People who dismiss talk radio as a niche for conservatives are missing what has been really going on in American society – revival.
Ronald Reagan called for revival many times, and now it is happening. Through one great on-air national dialogue, America is returning from mass confusion and meaninglessness to a time when life makes sense again – and when people can talk about it openly.
Younger Americans might wonder what the fuss is all about. Haven’t we always been able to exchange ideas freely? Sadly, the answer is no. For much of the last century, traditional views were limited to Judeo-Christian programming, worship services or private dialogue. The basic tenets of traditional culture were not only rejected by the “mainstream,” but people who still adhered to them were themselves rejected. “Separation of church and state” somehow had become separation of church and everything – and especially, separation of church and media.
It may be hard to imagine this kind of oppressive atmosphere existing here in a free country, but it did, and as a result, America has suffered greatly. To understand what happened, and how talk radio made the difference, it is first important to understand the nature of secular bigotry.
Mr. Ping’s prejudice
In the late 1980s, one year before the Tiananmen Square massacre, I traveled around communist China with a fellow filmmaker. Our translator Mr. Ping, a Communist Party official who filled our free time with visits to the best tourist attractions, scoffed one day at the sight of two elderly women fulfilling their Buddhist obligations at the local temple. Their religiosity embarrassed Ping, who immediately apologized to me for “the old ones” who still took these things seriously.
In typical communist fashion, Ping assumed that because I was educated and young, I also shared his atheist worldview. I told him that this was not true. I said I believed in God, that I was a Jew who became Christian and that I took my faith seriously. He was shocked and clearly annoyed.
I had made Ping, the son of a bigwig communist, very uncomfortable. He’d been propagandized to believe that all religion is superstition for the weak and uneducated. From Buddhism and Islam to Judaism and Christianity, secular socialists think we’re all just rubbing different-colored rabbits’ feet in the pathetic hope of some heavenly reward. They see themselves as realists.
This is not just a secular socialist assumption. It is the assumption of all the secular elite around the world. And it’s nothing new. This kind of spiritual ignorance has dominated America’s cultural elite for longer than any of us can remember. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln told America, “We have forgotten God.” Clearly, considering the vibrancy of America’s churches back then, Lincoln was not talking about the average Illinois farmer, but rather, about the cultural elite in New York, Boston, and especially, Washington, D.C. The secular movement was running wild at the time, and thousands of years of Judeo-Christian wisdom were being tossed aside in the name of enlightenment.
While Illinois farmers and other religious Americans went about building their lives every day, a destructive cynicism among the intelligentsia continued to corrupt our cultural institutions, especially academia. By the 20th century, America’s great universities had become relativist and, as a result, they and the students they turned out – from doctors to lawyers (and thus judges) to scientists to journalists – had less and less to say about real life, based on real truths. Still, for almost 100 years after Lincoln’s proclamation, secularists had little choice but to tolerate America’s Christian heritage.
Enter the “Separation of Church and State” Supreme Court decision in the late 1940s – a decision made with no serious legal precedents, according to historian David Barton. The court had already declared America “a Christian nation” in 1892 (Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States), and yet, the 1947 Supreme Court had no problem setting that decision aside and forbidding laws that “aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion to another.” It was a judicial decision primarily based on the popular atheist assumptions of the day – that religion is an irrelevant belief system, best practiced in the privacy of one’s church or synagogue. Nineteenth century secularism had finally wormed its way into the highest corridors of power, striking its first serious blow to Christian America.
After that, the fall was rapid. By the 1960s, Judeo-Christian principles had been forced out of schools across America, with the (now atheist) Supreme Court’s full sanction. Trapped in this new “values-neutral” environment, the children started to decline, and with them, so did America. The rest is history. The social statistics are devastating and have often been recounted by people like Barton, William F. Buckley, Dr. James Dobson, Rev. D. James Kennedy, Paul Harvey, Pat Robertson, Beverly LaHaye, Rev. Jerry Falwell, Rabbi Daniel Lapin and many others. America had lost her way.
