Revelations About Culture

My article in today’s issue of The Washington Examiner newspaper explores the current treatment of religion in American popular culture, in particular television:

“In the new TV series ‘Revelations,’ an unreligious man of science is visited by a determined Christian seeking to transform his worldview. That premise could serve as an apt description of American life and culture today. . . .

“Religion is big box office in America these days, and ‘Revelations’ is only one of many signs of the times, if not the ‘end times’ the series purports to illustrate. . . . [R]religion now suffuses American culture more strongly than at any time since the late 1940s and perhaps since the 1910s.”

The article looks at some likely reasons for this, noting in particular the ironic effect of evangelicals’ attempt to set up an alternative, Christian culture in the past decade and the role of modern marketing techniques.

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20 thoughts on “Revelations About Culture

  1. The cited report stops in 2001. Attentive readers of my article will easily discern why this is therefore irrelevant. In addition, this poll is not a survey of the culture. Finally, the poll cited is contradicted by many others, which readers can easily find by conducting a google search.—STK

  2. “The cited report stops in 2001. Attentive readers of my article will easily discern why this is therefore irrelevant.”

    You really think 9/11 was a big enough deal to reverse the social inertia that’s been gathering for at least a decade toward a more secular society?

    Lets face it the US today is almost back to the same place it was pre-9/11. Our political outlook is much the same. The presidents approval ratings are back down there. For all the talk americans simply have far too short an attention span to be significantly displaced from their habits by such an event for long.

    “In addition, this poll is not a survey of the culture.”

    You’d have to explain what you mean by that. It’s a survey of people’s habits and perceptions of their habits with regards to religion.

    “Finally, the poll cited is contradicted by many others, which readers can easily find by conducting a google search”

    I was kind of hoping you could cite some of them. As I said “Based on what? The statistical data I’ve seen says the exact opposite.” That’s your cue to ovewhelm me with the data that supports your point…

  3. What has happened and you’ve noticed is a secularization of elites, but the American public is certainly more outwardly religious than it has been in a long time. Religion is no longer taken for granted, so in that way it may be less influential, but explicit religious messages and serious conversation about religion are happening with ever greater frequency.

  4. Attentive readers will observe that I do not claim that the phenomenon observed in my article has a single cause. Quite the contrary. As to the opinion polls, I do not have time to engage in debates on the blog, as I have other articles to write, so I encourage skeptical readers to investigate further on their own. As I said, however, this is not a matter of polls but of observation of pop culture. Those who define culture differently are welcome to do so. I should direct them to my articles on the Omniculture for a fuller consideration of the matter. In addition, I shall continue to assume that our readers are intelligent enough to discern the difference between popular culture and peoples’ answers to a single poll.

    I sense in this writer’s responses a desire to establish that atheism, or at least opposition to Christianity or monotheism, is not only right but popular. That is every person’s prerogative. I should suggest, however, that persons animated by a powerful desire to spread their own opinions should open their own blogs. People are highly welcome to comment on our site, of course, but alas I cannot take the time to respond to all of them, especially ones that continually misstate my positions. And no, I cannot take the time to point out even a small proportion of such misstatements perpetrated by a frequent commenter whose nature as a troll is quite obvious–see below for a single example from just this immediate exchange, and for further evidence just read a few other posts and comments carefully. I greatly appreciate the comments of people who disagree with me but who read carefully and portray my arguments accurately, such as Mike D’Virgilio.

    Due to time constraints, this must remain as my last word on the matter until my next published piece on the subject.

    Finally, I should note that am not persuaded by arguments that depend on blatant misinterpretations of authors’ statements (often preceded by phrases such as “you really think that…?”, the answer to which is, no, I don’t), nor those that rely on the fallacy of special pleading, and I have no time at all to spend on refuting them. I invite our esteemed readers to look for these problems in the comments of the occasional troll, and to judge them accordingly.—STK

  5. Hunter, I think that your comment here is quite correct. Different groups of people are thinking differently, as is not uncommon in free societies.—STK

  6. “What has happened and you’ve noticed is a secularization of elites, but the American public is certainly more outwardly religious than it has been in a long time.”

