Hollywood had seemingly found religion after Mel Gibson's "Passion" film. But with television, sadly, that wasn't true, according to the head of Parents Television Council.
A new PTC study – "Faith in a Box 2005-2006" – found there were half as many portrayals of religion on television this year as in the previous year. And when faith was portrayed, there were more negative depictions than positive ones (35 to 34 percent).
The PTC, a grassroots organization founded to stem the flow of harmful messages targeted to children, examined the entire 2005-2006 year of prime-time broadcast programming. It found a total of 2,271.5 hours of programming containing 1,425 treatments of religion. The new statistic accounted for a 41 percent decrease from the 2,344 religious portrayals made during the 2003-2004 season.
More than 85 percent of Americans follow a Christian faith, Time magazine reported in an October 2006 issue. But the content seen on television lately is not a reflection of Americans' beliefs, noted PTC president L. Brent Bozell.
"The results of this study clearly show that the entertainment industry is not reflecting the strong religious beliefs of Americans in its television programming. The industry is in fact hostile to people of faith – no matter if the person is Christian, Jewish, or Muslim," said Bozell in a statement.
Fox was by far the most anti-religious network, the study reported, with one in every two portrayals of religion being negative. Long-time champion NBC came in second. UPN, ABC, and the WB followed, respectively.
While not in the top five, CBS recently aired a program drawing fire from some Christians. On the network's Two and a Half Men, Charlie Sheen's character sings about his sexual activity to the "Joy to the World" tune. In a more "sacrilegious and vile" religious portrayal, according to Bozell, Fox's The Family Guy showed God in bed with a woman.
"These examples, and others, show that Hollywood has a clear distaste for religion," Bozell stated.
While Hollywood may have distaste for religion, most Americans have a liking for it and want to see more of it. A recent poll by the American Bible Society and Zogby International revealed that 85 percent of American viewers find religious values, references to the Bible less offensive than sex and violence on television. The poll, "What is More Offensive on Television: Religion or Sex and Violence?" was conducted in November 2006.
And people on television who work without a script reflect the American public's preference.
Reality shows had the most positive portrayals of religion (57.8 percent). And only 4.5 percent of negative portrayals were found on such shows. Meanwhile, 95.5 percent of the negative portrayals of religion came from Hollywood-scripted drama and comedy programs.
"The irony is that reality shows such as Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and The Amazing Race, where real characters freely express themselves, faith and religion are positively portrayed," Bozell noted. "But in scripted shows, where Hollywood writers express their worldviews, faith and religion become four letter words – to the tune of 95.5 percent negative portrayals. This is an industry that is completely out of touch with reality.
“This study clearly documents the complete disconnect between Hollywood’s attitude toward religion and that of the American public,” he added.
"Faith in a Box 2005-2006" is PTC's seventh study examining the treatment of religious content on television.