Is Satellite TV Responsible for the Rise of Conversions to Christianity in Iran?

Editors Note:  Two scriptures came to my mind as I read the following story.  The first has to do with God’s faithfulness and downright tenacity when it comes to pursuing us: 

             II Samuel 14:14  …God does not sweep life away; instead, He devises ways to bring us back when we have been separated from Him.

The second scripture talks about God in control and how He sometimes uses the most unexpected sources to accomplish His will:

             Isaiah 46:11  I will call a swift bird of prey from the east – a leader from a distant land to come and do my bidding.  I have said what I will do , and I will do it.

I admit, I got a little excited reading this – I love it when scripture speaks like that.

11/28/2011, Iran (The Majalla)  Last week I was in Dubai where I managed to talk to a group of Iranian holidaymakers about the current socio-political situation in Iran. To my utter disbelief, when I asked them what they thought has been the most important yet unnoticed societal development in the country over the last couple of years, they unanimously singled out the increasing appeal of Christianity amongst the Iranian youth, especially women. Eager to know what they considered as the key factor behind this, they again managed to surprise me by blaming Farsi1 TV channel. “If you want to know why many Iranians are converting to Christianity, watch Farsi1″, I was told.

So I took their advice seriously and committed to watch Farsi1 for one whole week. After the first night though, I immediately realized why those Iranians saw a direct link between the content of Farsi1 programs and the accelerating rate of conversion to Christianity in Iran. Today, Farsi1 is arguably the most popular TV channel in both Afghanistan and Iran. Nevertheless, none of its programs has an Islamic element.

Instead, almost all its series and soap-operas, excluding the South Korean ones, tend to introduce and/or advertise, albeit indirectly, Christianity. One soap-opera that did catch my eyes is El-Clon which is aired at the primetime. It is a story of a Colombian man challenging his clone for the love of a Moroccan woman. And as the story evolves, it is shown how free Christian women are compare to Muslim women who tend to get emotionally abused in the hands of their Muslim husbands who are supposedly adhering to the tenants of the Quran.

To begin with, it ought to be noted that Christianity is not a new religion in Iran. It arrived there 500 years earlier than Islam and in fact there was a viable Christian community in Iran whose members fled the country en-masse after the 1979 Islamic revolution fearing intimidation and prosecution. What is fascinating about the contemporary surge of Christianity, therefore, is the rapid growth of the “house church movement” in the face of massive government’s crackdown and brutality to the extent that it now seems to constitute a serious challenge to the official ideology second only to the challenge posed by the Green Movement.

This, in turn, begs the question of why so many Iranians are turning away from Islam and instead find comfort in Christianity. Is it only due to the content of satellite TV programs – a Western-led cultural war according to the Iranian officials – or is there a more fundamental reason behind this social/religious development in a predominantly Muslim country governed by an allegedly Islamic government?

Undoubtedly, media has played a role. Mass media are the deliverers of a message through which audiences comprehend and indeed form opinions on events, individuals, and ideologies of any kind; religious, political, economic et cetera. This is a process known as agenda-setting. As such, new media can be used, and indeed is being used, to create desired effects or outcomes that influence audience “behaviour, will, and perceptions “. As a matter of fact, Stefan De Groot, a field worker at a Christian persecution watch group called Open Doors Middle East, has confirmed this view by stating that “in spite of state pressure, the house church movement [in Iran] has seen spectacular growth… this is not happening just because of dreams and miracles. The majority of people now come to faith through the multimedia, and especially satellite TV”.

Nevertheless, one has to be cautious not to exaggerate the media influence as there are socio-political realties at play here. Iranians with access to TV satellite channels have many options to choose from, but they, like people from other countries, tend to watch those programs which resonate with their opinions and/or realities of their lives. Unlike TV channels with a (political) agenda – in this case Mohabat TV – commercial TV channels such as the Farsi1 would naturally seek to understand “what is most common in their prospective audience and cater for it” in order to expand their market share as any other commercial entity would do. Given that there is so much resentment to Islamic TV programs in Iran, as evident in the fact that the IRIB is the least watched TV channel inside Iran, it would be reasonable for a business like the Farsi1 to broadcast non-Islamic shows.

It follows then that the increasing appeal of Christianity in Iran has more to do with the ill-informed and miss-guided policies of the Iranian government than a simple media influence. The idea behind Iran’s Islamic revolution was to establish the first modern state governed solely by Islamic Law. Ayatollah Khomeini believed that a more “prosperous society” could have been created if Iranians adhered to the tenants of the Quran. 32 years on, however, the revolution is faltering and many young Iranians are disillusioned. Corruption, poverty, economic stagnation, and international isolations are the only achievements of the Islamic revolution in the eyes of the post-revolution generations. For three decades, Islam has been imposed on Iranians through aggressive religious indoctrination at high schools and universities as well as the state-owned companies, and they have been deprived of their socio-political freedoms in the name and defence of “pure Islam”. In the process, thus, an Islamic government, rather paradoxically, has managed to tatter and diminish many Iranians’ belief in Islam, and hence it is fair to say that the Iranian regime’s social policy, similar to its economic and foreign policies, has, simply put, been a failure.

Source:  The Majalla

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