    Again I have to ask what you base this on. I’m not saying you are wrong, I’m asking how you reach the conclusion. If you have good data to this effect I’m quite interested to see it. I offered up one example of data that seems to be showing the opposite.

  7. “Attentive readers will observe that I do not claim that the phenomenon observed in my article has a single cause. Quite the contrary.”

    Fair enough, I noticed a specific reference to 9/11 but I didn’t read it that closely.

    “I do not have time to engage in debates on the blog, as I have other articles to write”

    That seems a tad…um…sloppy. You can’t be bothered to support your assertions because you are too busy making yet more assertions? The process of writing should start with research, hence by the time you actually write your article you should have the data easily at hand. This kind of dodging the issue just seems unprofessional.

    “In addition, I shall continue to assume that our readers are intelligent enough to discern the difference between popular culture and peoples’ answers to a single poll.”

    It wasn’t a single poll, it was a series of two polls over a span of ten years and it included a far larger sample set (over 50,000) than most surveys with a corresponding increase in accuracy.

    Again I’m not saying these results are right and you are wrong, I’m just asking you to provide the data that leads you to your conclusion so that these intelligent readers don’t have to just take your word for it.

    “I sense in this writer’s responses a desire to establish that atheism, or at least opposition to Christianity or monotheism, is not only right but popular.”

    Au contraire. I just want to establish whether a claim -made by you- is factually true (or at least supported by data). That’s it.

    “Due to time constraints, this must remain as my last word on the matter until my next published piece on the subject.”

    A pity. It seems you could spend more time supporting positions instead of simply producing them.

    “Finally, I should note that am not persuaded by arguments that depend on blatant misinterpretations of authors’ statements (often preceded by phrases such as “you really think that…?”, the answer to which is, no, I don’t), nor those that rely on the fallacy of special pleading, and I have no time at all to spend on refuting them.”

    Oh please, Karnick. I asked if you really thought 9/11 was the cause of the US reversing course. That was my impression of what you said previously. You then went on to say that there were many factors. Fine. How is this a bad exchange? You say something, I repeat back what you say as I interpret it. You then challenge my interpretation. That’s called active listening. It’s a useful form of discussion when dealing with issues or people where misunderstanding are common.

    But I guess I’ll have to wait for your next article to find out what you think of that.

  8. By the way I do have a blog for my viewpoints and you are welcome to come and challenge my assertions.

    tlaloc.gnn.tv

  9. “That seems a tad…um…sloppy. You can’t be bothered to support your assertions because you are too busy making yet more assertions? The process of writing should start with research, hence by the time you actually write your article you should have the data easily at hand. This kind of dodging the issue just seems unprofessional.”

    Attentive readers will observe that citing one poll does not an argument make, and hence is not worthy of a response. In addition, as I pointed out, the poll citation was irrelevant to my point anyway. That is what is sloppy.

    “Oh please, Karnick. I asked if you really thought 9/11 was the cause of the US reversing course.”

    Attentive readers will note that I never suggested such a thing, and the author did not do the courtesy of reading carefully enough to discern that, even though it was quite obvious in the original publication.

    I support my positions when I produce them. I dispute the claim that the poll cited is relevant to my point in the article. I have pointed out why it is not germane.

    Readers will note that personal insults and accusations of bad faith do not make for a useful discussion. I believe that I have been extremely patient in this matter but am firm about not being drawn into further debate on it, given the history of misstatements of my arguments by this individual.—STK

  10. “Attentive readers will observe that citing one poll does not an argument make”

    Not really a good case on your part when you have yet to cite even one source. It’s really not unfair of me to ask you where you get the data to support a conclusion you have commited to print. If you want to be a writer then that’s part of the game: backing up what you say.

