Posted by: clavelle | February 16, 2009

The Media Inhibits Real Growth

media_monkeysOne thing that I’ve loved to observe this semester is how the major news channels (Fox News, MSNBC, CNN) react to men such as Christopher Hitchens when they bring them on to discuss certain issues.  Watch the body posture of the news anchors, how they will interrupt and add little apologetic comments, or even debase someone like Hitchens before he has a chance to say a word.  They frame questions in a way that clearly try to make him look foolish and make themselves look like good defenders of the faith.

Not only this, but if you scan through YouTube, you can also find Vatican spokesmen (highlight “men”) who are one these news channels to “defend” their Christian claims.  However, they do so in such a superficial and apologetic way that overlooks some of the really strong arguments and positions that men like Christopher Hitchens has.  Instead of looking for the truth and good questions that people like Hitchens are raising, they have 3-4 minutes to defend, uphold and maintain authority and power.

This is the biggest problem facing these issues.  As we have all discovered in class, many of these claims and arguments require and need time.  They need to be discussed and worked through and digested.  Yet when the major news channels only bring these men on for 4 minutes, all that results is polarity, misunderstanding and judgments instead of real conversation and questioning.  Even books such as Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation provide only 100 pages of cheapshots, biased and inaccurate information and manipulative language that doesn’t do justice to the real depth of his problems with religion or the problems of religion themselves.  When I read this book I was incredibly frustrated by the lack of maturity, scholarship and argument.  Then I looked at the cover, and noticed it was a National Best Seller.

Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens have sold millions of copies of there books.  They appear to the mainstream public  in bursts of extremism, conflict and attacks and are treated by the media as simply that.  Granted, there have been conferences or lectures that dive a bit deeper into these issues, but this only benefits the few.  The majority of the public receives these ideas, which we are taking months to dive into and we all know that still won’t be enough time, in minutes, seconds, and superficial arguments with rebuttals just as equal in substance and time.  How can this change?  Is this the nature of our media culture right now?  In this New Atheism movement, it may be the media that is the most important power of them all.  How can we, as theologians, address this?

Check out some YouTube links:



  1. These videos were incredibly interesting and slightly frustrating to watch. After watching the first two, I instinctively tried to defend the “Christian side” by explaining away the conservative bias as being a known problem with FOX News. But, as I watched Hardball and the other interviews, it became more and more apparent that Christians are just as aggressive, unmannerly, impatient, and narrow-minded as Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens.

    I was most shocked by Bill Donahue, who instead of defending Mother Teresa’s faith in respectful debate fashion, lowered himself to level of simply insulting Hitchens. I literally laughed out loud in embarrassment when the best thing Donahue could say (to Hitchens) was, “an English man has to be quiet when an Irish man talks”.

    I’m glad you brought this up Ryan, as these videos help to reveal just how problematic debates between the New Atheists and Christians are. Neither side even attempts to listen to the other side, and as a result dialogue becomes an exchange of quick, shallow, personal insults rather than a productive exchange of ideas. It is important to note that while we cannot change the way some of the New Atheists debate, we can at least take care to note the way that we respond. No matter how the media portrays this subject matter, we need to take it all in, give the New Atheist arguments a chance (as Cat explained in her blog), and respond in a manner that is respectful and therefore deserves attention.

  2. Ryan, your observation about the body language of people conducting the interviews with the New Atheists is an interesting one. I didn’t really take note of it until you pointed it out, but you are correct. My reaction to it is that I think it is kind of an understandable reaction coming form the interviewers. Overall, I think people feel personally attacked when their faith is challenged. People seem to be more tolerant of opposing political views, or opposing lifestyles, or opposing ideas, but when it comes to religion there is a different kind of defensiveness. I would venture to guess that this is because faith, more than most things, so greatly determines how someone lives their life. It is more offensive to be wrong about the meaning of life than to be wrong about an outlook on life. I think this defensive mindset, the unwillingness to be offended in such a ultimate context, is the reason for the posture of the media personalities, and their hasty comments to denounce claims of New Atheism.

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