Q: Is there widespread media bias against Christianity? Against evangelicals such as Brit Hume and Sarah Palin? Against public figures who speak openly and directly about their faith? Against people who believe as you do?
For the last decade or so, I have regularly taught a course entitled “Religion, Politics, and Society.” As a part of it, I have kept track of the way the news and entertainment media treats religion in general, Christianity in particular, and people who are religiously committed. To some extent, I think Brit Hume and Sarah Palin are correct in their views about the mainstream media, which has a tendency to depict committed Christians, especially conservatives, as narrow minded, dim witted, somewhat ignorant, and often bigoted. However, many people who are strongly committed to their own religious beliefs or who are seen as conservative have not been treated much better by the media, irrespective of their religious affiliation. There are notable exceptions, such as the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, etc., but they are in the minority.
The causes of this approach to religion are several. One of the main reasons is the negative attitude that a number of those in the media seem to have toward conservatives in general. Those in the media who feel this way appear to think that all conservatives are fundamentalists, lack concern for others, believe theirs is the only true way, and want to force their views on everyone else. While I disagree with this view as an a priori characteristic of conservatives, for I know many who have none of these traits, such statements like those by Hume simply reinforce the prejudice and stereotype. His words revealed a genuine lack of understanding of the breadth of Buddhism, which has a variety of schools and a diversity of philosophic approaches to life. Hume is a public media figure and should know more about what he chooses to comment upon publicly.
The one thing I do agree with him, however, is that if someone had advised Woods to strengthen his Buddhism, few people would have objected. The advice would have simply been that maybe Woods should take his religion’s moral teachings more seriously. I don’t seek a problem with that. The problem with Hume’s comments was that he appeared to be using Wood’s situation as an excuse to try to get him to convert to his own religion, Christianity. Hume apparently thinks that becoming a Christian is sufficient for some to be made “right.” Has he never heard of Jim Baker, Jimmy Swaggart, Robert Tilton, or Ted Haggard, just to mention a few of the better known Christians who have had serious ethical problems? All of them were also Christian preachers, those who are supposed to set the example of how “good” Christians are to act.
Anyone who thinks that simply converting to a religion will somehow make a person “good” is both naive and simple minded. No religion “makes” someone good, in the same way that no tool in itself makes someone a good carpenter. Religions contain value systems and a variety of tools that can help guide people on a path to righteous living, provided the tools are used properly and the values are put to practice in one’s life in a positive way. I left Christianity not because I saw the religion as bad and lacking values, but because I did not find the specific tools I needed to help me build the kind of life and being that I was seeking. I became a Hindu not because all Hindus are good and the religion is perfect, but because I found a set of tools and a belief system that works for me. I also found a tradition that does not judge others simply based on their sectarian affiliation, and it that contains practices that I have found helpful in finding and following my path.
Religious beliefs and values can help to inspire great actions for the promotion of goodness. Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr, are notable recent examples of individuals who have done this. Religious beliefs can also be used to justify narrow mindedness, evil, and violence as well, such as the actions of suicide terrorists and those who seek to force others to believe exactly as they do.