    “In addition, as I pointed out, the poll citation was irrelevant to my point anyway. That is what is sloppy.”

    You do consider it irrelevent. I’d argue why you consider it irrelevent, except that I don’t know why you consider it irrelevent because you won’t bother to say. You make one cryptic message about it being up to 2001 and then bite my head off for mistakenly taking that as a reference to 9/11. Gee, sorry. I guess you somehow managed to miss the 6 million arguments about how “9/11 changed everything.” I didn’t so I assumed that’s what you were referring to. Again, you could have actually just made your point if you really dislike being misunderstood.

    “I support my positions when I produce them.”

    You certainly haven’t here. You’ve become defensive when I asked you to provide your support. And you have yet to list one source even as you scoff at the one I offered voluntarily to support my position that “The statistical data I’ve seen says the exact opposite”.

    “I dispute the claim that the poll cited is relevant to my point in the article. I have pointed out why it is not germane.”

    No not really. You pointed out it stopped in 2001. You also made some nebulous claim about it not being a survey of culture. You’ve explained neither of these points or even fleshed them out into full arguments.

    “Readers will note that personal insults and accusations of bad faith do not make for a useful discussion.”

    You say this after claiming I’m a troll who deliberately misinterpretes your statements? What’s the hebrew for Chutzpah, Jay?

  11. A troll wrote, “It’s really not unfair of me to ask you where you get the data to support a conclusion you have commited to print.”

    I already said why this is irrelevant, as all readers are well aware:

    “The cited report stops in 2001. Attentive readers of my article will easily discern why this is therefore irrelevant. In addition, this poll is not a survey of the culture.”

    It cannot be said that I “have yet to cite even one source.” The sourcr for statements about popular culture is popular culture, and I did cite representative samples in my article, in particular in the third- and fourth-to-last paragraphs. Survey data has not yet been done on the content of American popular culture of the past two years. Indeed, the trend I have identified is just becoming noticeble, as I have observed elsewhere. I am confident that such data, when compiled, will confirm my conclusion. Cultural commentators identify trends before they are documented, which creates the hypotheses to be tested. If any survey data on the past two years of American popular culture should contradict my claim, I shall quite happily revise it. No such evidence about popular culture has been offered here or elsewhere. Those who purport to refute my hypothesis, must cite data on the past two years of American popular culture. That is why I said a single survey of public opinion is not germane.

    Finally, the identification of a particular person as a troll who continually mischaracterizes my statements (note that I did not say that this person deliberately does so, as was claimed here) came after a long string of comements that I believe establish that conclusion firmly.—STK

  12. “I already said why this is irrelevant,”

    Oh for god’s sake. Please stop pretending that because you dispute the source I rpovided that means you don’t have to provide any of your own. You made a statement. I asked you to provide your support. 13 messages later I’m still asking you to provide your support.

    Your feelings on the source I provided are a separate issue.

    “It cannot be said that I “have yet to cite even one source.” The sourcr for statements about popular culture is popular culture, and I did cite representative samples in my article, in particular in the third- and fourth-to-last paragraphs. Survey data has not yet been done on the content of American popular culture of the past two years.”

    Okay this is at least better. I find it highly suspect but at least it’s something. I don’t agree that “the sourcr(sic) for statements about popular culture is popular culture.” At least if you mean the only source. Anyone can of course make personal observations. If that’s what you’ve done feel free to call say so about such conclusions. It allows us to know how much weight to give them, especially when compared to the statistical data.

    “If any survey data on the past two years of American popular culture should contradict my claim, I shall quite happily revise it.”

    Okay I’m going to ask you a question here so try not to bite my head off about it: Do you really think that popular culture issues change rapidly enough that a two year window makes any real difference? In other words despite a 10+ year trend toward secularization in the statistical data you believe that a two year difference based on personal observations is relevent?

