Discuss: Are discussions like ours possible?

godbless shirtThe editors of GetReligion have commented frequently on Jon Meacham’s work, in part because he has shown such a frequent and keen interest in religion coverage. To his credit, Meacham has kept that interest keen since becoming the editor of Newsweek. Indeed, last week offered a fine competition between Newsweek and Time for best religion-based cover story (about which more in a subsequent post).

On a more timely note, however, Meacham has joined forces with Sally Quinn of The Washington Post to create a new religion blog called On Faith. Today’s Post featured a full-page ad for On Faith that played on the classic joke of “A priest and a rabbi walk into a bar,” and Post reporter Caryle Murphy, who frequently covers religion news, is On Faith’s producer.

Quinn’s presence makes On Faith especially interesting. Quinn informs readers that she declared herself an atheist at 13:

And I was a committed atheist all of my life. My view was that more evil had been done in the name of religion than anything else in the world.I saw no redeeming value in it at all. Then I met Jon Meacham and we began talking.

Now Quinn approaches religion with the enthusiasm of a reporter on an exciting and challenging new beat, though this closing paragraph in her biography is too precious by half:

I still don’t know what to call myself. Years ago I went to the opening of “How To Succeed in Business without Really Trying” on Broadway. There was a moment when the star, Robert Morse, sang to himself in the mirror, “You have the cool clear eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth.” That sounds good to me.

As a joint effort of Newsweek and The Washington Post, On Faith should soon leave our humble little blog far behind in Web readership ratings. On Faith already is riding one of Meacham’s favorite hobby horses: “If some religious people believe they have a monopoly on truth, then are conversation and common ground possible?”

To answer such questions, On Faith has gathered a group of On Faith Panelists that should be the envy of any interfaith panel discussion. The full list does not stray far from the favored pundits of mainline and liberal faith, including Karen Armstrong, Lauren Artress, Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan and everybody’s favorite celebrity Wiccan, Starhawk. By my count, On Faith welcomes eight panelists who are on the right edge of the political or theological spectrum: Lyle Dukes, Richard Land, Al Mohler, Richard Mouw, Michael Otterson, Cal Thomas, Rick Warren and George Weigel. OK, I’ll add Mohammad Khatami, in the interfaith goodwill of On Faith. That’s 9 out of 62, a ratio that should make media-savvy conservatives feel right at home.

Image credit and Web commerce where it is due: Kinky Friedman.

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  • Charming Billy

    “My view was that more evil had been done in the name of religion than anything else in the world”

    Has anyone ever come up with the facts, preferably backed up by numbers, to support this contention?

    Surely by now someone’s either confirmed or refuted this, the militant atheist’s old reliable. Until I hear from them that know, I’m going to file it with the story about the poodle in the microwave.

  • Dan

    The notion that religion has done more harm than good gained fairly wide currency in the 18th and 19th Century, as Europeans (1) took stock of the blood spilled in the religious wars of the 17th Century and (2) were also becoming more critical of religion due to the spread of the ideas of the Englightenment. However, this notion lost plausibility in the 20th century when the world saw the genocidial consequences of the atheistic ideologies of Nazism and Communism.

  • Tim

    Stalin and Lenin have done quite a bit
    of killing in the name of atheism

  • Dennis Colby

    Maybe I’m an incurable skeptic, but this endeavor doesn’t look like it’s going to produce much more than banal, pre-fab reflections on religion from the usual suspects.

    The format, first of all, is clunky and hard to navigate. And there are way, way too many panelists. Who’s going to read all those? More importantly, who NEEDS to read all of these posts from very familiar pundits – think Sam Harris is going to spring any surprises on us? The only surprise about the lineup is that Jim Wallis and Barry Lynn are nowhere to be found.

    If anything, it looks like a showpiece for the dominant attitude about religion in the secular press – not hostility, as so many think, but a kind of patronizing engagement. The fact that the first discussion is devoted to the question “Can there be common ground?” is proof of this: secular journalists like religion, they just can’t figure out why religious people insist on DISAGREEING so much.

    But as a friend of mine recently asked, what’s wrong with a little conflict, so long as nobody spills any blood? Can any of us imagine Newsweek or the Washington Post approaching politics in this way? There’s no way anyone would ever start a major online effort like this to try and convince Democrats and Republicans to stop disagreeing so much.

    I’d like to be proven wrong on this score, but I’m guessing that “On Faith” is going to turn into a well-meaning but dull examination of the “spiritual-not-religious” commentary class.

  • Steve

    If Quinn is going to blame religion for evil, then she must also be willing to acknowledge the good. For example, how many of the hospitals in the US were founded by churches or many of the non-profit social service agencies. Likewise, most of our ivy league schools were founded by churches for religious education. The university system that started in Europe is the result of Christianity.

    I am still waiting for the secular response for this type of aid to human development.

  • Alexei

    Wow. As soon as I saw 70 comments attached to Mohler’s essay, I knew there would be trouble.

