Who Decides?

Posted on December 12, 2014 by


Allison Mace

Intro to World Religions

MWF 12:00p.m.-12:50 p.m.

Who Decides?

        Who decides what religion is? In the United States, the media has a big influence on how religion is perceived. Two great examples are the portrayals of Islam and Christianity in the media. These two religions are portrayed in a very extreme way, giving the impression that all people who practice these religions are also very extreme.

        There are many negative articles published on news channels’ websites that imply Islam is a violent religion. Currently one of the most popular Islamic extremist groups in the news is ISIS, short for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. ISIS has made many claims to practice true Islam, while other Muslims argue that ISIS is very far from being Muslim. Most Americans have heard about the many beheadings that ISIS has committed and may think that this is a Muslim practice to worship Allah. Why is this a common thought? The media has many stories about ISIS claiming to be a Muslim group and says that if they weren’t really Muslim that other true Muslims would reject ISIS. In one article it is said that Bill Maher, an American comedian, said that “Islam is the only religion that acts like the mafia.” Maher says this because he is under the impression that ISIS is representative of all Muslims, which isn’t true.

        The truth is, Muslims are rejecting ISIS, but the media is not publishing near as many articles with this information. In an article by Thomas Friedman published on the New York Times’ website, Friedman says that there are many Muslims that reject ISIS and its practices, because they don’t want to be “tyrannized by self-appointed Islamist authoritarians telling them what Islam is.” There is an active campaign by British Muslim members of the Active Change Foundation to reject ISIS called #NotInMyName which is discussed in an article by Jack May on the Huffington Post’s website. In this article the founder of the Active Change Foundation Hanif Qadir says, “Young British Muslims are sick and tired of the hate-filled propaganda the terrorists ISIS and their supporters churn out on social media.” Qadir then goes on to talk about how ISIS is spreading “violence in the name of Islam.” These articles clearly show that the majority of Muslims reject ISIS and its behaviors, and that Muslim ISIS members are not representative of all Muslims.

        This misrepresentation isn’t just happening to Muslims. It is happening to Christians too. The documentary titled Jesus Camp, follows some Evangelical Christian children while they attend a Christian camp in North Dakota. These children come from families that practice a very extreme form of the Christian religion. In the documentary while they are at the camp the children seem to have very mature religious revelations. Some people who have watched this documentary have found this part very disturbing, and others have found it very good. On the Rotten Tomatoes page for this documentary, a website where critics may rate a movie and add their own thoughts about it, there are drastically differing opinions about it. One critic from the Philadelphia Inquirer talks about how it is a great documentary no matter what your religion is. Another critic from Ebert & Roeper says that he thinks this camp would appall Jesus. Even another critic from ReelViews says that he is disturbed by the documentary and enlightened at the same time. These reactions are natural for a film of this style and genre. The problem is Jesus Camp does give the impression that this is how all Evangelical Christians act. One critic from Common Sense Media said that this documentary was eye-opening regarding how Evangelical Christians act.

        The truth is not all Evangelical Christians act in this way. Some Evangelical Christians are speaking out about how this documentary is misrepresenting Evangelical Christians as a whole. Some of these views can be seen in an article by Jeffrey Overstreet posted on Christianity Today’s website. In the article Ted Haggard, who made a brief appearance in Jesus Camp, says, “I am concerned that we are seeing the initial attempts to characterize Evangelical practices as extreme and, in some cases, similar to the practices and beliefs of Islamic Fundamentalists.” On the second page of the article you can find a review written by two Christian film critics named Denny Wayman and Hal Conklin. Their review says, “When a documentary explores a subgroup of a large contingent and implies that this defines the whole, then it is appropriate to call ‘foul.’ This is the case in Jesus Camp. … The implication is made that Pastor Fischer is a prime example of Evangelical Christians’ beliefs and practices. This is not only untrue but it also leads to a pervasive misunderstanding.” This shows that the Evangelical Christians in Jesus Camp aren’t representatives of all Evangelical Christians.

        This situation is similar to Islam and ISIS. In both cases, the whole religion is being represented in the media by one small group, giving false impressions to people of other religions. This all relates to the topic of authority talked about in the book A Critical Introduction to the Study of Religion by Craig Martin. Both of these extremist groups claim that God/Allah approves of their behaviors and even encourages them. They are using God/Allah as an authority figure to validate their behaviors. People looking in from the outside may believe that God/Allah really does approve of these  behaviors. As a result, they will then practice these behaviors to please God/Allah. If the media starts to publish more articles regarding the false impressions that surround Islam and Christianity, then people will not be as ashamed to identify with these religions as they are now.

If you would like to watch the whole Jesus Camp documentary, it is available for purchase here, here, and here. You can also access it on Netflix if you have an account.


Works Cited

Craig Martin, A Critical Introduction to the Study of Religion, Equinox Publishing Ltd., 07/2012.

Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, Jesus Camp, Magnolia Pictures, 09/15/2006, Documentary, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppQhleVuWPM), (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFpDFsguIdc), (http://www.bestbuy.com/site/jesus-camp-dvd/8221131.p?id=1611987&skuId=8221131&st=jesus+camp&lp=1&cp=1), (https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/jesus-camp/id279298256).

Jack May, “Meet the Young British Muslims Rejecting ISIS With Their #NotInMyName Campaign,” Huffington Post, 09/18/2014, (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/09/18/young-british-muslims-reject-isis_n_5841082.html).

Jeffrey Overstreet, “Is Jesus Camp Objective? Or Unfair?” Christianity Today, 10/29/2009, (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/septemberweb-only/060921.html?start=1).

Rotten Tomatoes, “Critic Reviews for Jesus Camp,” Rotten Tomatoes, 2006-2012, (http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/jesus_camp/).

Salon Staff, “Bill Maher: Islam’s ‘the only religion that acts like the mafia, that will f**king kill you if you say the wrong thing,'” Salon, 10/04/2014, (http://www.salon.com/2014/10/04/bill_maher_islams_the_only_religion_that_acts_like_the_mafia_that_will_fking_kill_you_if_you_say_the_wrong_thing/).

Thomas Friedman, “How ISIS Drives Muslims from Islam,” New York Times, 12/06/2014, (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/07/opinion/sunday/thomas-l-friedman-how-isis-drives-muslims-from-islam.html).

Posted in: Islam