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The Mass Media and Faith: The Potentialities and Problems for the Church in our Television Culture

Martha Smith Tatarnic

This essay examines the meaning and impact of the message about Christian religious institutions delivered by the mass media, especially television. Drawing on the insights of media theorist Marshall McLuhan, the argument seeks to broaden an understanding of these media, and proposes that although it might seem that contradictory messages are conveyed--on the one hand, that the church is irrelevant; on the other, that religion is important--these are fundamentally the same. There is a "primary" message, shaped by the use, nature, and structure of a particular medium; and this message powerfully affects the patterns in which humans receive and comprehend information. Understanding this primary message, as related to portrayals of religion in the media, is an important part of the church's task as it faces the problems and potentialities of a mass-mediated culture.

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