    So I have to agree with Dennis–it certainly won’t give us anything new.

  • http://www.stupidhappy.com Roots

    If some religious people believe they have a monopoly on truth, then are conversation and common ground possible?

    Maybe you didn’t go there because it’s an obvious next step, but couldn’t you say that about anyone who believes they’ve got a monopoly on truth, religious or not?

    And at the same time, if you don’t believe that whatever religious or secular worldview you subscribe to doesn’t contain the most amount of truth available to you, shouldn’t you be busying yourself with finding one that does? This is the problem I have with just about any kind of relativistic thinking: basically everyone is wrong, including me, except for right now.

  • http://carelesshand.net Jinzang

    After a brief glance at the site, it seems to have a very “etablishment” feel, like they’ve rounded up the usual suspects. Probably will be more of a snooze fest and love in than anything else. I notice they’ve got Ram Dass and Jan Willis to represent Eastern religion. No disrespect to either, but I can think of a few more firery writers.

  • Karen B.

    I agree there are WAY too many panelists — or at least way too many who represent the same point of view. I mean there are three liberal ECUSA bishops: Chane, Dixon, Sisk. Not to mention Borg and Crossan. Wouldn’t one of these five suffice?

    Conservative / traditional / “orthodox” voices from a more catholic or liturgical perspective are SERIOUSLY lacking. I’m very thankful to see Mohler and Warren on the list. But where are folks like Richard J. Neuhaus, Frederica Matthewes-Green, Os Guinness, Peggy Noonan, JI Packer, NT Wright, Amy Welborn, Miroslav Volf, Al Kimel, Kendall Harmon?

    Perhaps they should choose 3-5 panelists from different perspectives to answer each question. That would perhaps allow more meaningful dialogue and commenting. Right now the sheer amount of commentary on the first question is overwhelming. It makes me very disinclined to read the entries by those I don’t already know something about.

    Also, have they never read Philip Jenkins? Where are any “orthodox” Global South voices? I would love to see Abp. Henry Orombi on such a list or Cardinal Arinze.

  • http://blidiot.blogspot.com/ Raider51

    Karen B. — excellent suggestions — maybe they should add someone in the field, like you as well. :o)

    With respect to the claim about evil done in the name of religion, I’d recommend reading sociologist Rodney Stark — probably start with For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery (2003). BTW, Stark would make an excellent addition to the (bloated) list of bloggers.

    On the subject of the killing by tyrants, I recommend R.J. Rummel at the University of Hawai’i.

  • Karen B.

    In keeping an eye on what commenters are saying on a few of the On Faith panelist entries for the first question, I noticed the following comment by someone named Jeffrey. The Post / Newsweek is censoring Wiesel? That’s pretty shocking if true. Is there a story here?

    See: Comments on the Sisk entry

    I wonder where WP/Newsweek’s internal courage was when they pulled Elie Wiesel’s comments off this site because he challenged that religious harmony would be threatened by extremists.

    But of course, avowed enemy nation “His Excellency” Khatami is free to speak about “absolute truth” as his nation’s Iranian Islamists are in the process of sentencing someone to death for changing their religion (as they call it “apostasy”). Posted November 17, 2006 11:11 AM

  • Dennis Colby

    It looks like Wiesel’s comment is still up. And it wouldn’t be “censoring” in any event, since neither Newsweek nor the Washington Post are part of the government.

  • Karen B.

    Wiesel’s entry is back online now. But it honestly wasn’t there a few hours ago that I could find. When I first saw the comment I cited above, I did some serious browsing and Googling and couldn’t find it, and Wiesel had disappeared off the list of panelists.

    Whether it was intentionally pulled or it was just a technical glitch, I’m glad to see his post there and look forward to reading his future contributions.

    As to “censorship” — who says only governments can censor something? Here’s the definition of censor (noun form) from the American Heritage dictionary:

    A person authorized to examine books, films, or other material and to remove or suppress what is considered morally, politically, or otherwise objectionable.

    No mention of government at all.

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  • Karen B.

    Sorry for yet a third comment, but a cheer and credit where credit is due to the On Faith folks.

    In addition to my comment above suggesting additional panelists, and the similar comment I left on the On Faith site, I sent an e-mail to the On Faith contact address as well.

    I just had a very encouraging e-mail from Sally Quinn in reply, including the following:

    I couldn’t agree with you more about the number of conservative points of view. We do have some who didn’t respond to the question and N.T. Wright is one of our panelists. We’re in the process of getting Chuck Colson and Richard Neuhaus.

    She also expressed interest in getting folks like Abp. Orombi and Cardinal Arinze. Way cool! And boy, I’m loving such responsiveness and openness to suggestions!

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  • cheryl

    Karen B.,

    They DO have George Weigel on the conservative/orthodox side, but I fear he’ll get lost in the shuffle here (too many panelists indeed).