By 1980, the American family was collapsing right before our eyes. Everywhere one looked, the country was in pain, from sex and health issues to education to politics and even business. We didn’t seem to know who we were anymore. Despite all this, our media elite, long since atheist and in denial, said almost nothing useful about traditional values. They wouldn’t even consider the possibility that God and His laws have meaning.
During that decade, no matter how much Ronald Reagan called us back to our faith, the silence in the media was deafening. The truth was simply too threatening to their secular sacred-cow assumptions. To make matters worse, the information stranglehold they had on American society was seemingly unbreakable. Having isolated the churches and excluded them from the national debate, secular bigotry and ignorance ruled the day.
Then something startling and revolutionary happened in American culture. People were given the chance to talk back to the dominant secular media. Before that, the best we could do was to write the editor of our local paper or shout at the television, which continually spewed nonsense. Now, suddenly, we were able to join a national dialogue and talk back to “the experts” who were destroying the country with their foolish ideas. Until the satellite revolution, which allowed for easy delivery of call-in talk programming to stations all over the country, Americans were not able to do that. Sure there had been regular talk shows and commentary, but now finally Americans had a two-way national forum.
The dam started to crack with the coming of Marlin Maddoux, the first conservative issues-oriented satellite call-in show, and then the dam burst. In 1988, the information flow became unstoppable with the launch of the Rush Limbaugh radio show. The secular monopolists didn’t know what hit them. Five years before, President Reagan had caused an uproar by calling the Soviet Union an evil empire, and now here was this guy on the air all over the country talking about the “undeniable truths of life.” And being funny in the process!
Millions of Americans remember vividly the thrill of having Rush say, “There is a God.” It was almost a guilty pleasure, leaving us with the nagging feeling that it must somehow be illegal on commercial radio. “Can he really do that?” we asked ourselves. And millions of Americans answered in unison, “Yes, he can!”
Limbaugh’s rise was meteoric, and following him were many other traditional values-based commercial hosts on national satellite. This annoying new medium was allowing regular citizens to gather round the radio and listen to America think and talk – and talk back. If an atheist said something stupid or made an insupportable statement and if the host didn’t nail him, then some caller did. Faith was being revived right before our eyes.
Over the years, along with the commercial hosts came national talkers on Christian stations, from Tim Wildmon and Tim Kimmel to Chuck Baldwin and the famous Dr. Dobson, who speaks to millions of Americans every day. Jews also have a prominent place in talk radio, not only movie critic turned talker Michael Medved, who is an Orthodox believer, but long-time national talk veteran Barry Farber, who is Reform, along with others of note, such as Dennis Prager and Rabbi Daniel Lapin. With this free flow of Judeo-Christian ideas, it didn’t take long for America to realize that radical secularists – often misnamed liberals – really have little to say. After all, they’re the ones who think life is meaningless.
They think the complex poetic beauty of nature is mere coincidence. They think people have no souls and are just human resources to be managed. They think children are “sexual beings,” rejecting any real notion of innocence. They think men who love and honor their wives – and are willing to die for them – are tyrants. They think women who love and honor their husbands are slaves, and that children are the chains. They think war is evil and peace is good but don’t understand either one. They think reality can be re-imagined to suit their personal wants and needs. They think love is hugs and kisses. They think children are real only after they are born. They think life is about pleasure. And that death is the end of everything.
Those who believe that “partisanship” is the key problem in Washington are missing the point. Both major political parties have secularists in them who make up reality as they go along. And both parties have believers who are honestly trying to figure out what is right by applying tried and true wisdoms.
For the last 10 years on the radio, I defined my show as a forum for honest liberals and honest conservatives. Those are the real moderates because in the end they are guided by a love of truth. That makes them reasonable. Whether liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans, I sought out callers who could answer an honest question honestly. It is fascinating to watch people run from the truth on the air, right in front of the audience, but it is even more fascinating to see someone change his or her mind in the middle of an on-air conversation. I have great hope for America’s return to Truth, because I have seen so many Americans do it on the air – including myself, thank God.
