Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fundamentalist Christianity and media potential

Phil Helliwell

Since the 1980s, fundamentalist Christians in the United States of America have utilised a wide range of modern media and technologies to further their own religious intent. This has created, in part, what is largely known today in America as the Christian media. This predominantly private media enterprise sports many characteristics, though two major ones will be briefly discussed here; the maintaining of cultural adherence and the displaying of solidarity to the secular Other.

Leaders of fundamentalist Christian movements willingly use their media to propagate their ideology and bring about measured change in the larger fundamentalist community. A key example of this is Jerry Falwell’s monthly periodical, The Fundamentalist Journal, begun in 1982 and designed to be a major mouthpiece of the fundamentalist movement (Mathisen and Mathisen, 1988). But the important factor of a publication like Falwell’s lies in the aims used to formulate the desired cultural adherence and action against the secular community. These aims include the use of the rhetoric of legitimation and change, the redefinition of traditional fundamentalist terms and symbols, and a reorientation toward the world (Mathisen and Mathisen, 1988).

Falwell’s aims were to allow change in behaviour and policy without any loss in credibility or commitment in his followers (Mathisen and Mathisen, 1988). He remained true to fundamentalist tradition while influencing the stance taken by the community as a whole, as well as appropriate core values, such as liberty, to encompass a wider conceptual horizon. These aims, in order to adjust the fundamentalist community to the challenges of the modern age, Falwell had to consciously compromise “…on the levels of consciousness between traditional and modern patterns” (Berger, Berger and Kellner, 1973), fusing together “… elements of the tradition that are deemed to be incompatible with the cognitive assumptions of modernity” (Berger, 1979).

Falwell’s periodical is indicative of the actions taken by media savvy fundamentalist Christians. Generally, they are motivated by “deeply reactionary tendencies”, “animated by bad news, by that which they stand against” (Clapp, 2009). Reasons outside of this perceived defensive position might not allow for such thorough action to have been taken by Falwell in his publication, or indeed others seeking to maintain similar aims.


Berger, Peter L., The Heretical Imperative
Doubleday Anchor, New York, 1979

Berger, Peter L., Brigitte Berger, Hansfried Kellner, The Homeless Mind
Random House, New York, 1973

Clap, Rodney, Bad news evangelicals, The Christian Century
March 10, 2009, 126, 5, p53

Mathisen G.S, Mathisen J.A, The New Fundamentalism: A Sociorhetorical Approach to Understanding Theological Change, Review of Religious Research
Vol. 30, No. 1 Sep., 1988, p18-32

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