April 10, 2013

When the Involvement of a Christian Makes Something Newsworthy

reading the bibleI have been looking through some of my old posts from 2005. In some ways, it has been a humbling experience. Many of my early posts were quite poor. But it has also been nice to see how I have developed over the years as a blogger. I have found a few posts that needed to be deleted because they were little more than links to news articles which are no longer available. I have found many others that have given me ideas for future posts. That brings me to this post.

One of the stories that caught my eye in 2005, initially reported in the Tennessean but no longer available online, concerned the host of a Christian radio program in Nashville who was arrested for downloading child pornography from the Internet. In my 2005 post, I asked what made this particular story newsworthy and whether it might have been the implicit assumption that such behavior was out of character for a Christian.

I was not thinking about Christian privilege at the time - at least, I had not yet labeled it as such. But that certainly seems relevant in hindsight. Would the story have received as much attention as it did if the person arrested had hosted a radio show on gardening? I suspect not. I believe this was an example of the manner in which Christianity is equated with morality in the U.S.

We know that many people arrested for criminal offenses are Christian. We see that many of those convicted and sentenced for crimes are Christian. And we certainly see that the proportion of Christians serving time in prison is greater than their numbers in the general population would suggest. None of this is to say that atheists are never arrested, convicted, and sentenced for committing crimes. It simply means that it is undeniable that many Christians also commit crimes.

The tendency of the news media to devote more attention to a story when the criminal is Christian not only relates to Christian privilege, but it perpetuates the myth that Christians are somehow more moral than the rest of us. This is something more of us should probably address. Over time, we may be able to help people see why this is a problem.

If I had to pick one myth about atheists that I think does the most damage, it would have to be the one that depicts us as being less moral than religious believers. It is certainly not the only destructive myth about atheists, but I think it is the most detrimental to how we are perceived and treated in society. Perhaps raising awareness about the widespread assumption that Christians are particularly moral is one way to combat it.

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