Was there a plethora of media hostility towards Christianity after the 2017 General Election?

Flamethrower

In this post I consider the question: “Was there a surge of hostility towards traditional Christianity in the wake of last year’s General Election?”

This was a thought that occurred to me whilst working on my previous etimasthe post, when I suddenly noticed a particular clustering of dates of media articles etimasthe has addressed: June and July 2017.

“I don’t claim that the analysis I present in this post is particularly scientific. No doubt professional data analysts could pick all sorts of holes in my method. But it is at least based on some data.”

Firstly, though, a disclaimer. I don’t claim that the analysis I present in this post is particularly scientific. No doubt professional data analysts could pick all sorts of holes in my method — starting with the fact that it’s based on a very limited data set: namely, the 21 ‘media watch’ articles posted on etimasthe since its conception in September last year. However, it is at least based on some data.

It is, of course, therefore, by definition only based on media articles to which etimasthe has responded.

The weakness of this, of course, is that it gives prominence to media output which is controversial. The more controversial a media story is, the more likely it is to have come up in my Facebook feed and to have had a rebuttal written about it.

This is, after all, the premiss on which the Indepndent Online’s whole business model seems to operate. Write something as outrageous as possible, and it will get more attention and therefore more ad revenue. What a sad, sad world we live in.

Obviously, to do a really scientific analysis of whether there was a surge of media hostility after the General Election, we would have to sift through everything published in the last ten or twelve months by the major national news outlets. Which of course, we part-timers are not in a position to do.

Background: The 2017 General Election

The General Election of 2017 took place on Thursday, 8 June. It was widely seen as a spectacular blunder by Prime Minister Theresa May: it was the Election that didn’t need to be called, to twist the knife into the Labour opposition party, but ended up with the Prime Minister having a bloodied nose — albeit still in power.[1]

“The DUP is a gang of homophobes, creationists and enemies of gender equality. Has the prime minister no shame?”

Matthew d’Ancona, The Guardian, 12 June 2017

With the Conservative party having lost its majority in Parliament, on 9 June they entered into negotiations with their ideologically close allies the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, to form a loose coalition known as a confidence-and-supply agreement. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) were able to provide the ten Parliamentary seats needed for an effective majority.[2]

Politics in Northern Ireland is rarely uncontroversial. Although the DUP won a respectable ten seats in Northern Ireland, its highest number in any UK General Election[3], its policies and its stated views were widely regarded with abhorrence and incomprehension in the UK media, with its centre of gravity firmly located in England.

Thus even the notion of Theresa May’s Conservatives entering into any sort of arrangement with them was heavily pilloried from the outset. For example Matthew d’Ancona, writing in the Guardian on 12 June, stated,

“The DUP is a gang of homophobes, creationists and enemies of gender equality. Has the prime minister no shame?”[4]

Analysis

My hypothesis is that the Conservative-DUP confidence-and-supply arrangement — and the prospect of it from the day after the General Election onwards — was the occasion of a surge in anti-Christian vitriol in the UK media.

“To test this hypothesis, I listed all of the articles which etimasthe has published under its category of ‘media watch’ since its inception in September 2017. I subcategorized these 21 articles into those which were in response to media articles ‘hostile’ towards traditional Christianity, and those in response to articles which were either ‘positive’ towards traditional Christianity or simply ‘neutral’ about it.”

To test this, I listed all of the articles which etimasthe has published under its category of ‘media watch’ — which covers the representation of Christianity in the UK media — since its inception in September 2017.

I subcategorized these 21 articles into those which were in response to media articles ‘hostile’ towards traditional Christianity — that is, you might say, the kind of Bible-believing Christianity that the DUP represents (whether you agree with their policies or not) — and those in response to articles which were either ‘positive’ towards traditional Christianity or simply ‘neutral’ about it.

For an example of our response to a ‘hostile’ article about Christianity, see here; and for our response to a ‘positive/neutral’ one see here. The latter is a classic example of Independent Online utter ignorance of Christianity or what Christians believe: but it is not, per se, attacking Christianity and so was classified as ‘positive/neutral.’

Next to each of these I then noted the publication date of the original media article, or TV programme, to which etimasthe had responded. A few of etimasthe’s ‘media watch’ articles are responses to BBC TV programmes, particularly around the time of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Six of these ‘media watch’ articles were general observations on the media, rather than responses to some specific media article or programme: as such, they had no date of the original media article or programme and had to be discounted — e.g., this and this.

You can see this data in the two tables below. The first is a list of every etimasthe ‘media watch’ post written in response to a ‘hostile’ media article or programme, together with the publication date of that media article or programme; the second is the same, but for media output which was ‘positive’ or ‘neutral’ towards traditional Christianity.