Remember, whatever happens on the radio gets witnessed by everyone in real time. This explains the awakening power of modern talk radio. After decades of secular media dominance, it’s not surprising there are so many social problems. But usually it’s not because we’re bad people, but because we simply have not heard the truth clearly stated and tested. During the 1990s, talk radio allowed that to happen on a massive scale within the commercial culture. And the more truth Americans heard, the more they wanted. The fourth Great Awakening was busy being born.
The power of Fox News Channel, The Washington Times or websites like Drudge Report and WorldNetDaily cannot be overestimated, but it was talk radio that played the central role in ending the secular dominance of the mainstream media. Why the American people were so ready for the talk-radio explosion is a question the media avoid asking publicly. It’s just safer to dismiss talk radio as “conservative.” Honest analysis would require them to look hard at themselves – something they’re nearly incapable of doing, as former CBS correspondent Bernard Goldberg has made clear. However, if the media did ask the question and answer it honestly, America would be headed toward a new renaissance of unlimited free thought.
Don’t expect that to happen easily. Here’s why.
All media are local
I remember a few years ago ABC’s “Nightline” did a show honoring one of their fallen, a gay “Nightline” producer lost to the terrible AIDS epidemic. It was a sad show and, of course, well done. But it left me wondering if during previous years, the presence of that producer put a damper on any “Nightline” story suggestions that may have personally offended him.
Let’s face it: Social issues strike very close to home for us all. Try pitching a news story about the devastating effects of divorce on children to a news producer who’s on his third wife. Or how about pitching a serious story on the harm caused by excessive day care to a producer whose child is in day care all the time. It’s safer to pitch her a story on amazing improvements in day-care techniques, or on why there need to be more day-care facilities – and how government can help.
You get the picture. Office politics are rough enough. Professionally speaking, the easy path is to offend no one. Think white bread. This simple observation begins to explain how the “mainstream media” went from dominance to dinosaur in only a few short years. Everyone was afraid to talk about true things, and that leaves out God, not to mention His laws of behavior.
But the bias goes even deeper. People who believe in God are a threat even when they don’t speak up.
Several years ago on my show, Michael Brown, the nationally renowned reporter and author who uncovered the toxic chemical situation at the famous Love Canal, described to me the hard-core prejudice toward Christians in the media. His point was simple. In the average newsroom, if the assignment editor found out you were a churchgoer, important assignments were not given to you. You were not considered a serious person, let alone a serious reporter.
This kind of prejudice and inability to understand real life put talk radio at center stage. Suddenly, the sweet sound of common sense was everywhere. You could hear people call in and say what they thought. Quickly, you could find out which hosts were full of hot air and which weren’t. (The ones trying to remake reality don’t usually last.) And miracle of miracles, you could call in yourself and be heard coast to coast.
Talk-show hosts were able to give their audience what it wanted – a genuine, free marketplace of ideas and a worldview that made sense. (Yes, Virginia, there is good and evil.) Mainstream media can’t do that. But people like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Dr. Laura and Michael Savage can – and they do it all the time.
Here’s a not-so-little industry secret. They are not alone. There are many other “heavenly hosts” – both Jews and Christians alike – shining down from satellite, having national conversations that assume the existence of the God of the Bible. This short list – along with those already mentioned – will give you a good idea of what talk radio revival looks like: Michael Reagan, Bob Dornan, Dennis Prager, Janet Parshall, Mike Gallagher, Cal Thomas and, of course, Roger Fredinburg, who was one of the first national commercial hosts to declare his Christian faith. Increasingly, these hosts and others like them talk about the 10 Commandments in their news analysis. People get to see that religion isn’t rubbing a rabbit’s foot, but, in fact, it’s learning what love is and how to live life to the fullest. And yes, how to overcome evil when it threatens to tear you apart. These are things people want to know. These are things most media figures can’t or won’t tell them.
But that’s OK – because the monopoly is busted. Now Americans get to choose between those who say that life has meaning and purpose, and those who think life is absurd. The “no meaning” crowd obviously has little to say, while those who see meaning everywhere can’t stop talking about it.
Thank God we still have the freedom to talk and the opportunity – at least for now. Don’t think the secular left is enjoying this conversation. Remember Mr. Ping.