Religion Syle Book and monotheistic bias

Sporkyy's picture

I found a link to an online style guide for journalists who write on religious topics online. It sounded useful enough based on the copy on it's front page.

[link]Religion Newswriters’ Religion Stylebook is an easy-to-use, authoritative guide created for journalists who report on religion in the mainstream media. In it, you’ll find:

  • Entries on the major religions, denominations, and religious organizations that journalists encounter in daily reporting;
  • Preferred spellings, capitalizations, and usage guidelines for religious terms, along with definitions;
  • Accurate titles for religious leaders in different traditions;
  • Pronunciation guides;
  • Entries on terms used in stories on current topics in the news, including abortion, homosexuality, church/state issues and intelligent design;
  • Entries on religion terms that are not included in The Associated Press Stylebook. The Religion Stylebook generally follows AP style but includes many terms it does not cover.

Of course the first thing I did was check out the definition of atheism (and then agnosticism as an afterthought). The brevity of the definitions I saw scanning the site gave me hope as there is little opportunity to do any great violence to any given term. I had much hope that atheism would get a fair shake if for no other reason than that. Apparently I was wrong.

[link]agnostic: One who holds the view that it is impossible to know whether there is a God. Do not confuse with atheist.
....
atheist: A person who holds the view that God does not exist.

Atheists don't just not believe in a single "God", they don't believe in any gods! Agnostics can't specify a single "God" either as there is no way to count the number of gods they don't believe can be known to exist!

I had to seek remedy.

I sent the following e-mail to the contact address given on the site.

atheist: A person who holds the view that God does not exist.

Which of the gods would that be? Thor? Yahweh? Zeus? Quetzalcoatl? For
a definition it's not terribly specific.

Atheists don't just not believe in the given god of an unnamed monotheistic
religion. Atheists don't believe in the god of any of the monotheistic
religions. And the multitude of gods from polytheistic religions get no
more belief.

I would suggest the following definition instead:
atheist: A person who does not believe that any gods exist.

agnostic: One who holds the view that it is impossible to know whether there is a God. Do not confuse with atheist.

Your definition of agnostic is correct enough for most purposes. But it has
the same monotheistic bias. For an agnostic to specify the number of gods
that they think it is impossible to know exist is, well, impossible.

I think it would be better worded:
agnostic: One who holds the view that it is impossible to know whether
there are any gods. Do not confuse with atheist.

Overall, though, your site provides very useful information and I have
enjoyed browsing it.

I don't actually think the letter will change anything. Most journalists in this country would only be concerned with why atheists don't believe in the Christian god. Most news stories about atheism and agnosticism come about from attempts to thwart people trying to establish a monotheocracy. If there were people working to set up a polytheocracy journalists would probably pay more attention to these sorts of details.

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