YouTube Media Literacy Material Snicker, Snicker

This “reel” of Snickers commercials is worth some cross-curricular media mindfulness analysis (very funny, too.)

Media, Faith & Values Online Course begins 10/19/08

Hi everyone,

This course is sponsored by the University of Dayton’s Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation: If you would like to join this course (which I will be facilitating if we have enough students), please visit , scroll to the bottom of the front page, and follow through. You can create a student profile even if you decide not to register at this time.

Please sign up as soon as you can. Next time I will let you know sooner!




Media, Faith, and Values

Course Level: Intermediate

Course Summary

Understanding the relationship between our mass media, contemporary culture, and faith formation is essential for anyone involved in religious education. In this course we will analyze our media environment and ways in which it shapes our worldview, values and behavior. The role played by myth, symbol and ritual both in the media and in the transmission of faith will be explored. Implications for religious education and pastoral ministry will be examined. Students will develop the skills needed to integrate media awareness into religious education programs in the school and parish.

Successful completion of this course earns 2.5 CEU’s. Click here for more information about CEU’s.

General Course Objectives

  • To examine the impact of our media environment on our worldview, beliefs, values and behavior
  • To explore the implications for religious education and pastoral ministry
  • students will be able to have insight into the relationship between our culture, the media and faith and values formation
  • students will be able to have awareness of the power of story, myth, image and ritual in faith and values formation
  • students will be able to have greater knowledge about the mass media and how they work
  • students will be able to have understanding of the relevance to faith and values formation of issues such as advertising manipulation, violence in the media, impact of media on the family

Course Materials

  • Required Book: Zukowski, Angela Ann and Pierre Babin The Gospel in Cyberspace: Nurturing Faith in the Internet Age $15.95 (Loyola Press, 2001) ISBN: 0-8294-1740-0
  • Required Book: Fore, William F. Mythmakers: Gospel, Culture & the Media. $7.95 (Friendship Press, NY, 1999). ISBN: 0-377-00207-0
  • Optional Book: Fowler, James Stages of Faith $16.00 (Harper, San Francisco, 1981). ISBN: 0-06-062866-9
  • Course Materials available at the VLCFF Amazon Store.

Course Structure and Highlights

  • Week 1: Introduction to Myth and Culture
    • Myth and the search for meaning
    • The role of myth in the evolution of culture
    • How communication shapes culture
  • Week 2: How Culture Shapes Our Meanings
    • The primary characteristics of U.S. culture.
    • The role the mass media have played in shaping that culture.
    • How culture “shapes our meanings.”
  • Week 3: World Views in Conflict: Gospel Values and Cultural Values
    • The compelling array of “worldviews” available on television for youth in the light of the gospel message.
    • We’ll reflect on some of the myths of our culture regarding information and entertainment media productions.
  • Week 4: Reading Media Texts
    • Learn from William Fore’s “How to Read Television.”
    • Read and discuss an article that tells us how to “read” all media texts, whether newspapers, magazines, TV programs, movies, Web sites or computer games
  • Week 5: A Christian Response to Our Media Environment
    • Understand media culture through the lens of the pastoral document [i]Aetatis Novae[/i]
    • Begin to think of creative, concrete ways of engaging in an open-minded yet critical use of media

Nicholas Nickleby: a Movie for Today

Nicholas Nickleby, based on Charles Dickens’ critique of the effects of unscrupulous capitalism expressed through market  “speculation”, is a tale for our times. This 2002 version isn’t necessarily the best of the many screen and TV adaptations produced through the years, but it was nominated for a Golden Globe and is highly “watchable” (the comic burlesque aspects are very entertaining.)  And it offers much to talk about in terms of the side-effects of capitalism. 

Dickens wrote the novel in serial form from 1838-1839. The novel addresses the social ills of industrialism and capitalism as they literally impacted the lives of ordinary people in England through memorable characters. Ordinary has many expressions for Dickens in this novel, but this only makes the story more engaging and relevant for 21st century capitalists of the west.

The question I am left with at the end of this film, and at the end of many of Dickens’ stories, is one that is posed in other contemporary films from Wall Street to Glengarry Glenross to The Constant Gardener to In Good Company: Is it possible for capitalism to have a soul?

Current events have me asking the same question.

The 25 best L.A. films of the last 25 years

This article is from the LA Times, August 31, 2008. I know, it is a bit dated now, but I am just catching up after being away for so long!

Their #1 film is L.A. Confidential:,0,595627.story

From the list, my favorites are Chinatown, Crash, Clueless, The Big Lebowski…


Religulous the Movie and new blog

Hi folks,

I am migrating my blog to WordPress – if I can!

