I have argued previously and maintain that secularism has had a negative impact on religion. I believe secularism has both limited the number of willing participants for religious activity and made these participants Others in wider society. The negative effects have come to be because secularism does not simply create an environment where different religions can practice freely, but instead it creates an environment where no religious participation or membership is the norm. And those who belong to and practice a religion become regarded as Other.
But in recent decades there has been a far more prominent factor in the deteriorating reputation of religion: religion itself. Religious fundamentalism and extremism have found their place in the world and have seriously damaged attitudes on religion. Though these elements are far from the norm and represent the extremes of the religious spectrum, these elements are at the forefront of minds when the topic of religion comes up. I believe primarily because they are the most vocal elements of the spectrum. They are also the most highly visible in the media.
Perhaps fundamentalism and extremism are not to blame alone. The media gives these elements a voice. The media plays a large part in painting the picture of religion society sees and comes to believe. The media reports sensational news to improve rating, get more viewers, sell more papers etc. If this is the case, why would they report on moderate and accepting religious groups? Secularism ‘Otherizes’ religion. But fundamentalists, extremists and the media that puts the spotlight on their actions and ideals are huge, direct factors in how religion is regarded in our society.
The subtleties of secularism are hard to combat, but limiting the effect of religious fundamentalism and extremism can have a real impact on correcting the skewed view of religion in Western, secular society today. This may include a higher awareness of where we get our news from, and what motivates these media sources. It may also mean regarding ‘good news’ as important and as news worthy as ‘bad news’. To reprogram the media and media consumers to give equal weight to the inspirational and the sensational. This way a more balanced view of religion can permeate society, and the extremism that makes religion its own worst enemy can be put into perspective and its influence diminished.