Religion and the Media

Thanks to Randy Black's memory, we have been introduced to William Murchison of the Dallas Morning News, Dallas Times Herald and currently Professor of Journalism at Baylor. Randy now adds: "From his online bio: William Murchison holds degrees from the University of Texas and Stanford University. a member of the ecumenical advisory board of the Thomas Moore Institute, the Episcopal Synod of America and The Philadelphia Society". RH. Derek Davis, editor of The Journal of Church and State, is at Baylor and presumably knows Wiliam Murchison. Scholarly WAISER Jon Huyck just has been ordained an Episcopal deacon in a two-hour ceremony at St, John the Divine in New York. WAIS has a special interest in religion, which tries to explain the world, and in journalists, who enlighten the public and provide information necessary for democracy. While the press has its shortcomings, don't shortchange it. In comparison, TV is crazy. I can imagine historians centuries from now poring over TV tapes to reconstruct life in this century. They will conclude that our world was crazy, and will wonder which country was craziest.

Derek Davis writes: "Indeed we are honored at Baylor to now have William Murchison on our faculty. He is an outstanding journalist and will be an equally good professor. Moreover, he is a warm and genuine human being for whom the spirit of contention and belligerence is distasteful. I know this because he has been warm and gracious to me in spite of my aversion to what he seems to prefer--greater doses of state-sponsored/public religion. In other respects we share many views and ideas which will no doubt keep our friendship solid".

Religion in France

Christopher Jones says: "John Helan mentions the old French anti-semitism and its Catholic roots. I once commented that we should discuss "les droites françaises" because it could help us to understand many aspects of French life today. Obviously, the Ancien Régime was more than Catholic, it was a system based on the divine right of the King. This concept may seem outmoded or even a little whimsical today, but against the backround of John's message (which essentially is a posting about religion) it is extremely important. The republic in France is atheist and its spirit is anti-religious. For the record, Catholicism was severely persecuted during the French Revolution and never regained the power it had before 1789.

Only after the Concordat of Napoléon was it restored as the semi-official religion of France. But even the restoration under Louis XVIII and Charles X could not turn the clock completely back to the old glory days of the Ancien Régime. Many in France consider the Vichy régime of Marshal Pétain a throwback to the Catholicism of the Restoration and its radical royalists, the "ultras." Hence, it was very easy for these ultra right wing elements to support the Nazi invaders. The"socialist, atheist, free mason and Jewish" republic lost the war (for them.)

For many, including me, Napoléon, the I and III were the spiritual grand daddies of today's Gaullists, i.e mild Catholics. and above all "opportunistes" Don't forget that Napoléon I was the man who enshrined in code the official protection for France's Jews. One last thing about the Bonapartes, because they sprang from the revolution, they owed their thrones to the people and not to God. Because the Nazis and their Vichyite friends lost the war, this anti Jewish, ultra Catholic tendency gave way to the Gaullist/Bonaparte opportunist wing of mildly religious conservatives.

As for the Gibson film and my comment, what most strikes me is this virulent tone about anything Jewish nowadays. I never heard "Judeo-Christian" before 1967! Nobody mentioned "Christ the Jew" 35 years ago! Was he Jewish doing human banalities like taking the trash out or feeding the cat and the son of God when he walked on water? Please don't confuse me John, with Mel Gibson. Like Luis Buñuel, I am very, very skeptical about all religious dogma -- and my comment was written with that in mind".

From te UK, George Sassoon writes: "From my experience in France, Muslim immigrants ("les nord-africains")
are much disliked and one hears jokes against them. In contrast, black people, whether from Africa or the French West Indies, are popular and well integrated. It is not a matter of race but of religion. One must remember that to Muslims, the lives of infidels such as ourselves are valued at between those of a dog and a camel. The new Spanish government has withdrawn support for the war against Islamic terrorism. I have started learning Arabic in preparation for its becoming compulsory".

RH: When I lived in France, what George says about North Africans and blacks was true. What about black Muslims? While all of Europe observed three minutes of silence in honor of those killed in Madrid, Muslim militants were rejoicing in their victory, as they did after 9/11.

Derek Davis, the editor of The Journal of Church and State, writes about laicité (the lay state) in France: "In March 2004, the French parliament overwhelmingly enacted a law to prohibit public school students from wearing clothing and insignia that "conspicuously manifest a religious affiliation." While the law is broadly applicable on its face, thus restricting Christians from wearing crucifixes, Jews from wearing skullcaps, and Sikhs from wearing turbans, the unstated but clear aim of the law, if the French media is any guide, is to prohibit female Muslim students from wearing the hijab, or headscarf. Early polls indicate that the French public understands the motive behind the law in the same way, and that they are overwhelmingly supportive of the law.

I will not speculate in depth on why the law the law was passed or why it is so popular with the French people. Nevertheless, I suspect it is directly linked to the French doctrine of laicite, which dates at least to the French Revolution of the late eighteenth century. Most Americans who know anything about French laicite associate it with excessive liberalism, and perhaps, in the context of the present headscarf controversy, with religious intolerance. It is more complex than that, of course, but the idea of laicite does seem to embrace the notion that French authorities should protect the people from the “excesses” of religion. This attitude is inherited from the Revolution when French society was dramatically overhauled by ending the Catholic establishment and instituting a genuinely secular, if not completely anti-clerical, state. But laicite also embodies the goal of ensuring equality, tolerance and fairness to the French people, which, as the theory goes, can only be enjoyed if religious groups are not entitled to take over, dominate, or excessively intrude public space. Defining France as a “lay country” committed to laicite, an MP from Jacques Chirac’s UMP party, Jerome Riviere, stated recently that “in order to be able to worship wherever you want, you need to accept that others are worshipping somebody else.” Therefore, he added, “in schools . . . and public offices, we should completely ban any visible religious sign and specifically the Islamist’s veil.”

Maybe Muslims who wear headscarves, Jews who wear yarmulkes, Christians who wear crosses, or Sikhs who wear turbans have no designs whatsoever on “taking over” France, but the growing presence of students wearing religious garb of various types, and especially the increased number of headscarves seen worn by female Muslims students, has caused most French citizens to believe that the “excesses” of religion now violate French laicite. This seems, in their minds at least, to justify the new legislation.

[1] The law was passed by a vote of 494-36 in the National Assembly and 276-20 in the Senate.
[2] BBC News, “President’s risky move,” available at, accessed 28 January 2004.

Ronald Hilton -