    “Finally, the identification of a particular person as a troll who continually mischaracterizes my statements (note that I did not say that this person deliberately does so, as was claimed here) came after a long string of comements that I believe establish that conclusion firmly”

    Wait, so if you aren’t accusing me of deliberately misunderstanding you what exactly is it? There’s only two choices then. Either you accuse me of being too dumb to get what you write or you accuse yourself of being a poor writer incapable of making his point clearly. Can we pin it down to what you actually mean? Or will you assure me that your discerning readers will of course know?

  13. “Oh for god’s sake. Please stop pretending that because you dispute the source I rpovided that means you don’t have to provide any of your own. You made a statement. I asked you to provide your support. 13 messages later I’m still asking you to provide your support.”

    Question was asked and answered, as commenter notes.

    “Okay I’m going to ask you a question here so try not to bite my head off about it: Do you really think that popular culture issues change rapidly enough that a two year window makes any real difference? In other words despite a 10+ year trend toward secularization in the statistical data you believe that a two year difference based on personal observations is relevent?”

    No. I think there is a tipping point in these things, and that we reached it within the past couple of years.

    “Wait, so if you aren’t accusing me of deliberately misunderstanding you what exactly is it? There’s only two choices then. Either you accuse me of being too dumb to get what you write or you accuse yourself of being a poor writer incapable of making his point clearly. Can we pin it down to what you actually mean? Or will you assure me that your discerning readers will of course know?”

    I didn’t say I didn’t think the mistatements were not deliberate, only that I had not said they were so. Another example of the misstatements to which I alluded. I am agnostic on the question of whether the statements are deliberate misinterpretations or simply careless reading. I should note that other readers and editors have had no difficulty understanding these matters.—STK

  14. “No. I think there is a tipping point in these things, and that we reached it within the past couple of years.”

    But would a tipping point really be visible after so short a period of observation? I find it hard to believe based on anecdotal evidence that it is. Rather I suspect you’ve hooked into a fad, much like hammer’s pants.

    “I didn’t say I didn’t think the mistatements were not deliberate, only that I had not said they were so. Another example of the misstatements to which I alluded.”

    So in trying to clarify your (apparently deliberate) sophistries I’m somehow guilty of misunderstanding you? Tell you what, there’s this great game called “communication.” It involves saying things that you mean. When you get tired of dancing around the point and want to play let me know.

  15. The commenter has finally understood: I do not wish to play his game. It is not communication that he seeks, but only attention. That shall not be forthcoming.—STK

  16. “The commenter has finally understood: I do not wish to play his game. It is not communication that he seeks, but only attention.”

    No it really is communication. If I just wanted attention I wouldn’t have cared what you based your conclusions on. I did.

    “That shall not be forthcoming”

    Unfortunately you have indeed given me attention but scrimped on the communication. Notice your seven or so comments so far in this thread. That is attention. But as before my goal isn’t attention but actual dialogue.

    See the problem with many in the religious right is that they spend a lot of time in echo chambers that repeat ad nauseum the same messages over and over. They need to spend some more time with the reality based community and less with the faith based community.

    As evidence of this consider the ill formed and almost universally ignorant arguments against evolution that the religious right repeat despite the fact that anyone with a modicum of science knowledge can dismantle them in seconds.

    Unfortunately your attitude here exemplifies exactly how the religious right has become so xenophobic. You have been immediately defensive even though my initial post was not at all critical but inquisitive. You’ve applied several negative attributes to me (incorrectly as it turns out, I have enough faults that it shouldn’t be this hard for you to get one right just by luck). You’ve refused to communicate. Instead you rely upon your more “Attentive” readers and fellow reform clubbers who not coincidentally just happen to believe the same things you do, what a shock that!

    As with every moment in life you have an opportunity to grow here, or to stagnate. Your call.

  17. “When growth is defined as agreeing with self-styled pagan gods, I demur”

    Agreement isn’t required. Only allowing your preconceptions and assumptions to be subject to verification and falsification. Any philosophy kept sheltered from outside challenge and outside perspectives will slowly go bad like the potato salad stuffed in the back of the fridge.

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