Brian Jones Analyzing McCloud’s Religious Fringe McCloud’s argument in Chapters one and two of Making the American

Religious Fringe is fairly simple. His study is used to show that the American media has tried to maintain the status quo of the nation by discriminating religion, race, class, gender, and several other factors which separate the “typical American” from minorities. For example, the media has defined fringe religions of the country by first defining America’s “core” religions. That is to say that, in the post-World War II era, the three commonly accepted religions in America were Catholicism, Judaism, and Protestantism; with Protestantism being the most prominent. The concept behind this, though, was not to establish any sort of national religion or religions. This merely set a standard for typical American religion, as these three religions comprised the majority of America. By having these three religions – and, as time went on, a few others – being known as “normal” religion, anything else was therefore considered unusual or exotic. This exoticism then became the defining characteristic of “cults.” It is the same exoticism that caused the cults to be feared by so-called “typical” Americans; especially parents of teenagers who became interested in such

religions. To keep the general public from being afraid of cults, the media portrayed the groups as being harmless. This type of coverage conveyed a message similar to coverage of rock and roll: even though it was exotic, it wasn’t necessarily bad. For example, take the Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith, and Love Fountain of the World. The WKFL was portrayed as harmless and even somewhat comical. When the leader was assassinated by members of his own group – due to his illegal sexual relations with female members, nonetheless – these negative details were ignored, as they would have made the cult seem dangerous. Some groups, however, were considered “foreign” by the general public. When these groups came about, such as the Nation of Islam, the media did everything possible to connect their foreignness with being un-American. The Cold War created a nationwide fear of communism, so journalistic media attempted to connect the Black Muslims to the U.S.S.R. Apparently, the media’s line of thinking was that if the Muslims were already somewhat un-American (i.e. denouncing their citizenship), then they should just be looked at as being completely un-American (i.e. communist). It should also be noted the Ku Klux Klan, which operated in ways very similar to the Nation of Islam, was portrayed much less negatively as the Muslims. The white

KKK was played off as a mere annoyance. The Black Muslims, on the other hand, were considered a national threat. The Muslims were also known as lower-class workers. However, when it was revealed that the group was just another “money-grabbing scheme” that fooled uneducated blacks, the public perception of the group changed. No longer was the group un-American, but rather very American, by being nothing more than successful entrepreneurs. This last bit of information makes McCloud’s argument most clear. The media has obviously wanted – and succeeded – to negatively discuss any religious groups that directly clashed with standard American values. More importantly, McCloud’s study makes clear the idea of America’s “standard religions.” To this day, Protestantism is the most prominent religion in this country, and this is used in more contexts than simply a religious one. Various religions apparently represent different groups of people, and the Protestant majority has made a large impact on nation as a whole in many ways. The most recent example of this would be the election of President Bush. His appeal to Protestant beliefs made an incredible difference in the outcome of the election. Of course, the media played a large part in this by placing much emphasis on the issue. It proves that McCloud is

correct in saying the media is conservative in its ways. Even if not in the sense of being conservative on particular issues, the media is conservative in that it likes to maintain the status quo. Bush had already been President for four years, so the media liked the idea of keeping him in office. At the same time, however, one can only wonder why Bush has been attacked so much by the media. His policies, his willingness to declare war, and even his vocabulary have all been criticized and mocked in the news. If the media likes to maintain the status quo, why do they try to cause conflict with the current President? Perhaps it is just a method to keep the public interested – but if they have always had the goal to simply cause interesting conflict, it is interesting that they have made many cults seem harmless. In short, McCloud’s argument has a good point, but it still has one or two holes.