Brainstorming for Newsweek

Rob Moll of Christianity Today Online’s Weblog has pointed out the imbalance of Newsweek‘s cover story on the Nativity, and GetReligion has previously identified Jon Meacham’s frequent practice of warning against the dangers of “certainty” and “literalism” in stories involving historic Christian dogma.

I’ll comment on this week’s issue of Newsweek from a different angle, then: The headline and deck (“The Birth of Jesus: From Mary to the manger, how the Gospels mix faith and history to tell the Christmas story and make the case for Christ”) feel a tad anemic for a story that assumes the virgin birth probably is just another quaint myth, then quotes mostly those academicians who reinforce the assumption.

Here are some other story ideas, accompanied by punchier headlines and decks, on which Newsweek may wish to find the via media between historic Christianity and disbelief:

Deck the Halls, Already: For thinking Christians, fourth-quarter consumerism isn’t the problem. It’s where to find the best bargains and hip stocking-stuffers. [Note to sales reps: This could make for a great Special Advertising Section tie-in.]
Sidebar: Christmas or Chrismahanukwanzakah?: Culturally aware believers are torn. [Thanks to reader Bruce Geerdes for the link.]

Other Mansions, Other Voices: No thinking Christian believes the Three Wise Men found their way to the infant Christ. Newsweek decodes this legend’s actual message that all paths — including astrology! — lead to God.

Ashes to Ashes: How the institutional church, with the help of Opus Dei, hoodwinked its members into 40 days of self-denial and asceticism.

He Lives in Our Memories: The Jesus Seminar has settled the myth of bodily resurrection. But that’s no reason to deprive our irony-loving children of chocolate bunnies and Marshmallow Peeps.

Substance Abuse and Denial in the Early Church: The crowd had it right — the first Christians were drunk at nine in the morning. An exclusive Newsweek investigative report.

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  • Mark Thompson-Kolar

    I used to look forward to these kinds of religious articles in the newsmagazines, thinking they might add some new insights into my religious understandings. Now I skim the headlines, decks and captions, and move on. They hold no value whatsoever to me, and I’m left wondering exactly who does get any valuable information from them. The religious Left? What a waste of paper and ink.

  • Lex

    Marshmallow Peeps are the devil’s handiwork. I’m just sayin’.

  • Jonathan

    Hey Doug,

    What happened to Kenneth Woodward? I always enjoyed his articles on faith and he is a lot more balanced than Meacham. I miss Woodward.

  • Douglas LeBlanc

    Kenneth Woodward is now a contributing editor at Newsweek, which I’m guessing means he’s retired and will not contribute frequently.

    He engaged in this lively exchange with Mario Cuomo in the pages of Commonweal:

    (Woodward’s essay)

    (Cuomo’s response)

  • tmatt

    Kenneth Woodward was at the Ethics & Public Policy Center mini-conference that I attended a day or so ago. He is doing fine, but does not go into the office a lot. I don’t want to speak for him, but it sounded to me like he is not fond of the lifestyles era of newsmagazine publishing.

  • Jon S.


    Nice to see your name here!

    Why do the newsmagazines try these stories? I can’t decide: Is it their lame attempt to reach out to the red states … or is it their lame attempt to evangelize the red states?

  • Stephen

    Surely you mean especiallly astrology!

  • Molly

    I predict that the stories will be different in the coming years vis. evangelism. I don’t think they will be written any better, this is newsmagazines after all, but the emphasis will return to the “true” meaning of the holidays if creeping fundamentalism has any influence.

    I look forward to reading about this in twelve months; that is, if intelligent, reasoned sites such as this still exist. Merry Christmas! Oops, I mean Happy Holidays!

  • Bob Koch

    These annual issues are one of the most predictable things around. Each year, Newsweek, US News, Time, all typically give out with a “Did Christmas REALLY Happen?” issue, a few months before their “Did Easter REALLY Happen?” articles. Usually with comments from folks with the scholarly and theological backgraound of John Spong. Oh yes, and the *worst* art Christendom ever produced to illustrate them. No accident I’m sure. If Christmas and Easter are so fragile, how come they have to be debunked annually? Seems like reporting the Hindenburg exploded every year.

  • Kenneth Woodward

    Let me say that it is nice to be missed. Terry Mattingly is right: I don’t go into the Newsweek office much nor do I contribute much, except to the overseas edition, which has long been my favorite edition of Newsweek. But I do write–mostly essays–and publish almost as much as before, only I do so when and where I want. For example, I wrote the entry on “Saints” for the new Encyclopedia of Protestantism, and the entry on “Miracles” for the forthcoming new edition of the Encyclopedia of the History of Ideas. And if anyone cares, cares, I am working on two books. Thirty-eight years of Newsweek stories was enough of that kind of writing, including the caledar journalism Jesus articles at Christmas and Easter. Which reminds me, the last time the Infancy narratives were REALLY in the news was in 1973, when Raymond Brown’s magisterial “The Birth of the Messiah” was published. Brown, as it happens, was the only scholar in any field whose work appeared more than once on the cover of Newsweek. If anyone should be missed, it is he.

  • Jonathan


    I’m glad that you’re doing well. I just wanted to reiterate my previous comment. One of the main reasons why I have a subscription to Newsweek was your articles. I especially remember an article on sin that Sharon Begley wrote, from a very biological deterministic, naturalistic view. Your follow-up article was a good counterpoint. Plus, I remember being shocked (in comparison to TIME), that people like N. T. Wright and Luke Timothy Johnson were interviewed along with the typical characters of the Jesus Seminar. Balanced reporting with sholars across the spectrum – what a refreshing change! Thanks for all those articles. I wish you well on your writing, and look forward to the books.