Atheism, Christianity and the British Press

Press Coverage of Pope Benedict XVI’s 2010 State Visit to the UK

Authors

  • James Crossley University of Sheffield
  • Jackie Harrison University of Sheffield

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/imre.v18i1.18556

Keywords:

Atheism, Christianity, binary, Pope Benedict XVI, British Press

Abstract

This study analyses the way twenty British newspapers (15th to 20th September 2010) covered Pope Benedict XVI’s 2010 state visit to the UK. We found that one important framing narrative used by the British press was an atheism/Christianity binary. This binary was characterised by mutual antagonism over the role of religion in civil society and yet this binary also existed alongside a call for calm and a defence of a ‘gentler secularism’ by journalists who, in the main, defended themselves (and ‘the majority of the public’) as having liberal democratic values. The net effect of which was that the British press simultaneously found itself in the position of framing the visit in terms of extreme views and mutual antagonism, whist at the same time endorsing both a civil space bleached of atheism/Christian contestation and ideals of Christianity and atheism as private and non-threatening, deprived of any problematic Otherness.

References

Alexander, Jeffrey C. 2011. Performative Revolution in Egypt: An Essay in Cultural Power. London: Bloomsbury Academic. http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781780930862

Anonymous, 2008. “The Age of Enlightenment: God, Sacred Cows and the Media.” Reporter. http://reporter.leeds.ac.uk/535/s5.htm (last accessed 25 August, 2012)

Anonymous. 2010a. “Christopher Hitchens: Arrest The Pope!” The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. http://old.richarddawkins.net/videos/5434-christopher-hitchens-arrest-the-pope (last accessed 30 September 2013).

Anonymous 2010b. “Pope Aide Pulls Out of Trip after Third World Jibe.” BBC News (September 15). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11317441

Bailey, Edward. 2006. Implicit Religion in Contemporary Society. Leuven: Peeters.

———. 1998. Implicit Religion: An Introduction. London: Middlesex University Press.

Beattie, Tina. 2007. The New Atheists: The Twilight of Reason and the War on Religion. London: Darton, Longman and Todd.

Billig, Michael. 1995. Banal Nationalism. London: Sage.

Brown, Callum G. 2003. “The Secularization Decade: What the 1960s have done to the Study of Religious History.” In The Decline of Christendom in Western Europe, edited by H. McLeod and W. Ustorf, 29–46. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brown, Callum G. 2006. Religion and Society in Twentieth-Century Britain. Harlow: Peason.

Brown, Callum G. 2009. The Death of Christian Britain: Understanding Secularization. Second edition. Abingdon: Routledge.

Burkeman, Oliver. 2006a. “The Phoney War on Christmas,” Guardian (8 December). http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/dec/08/religion.communities

———. 2006b. “Mulled Whine,” Guardian (12 December). http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/dec/12/mistletoeandwhine.

Clarke, Stephen R.L. 2009. Understanding Faith: Religious Belief and Its Place in Society. Exeter: Imprint Academic.

Crossley, James. 2014. Harnessing Chaos: The Bible in English Political Discourse since 1968. London: Bloomsbury.

———. 2012. Jesus in an Age of Neoliberalism: Quests, Scholarship and Ideology. London: Routledge.

———. 2008. Jesus in an Age of Terror: Scholarly Projects for a New American Century. London: Equinox.

Crossley, James and Jackie Harrison. (2015, forthcoming). “The Mediation of the Distinction of ‘Religion’ and ‘Politics’ by the UK press on the occasion of Pope Benedict XVI’s state visit to the UK.” Political Theology 16(3).

Davie, Grace. 1994. Religion in Britain since 1945: Believing without Belonging. Oxford: Blackwell.

Dawkins, Richard. 2001. “Religion’s Misguided Missiles.” Guardian (15 September). http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/sep/15/september11.politicsphilosophyandsociety1

Dawkins, Richard. 2006. The God Delusion. London: Bantham Press.

Dennett, Daniel C. 2006. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. London: Viking.

