The most hathotic religion columnist? (No, not Paul)

passion.jpgThe following entry may sound very, very cruel, but I hope there is a valid reason for my madness.

I would like GetReligion readers to help me answer a crucial question: Is the Rev. Steve Gushée of The Palm Beach Post America’s most hathotic religion writer or columnist? (The photo with this post is of someone else. More on that in a minute.)

Before we go any further, let me make a major concession. First of all, I am sure that many people will think that I am tempted to make this judgment because he is an ultra-liberal Episcopalian and I am, well, an Eastern Orthodox Christian who once spent some time in evangelical Anglican pews. Believe me, I can understand this concern.

However, I enjoy reading the work of a wide variety of religion reporters, writers and commentators on the left and right, without agreeing with their views. No, there are two major reasons that Gushée’s work consistently pushes me into a state of hathos.

Week after week his column — the Post‘s featured religion news column — is written completely in first person. I realize this is normal for commentary pieces. But what is not normal is that I do not believe I have ever seen Gushée interview anyone in order to find additional information on the subject he is writing about. Maybe I missed one or two. Maybe. Maybe it is just me, but I like to read the views of other people. You know, people who are experts or who have unique experiences.

Also, I do not believe that I have ever read a Gushée column that offered any information on a theological or cultural position other than his own. Once again, I know that columnists (take me, for example) are allowed to editorialize and take a position. But it is good, I think, to try to at least quote — accurately, if possible — the views of people whose views are different than our own.

So, why is Paul McCartney’s photo at the top of this post? Last week’s Gushée column was about evangelicals, the Super Bowl, McCartney and same-sex marriage. You kind of need to read the whole thing to get the point. But here is how it opens:

Paul McCartney’s performance at the Super Bowl halftime show is a sure sign that single-sex marriage will be an accepted social norm in the not-too-distant future. That’s not as unrelated as it sounds.

McCartney, a former Beatle and scourge of middle-class values, was engaged to sing at this year’s game to ensure that the show would be family-friendly. . . . Many of those who welcomed McCartney to center stage at the game embraced, as an icon of their idea of family values, the very entertainer who they were certain would destroy America in the 1960s. That’s a remarkable turnaround.

Much the same will happen to those who today condemn same-sex marriage.

Times change. Moral attitudes evolve. If we are lucky, the culture becomes more understanding, less frightened and more like the Jesus many Americans look to for moral guidance.

Since I teach at an evangelical Protestant university, I asked some people what they thought of this thesis. I could not find anyone who had read it, because almost everyone I talk with on campus canceled Post subscriptions long ago — often in response to the newpaper’s stunningly one-sided approach to covering news about religion and cultural issues.

But let’s not rush to judgment. I urge GetReligion readers to look up tomorrow’s Gushée column and let me know what they think. With my luck, it will be a fair, accurate and insightful interview with a Nigerian archbishop. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

UPDATE: The new Gushée column is out and it is pretty low key this week, offering his familiar blend of commentary on Republicans and Roman Catholics. You can’t argue with his basic conclusion about the powerful struggling to hide their sins — especially in light of this update on a major ongoing story.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Mark D.

    I am confused by the newly-minted word, “hathos.” There are two quite different definitions in A) your linked post, and B) the Word Spy entry. Revelling in outrage, a la Mencken and (Ignatius) O’Reilly, is one set of emotions; experiencing “a mixture of hatred, disgust, embarrassment, and pathos” seems to me another state entirely. And to be honest, Gushee raises neither for me – he’s not grotesque enough to giggle at, nor absurd enough to pity/loathe. But I don’t have to encounter him in my daily paper regularly – sorry for your plight!

  • http://www.getreligion.org/archives/2004/02/about_douglas_l.html Douglas LeBlanc

    Regarding the two different definitions of hathos: As my original post mentions, Alex Heard coined the phrase in his New Republic essay of Feb. 11, 1985. The shorter definition, and the examples of Mencken and Ignatius Reilly, are WordSpy’s version of Heard’s concept.


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