Title of etimasthe pageMedia article dateLink
Guardian commentator claims believing Jews, Christians and Muslims should not be in central governmentJune 12, 2017Link
Independent Online: Science ‘disproves’ claim the Bible doesn’t actually makeJuly 27, 2017Link
Telegraph: Christians have had it all wrong for centuries!August 23, 2017Link
Independent Online recycles old, discredited Mary Magdalene hoaxApril 14, 2016Link
Independent Online recycles “stunning claims” from 2013 claiming Jesus Christ was ‘fabricated’ as Roman propagandaOctober 10, 2013Link
Independent Online keeps reinforcing stereotype about ‘intolerant’ religious peopleJuly 2, 2017Link
“King Solomon’s Mines”: Independent Online ‘debunks’ Bible with a parade of its own ignoranceJuly 19, 2017Link
Independent Online: “Historians are questioning if Jesus ever existed at all.” Is there any substance to it?June 21, 2017Link
Table 1. etimasthe 'media watch' articles based on media articles/programmes hostile towards traditional Christianity

 

Title of etimasthe pageMedia article dateLink
Telegraph prints balanced article on new textual criticism of 1 Corinthians 14:34September 22, 2017Link
BBC kicks off Reformation season with a very fair history of the Reformation in Germany and EnglandOctober 3, 2017Link
Guardian publishes fair article on Melvyn Bragg’s claim that Bible should be taught in schoolsOctober 4, 2017Link
Will they? Won’t they? BBC to give due prominence to Reformation 500th anniversary?N/ALink
BBC Four runs excellent programme on ‘the three books’ of the English ReformationOctober 19, 2017Link
Is BBC Online about to be totally inconsistent with its own remit?N/ALink
BBC Online does nothing to celebrate one of the most important events in European historyN/ALink
Reply from BBC Audience Services re: lack of Reformation 500th anniversary coverageN/ALink
Guardian preaches the gospel!November 16, 2017Link
Independent Online proves that it doesn’t know basic facts about ChristianityDecember 6, 2017Link
Does the BBC now “do God”?December 20, 2017Link
Is the Mary Magdalene film any good?N/ALink
The Historical Evidence for Jesus — examined againApril 14, 2017Link
Table 2. etimasthe 'media watch' articles based on media articles/programmes either positive or neutral towards traditional Christianity

 

Now when we represent the above data in a chart — discounting the etimasthe articles for which there is no ‘original publication date’, and also for display purposes not showing an outlier which the Independent Online published in 2013 — then what we get is as shown below:

Chart 1. etimasthe 'media watch' articles published, by attitude of original media article/programme towards traditional Christianity and publication date of original media article/programme
Chart 1. etimasthe ‘media watch’ articles published, by attitude of original media article/programme towards traditional Christianity and publication date of original media article/programme

“The analysis shown above does indicate very clearly a surge of hostility towards Christianity in the UK media after the Conservative-DUP arrangement. It would seem that the beliefs of a political party hitherto largely ignored outside Northern Ireland were suddenly being dissected, pulled apart, and in written form abhorred.”

What we can see very clearly on this chart is a ‘cluster’ of hostile media articles published in June—August 2017: that is, in the 2-3 months following the proposed Conservative-DUP agreement.

Note that all of the ‘hostile’ media articles included in this chart in this June—August 2017 ‘cluster’ were published after 9 June. You can check this in Table 1 above. The importance of that date is that it was when the potential Conservative-DUP alliance was first announced — and thus is our terminus a quo if that announcement was the spark for a surge of anti-Christian media hostility.

For all the caveats mentioned earlier, the analysis shown above does indicate very clearly a surge of hostility towards Christianity in the UK media after the Conservative-DUP arrangement. It would seem that the beliefs of a political party hitherto largely ignored outside Northern Ireland were suddenly — by a considerable coterie of England-based press writers — being dissected, pulled apart, and in written form abhorred. And that manifested itself in attacks (often unfair) on Christianity itself.

Which media outlets are most hostile?

I also broke down the above data by media outlet, again classified into articles ‘hostile’ to traditional Christianity vs. ‘positive/neutral’ towards it. The results are interesting, if unsurprising:—

Chart 2. etimasthe 'media watch' articles published, by attitude of original media article/programme towards traditional Christianity and media outlet
Chart 2. etimasthe ‘media watch’ articles published, by attitude of original media article/programme towards traditional Christianity and media outlet

Certain media outlets, such as the Guardian, can be both hostile and positive towards Christianity, in roughly equal measure.

