Saturday, January 20, 2007

Media atheists and fundamentalism

Giles Frazer, Vicar of Putney and columnist for the Church Times, wrote for The Guardian last Monday an article entitled "Atheists: the bigots' friends: most Christians back gay rights, to claim otherwise only boosts the fundamentalists". His argument, as I read it, is that many vocal anti-religion pundits are actually boosting extreme conservative versions of Christianity by representing it as the majority and authentic voice of the Christian church. By doing this fundamentalist Christianity is given the oxygen of publicity and made to appear as if it expresses the beliefs of the majority of present-day Christians; when in fact it does not. This was exemplified recently by the media coverage of protests at Parliament over the debate on gay rights legislation. Giles argues that both media coverage of the protests of conservative Christian voices opposing the anti-discriminatory legislation and critical reaction to it by secular voices were not careful enough to distinguish between the position of conservatives and that of mainstreanm Christian churches. The impression is given that all Christians and churches disapprove of the legislation. In fact there is broad support for the Act from the Church of England; and it is well established that the majority of Christians in Britain do not think that homosexuality is a sin.
The comments on Giles' piece are worth reading partly because they illustrate the intensity of antipathy to religious belief that exists in some people. But there are other points well-made. The headline of the article gives the mistaken impression that Giles is stereotyping all atheists as promoters of a false perspective on Christianity - so committing the error of which he is accusing his antagonists of committing. In fact the article itself speaks about a particular gouping of athesits - namely media ones - those whom we all know have grabbed the attention of editors,producers and publishers by their vociferous denunciation of all things religious. But at least a slightly overstated headline stimulates the analysis further. One comment asks why Giles and other liberal Christians who support the legislation were not at the anti-fundamentalist protest. Perhaps there were some liberal Christians in support, who knows; but they were not apparently in evidence as such.
Is it possible that liberal Christians might make common cause on some of these issues with some secular atheists? And are there not situations already where that happens - such as in the world development and peace movements? But this is not easy when vocal antagonistic atheists persist in misrepresenting all Christians' beliefs and motives. Is there a need now for peace negotiatons between liberal Christians and militant atheists?


Anonymous said...

I thought Giles Frazer's article was particularly interesting. Certainly as a liberal Christian it always annoys me when the press and TV roll out someone much more conservative who claims to speak for all Christians. The BBC went through a phase of regularly inviting Christian Voice along as the 'Christian representative', although after protests they now do include someone more liberal alongside Christian Voice, as I've blogged about before.

David Hodgson said...

I couldn't agree more with Richard's comments. My question is whether or not we should be looking at more alliances between less militant atheists/agnostics and liberal Christians around issues of equality, social justice, civil liberties etc