to portray their members as conforming to “American values,” which typically include productivity and community involvement through good works, which are expected of religious movements in the public’s eye. On the same vein, the Los Angeles Daily News recently published a religious article seeking to increase acceptance of pagans, a religious minority that has faced a fairly high amount of ignorance and resulting discrimination. It discuses the life of a practitioner of pagan beliefs, describing her as “a pretty typical Santa Clarita mom” (Rock) and noting that she participates actively in her community. The article also explains the practice of meeting in a coven and notes that, despite their reputation, covens are not much dissimilar from other social gatherings. It goes on to say that most pagans are solitary practitioners who occasionally meet in groups (Rock). Perhaps one of the more interesting ways this article fits the inclusion topos is that, over time, more religions become acceptable to the news media. Silk notes that Mormons were seen in a highly negative light until the mid-twentieth century, but that after 1930, the news media began running positive stories on them that strongly increased their image in the public sphere (Silk 107). This article seems to be attempting to do the same thing with paganism, which would likely not have been acceptable even in the period of increasing tolerance for Mormon beliefs. It also focuses on the fact that pagans are active contributors to society, doing such cheritable work as holding food drives, fundraising for victims of domestic abuse, and fighting AIDS. This fits the good works topos effectively, as the public at large holds that one of religion’s duties is to perform good works for people. The article is able to place paganism on the same level as other religions by making this connection, showing that since pagans perform good works, they must be a valid religion too (as opposed a “cult,” which holds an entirely different connotation). Clearly, the media wields an enormous amount of power in increasing public acceptability of religions that it deems non-threatening.

However, not all religions receive this type of treatment at the hands of the media. Enter the Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (or FLDS), an offshoot of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (or LDS) that split off of that church following the proclamation that polygamy was no longer acceptable. This religion falls under the media’s topos of false prophecy, as it shares a number of traits that cause it to be perceived as undesirable in that sense. The topos of false prophesy was used to the detriment of the LDS church from its outset until the mid-twentieth century. According to Unsecular Media, the main weapon the media used against that church was its early practice of polygamy, a concept that was entirely unacceptable to mainstream thought of the time. The presence of such a large polygamous religious sect caused many to feel threatened and resulted in a hailstorm of media criticism; indeed, 85% of all articles about the LDS church were negative and two-thirds emphasized polygamy (Silk 93). This topos also includes fear of too much power wielded by church leadership. Silk notes, “the LDS church was charged with exercising �un-American’

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