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Fox News' Shameless Christian Crusade

At Fox News, religion is easy: Christianity is right and good and must be defended from its relentless persecutors, and other faiths are dangerous, inadequate, or a joke.

Religion is ... tough.

The collected spiritual teachings of the world's various deities, messiahs, prophets, monks, yogis, gurus, and shamans are so deeply ingrained in human culture and consciousness that they essentially tell the history of mankind. Their cosmological and philosophical differences have proved to be stubbornly intractable and provided the impetus for many of humanity's more brutal conflicts. The greatest minds of the ancient, medieval, and modern worlds have devoted entire lifetimes delving into the deepest questions that face mankind.

But for Fox News, religion is easy: Christianity is right and good and must be defended from its relentless persecutors, and other faiths are dangerous, inadequate, or funny.

Viewers of this past weekend's Fox News Sunday were treated to an especially stark example of the network's affection for Christendom when Fox News analyst and putative paragon of "straight news" Brit Hume  counseled Tiger Woods to ditch Buddhism in favor of Christianity as his best hope for a "total recovery" from the scandal surrounding his marital infidelities. According to Hume: "I don't think that faith [Buddhism] offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith." Hume appeared on The O'Reilly Factor the next day to  deny that he was "proselytizing," explaining that Woods "needs something that Christianity especially provides and gives and offers, and that is redemption and forgiveness." To attempt to explain how that makes sense is way beyond my pay grade.

But proselytizing it was, and it was met with resounding hosannas from Fox News colleagues  Fred Barnes and Tucker Carlson, who couldn't quite grasp why it is unseemly for a news personality to declare one religious faith superior to another. People who actually know a thing or two about religion, however, were less enthusiastic about Hume's evangelical turn. Writing on Newsweek's "On Faith" blog, Baptist minister Welton Gaddy  commented: "First, a news program should deal with news, not evangelism, whatever religion is involved. ... Second, the implication of Mr. Hume's suggestion to Mr. Woods is utilitarian -- you will get a better deal related to forgiveness in Christianity than you can get in Buddhism. Christianity is not a means to an end; it is a holistic faith to be embraced and lived." USA Today religion reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman  dryly noted that Buddhists across the internet were uniting in forgiveness of Hume.

In a way, Hume's appeal for Woods' salvation was a fitting coda to Fox News' annual winter exercise in  manufactured outrage on behalf of the  supposedly beleaguered Christian community -- the  increasingly ridiculous "War on Christmas." Despite the fact that Christianity is by a long way the world's predominant and, arguably, most influential faith, Fox News continues to insist every year that the entire religion is threatened by an evil coalition of atheists and other militant "secularists" who want to "abolish" Christmas by forcing department store clerks to say "Happy Holidays." And if that weren't stupid enough, Fox stepped on its own ridiculous message by  running commercials this year wishing viewers "Happy Holidays."

The "War on Christmas" is part and parcel of Fox News' attitude toward matters of faith -- "religion" equals "Christian." On April 29, 2009, Bill O'Reilly asked Fox & Friends anchor Gretchen Carlson if she thought "the media is anti-religion." Carlson responded: "I do, because it's not cool to be Christian." Fox News' media criticism program, Fox News Watch, devoted an April 12 segment to a Newsweek  cover story proclaiming: "The Decline and Fall of Christian America." Host Bill Hemmer  said of the cover: "The timing doesn't seem to be a coincidence. It's holy week for Christians and Passover for Jews. And it's also not the first time the mainstream media has weighed in with a negative message on God and religion."

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