On the other hand, the Independent Online regularly shows itself to be the pedlar of the most scurrilous and ignorant, sensationalist rubbish against Christianity. For examples, see here, here and here.

“The BBC, on the whole — at least in what they actually say — seems fair and balanced towards Christianity based on this analysis.”

The BBC, on the whole, seems fair and balanced towards Christianity based on this analysis. I may take them to task for under-representing Christianity compared to other social movements — but what they actually say, seems to be balanced.

A notable absentee from this data is of course the Daily Mail. This is for the simple reason that no particularly remarkable media representation of Christianity from them has come to my attention since etimasthe started in September 2017.

Why is there a surge of positive/neutral media articles to which etimasthe responded from September — December 2017?

One reason for this, clearly, is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

31 October 2017 was the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting his famous 95 Theses on the church door at Wittenberg — the event which triggered off the Reformation in Europe.[5] The BBC ran a number of very good programmes celebrating the 500th anniversary over the month of October — although I did question them about the amount of representation this important event received on their website.

“The Christians to the lion!”

Popular saying recorded by Tertullian (c. 200 A.D.)

Hence it was natural that there should be a surge of etimasthe articles posted during October/November 2017 — and many of these were in response to positive BBC programmes on the Reformation.

Meanwhile, the fact that a number of etimasthe articles were published in November and December 2017 about ‘positive/neutral’ media articles, is perhaps yet another indicator that the aforementioned post-Election hostility had by then settled down. As the saying goes, “The Christians to the lion!”[6]

Did etimasthe not just write more ‘media watch’ articles around the time of the Election?

That is a fair question — and in fact, three hostile media articles around the Election post-mortem were the reason etimasthe came into existence.[7]

To address this reasonable response, I analysed the rate of output per month of etimasthe articles since it began in September 2017. The results are below, categorized into ‘media watch’ and ‘history’ articles:—

Chart 3. etimasthe articles published, by month and category
Chart 3. etimasthe articles published, by month and category

Three things are noticeable here:—

  1. As etimasthe goes on, there is an obvious tendency to do fewer ‘media watch’ articles and more ‘history’ articles. This is obviously in part a by-product of the fact that three media articles were the reason for etimasthe’s being started in the first place — and so of course there will be an initial surge of ‘media watch’ articles.
  1. There is a surge of articles published by etimasthe during October 2017. This is obviously related to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, when the BBC ran a number of programmes on the Reformation — and thus should be treated as a ‘blip’ in the data.
  1. Taking into account the above, the rate of publication of etimasthe articles has been about constant since September 2017 when it started: that is, between 4 and 7 articles per month (excepting October 2017), whereof between 0 and 4 per month were ‘media watch’ articles (that is, responding to representations of Christianity in the UK media).

Once one discounts the ‘Reformation blip’ in the above chart, there is nothing in this data that shows more etimasthe output being produced during the aftermath of the 2017 General Election, or that more proactive focus was put on media representations of Christianity at any given time.

Conclusion

“There is, I think, here a sombre warning. Hostility towards minorities — those, e.g., who don’t assent to ‘British values’ (whatever they may happen to be this week) — is always liable to flare up, and it doesn’t necessarily take any very great or very blameworthy spark for it to do so.”

What should we conclude from this analysis?

Based on the limited data I have presented here, it does seem that there was a surge of anti-Christian hostility towards traditional Christianity in the media, in the wake of the 2017 General Election and the proposed (and eventual) confidence-and-supply arrangement between the Conservative party and the DUP.

Thankfully, the data also indicates that this hostility then settled down in the succeeding months.

There is, I think, here a sombre warning. Hostility towards minorities — those, e.g., who don’t assent to ‘British values’ (whatever they may happen to be this week) — is always liable to flare up, and it doesn’t necessarily take any very great or very blameworthy spark for it to do so.

We in the UK like to pride ourselves on being the birth of modern democracy. Magna Carta, and all that. But as a nation, how far are we — really — from descending into the kind of savagery depicted in William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies?

Perhaps less than we often like to think.

 

 

Note
etimasthe.com is something I do outside of full-time employment. Consequently I generally only post new material on here once or twice a week.

The best way to stay informed of new content on here is to follow us on Twitter (@etimasthe) or to ‘like’ our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/etimasthe.

 


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_general_election,_2017

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservative%E2%80%93DUP_agreement#2017_Conservative%E2%80%93DUP_agreement

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/12/may-tories-amber-rudd-prime-minister-leadership

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninety-five_Theses

[6] http://www.chriscastaldo.com/2011/01/26/tertullian/

[7] These being the media articles addressed here, here and here.

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