Philosopher Daniel Dennett does a Q&A column at the Washington Post. He was asked, “Is there widespread media bias against Christianity?”. Here are his answers, interspersed with my comments.
There is no media bias against Christianity. If it appears to some people that there is, it is probably because after decades of hyper-diplomacy and a generally accepted mutual understanding that religion was not to be criticized, we have finally begun breaking through that taboo and are beginning to see candid discussions of the varieties of religious folly in American life. Activities that would be condemned by all if they were not cloaked in the protective mantle of religion are beginning to be subjected to proper scrutiny.
Not so. Criticism of Islam is verboten in most of the press, mostly because of fear. You rarely hear anything negative about Jewish religious practices. Nor Scientological ones. There’s nothing but good press for the new-agey morphs of Eastern religions. And don’t forget our newest faith, mentioned below.
Some people are adept at finding bias where it doesn’t exist, but the major media does tend to portray Christians ungenerously. This may be because you criticize what you know, mixed with a dash of juvenile overreaction to the mores of our elders.
That metaphor is apt. Dennett is among those who look back from the Enlightenment and label the time before as “humanity’s infancy.” That may be so, but he forgets we pass from childhood to rebellious adolescence.
…We need to change the prevailing assumptions in the same way that public opinion has been reversed on drunk driving. When I was young, drunk drivers tended to be excused because, after all, they were drunk! Today, happily, we hold them doubly culpable for any misdeeds they commit while under the influence.
I look forward to the day when violence done under the influence of religious passion is considered more dishonorable, more shameful, than crimes of avarice, and is punished accordingly, and religious leaders who incite such acts are regarded with the same contempt that we reserve for bartenders who send dangerously disabled people out onto the highways.
A guy tossing back a few and then driving knows what he is doing. He knows, that is, that his freely chosen behavior is likely to injure or kill others. There is clear malice aforethought—and recklessness. His punishment is harsh because of those reasons.
A Muslim strapping explosive to his genitals to kill (mostly) non-Muslims also has malice aforethought. His goal is not just murder but terror. And his (pre-Holderian) punishment is severe because of those reasons.
Murderous acts already face stricter retribution than do non-violent crimes. It would be stupid to apply a religious test in criminal sentencing.
I also look forward to the day when pastors who abuse the authority of their pulpits by misinforming their congregations about science, about public health, about global warming, about evolution must answer to the charge of dishonesty. Telling pious lies to trusting children is a form of abuse, plain and simple. If quacks and bunko artists can be convicted of fraud for selling worthless cures, why not clergy for making their living off unsupported claims of miracle cures and the efficacy of prayer?
Forbidding citizens because they are pastors from dissenting from “the consensus” on global warming? Dennett, old boy, you have lost your mind. Or you have been born again as a Green.
And so what if some Christians are wrong about evolution? Most men in the street couldn’t describe a neutrino. Should citizens pay a fine for being unable to calculate the indefinite integral exp(x) dx? All sorts of people are all sorts of wrong about all sorts of matters of fact. This ignorance is mostly harmless.
Dennett is right that we should tar and feather sanctimonious snake oil salesman when we find them. But he’s wildly wrong about the usefulness of prayer, fellowship, and faith.
And then he throws out the child abuse bomb. Them’s fightin’ words. Or ignorance masking as intellect. Who, Mr. Dennett, gets to decide what is true and what false? Only those with a PhD from an approved university?
Dennett calls himself a philosopher but makes a fundamental error (that’s two days in a row, folks). He should know that since there is no (acceptable to him) proof of God’s existence, then there can be no proof of His non-existence.
His decision of non-existence is not proof. He cannot decide for others which answer is true and which false. And his belief should not become the basis of child abuse laws and punishment.
The double standard that exempts religious activities from almost all standards of accountability should be dismantled once and for all. I don’t see bankers or stockbrokers wringing their hands because the media is biased against them…Religious leaders and apologists should accept that since their institutions are so influential in American life, we have the right to hold their every move up to the light. If they detect that the media are giving them a harder time today than in the past, that is because the bias that protected religion from scrutiny is beginning to dissolve. High time
The bankers are wringing their hands. How did Dennett miss that?
Religion has no special status except in matters related to its practices. But this is the same status given to Masons and the Shriners. What they do behind closed doors is their own business. Unless that business overlaps mine or is criminal, which is rarely, rarely.
What Dennett wants is to strip away people’s freedom in making religious choices. He and I probably agree on truth or falsity of most religious claims (except for THE question), but where Dennett wants to remove people’s freedom, I would keep it.
Thanks, as always, to Arts & Letter Daily, where Dennett’s column was originally linked.