If you’ve ever wandered down the hall of a humanities department at a major public university, you no doubt noticed that humanities professors love to post things on their doors. Cartoons, clever sayings, inside jokes and the occasional vintage rock poster are favorites. I’m no exception. I’ve posted my share of cartoons and clever epitaphs. The reason humanities proffs do this is because humanities professors tend to be passionate about their free speech. They want to express themselves for a number of reasons. One of those is to elicit conversation. That’s right most humanities proffs look at their office door as one big billboard or conversation piece.
Once again, I’m no exception. I like to elicit conversation. Recently on this blog I lamented (or more properly ranted) that a certain state in India was swathed in anti-Christian violence and this was largely ignored by the main stream media. The level of this violence in Orissa state is such that I find it hard to believe that the MSM (main stream media) hasn’t responded to the level of chaos. It’s certainly news. With much sarcasm, I insinuated that the fact that the violence is towards Christians has something to do with the lack of coverage. To illicit some conversation, I posted a sign on my office door that said simply “Have you heard of Orissa?” with a website www.orissaburning.blogspot.com which chronicles the plight of the Orissa Christians.
My sign did its job. One of my friends and colleagues stopped and asked about Orissa. What transpired is an argument that was both enlightening and stimulating. My friend is a self-described hard-core atheist. After an appropriate and admirable sympathy for the plight of the Orissa Christians, the conversation turned to an argument (as Don says, philosophers and apologists will argue at the drop of a hat and sometimes we will drop the hat!). The argument centered on whether or not the media (both news and entertainment) have an anti-Christian bias that causes them to by and large depict Christians in unfavorable terms.
I kind of felt like we were both looking at one of those stereographs where some 3-D image only appears if you stare at them in the right way and once you see it, you have a hard time “not seeing” the image when you look at it. I thought the bias was so obvious and my friend saw just the opposite. He is convinced religious people are treated with kid gloves in the media. I was astounded. My friend was astounded that I was astounded. Such is the stuff of a good debate. To be brief, I’ll confine my report to our discussion about the anti-Christian bias in entertainment. The discussion about news media bias can be as stale as drive through coffee at 3 A.M.
My evidence for this bias was that Christians portrayed in media are either dorks, hypocrites, or villains. There have been some notable exceptions to this rule. A few that comes to mind is Boothe on the crime drama Bones and several cameo characters on the medical drama House M.D. Someone (I forget who) said once that stereotype for Christians come in two varieties they are either like Flanders on the Simpsons—a well-meaning dork who just doesn’t get it—or a hypocritical Reverend Lovejoy (also on the Simpsons). In the last few years, it seems that anytime an expressly devout Christian is depicted on all those shows that start with a dead body (C.S.I, NCIS, and other alphabets) they are very often the villain.
I maintain that the underlying reason for this is that all devout Christians, (people whose lives are centered on following Christian tenets) must be somehow a little bit crazy. Crazy Christians! I don’t imply that all of this assumption is intentional. It may be unintentional but when deciding whether or not to portray Christians as dorks, hypocrites, and maybe villains, there doesn’t seem to much pause from the writers. Now there are those (perhaps even many) who treat their Christianity like an accessory to their lives for whom religious belief is much like membership in the Elks club. It’s great to be an Elk and I go to meetings but only once a month or in the case of very marginal Christians— Easter and Christmas.
Sometimes this psychosis is harmless and endearing in the case of dorks like Flanders. Other times it is really a defense mechanism for their deep-seated desires to be as bad as everyone else like Reverend Lovejoy. Increasing this psychosis becomes the impetus for genuine cognitive dissonance into villainy. Elmer Gantry becomes the poster boy representing Christians for purely self serving motives. What is unconscionable is the thought that faith in Christ could be admirable, enviable, or in any way rational. Heaven forbid (pardon the pun) that someone intelligent would have reason to cling to his or her faith.
Now I should add that the lack of positive role models might extend to the opposite extreme as my friend pointed out. You don’t see many positive atheist role models on TV (again with the exception of Bones and House). However, what’s missing in this objection is the lack of negative stereotypes of atheists as dorks, hypocrites, or villains.
What I got from conversation is that if we Christians are going to complain with our blogs and counter-insurgent media, we had better do three things:
1) Get clear on just what the bias is
2) Decide what we would like to see change
3) Broadcast far and wide studies on anti-Christian bias
Otherwise Christians and Non-Christians will just be staring at the same 3-D picture and wondering why the other doesn’t see the same thing.