I was reading Pope Benedict XVI's recent speech to the Vatican's diplomatic corps when I came across this quote:
Sadly, in certain countries, mainly in the West, one increasingly encounters in political and cultural circles, as well in the media, scarce respect and at times hostility, if not scorn, directed towards religion and towards Christianity in particular.
Well, the Washington Post's "On Faith" panel says the Pope is all wet. Sort of. On Faith editors Jon Meacham and Sally Quinn posed the following question to the panelists:
Media biased against Christians?
Fox News analyst Brit Hume said "widespread media bias against Christianity" was to blame for criticism of his suggestion that Tiger Woods should embrace Christianity to find redemption. "Instead of urging that Tiger Woods turn to Christianity, if I had said what he needed to do was to strengthen his Buddhist commitment or turn to Hinduism, I don't think anybody would have said a word," Hume told Christianity Today. "It's Christ and Christianity that get people stirred up."
Sarah Palin and other conservative Christians have made similar claims. Is there widespread media bias against Christianity? Against evangelicals such as Hume and Palin? Against public figures who speak openly and directly about their faith? Against people who believe as you do?
And a quick look at the panelist answers is interesting. Rabbi Brad Hirschfield says bias against Christianity is real, but also understandable. Secular Coalition for America President Herb Silverman says the only bias on display against Brit Hume was against pomposity. Gustav Niebuhr wonders what's the big deal since Jesus said Christians would be persecuted for their beliefs. C. Welton Gaddy says the notion is silly. Atheist apologist Daniel Dennett says it's about time that the religious were under more intense scrutiny by the media. Professor of Islamic Studies John Esposito says religious bias begins at Fox News. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite says that Palin and Hume are merely reaping what they sowed. Rabbi Jack Moline says that Hume had no integrity. Comparative religions professor Matthew N. Schmalz says it's Hume who is biased against pluralism. And author and reporter Susan Jacoby says the idea is ludicrous (and that Michael Gerson's piece in the Post really angered her).
Only one of the panelists, Fuller Theological Seminary President Richard Muow, agrees that the media is biased against Christians.
So for those keeping score at home, that's 10 Washington Post/Newsweek "On Faith" panelists saying that the Pope and Brit Hume are crazypants or get what they deserve and one panelist saying he thinks that they have a point.
Maybe this was just a particularly clever experiment from the minds of Meacham and Quinn to prove the point?
To be sure, I actually enjoyed many of the answers from the panelists, but I'm just kind of wondering if this is what the folks at the Washington Post/Newsweek "On Faith" site think is a representative look at American religious views.
Ross Douthat addressed the point in his most recent column gave his take on the matter in his most recent New York Times column:
Liberal democracy offers religious believers a bargain. Accept, as a price of citizenship, that you may never impose your convictions on your neighbor, or use state power to compel belief. In return, you will be free to practice your own faith as you see fit -- and free, as well, to compete with other believers (and nonbelievers) in the marketplace of ideas.
That's the theory. In practice, the admirable principle that nobody should be persecuted for their beliefs often blurs into the more illiberal idea that nobody should ever publicly criticize another religion. Or champion one's own faith as an alternative. Or say anything whatsoever about religion, outside the privacy of church, synagogue or home.
A week ago, Brit Hume broke all three rules at once.
Read the whole thing for his interesting take on the situation. It may surprise you.