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Chapter 8 Summary Essay

In Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, he attempts to persuade Americans that television is changing every aspect of our culture and world. In chapter 8, Shuffle Off to Bethlehem, Postman uses three arguing styles very well: ethos, pathos, and logos, which help him push the reader, specifically televised religion viewers and churchgoers, to believe that televised religion is not a replacement for religion.

Throughout the chapter, Postman creates the feeling of guilt by making the reader see the faults with televised religion. For one, he explains that watching television does not have the same significance as going to church does, instead of focusing on God the viewer is focusing on the preacher, dismissing all mysticism and spiritual transcendence. In order to succeed in transcendence one must be in a specific place that is consecrated and filled with symbols, there must be certain observed behaviors and a sense of community must be present. These things cannot be achieved in a home, the author makes clear. Postman specifically makes the reader guilty in this instance by disgracing their place of worship when it comes to televised religion. The viewer could be doing whatever they pleased, as many of them do, most likely losing all spirituality.

The very thing that many people use to watch televised religion is inherently secular – something that is used to broadcast profane things should not be expected to properly convey the spirituality of religion. Also, Postman makes the reader guilty because at any time the viewer can change the channel as well as the viewer is constantly interrupted with commercials that are secular. “The television screen wants you to remember that its imagery is always available for your amusement and pleasure” (Postman 120) and so it will always change the message to make the viewer amused, giving the viewer what they want instead of what they need.

In order to properly establish credibility to himself, Postman watched 42 hours of televised religion. The author did this to show the reader that he did in fact know what he was talking about, as well as back up all his claims in chapter 8. This also connects the viewer to the author because Postman stepped into the shoes of his readers (the viewers of televised religion) creating a sense of trust between author and reader. Postman also credited himself by sharing with the reader about his position “As a member of the Commission on Theology, Education and the Electronic Media of the National Council of Churches of Christ” (Postman 124) again further creating trust with the reader and cementing Postman’s credibility.

One of the most important components of this chapter was Postman’s use of fact. He uses this to his advantage by stating the facts, then manipulating the reader into believing it. “It is naïve to suppose that something that has been expressed in one form can be expressed in another without significantly changing its meaning, texture or value” (117), or when changing the medium in which something is presented it can alter the way it is percieved. When starting television religion it changed how religion was understood.

Postman makes these two facts believable by the audience by closing the argument with “If the delivery is not the same … the message is not the same. … If the message is experienced is altogether different from what it was in Jesus’ time, we may assume that the social and psychological meaning is different”. By using an important Christian figure (the most important one) and connecting with the audience the author is closing his argument while cementing the fact into the readers mind and making them believe the authors claim. Postman does this many times throughout the chapter, connecting to the reader in new ways that make them believe the facts.

Ethos, pathos, and logos: Postman’s three tools to effectively creating an argument against televised religion, targeting those who watch televised religion as well as the many who are religious. He creates guilt and credibility in the reader as well as successfully manipulating the audience into believing him. Postman excels at creating an effective argument because he knows how and when to use ethos, pathos and logos. Postman knows that Christianity, when delivered correctly, is a demanding and serious religion and now with the creation of televised religion it has started to bend to the needs of amusing and entertaining. If America does not solve this problem then the modifications on religion to make it more amusing will escalate in till “… television shows become the content of religion.”(124).

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