STEREOTYPING — The "Religious Nut"
(Investigator 144, 2012 May)
[The following was an
assignment in 1997 in the TAFE College
"Professional Writing" course for the subject "Australian Society". The
assignment was to discuss a group that is stereotyped in Australia]
attributing to a group or individual a few
characteristics which identify it/him. The attributed characteristics
is the stereotype.
One stereotype is that
of the "religious nut" — someone who takes his
religion too seriously in public, tends to confront others with it,
stands out by not participating in popular Australian activities (e.g.
gambling, drinks with the boys, football, the horses, attending strip
clubs, etc), dampens others' fun by quoting the Bible, and may be
considered a security risk in times of war.
The "religious nut" can
be a particularly zealous person of a
mainstream religion but is more often a "cult" member.
The convict beginning of
modern Australian society made religion less
influential than in Europe. Denominations transplanted were at first
conventional ones Anglicans, Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians,
Methodists, Churches of Christ, Baptists.
Then came newer groups
which stood out. Atypical conduct and doctrine
produced the stereotype. There was the Salvation Army with military
style uniforms and public singing; the Seventh Day Adventists with
Saturday worship; Christadelphians insisting that Russia would invade
Israel; the Jehovah's Witnesses who declared, "religion is of the
devil"; the Mormons presenting the Book of Mormon as "the most correct
of any book on earth"; and Pentecostals "speaking in tongues" and being
"slain in the Spirit".
Around 1930 a Mrs
Stephens from America introduced the "vomiting
ministry" to the Assemblies of God in Adelaide. People brought paper
bags to meetings to vomit into to expel demons. Although such are
"religious nuts" it's the more-vocal who get stereotyped.
From 1919 to 1942
Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs) believed themselves to be
announcing final notice of Armageddon — said to be only "months" away.
On radio, in magazines and tracts, and with wind-up record players the
government was criticized as Satanic and churches called "religious
rackets". (See attached page of cartoons criticizing church ministers.)
When radio station 5KA
(which was managed by JWs) got shut down and JWs
publications banned in 1941 the rumor began that JWs were German spies.
This together with neutrality in war gave the stereotype that
"religious nuts" are traitors and a threat to democracy. The JWs,
therefore, were seen as dangerous (more so than other "cults") and
experienced greater prejudice including arrests.
For JWs and other small
religions the stereotype is perpetuated when
they make their differences as public as they legally can.
include democracy, freedom of speech, mateship, and
informality. A rigid hierarchy-controlled cult where everyone repeats
strange beliefs seems incompatible with common values. Ethnocentrism is
to regard one's primary group as the centre of one's social world, as
the best situation to be in, plus the tendency to avoid other groups. A
"cult" with its "religious nuts" is ethnocentric — although mainstream
society, in a broader sense, is ethnocentric also. When one group is
tenacious in trying to convert the other there is a collision of values
and hence conflict.
After World War Two the
JWs became less provocative. The Melbourne
Truth called them a "Ratbag Outfit" in 1957 and "Ratbags". (April
6, page 9) This still represented public opinion but since JWs had
changed it was also prejudice — when an "in-group" negatively
stereotypes an "out-group".
Needless deaths from
rejecting blood transfusions and the anticipation
of Armageddon for the 1970s maintained their "religious nuts"
Their numbers having
increased, some public figures having joined up,
and their attacks on other religions becoming low-key the JWs nowadays
get reported in neutral terms as acceptable members of society. The
Australian Women's Weekly had The Irwin babies (1982,
17) about quads with JW parents. The Macarthur Advertiser
(1983, March 15) surrounded a report about the new JW headquarters near
Sydney with congratulations from local businesses. A bomb blast in a
Sydney Kingdom Hall in 1985 got much sympathetic publicity. (e.g. The
Advertiser 1985, July 22; New Idea 1985, November 9). Australasian
Post reported on a JW female "streaker" at a cricket match. (1986,
July 14). Woman's Day reported on former Perfect Match
hostess Debbie Newsome who had joined JWs. (1990, June 26; 1991, August
6; 1992, July 27), etc.
A similar trend of
greater acceptability — of being seen as too
religious but without being "religious nuts" — is occurring in other
During the Chamberlain
case people speculated about child sacrifice
among Seventh Day Adventists. But since Lindy Chamberlain's release
from prison one encounters little criticism of Adventists. Mormons too
are occasionally seen on TV — currently even in a Channel 10
commercial. The Mormon president's appearance at Adelaide's
Entertainment Centre got matter-of-fact attention like other news.
Pastor Newsham of the Paradise Assembly of God is regularly interviewed
on radio. The Salvation Army gets much media attention because of its
Partial assimilation has
Growing acceptability of
groups formerly called "cults" and "religious
nuts" is due to increased familiarity with them, and to adjustments and
changes in those groups, and to immigration and multiculturalism which
has created large minorities of Muslims, Buddhists, Bahais and other
Asian religions. Compared to these the Christian fringe no longer seems