Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Saints' Lives

We all know that TIME magazine will never have a cover that reads: Latest Scientific Discoveries Imply the Nonexistence of God. The reverse proposition, on the other hand, has been repeatedly floated by that publication and many others. Hence the widely trumpeted theological significance of every local flood in Anatolia, every splinter on Ararat, every Palestinian graffiti that includes a Biblical name. The middlebrow press may be too proud to emulate the checkout tabloid that once led with a picture of a bear skull with a hole in its forehead and the caption “Goliath Found!” but the principle is the same. Since journalism is the business of telling people what they want to hear, so long as it’s something the owners want to tell them, it doesn’t matter how feeble the connection may be between each reported discovery and some popular religious or ideological thesis. The people want to believe and the advertisers want them to believe so that facts and logic don’t matter.

Mass-market journalism has a natural affinity for the great retail religions; for like them it depends on crude, endlessly repeated story lines. Because its core activity is the creation of prejudices, journalism is far better suited to promoting credulity than to providing a forum for critical thinking. Religious genres suit it. Thus, though the deification of Ronald Reagan doubtlessly serves the interests of the conservatives who dominate the media, Gipper hagiography would come naturally to these folks in any case. “Let your speech be Yea, Yea and Nay, Nay” is more fundamental to press practice than the business about Who, What, Where, When, and Why. Granted its formal requirements, the press is never going to get science right, even if, for some reason, the powers that be became markedly unreligious. In that case, as in fact used to happen regularly in Pravda, atheistical conclusions will be promoted by sound bytes every bit as irrelevant as the line about Goliath. “Our Cosmonauts have encountered no angels.”

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