This post is the last excerpt from “Religious Illiteracy—A Silent Ignorance and a Possible Cure”, an essay that won a first place award for argument in the 2012-2013 100s Essay Contest. Part one in this three part series can be found here. Part two is here.
It has already been established that we live in a media-saturated age, and ironically, this contributing factor to our religious illiteracy can also be the way to reverse it. There is nothing that would reach more people of my generation than a media campaign designed at promoting religious literacy. My generation is the FaceBook generation, the Twitter generation, the Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr generation. According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, “8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day.” While some may feel that young peoples’ incessant connection to entertainment media is alarming, this obsession can also be harnessed to make social changes, such as a move from a state of religious ignorance to one of religious literacy.
Hearing something from the media is different from hearing it from a parent, teacher, or religious leader. Young people feel differently about the media; it is something cool, something of them and for them. There is absolutely no doubt that the media has the power to change the way young people think. Why not take advantage of this influence and use it for something positive?
An example of this type of media campaign for social change is the ThinkB4YouSpeak campaign launched by GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. I first learned of this campaign when I was about ten years old and saw a commercial on T.V. that featured teen celebrity Hilary Duff urging viewers to not use the word “gay” in a derogatory manner. Duff was shown walking up to two teen girls who had described an ugly shirt as “gay.” She politely yet firmly told the girls that what they had said is offensive and they would not like if someone talked about them that way (sforzanewyork). This ad campaign also features celebrities like comedian Wanda Sykes and NBA player Grant Hill. The ads depict everyday situations with which teens can identify and use popular celebrities as spokespeople in order to convince viewers that it is cool and trendy to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
ThinkB4YouSpeak also has a FaceBook page, a Twitter account, and a handful of anti-bullying banners visitors to their website can download and post on their own web pages. The ThinkB4YouSpeak website is careful to convict visitors without criminalizing them, using statements like, “A lot of anti-LGBT language is said carelessly, and isn’t intended as negative or hurtful. Understand what you’re saying, and think about the potential consequences of the words you choose.” Just as the advertisement with Hilary Duff changed the way I use the word “gay,” this expansive campaign has undoubtedly discouraged countless other individuals from insulting gay people and brightened the lives of innumerable bullied students.
A campaign dedicated to increasing religious literacy among Generation Y would use many of the same strategies used by GLSEN. It would have a FaceBook page, a Twitter account, and perhaps even Instagram and Tumblr accounts maintained by bloggers. It would have a website containing both information on world religions and information regarding the movement itself. The website would be graphically and linguistically designed for use by Generation Y.
This religious literacy campaign would also employ television commercials to get the word out about the implications of religious illiteracy and provide viewers with facts about world religions. These ads would use conversational, down-to-earth language and could even feature individuals of different religions. These ads would air on channels watched by Generation Y and would undoubtedly make an impression on those who see them. After all, if advertising were not effective, it would not be used so profusely by companies worldwide.
Some detractors may argue that there is no way to garner the funds necessary to launch a campaign of this sort. However, this assertion would not be true. Any company or organization with an interest in social issues, informed voting practices, foreign policy, education reform, or tolerance would by default be interested in religious illiteracy because as we have seen, all these issues are intertwined, and religious illiteracy has a profound negative effect on many other areas of life. Just as huge companies such as AT&T, CBS Television Network, and IBM Corporation sponsor GLSEN, companies would support an initiative for religious literacy (Donate/Support). Furthermore, religious organizations of all sorts would probably be enthusiastic about the chance to become involved with a campaign to eradicate religious ignorance and put to death harmful religious stereotypes.
Thus, the power behind this campaign would be a coalition of sorts containing corporate, social, and religious organizations as well as independent individuals. The donations made by this coalition would fund the advertisements as well as the salaries of those who maintain the campaign’s website and any blogs devoted to the cause. It would be the job of individuals to champion the social media aspect of the campaign, but this would prove to be no problem considering that religious intolerance is such a personal issue for so many people.
Throughout the last century, it has been seen that social change begins with the young. Young people were behind the Sexual Revolution. They changed the national sentiment regarding the Vietnam War. They caused the Arab Spring. They made America a more accepting place for homosexual people. Now, the future of our nation is once again in the hands of young people. I, for one, do not want to let my generation slip into the religious ignorance that has been pervasive in our society for so long. The stakes are too high and the consequences too great. We are presented with the choice to either wallow in our religious ignorance and its myriad consequences, or rise up and demand a solution that will bring about the education this nation needs in order to respect the faiths of others and experience our own faiths more fully.
Tatum Hunter is a member of the class of 2016 at Xavier. She in on Ecumenical Ministry Team in the CFJ and supports our efforts at worship with her musical talent. This summer she will head to the Czech Republic on a mission trip. She continues to share her love of writing by blogging, working as a staff writer for the Newswire and interning at the Cincinnati Business Courier.