Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Artistic Arrangement

Chaplaincy services has a display, a collage dedicated to world religions. They don’t rank them, but as advertisers know, there is prominence of placement, if color and size of print are the same. Eye level is the area of greatest prominence, and people tend to view from left to right, as in reading. This is especially true if eye level is also the top row. The center position of a poster, or slightly above it, is second-most important.

I don’t think this is a value ranking in their eyes, but a show-we’re-culturally-sensitive ranking. Culturally sensitive people don’t actually rate Islam that highly, but they are careful to make sure there is no suggestion of slight. That the UU’s and Bahai made the list at all suggests there is some advertising going on.

Top row, eye-level: Unitarian Universalism, Native American Spiritualities.

Second row: Islam

Third row, which is also the center: Buddhism, Hinduism

Fourth row: Wicca, Bahai, Judaism

Bottom row: Taoism, Christianity

Forty years ago the display would have been different. First difference – it might not have been there at all. Christianity would have been broken into Roman Catholic and Protestant parts, Eastern Orthodox unnoticed, despite a fairly large Greek population in NH. Judaism would have been on with some similar prominence. Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism would have been included only as exotic extras, to show that someone had taken a world religions course.

Twenty years ago, hmm. This is a pretty multi-culti place, but I don’t know whether it would be closer to the 1970 version or the 2010. I think it would have been the big five, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, all placed so that there could be no implied preference.

1 comment:

Texan99 said...

I was raised in an atheist family. We kids were taught we weren't to insult the religion we bumped into among our neighbors and relatives, because it was rude and led to trouble, but we also were given to understand that it was all silly superstition that the world would be better off without.

Back then no one thought a thing of requiring all the elementary school kids to recite the Lord's Prayer in the morning -- even though about a third of the kids were Jewish, strangely enough. But they didn't actually require us to say the words, as long as we were willing to stand quietly and respectfully. I always did; my rebelliousness was contented with my silence. But I felt quite intruded upon by an inexplicable social construct.

My point -- I was getting to one! -- is that people who are raised in an essentially irreligious atmosphere will naturally view all religions as equally ridiculous. From their point of view it makes complete sense to refuse to elevate Christianity over primitive animism or the most obscure Asian sect. What we're seeing is a culture that looks very much like the inside of my head when I was in grade school.

Of course, people don't really dispense with religious belief altogether; they replace it with furious adherence to any number of creeds, such as pacifism, environmentalism, multicultural sensitivity, or fairness. Then they avoid thinking about how any of these new creeds can be justified to unbelievers without recourse to some notion of absolute truth, which they don't believe in.