This essay will examine the ways that secular media acquire, interpret, and disseminate information regarding religious movements and institutions and will seek to evaluate the media’s fundamental biases in relation to various religions’ claims that their teachings and practices are divinely inspired and essentially incomprehensible to “unbelievers.” The question will be examined as to whether it may be the case that media are adequately equipped to evaluate certain aspects of religious movements and institutions at a certain level, but are incapable of comprehension and evaluation at another level. If such is the case, how can these different levels be distinguished?
When it comes to the various public media reporting on and disseminating information regarding churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, religious schools, and missionary organizations, scandalmongering appears to be the order of the day. Admittedly, the scandals are often real ones – and the religious institutions caught up in them are deserving of the exposure they receive. But is it always the case that secular media organizations are adequately equipped to evaluate the underlying and behind-the-scenes beliefs and practices of religious organizations? Are there not fundamental differences between the presuppositions and worldviews of secular media and those of religious institutions?
The Tanach’s Book of Proverbs states that “evildoers do not understand what is right, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully” (Proverbs 28:5). Would not the secular media be classified by the religious as in some sense “evildoers,” based on the admission by most media personnel to an atheistic or agnostic philosophy of life? When the apostle Paul states that “the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14), are these claims only a form of spiritual arrogance? Or do Christians actually operate with an epistemology that is inaccessible to non-Christians? When the Qur’an notes that “it is not fitting for a man that Allah should speak to him except by inspiration…” (Sura 42:51), implying that the spiritually devout have access to “inspired information” that the unbeliever does not have, is such information essentially incontestable by secularists?
The goal of the authors is to test (as much as possible) the claim of religions to have access to information not accessible or comprehensible by “non-religious persons,” a category into which most media personnel self-admittedly fall. Even apart from a supernaturalist worldview, can the claims of religions be substantiated on the basis of differing presuppositions and interpretation of available data? The authors believe that such an exploration would be of benefit both in the field of religious studies and in the fields of media and communications studies.