How Fox News hijacks Christianity
Joe Szimhart (Feb 2017)
I have a habit of flipping from one cable news station to another to see how each covers the same stories. Every station has its odd flavors, but only one relies shamelessly on animosity toward nearly all other news outlets. It believes that major film industries with liberal left-leaning news outlets want to wipe out the heart and soul of American values and replace it with some version of anti-Christian, Marxist atheism and economics.
Now, I realize that the founders and owners of Fox News could care less if this were true about liberals, but it makes sense if an anti-liberal slant taps a large audience, larger than any other cable news outlet. The anti-liberal narrative is a proven money-maker as any number of American talk radio hosts have discovered. There is a hungry, angry crowd of Americans who feel neglected and even demeaned or wounded by Hollywood’s elitist left, the big city news outlets, and the bureaucrats in Washington who seem to forget them once voted in. The question is, who are these salt-of-the-earth Americans? How are they supposed to think? It is not enough to call them good, hard-working Christian folk who believe in the promise of our Constitution. One indicator of who “they” are is my discussion below.
Today (Groundhog Day, 2017) I watched a segment of Fox News using this statistic on full screen:
“90,000 Christians were murdered for their faith around the world this year , according to a study from The Center for the Study of Global Christianity.”
Large, undocumented numbers like that bother me. In my career of cult research, cult leaders tend to wildly exaggerate numbers and events in their favor.
When I researched Wicca and other neo-pagan movements in the 1980s, I consistently found and heard claims that the Inquisition in Europe killed “nine million” witches. The Inquisitors were known for meticulous record-keeping if not for sophisticated science about what constituted an unholy witch, so counting killed witches is mostly addition, not guesswork. Based on Church evidence and the historical record, scholars estimate that the number of witches and heretics killed by Inquisitors over the centuries was closer to 100,000 with perhaps 90% occurring under the Spanish Inquisition.
“In the United States, the nine million figure appeared in the 1978 book Gyn/Ecology by the influential feminist theoretician Mary Daly, who picked it up from a 19th-century American feminist, Matilda Gage.”
One evidence-based estimate was as low as 40,000 witches killed with thousands more banished or punished and let go. Without excusing Inquisition atrocities, we can see that neo-pagans might have a bias against an enemy that has been known to persecute witchy people. We can also see that exaggeration of persecution is a coy way of trying to gain sympathy.
With that point made about non-Christian neo-pagans, we should ask why certain Christians come up with this grossly exaggerated number of 90k? It has been floated around also by John Allen, a Roman Catholic writer and historian for the Vatican who wrote The Global War on Christians.
An investigative article for BBC Magazine reported that way less Christians were murdered for their faith. This is not one of the “alternative facts” as spun by media pundits; rather it is based on definition. What is being defined here are people who were murdered for professing their faith and not because they were part of an ethnic cleansing or political revenge campaign in Africa. The 90K per year number comes from a liberal or loose counting by Evangelical conservative think tanks that work for the Center for Global Christianity.
Per Professor Thomas Schirrmacher from the International Society for Human Rights, the real number is closer to 8K:
"One has to see that there is no scientific number at the moment. It has not been researched and all experts in this area are very hesitant to give a figure," he says.
The key word here is martyrs. Christians have long held that the church founded by Jesus was established on the blood of martyrs, many of whom have been regaled as saints through the centuries. Christians have been especially fond of martyrs and martyrdom. I am a Catholic and student of religions, and I have a decent grasp of the history of the martyrs.
By the way, over the past few decades, my votes have gone mostly to Republicans, and I do vote.
Fox News leans in no vague way toward an Evangelical, fundamentalist view in Christian religion. As I indicated, the program knows where to find its audience for ratings. Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson tapped this base when they were politically relevant decades ago. They called it the “Silent Majority” then. However, fundamentalism in any other religion is not tolerated by Fox pundits who visibly squirm at the mention of Sharia and enjoy repeating “radical Islamic terrorists.”
This Fox angle devolves into mindless commentary about them (the left) by its pundits. For example, today (Feb.2) Bill O’Reilly:
That latter statement is dumb on its face, but it can excite the Fox base that believes only conservatives can be patriotic, concerned about national welfare, and right.
