Sunday, December 05, 2004

Journalists and new religions

Being a former newspaper reporter and someone whose religion by academic standards is "new," The Revealer's review of Sean McCloud's Making the American Religious Fringe: Exotics, Subversives, and Journalists, 1955-1993(University of North Carolina Press, 2004)went right through me.
McCloud contends that since the 1950s, mainstream magazines like Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report have tarred and feathered any group that displayed high levels of zeal, dogma or emotion. Whatever cultural stereotypes would make these groups look most peripheral and abnormal were thrown at them. Sometimes this meant lightly mocking them, at other times representing them as simply offering brain candy for poor people, and very often giving the impression that all “cults” were lead by charismatic serial killers and rapists who had turned their followers into zombies.

I've been on both sides of this one: I have agonized over poor reportage on contemporary Paganism, yet in my early-1980s pieces on such groups as The Way International and the Church Universal and Triumphant (a/k/a Summit Lighthouse), was I guilty of what McCloud calls "push[ing] these groups to the periphery as a way of reinforcing their own position in the center"? But which "center" was that? Certainly not a mainstream Protestant center. A secularist center disguising my Pagan identity?

Reviewer Gal Berckerman does not totally buy into McCloud's use of certain social theorists; I will have to read this book to see if I do.


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