Year in Review 2013
Five "Sleeper" Stories from 2013
4) The Missing Religious Debate on Affordable Healthcare
In true pack fashion, the mainstream media continued to bombard us this year with story after story about private business owners (e.g., Hobby Lobby), Catholic schools and hospitals, and others claiming a "conscience" exemption from complying with the ACA's requirement that all employer insurance plans include reproductive health coverage. What no one seemed to be interested in discussing is the core ethical dimension of the ACA itself: i.e., the acceptance of a community responsibility for covering our uninsured at-risk and suffering neighbors. Continuing to fear the "socialist" label even though he will never again face re-election, President Obama declined to defend the ACA in these terms. But that's no excuse for the near-total silence of mainstream Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders who could and should be saying clearly that ACA does have a redistributive dimension—and that that is a good thing!
5) Deep Loneliness in a Networked Culture
Here again it is the absence of a religious discourse that, to me, constitutes the sleeper story. MIT's Sherry Turkle, among others, has written powerfully about how immersion in social media crimps actual social development, starves many young people for real conversation, and contributes to an atomistic inwardness that has real implications for both private and public life in a variety of ways. Traditional religious communities, with their emphasis on communal activities (worship, study, service), obviously have a huge stake in how this turns out—in whether critics like Turkle are right or wrong—yet religious leaders are mostly absent from the discussion. Many, in fact, seem mainly concerned about how they can be better "liked" on social media. As the Roman satirist Juvenal famously asked, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Rev. Peter Laarman is executive director of Progressive Christians Uniting, a network of congregations and individuals in Southern California. Ordained in the United Church of Christ, he previously served as senior minister at New York's Judson Memorial Church and worked in communications for the U.S. labor movement. He is a contributing editor at Religion Dispatches.