New Study Shows Power Of Christianity To Arouse Passionate Emotion

'Yes to wearing the Cross, wheneveer and wherever I choose.'Jatilabaerekorset page/Facebook

Christianity has exceptional power to arouse passion in online debte, a new study shows.

Debates about religion on social networks such as Facebook bring out passionate emotions in users, according to Mona Abdel Fatil of the University of Oslo.

In an article in the Heidelberg Journal of Religions, Fatil, a post-doctoral researcher, drew on a Norwegian Facebook group, "Yes to wearing the cross whenever and wherever I choose".

The group was set up after popular news anchor Siv Kristin Sallmann was suspended for wearing a cross while reading the news on TV.

Local Muslims had complained that "a chain with a cross insulted Islam" and compromised the channel's impartiality.

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The Norwegian Public Broadcasting Council ruled that wearing the cross in the newsroom was a breach of policy, even though it was just 14mm in size.

The group reached more than 120,000 likes just days after being set up, she says.

The decision to ban Sallman from wearing the cross led to a record number of complaints from viewers.

Fatil concludes that the level of protest was about far more than just whether a cross should be worn or not.

She found that conservative Christians were already deeply exercised by how they felt TV channels broadcast "too much sex and too many swearwords."

And she found that there was a high amount of anti-Muslim sentiment.

She writes: "When conservative Christians and nationalists demand that the cross be allowed to flash on the TV screen during news bulletins, they are in fact making a normative claim.

"Put simply, in their worldview it is immoral to forbid news anchors form adorning a cross.

"In this light, the prohibition of the cross is seen as a great injustice to 'Norwegians' – often equated with 'Christians'."

She says it is against this background that Christians called for higher visibility of the cross in public space in Norway.

"This call for the cross in public space is not to be confused with the right to display all religions in public. For the conservative Christians and nationalists, the moral order entails a hierarchy that Christianity ranks higher than other faiths," she writes.

"Emotion drives people's increasingly intimate relationships with technology, fuels engagement with news and information... It inspires connection.

"As journalism and society change, emotion is becoming a much more important dynamic in how news is produced and consumed."

Writing a further article for Religion going Public, Fatil comments on how Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Christmas Day revealed to the world on Facebook that he was not an atheist.

"My research shows how debates about religion on social networks bring out passionate emotions in users. I found that conservative Christians who discuss contentious issues about religion on Facebook debates often do so in emotionally charged ways," she writes.

"It may therefore come as no surprise that online debates about religion are packed with emotional cues that evoke strong reactions from those who participate in them. This sets the stage for passionate online debates."

 But she concedes: "Media users appear to react to conflicts in remarkably similar emotionally charged ways, whatever the subject of debate. Religion is just another trigger for the emotions we express online."

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