February 22, 2019

Does the Media Have a Problem With Religion?

As a religious Jew, I constantly feel attacked by the media. All too often, their stories come across as anti-religion, choosing the side of the nonreligious and attempting to make believers in God look like idiots and bigots.

Take, for example, the appallingly unfair perception of the Covington (Ky.) Catholic High School boys who were filmed wearing Make America Great Again caps at the March for Life rally on Jan. 18 in Washington, D.C. Because many of the kids appeared to be Catholic (and white, and anti-abortion, and Trump supporters, and male), the media jumped on their backs, portraying them as privileged racists. A few days later, it surfaced that the video had been heavily edited, that a group of African-Americans identifying itself as Hebrew Israelites had provoked the boys, and that the boys, predominantly a boy identified in media reports as Nick Sandmann, weren’t mocking or trying to intimidate a Native American and Vietnam War-era veteran identified as Nathan Phillips, who appears in the video beating a small drum. (The anti-abortion rally coincided with an Indigenous Peoples March at the Lincoln Memorial.)

A few days earlier, the media were in an uproar over the news that Vice President Mike Pence’s wife was going to work at an “anti-gay school.” This school is Christian. By that logic, every religious school that follows biblical principles should be labeled as “anti-gay.” 

I have been scorned because I am religious. I wrote an article about my conversion to Judaism for a now-defunct website geared toward women called xoJane. I got hundreds of comments from seemingly secular people who told me I’d converted just to be with my husband, that my outfit in the photo was ugly and that I was brainwashed. 

“Whether someone believes in God or not shouldn’t be an invitation to attack them.”

My husband was approached by a major literary agent who heard him on the radio program “This American Life” but promptly dropped him after she assumed he would write about being pro-God. I often submit pro-God essays to publications, but only the religious Jewish media outlets want to publish them. I know that I’m a talented writer and my husband is an amazing comedian. But we don’t speak up because people might dismiss us as being bitter and not talented enough to “make it.” 

Movies and books about individuals who left Judaism often are released and receive worldwide attention and acclaim. It doesn’t matter that many of these people came from abusive homes or that they’re mentally ill. The media seem to eat up any anti-Jewish news. 

The attacks on believers in God are contrary to how pro-God our country is. U.S. demographics reveal more than 70 percent of Americans consider themselves Christians; 80 percent believe in God.  

I was a devoted atheist for 10 years, and I willingly became an Orthodox Jew. It was not because I was in love with a Jewish man or was forced into it. It’s because I believed the Torah was the ultimate truth and it could enhance my life in ways I never could have imagined. Today, when I think about the path my life could have taken, I’m thankful to God that I found him and Judaism. It has made me a better person, one who welcomes others into her home, gives to charity, volunteers her time, loves her husband, cares for her animals, eats ethically and does not judge others for their beliefs. Most of the religious people I know are the same. They’re some of the kindest, most wonderful people I’ve met, and they will go out of their way to do good. Why are the media portraying us differently?  

I hope there comes a day when religious people can feel free to join whatever party they choose and read the mainstream media without feeling disdained or mocked, at best, and attacked, at worst. We are living in radicalized times, when people are increasingly polarized. Whether someone believes in God or not shouldn’t be an invitation to attack them. 

All human beings have value, no matter what their beliefs (or lack of beliefs) are, and shouldn’t be despised for attempting to live their lives in the best way possible and to pursue happiness. It’s not the American way.