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The Media's Treatment of the Abrahamic Faiths
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March 4, 2008


  The Media’s Treatment of the Abrahamic Faiths


Before I began my walk with the Lord I would have described my politics as progressive or liberal.  I believed in God in a manner of speaking; I was an agnostic.  As I grew older I began to become more open to some conservative positions.  This began when I was in college and found the logic of President Reagan compelling in some circumstances, particularly with respect to the similarity between personal credit card debt and the national debt.  The government was, and still is in a sense, on the verge of bankruptcy.

Before accepting Jesus Christ the thought of facing these changes in me was difficult and challenged my open-mindedness.  I had admired revolutionaries in college, and in my thirties I was beginning to listen to conservative arguments on abortion and affirmative action.

Now that I’m saved I take solace in the fact that the Lord was the biggest revolutionary to ever walk the face of the earth.

But now I must also be honest enough to admit that liberals and “secularists” often make derogatory comments about Christians.  Even though I used to scoff at the notion, I did a fair share of it myself.  Even though my perspective has changed because of my faith, my opinions in this regard are validated by others who are not believers.  One, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, wrote a column on this last month called “Evangelicals a Liberal Can Love.”

Years ago, I remember once seeing a story (I believe on CNN) about a survey that said criminals and prostitutes were better represented on television than priests and ministers.  I imagine this hasn’t changed.

Recently, I have been spending a good deal of time reading the Washington Post’s “On Faith” web site postings that are presented in collaboration with their corporate partner Newsweek.  The comment boards associated with this site are replete with people who hate religion generally, and especially Christians.  The site seems to be an excuse to denigrate those who believe in God, and is not meant to encourage a healthy discourse.

There are a lot of stereotypes in the threads, and those who criticize religious intolerance verge on intolerance themselves sometimes.

For the last week or so Deepak Chopra has been featured.  His premise, as well as that of other featured panelists, is that Christians are so intolerant and hateful that they have not only split into numerous sects, but are a scourge on society.

I shouldn’t have been surprised.  I remember a few years ago the paper’s “Religion” section ran stories completely about or centered on atheism for 3 weeks out of a 4 or 5 week stretch.  I wasn’t the only one who noticed; a few weeks later they ran a letter to the editor complaining about this. This past Sunday, the Washington Post prominently featured a story on satanic music on their website’s home page.

What should I expect from a website that equates wicca with the three Abrahamic religions? The media clearly plays a role in encouraging attacks on people who believe in God even though the overwhelming vast majority of the US population has faith.  In other words, a minority is attempting to change public opinion regarding the majority with inaccurate reporting.  It often appears that the goal is also to change actions and lifestyles.

More and more, I’ve noticed that the print media covers voodoo, hoodoo and santeria events as if they are hip or cool.  If a story that reflects negatively on Christianity is in the news, it’s featured prominently.  The plethora of good news about churches and their support of programs for the poor here and in the developing world; is routinely underplayed.

The most venom is reserved for Islam and the entire Muslim/Arab world.  And the loudest critics here are often Christians.  So much for “love your enemy.”  Anything from wearing headscarves to self-flagellation is fair game.  All Muslims are frequently stereotyped as violent, intolerant toward other religions and unable to get along with different sects within their faith.  Many view Islam and Arab civilizations generally, as backwards.

The prejudice against Muslim reached a fever pitch a few weeks ago when the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested that parts of sharia law might be incorporated into the British legal system on a limited basis.

Surprisingly, Judaism is often left out of the discussion when it comes to intolerance.  Perhaps, Jews are seen as less overtly religious.  Maybe, they get a pass because of the holocaust. 

I have had a deep affection for Jews since second grade when I began attending a school with many Jews.  I had friends who knew more about Martin Luther King, Jr. than I did when he was assassinated.  They had parents who treated blacks like people, not black people, and they passed this on to their children.  We attended each others’ birthday parties and had sleepovers, and in one case I went to the same summer camp with a Jew who was like a second best friend.  My friend, Jamie, and his family certainly believed in the historical ministry of Jesus, and even had a Christmas tree along with a menorah during the holidays.

Jamie taught me about Nazis and the holocaust.  Other classmates had parents and grandparents with tattoos from concentration camps.  In high school I saw the horrific films that showed the starving Jews at the liberated concentration camps at the end of WWII.  In college, I took two classes on Nazi Germany because I wanted to learn how an entire nation could come to hate people so.  I sat through even more films.  My soul bleeds just to think of it over 25 years later.

