Who Represents the Religious?

One of the realizations I had while writing I Sold My Soul on eBay was that there were more “liberal” religious people out there than I had ever anticipated. I rarely heard their voices in the press, so it was surprising to me that so many Christians with progressive views existed.

Apparently, Jerry Falwell didn’t represent most Christians.

Shocking.

Media Matters just published a study (PDF) that confirms that conservative religious views dominate the news media.

Here are their key findings:

  • Combining newspapers and television, conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed in news stories 2.8 times as often as were progressive religious leaders.
  • On television news — the three major television networks, the three major cable new channels, and PBS — conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed almost 3.8 times as often as progressive leaders.
  • In major newspapers, conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed 2.7 times as often as progressive leaders.

As Media Matters summarizes:

Despite the fact most religious Americans are moderate or progressive, in the news media it is overwhelmingly conservative leaders who are presented as the voice of religion.

Here’s one example of a typical trend, where conservatives were quoted, interviewed, or mentioned in major newspapers or television nearly three times as often as their progressive counterparts:

Quoted

It all just goes to show how skewed the representation of religion is in the media. The loudest voices don’t necessarily represent the most people. (And I have yet to meet a Catholic who agrees with Bill Donohue.) Still, the media flocks to the fundies when they need a religious soundbyte rather than seeking out someone with a shred of intelligence.


[tags]atheist, atheism, I Sold My Soul on eBay, Christian, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Media Matters, conservative, Catholic, Bill Donohue[/tags]

  • Daniel

    That’s why I hate the implicit assumption that atheists must be left wing or in the US, democrats. I mean I’m no republican (gj neocons) but I’m even less a democrat.

  • Miko

    Despite the fact most religious Americans are moderate or progressive

    Are we sure of this? The source they give for this fact states “There has been much debate about the relative size of a conservative Religious Right and progressive Religious Left, but there has been little consensus on how to measure these groups” and then goes on to instead use the labels “Traditionalist,” “Centrist,” and “Modernist,” which I would think mean different things that conservative, moderate, and progressive.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Thanks for pointing this out Hemant. I attribute the over-representation of the Religious Right in the media to the fact that we don’t really have “news” anymore anyway. Instead we have “info-tainment” driven by profit motives rather than journalistic integrity. The media goes for the Falwell or Robertson or Dobson soundbite because it is shocking and extremist and will drive up ratings. No one wants to hear a balanced, well thought out view – what fun is that? :roll:

  • Brett

    I live in the South, so to me the media coverage seems to be more moderate and progressive on most issues than many of the people I know. So maybe I’m biased… But if 46% of the public thinks the earth is less than 10k years old, do we really think there are more progressives than conservatives?

    One thing polling may not take into account is just how religious someone is. Sure, there just might be as many or more religious liberals (however we define that) as conservatives, but almost by definition the conservatives are bound to be more outspoken, and more virulent in their expression of their beliefs. So while the “3:1 conservative to progressive balance” may not represent the populations’ beliefs, it may be a better indicator of the intensity with which they hold them…

  • Miko

    Sure, there just might be as many or more religious liberals (however we define that) as conservatives, but almost by definition the conservatives are bound to be more outspoken, and more virulent in their expression of their beliefs.

    I don’t think it’s by definition so much as by complexity. For example, Mike C’s been arguing against some of the interpretations of certain bits of the Bible and citing articles that bring up subtle nuances of language usage, word choice, translation bias, etc. That kind of argument takes a long time. The conservatives on the other hand just need to quote a Bible verse and assert that it means that their god wants us to do this or that stupid thing. News sources prefer the soundbite because they don’t expect people to listen any longer than that.

  • http://looneyfundamentalist.blogspot.com/ Looney

    Liberal Christian groups are for the most part on the decline. Can’t be sure, but I think they peaked more than half a century ago. It is hard to keep passionate followers when the leader isn’t sure either. They are halfway between the 19th century skeptics and new age sorts.

    Don’t look down on them. Progressive theologians outnumber atheists and scientists. Without them, the theory of evolution is headed for extinction.

  • miller

    Quote Mike C

    The media goes for the Falwell or Robertson or Dobson soundbite because it is shocking and extremist and will drive up ratings.

    I think this is exactly right about why the religious right is given so much attention. But this only works because they are so extreme relative to the mainstream. The media mostly talks about them from more liberal points of view. Just because they are given attention doesn’t mean it’s all positive attention.

    From my California perspective, the majority consists of neither religious left nor religious right. The majority is apathetic.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    The reason the media do this isn’t a matter or religion, not even indirectly. They couldn’t care less about religion except as a tool to put Republicans in control. They define religion as being “Republican” and that allows them to paint Democrats as “anti-religion” if not “godless”. This, like all of their methods of control, doesn’t have to work with everyone or even most people, it just has to sucker in an effective margin of victory. Their margin of victory depends on ignorant people who are easy to control. This is all the more reason that the tone deaf PR of the secular left is particularly galling to me. It’s not particularly difficult to understand but you do have to get off the high horse to see it. It’s mostly a matter of snobs at the top refusing to respect people they consider inferior.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    But if 46% of the public thinks the earth is less than 10k years old, do we really think there are more progressives than conservatives

    Belief in stupid doctrines like creationism has nothing whatsoever to do with political viewpoints. You can believe the earth is six thousand years old and still be a democrat.

    I don’t really know if there are more religious moderates and progressives than there are conservatives in the US, but I personally know many Christians who are liberal politically and I have known many fundamentalists who were democrats (as one commenter said, not in the South).

    I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot lately and, while I have a problem with people believing things that are not based on evidence because it leads to irrational decision making and is bad for both individuals and for society, I really only have a BIG problem with the religious right.

    In other words, I don’t hate Christians, but I do hate neo-cons. If I find out that someone I know still supports Bush, for example, I can hardly force myself to speak to that person any more. Once, after knowing someone from the South and being good friends with them for years, I stopped speaking to this friend after she said “I can’t believe she kissed a nigger. How disgusting.” As soon as I realized that the person I thought was my friend was a racist, I couldn’t be around her any more. That’s how I feel about the religious right.

  • Tina B.

    Thankfully we have the internet and don’t have to believe everything on television and in the newspaper. I know we can’t believe everything on the internet either but at least we have the means to question what is being shown or said.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    From my California perspective, the majority consists of neither religious left nor religious right. The majority is apathetic.

    I think that’s true pretty much anywhere these days.

  • Maria

    Hermant you totally rule! Thank you SO much for posting this. This is sooo true. Many of us liberal religious are shaking our heads at the represenation in the media. I actually agreed with a lot of what atheists had to say about Falwell. I also cringed whenever I heard someone imply that everyone who is a believer must think like Falwell! Many progressive religious groups also spoke out against Falwell, but you didn’t hear about that very often. I hope the trend changes, b/c I think progressive people of all types can work well together and can respect each other’s rights. And like you, I’ve never met a Catholic who agrees with Donahue either. He’s an embarassment to most of them!

  • Maria

    That’s why I hate the implicit assumption that atheists must be left wing or in the US, democrats. I mean I’m no republican (gj neocons) but I’m even less a democrat

    I agree. I think the media stereotypes atheists as well.

  • Independent

    I view leftists as being more stupid than religious people, and it is a religion in itself. I find more evidence creationism (0.00001%) than I do that men and women are basically the same (0%). Or that poverty causes crime/terrorism. Or that taxes help the poor, etc.

    Leftism is a religion and religious people are stupid.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X