Drury, Ian. 2006. “Christmas Cards Are Losing Their Religious Message”, Daily Mail (11 December). http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-421417/Christmas-cards-losing-religious-message.html

Fitzgerald, T. 2004. The Ideology of Religious Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fry, Stephen. 2009. “Stephen Fry’s letter to himself: Dearest absurd child.” The Guardian. April 30, 2009. http://www.theguardian.com/media/2009/apr/30/stephen-fry-letter-gay-rights

Harris, Sam. 2010. “Bringing the Vatican to Justice.” Huffington Post (May 10). http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/bringing-the-vatican-to-j_b_571088.html

———. 2006. Letter to a Christian Nation. New York: Random House.

———. 2004. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason. London: Simon and Schuster.

Harrison, Jackie. 2008. “News.” In Pulling Newspapers Apart, edited by Bob Franklin. London: Routledge.

———. 2006. News. London: Routledge.

———. 2000. Terrestrial Television News in Britain: The Culture of Production. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Hitchens, Christopher. 2007. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Twelve.

Kasper, Walter. 2010. “Irritationen über Kardinal überschatten Papst-Reise.” Focus (11 September). http://www.focus.de/politik/ausland/papst/walter-kasper-irritationen-ueber-kardinal-ueberschatten-papst-reise_

aid_552106.html

Kennedy, Maev and Riazat Butt. 2010. “Papal visit: Linking the godless to a lack of values is wrong, say critics.” Guardian (September 16). http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/sep/16/papal-visit-linking-godless-lack-values-wrong

Knott, Kim, Elizabeth Poole and Teemu Taira. 2013. Media Portrayals of Religion and the Secular Sacred: Representation and Change. Farnham: Ashgate.

Landis, J. Richard and Garry Koch. 1977. “The Measurement of Observer Agreement for Categorical Data.” Biometrics 33(1): 159–174. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/2529310

Lombard, Mathew, Jennifer Synder-Duch, and Cheryl Campanella Bracken. 2002. “Content Analysis in Mass Communication: Assessment and Recording of Intercoder Reliability.” Human Communication Research 28(4): 587–604. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2958.2002.tb00826.x

McLeod, H. 2007. The Religious Crisis of the 1960s. Oxford: Oxford University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199298259.001.0001

McCutcheon, Russell T. 2005. Religion and the Domestication of Dissent: or, How to Live in a Less Than Perfect Nation. London: Equinox.

Marshall, Paul, Lela Gilbert, and Roberta Green Ahmanson, eds. 2009. Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195374360.001.0001

Martin, Craig. 2010. Masking Hegemony: A Genealogy of Liberalism, Religion and the Private Sphere. London: Equinox.

Merrick, Jane. 2006. “Brown Leads Attack on Cards Bearing the Word “Christmas’.” Daily Mail (11 December). http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-421950/Brown-leads-attack-cards-bearing-word-Christmas.html

Nagel, Thomas. 2010. Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament: Essays 2002–2008. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Parsons, G. “How the Times they Were a-Changing: Exploring the Context of Religious Transformation in Britain in the 1960s.” In Religion in History: Conflict, Conversion and Coexistence.edited by J. Wolffe, 161–189. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Pope Benedict XVI. 2009. Encyclical Letter: Caritas in Veritate http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_benxvi_enc_20090629_caritas-in-veritate_en.html (last accessed 28 January 2012)

Robertson, Geoffrey. 2010. The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse. London: Penguin.

Slee, Colin. 2006. “Face to Faith: Banning Christmas is Ignorant and Counter-cultural.” Guardian (9 December). http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/dec/09/comment.religion

Welborn, Amy. 2009. “The Popes.” In Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion, edited by Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, Roberta Green Ahmanson, 107–128. Oxford: Oxford University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195374360.003.0007

Williams, Bernard. 2006. Hume on Religion in the Sense of the Past: Essays in the History of Philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Published

2015-03-25

How to Cite

Crossley, J., & Harrison, J. (2015). Atheism, Christianity and the British Press: Press Coverage of Pope Benedict XVI’s 2010 State Visit to the UK. Implicit Religion, 18(1), 77–105. https://doi.org/10.1558/imre.v18i1.18556

Issue

Section

Articles