Welcome to the Media-on-Religion (MoR) Column

Dr Abel Ugba is member of the Centre for Religion and Public Life and Teaching Fellow in Sociology at the University of Leeds whose work focuses on media, religion, migration and international development. He will be writing the MoR column as an ongoing series for the Religion in Public blog.

The Media-on-Religion (MoR) column is about everyday religious experiences and discourses. For it is through the media – legacy and new – that many of us perceive and, in some cases, vicariously experience the religious actions of others. When Time splashed ‘God is Dead’ on the cover of its 8th April 1966 issue, the magazine aimed to re-echo Nietzsche’s idea that science and rationalism had ended any belief in God or the supernatural. More than 130 years since Nietzsche, neither God nor religion is dead, not simply because the number of the faithful has been growing exponentially, but because religion in the 21st century is increasingly and unstoppably connected to the issues and events that dominate the public sphere, even in Western secular societies. This column, which will be published monthly in the first instance, aims to illuminate religion mentions and contestations in the British media, with the goal to inform, occasionally entertain, educate and engender constructive conversation. Although it focuses primarily on the media in Britain, it will cover events and issues from most parts of the globe. Welcome to MoR!

In October 2018, the Catholic church invented its own Pokemon Go game, Kanye West declared himself ‘a god’ after he stopped taking his medication, the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain called for the abolition of all things pious and prayerful in schools, UKIP MEP deserted after accusing the party of fanning anti-Moslim hatred; and the Archbishop of York announced he would be retiring.

Catholic Pokemon – For some, it is a clever means to get technology-savvy youth connected to the church, but for others, it is simply one more evidence of Christendom’s mimicking of secular trends aimed at buying the loyalty of members and enriching the church.  The Catholic Church, which has 1.2 followers, announced it would initiate its own version of Pokemon Go, the hugely financially-successful mobile game that has earned its inventors over £1.5bn since 2016. “Follow JC Go!”, the Catholic version, would let players “catch” saints or Bible characters, instead of restless Japanese anime. It is created by Fundación Ramón Pané, a Catholic evangelical group, in preparation for the 2019 World Youth Day in Panama in January – BBC online – 24 October.

When Kanye West became ‘a god’ – October was the month Kanye West tried hard to re-impose himself on the music and political landscape. One moment, he and Kim Kardashian (his wife) were seeking respite and spiritual salvation in the wilderness of Uganda and another moment he was banging his fist on the famous table in the Oval Office, serenading President Donald Trump with sumptuous praises, and telling the president and the motley crowd of journalists and presidential hangers-on that the great Trump has made him (Kanye) felt great again. But the president wasn’t the only inspiration to greatness for the 41-year-old rapper who had recently told the world that he wanted to be known simply as Ye. He confessed that he had exchanged his anti-depressant medications with ‘working out’ and ‘much fresh air’. The outcome? He was feeling like himself again and he could wear what he wanted ‘cause I’m a god’ – just when they thought god was dead! – Metro 3 October.

Abolish collective worship in schools – The Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain wants all forms of collective worship in schools in Britain to be abolished because they direct children towards ‘particular religious views’ and hinder the development of their autonomy.  In its opinion, ‘there are various ways in which a school can be animated or shaped by a commitment to religious beliefs without guiding its students in their direction to such an extent that it threatens their autonomy’. In the latest of its periodic pamphlets, the Society made up of academics in various British universities, argued that children should ‘decide for themselves what kind of life to live rather than being told they are duty-bound to follow a specific religion’. Humanists UK was quick to concur. – Metro, 11 October.

UKIP MEP deserts Party – UKIP MEP Bill Etheridge has left the party after accusing party leader Gerard Batten of fanning the embers of nationalism and anti-Islam rhetoric. According to him, UKIP has become ‘a vehicle for hate towards Muslims and the gay community’. Etheridge is staying on as an MEP aligned to the alliance led by Nigel Farage, the former party leader.  Etheridge’s departure follows that of William Dartmouth, who left the party this year because it was moving ‘further and further to the right.’ – www.itv.com – 2 October

Archbishop of York to retire – He has brought activism and unprecedented drama to the office of the Archbishop of York, but John Sentamu has announced he would be retiring in June 2020. Born in Kampala in 1949, Sentamu fled to the UK in 1974 after he became a marked man for speaking out against the regime of Idi Amin. In 2005, he was appointed to his present position, making him the most senior black and minority ethnic (BAME) minister in the church.In 2007, Sentamu dramatically removed his clerical collar and cut it into pieces on the Andrew Marr Show to protest against Robert Mugabe, and said he would again put on a collar only when Mugabe’s reign has ended.  Ten years later he donned a new collar, also on the Andrew Marr Show, after Mugabe was forced out. – Guardian online 1 October.

Written by: Dr Abel Ugba



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