Most staunchly right pundits frame a strawman liberal deep in the emotional brain, an area that easily bypasses the executive function of reason. Key words for this strawman liberal are they, their, and them. I hear the same they, their, and them peppering angry barbs targeting the right from the liberal left also. Neo-pagans, part of Fox’s left they, stereotype Roman Catholicism because of its perceived history of killing “nine million” witches. No matter what side “they” come from, it remains the language of non-thought. I hear too much mindless repetition about “them,” whatever the strawman may be, whenever I tune into talk radio and to many TV pundits.
Fundamentalism remains exclusive and elitist under any guise. But why hold onto a clearly biased report on “Christians murdered for their faith?” As with the neo-pagans mentioned above, this ploy to exaggerate works to excite and galvanize the base of devotees to the cause. Ratings rise high when emotions drive attention. Manipulating emotion is the name of this game. I get that, but I cannot abide lies about martyrs. True martyrs deserve more respect than to be lumped in with all political casualties.
Tapping the end-times
As in the days of the early Christian martyrs, a wide swath of Evangelicals and fundamentalist Catholics persist in a narcissistic belief that the end times are nigh and that evil is rampant. Any event that feeds that fixed narrative is seized upon and expanded. For example, Pat Robertson once famously proclaimed that God sent an earthquake to Los Angeles as punishment for the sin of homosexuality.
President Trump, who remains in campaign mode, did not have to say we are in the end times—he only had to decry the current state of the world and America. He continues to point out that after President Obama, the country is in ruins, every nation takes advantage of us, and our borders are so porous that radical Islamist immigrants seemingly come in at will. The conditions for a Biblical end times are implied in the way Trump frames reality for his supporters. And his implication is that these good people have voted in the savior.
I say narcissistic because every generation since and including the time of the Apostles has produced those who want to believe that they were living when history was going through a revolution.
History did go through a revolution with the good news of Jesus, whether you grasp the Jewish prophet’s real message or not. But the message, especially as it evolved by the time of the Gospel of John, remains cosmic, not pseudo-literal. What I mean by pseudo-literal includes Pat Robertson’s mindless comment about an earthquake, but famously illustrated by Hal Lindsay in his embarrassing if best-selling book, The Late Great Planet Earth. Published in 1970, The Late Great Planet Earth sold 28 million copies by 1990. Lindsay prophesied 1988 as the likely end-date for life on our planet as we know it. Lindsay used 1948, the establishment of the Jewish state, as a marker, then plotted through Matthew 24: 32-34 that one generation or 40 years in Biblical time will pass before the end. Well, 1988 came and went normally enough, but Lindsay kept preaching and lecturing with his “literalist, premillennial, dispensational eschatology” anyway. There remains a large base of preachers who promote literalist and dispensational eschatology and who appear to be quite forgiving of flawed prophets as they continue to scan world events for signs of apocalypse.
There is a strong current in the Fox News strategy that caters to the Hal Lindsay type of Christian, the one who despises intellectual, high criticism approaches to “their” Bible. I find that most Christian fundamentalists want to believe metaphorically that the Bible fell like a brick out of heaven into the court of King James in England in 1611. Like a brick, it is four-square and solid, a rock on which to build one’s house, dependable, unchangeable, and true. Of course, the living Bible is not a brick, the ideas in the book are inconsistent and sometimes hopelessly flawed, and it did not fall out of heaven on any date.
Whenever we view any document, professed as revealed or not, as divine, it acts as an idol of the mind to be worshipped. In my view, worshipping any idol is blasphemy in all Abrahamic religions. Therein lies one problem. We can all understand why anyone wants to feel secure in their religious affiliation or devotion to a leader. It can be a matter of life and death, if not afterlife. No one wants to live and die for a lie.
However, human life on earth remains increasingly complex, modernism continues its assault on foundationalism or the belief that there is something eternally reliable in science, religion, and the news. It just isn’t so that information can always be perfect, but with effort we can at least get our facts straighter.
And, I suggest, leave the martyrs out of it. No one should hijack holy dead people for limited political gain or television ratings.
Martyrdom of St. Stephen