March 12, 2009

Why Must Media Portray Atheists as Radicals?

The Age Headquarters in Melbourne, AustraliaImage via Wikipedia

Australia's The Age recently printed an excellent op-ed by Catherine Deveny titled "Fear of God, or fear of a difference of opinion?" It deals with the refusal of Australia's APN Outdoor to allow atheist bus ads. It is definitely worth a read, but the part that really caught my attention was the following question posed by the author:
Why does the media appear to have a vested interest in portraying atheists as a bunch of radicals rather than dealing with it as the mainstream issue it is?
With church attendance among Australians a fraction of what it is here in the U.S., the question may strike us as far more appropriate when coming from an Australian. However, I'd argue that we should be asking precisely the same question of the U.S. media. It seems these days that one of the few things on which liberal and conservative media can agree is that atheists are an extremely scarce, puzzling, and terrifying group of people. Why? Is the reality of our greater than usually acknowledged numbers simply too threatening? And threatening to who exactly? Conservatives are fond of accusing so-called liberal media of catering to "secular progressives," but I see little difference. If I had to venture a guess, it would go something like this: religion is such a powerful force for maintaining the status quo that those with a vested interest in minimizing change must stamp out whatever threatens it. Media consolidation has resulted in a state of affairs where a small number of massive corporations own virtually all media outlets. To maintain their wealth, they must minimize social unrest. I'm not sure the world has produced a more effective force for keeping a lid on social unrest than religion. Then again, this is merely speculation.