AOL is discontinuing its JOURNAL service at the end of this month!


Religulous the Movie

Hi everyone,

Here is my first entry in my new blog. I hope to import my AOL blog but I am not sure if it will work! Keep an eye on this space!

Here is my take on Bill Maher’s film:


Late night HBO comedian Bill Maher’s (Keeping Time with Bill Maher) signature new film is a “mockumentary” that lampoons organized religion. Actually, the people he interviews lampoon themselves because they are mostly unable to articulate their faith according to Maher’s often ill-informed questions. Maher is a skeptic – he asks a lot of questions. But he in a profound cynic as well.  Faith in organized religion is a neurological disorder to Maher; God is absurd and so are people who believe in God. To Maher, religion only leads to death and destruction.


Maher, raised a Catholic (the son of a Catholic father and Jewish mother) until he stopped going to Mass at the age of 13, has dumped everything he knows (some things he does know; other things he doesn’t bother about) regarding Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, Mormanism, and Islam (and the “church of cannabis” in Amsterdam) into a wearying stew. For example, he makes no distinction between evangelical believers who interpret the Scriptures literally (the talking snake in Genesis) and Catholics or mainstream believers who do not. He doesn’t get it that everything in the Bible is true and that some of it actually happened. He does make solid points about the need for believers to ask questions about what we believe and why. The film shows what a challenge is is for many believers to explain their faith for the current age, to articulate well the hope that is in them.


Most of all, however, I think that Maher is afflicted with laziness, a victim of acedia. Acedia is the eighth deadly sin that was left off Pope Gregory I’s list of seven in the late 6th century and was then pretty much absorbed by the other sins, especially sloth.  Acedia is spiritual sadness stemming from and/or contributing to spiritual laziness, the unwillingness to begin the spiritual journey, to grow, and to change.  Acedia is a state where one just flips off the effort to engage in spiritual… work. It’s as if Maher is saying, “Why should I bother? God doesn’t mean anything anyway. ” With this film, Maher joins the ranks of mainstream contemporary atheists (though he doesn’t specifically deny God’s existence), who also suffer from acedia, such as Christopher Hitchens (God is not Great) and Richard Dawkins.  After seeing Religulous, I would say Bill Maher doesn’t want to expend any energy to really listen and study the very questions he asks and to search for real answers – because it might mean he will have to move from his comfort zone, his lampoon post.


As I mentioned above, Maher’s conviction that religion is poison is reinforced by the way the filmmakers juxtapose some images with the interviews. Many of these folks end up looking pretty stupid (reminiscent of director Larry David’s 2006 film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhastan). Some of the images in Religulous are obscene and offensive.


Maher only sees the negative side of religion, he never acknowledges the great good that has been accomplished and is done in the world in the name of God.


The brightest (most intelligent) moments in the film are the interviews with two priests. One is with Father George V. Coyne, SJ, the former head of the Vatican Observatory. He affirms that the Church accepts evolution and that there Scripture does not contain science. Then Maher chats with Carmelite Father Reginald Foster, the Pope’s principle Latinist, outside of St. Peter’s Square in Rome. I got the feeling that Maher was surprised at how down to earth and real Foster was. But instead of making the effort to follow through with Coyne and Foster’s views, Maher moves on. Nothing seems to stick. 


Religulous evokes some good laughs because the things that some people do with religion is absurd (remember Frank McCourt’s grandmother in Angela’s Ashes?) But Maher doesn’t bother to find and talk to people who know the difference.


While most believers will be offended, people engaged in pastoral ministry and religious education may find this film a point of departure, so to speak, for framing a fresh, authentic, and well-articulated explanation of the faith. More than anything, however, the challenge is for believers to walk the talk which is more convincing than any treatise.


So, no, I don’t think Bill Maher is a bad guy but I do think he’s lazy. And if this film is supposed to pass for some kind of objective journalism, worse still. At the end of the day I wonder why Maher even bothered to make such a ridiculous film.

Or is it much ado about … something, after all.


A note on Religulous as a postmodern film and Bill Maher as an icon of the postmodern. Religion makes no sense to Bill Maher because he is operating in a bubble, with no moorings to history and no use for philosophy. Sure, he has clips of events and places, but he too easily blames what is wrong with the world on religion. He never attempts to think through different religions or his own biases, logically. He states a premise and jumps to a conclusion. Sometimes he lands on the right one; but most often he misses and keeps hopping around going nowhere. Thus, Maher exhibits the markings of a nihilist as well. Religion is about nothing and based on nothing, and so is everything else. Therefore, it’s all the same. 

Why are we here, anyway? Maher begins the film this way and believe me, his answer is open-ended. Choose any answer you like.