As a Christian, because of the special relationship between believers and Jerusalem and Israel, I have kept a keen eye open for information about Israel.  I have always thought that Americans and Christians applied a double standard in their approach to the Arab-Israeli situation, perhaps out of guilt for their centuries of anti-Semitism.  The more I learn the more hypocrisy I see.

It turns out that the truth is, Jews are just as intolerant as Christians and Muslims.  Like Christians and Muslims, they have a lot of fine qualities, as well.  But when it comes to religious intolerance Israel has been getting a free pass.  If a Muslim nation were operating as the so-called modern democratic state of Israel does, they would be called on the carpet more by our State Department and human rights activists.

In an incredible article in Sunday’s New York Times magazine entitled, “How Do You Prove You’re a Jew?” the truth is laid bare. 

All marriages and divorces in Israel are controlled by a bureaucracy and rabbinical court dominated by ultra-Orthodox Jews.  It seems that you have to “prove” that you’re a Jew to get married in Israel.  No, I’m not kidding.  Their policies marginalize and disenfranchise secular Jews, especially recent arrivals from the Soviet Union. 

There is a virtual brush war going on over theology between Orthodox Jews on the one hand, and Conservative and Reform Jews on the other.  It probably won’t reach the stage of real armed conflict, as was sometimes the case in post-Solomonic Israel during ancient times, but this issue is also dividing American Jews from their Israeli brothers and sisters at a time when Israel needs all of the support that they can get.  Most American Jews who might want to move to Israel, get married and become citizens can’t prove that they’re “Jewish” enough.

The whole set-up smacks of intolerance and if this was taking place elsewhere it would be called a theocracy that violates people’s rights.

The article tells the tale of a woman, born in Israel, being prevented from marrying because her non-Orthodox Jewish mother had married a non-Jew.  Apparently, the strict rules applied by these elite guardians of Jewry are new.  The author writes: “…historically, if someone said he was a Jew, ‘if he lived among us, was a partner in our society and said he was one of us, we assumed he was right.’ Trust was the default position. One reason was that Jews were a persecuted people; no one would claim to belong unless she really did.”

Now despite the fact that 20% of the population lives under the poverty line, Israel has become choosy.  The rabbinate, the religious monopoly, is staffed by political patronage.  Because the religious parties have more seats in the legislature (the Knesset) than previously, they can leverage their power in the areas that concern them the most.

The definition of “Jew” has been debated as a relatively innocent academic question for quite some time.  Is it a religion or a race?  But now, “Ultra-Orthodox Jews increasingly question the Jewishness of those outside their own intensely religious communities,” the article states.  The law in some of the most personal and important areas is controlled in Israel by religious extremists who live in isolation from the rest of society.

It’s so bad that these rabbis, “…generally do not regard conversions by non-Orthodox rabbis as valid — either because the rabbis do not strictly follow religious law or because they do not require the converts to do so.” 

All of this outcry against the poor Archbishop of Canterbury and here our ally Israel is currently, not hypothetically, living in a state where two legal systems, one secular and the other religious are operating side by side.

Why is this only now being questioned in the mainstream media? 

Marriage is not the only area where Israel’s religious intolerance rears its ugly head.  Conducting missionary work in Israel is illegal.  A Christian church in Israel may be acting outside of the law by providing services to the poor.  It is considered attempting to “buy” conversions with “gifts.”  If this were Saudi Arabia, Iran or China Christians and others would be screaming “persecuted church” or “violation of human rights.”

Why does Israel get a free pass?

Christians misread the book of Revelations and other scripture relevant to eschatology (end times theology) as meaning that anything goes for the “chosen people.”  They also believe that because there’s freedom of speech in Israel it’s not as bad as some other countries.  They can at least visit the biblical sites and proselytize under the radar.  But, this rationalizing is wrong.  We are supposed to be concerned with righteousness and justice.  We are supposed to treat all people equally.  Moreover, what’s the excuse for the media, our leaders, and everyone else?

People who bash people of faith, including the media, are wrong.  Christians who hate Muslims are wrong.

It turns out; the three Abrahamic faiths have more in common than one might imagine: when taken to the extreme by narrow-minded people, they can all be intolerant.



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