It doesn’t take long for an independent observer to notice the inconsistent logic that not only persists doggedly within a faith but also across all religions. With our present understanding of the world, not only do the origin stories of religion border on fairy-tale absurdity, it goes on to cultivate hostility against scientific thinking and also dangerously engenders a tribalistic (and often hateful) disavowal of perceived ‘morally disreputable’ groups of people. Religion, and how it so completely controls a person’s life and thinking, must be a serious topic for discussion at all levels of life and in all formats of relationships. But education denies that platform, citing ‘sensitivity’ while at the same time funneling some of its students into its numerous faith schools; and the mass media is often guilty of a one sided overly-favourable coverage of faith. To find meaningful arguments against faith, you have to really go out of your way and take the long road.
But is that any surprise? Though objective reporting is outlined as its constitutional duty, most media outlets pander to powerful political parties (look at the US election or at China) and the basest of our desires. We feed frenziedly on trivial gossip and have little interest in important issues like climate change and the religious nuts who deny it. It’s difficult to justify running an article critical of religion when the same page about Angelia Jolie and Brad Pitt’s divorce will rack up hundred thousand times more views and far more profit. Articles that are uninteresting or disagreeable to readers would lead to a massive hemorrhage of customers who will move on to the next media outlet able to sustain their limited attention – it doesn’t pay to report the news objectively. And worse, coverage of major conflicts such as that of the Sunni / Shia fallout often fail to identify what’s truly responsible for their schisms – religion. Apparently, what people need to know is at odds with what they want to know.
And in regular entertainment where the majority of dramas (K, J or C, take your pick) are predominantly yarns after yarns of repetitive romantic and cliched mashups, the successful formula for a well-received show never includes religion. Religion is often a side step, not a center piece. This is ironic given that most people in real life would only consider marrying someone of the same faith. After all, when was the last time Ishihara Satomi rejected a marriage proposal because her romantic interest was Islamic and insisted she had to dress black and cover herself up like a human photo booth? It’s not just controversy at hand but people simply won’t watch something that violates their belief systems. The confirmation bias speaks loud here: we seek out media entertainment that is aligned with our beliefs and shun the opposite. Also, can you imagine if Disney’s Frozen had Elsa as a conservative Islamist and Anna as a Hindu? Elsa would spend all her screen time chastising Anna for daring to be in the same room with a man. Not quite fun to watch. And the very real (and not exactly amusing) joke is that Elsa might kill Anna for being a heretic, sisterhood not withstanding.
While the media regularly uses political caricature and cheeky lampoonery to get its point across, religion is often exempt from any kind of comedic effect. We have already seen the consequences: The vicious gun attack on Charlie Hedbo for daring to make fun of Islam or the slew of atheist bloggers murdered in broad daylight. The Pope, probably the most successful cos-player in the world, went on to say that “You cannot make fun of the faith of others.” And there’s something very telling about that statement. Religion, if you subject it to enough critical scrutiny, cannot withstand factual checks nor logical analysis. It cannot survive the onslaught of humour because religion has neither the evidence nor the intellectual foundation to stem its inevitable breakdown. Why then do we continue giving religion a free pass in the media? Is it fair to respect something that has no credibility? But governments, especially state controlled media, are not interested in enlightening its citizens. All that matters is that faith keeps their citizens docile and the society economically functional.
And though Saint Oniisan (illustration above) is a wonderful light-hearted portrayal of combining two different and conflicting religious worlds, it doesn’t seek to answer why or how, nor does it fully explore the problematic philosophies of either faith. It has nonetheless been successful and has earned a great deal of support. And a society that can handle poking fun at religion is at least doing something right. Will the day come when the media will pull out the red carpet under religion and pin its wings to the spreading board? Probably not. Religion is too lucrative and too convenient a tool for keeping people in check.
So have you thought about (HYTA) the conspicuous absence of religious criticisms in liberal media?