Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens

TimeMostInfluentialTerry and I had trouble agreeing on the method of counting religious leaders in “The Time 100: The Most Influential People in the World.” Terry pointed me toward his recent quip about last year’s list:

In a list of 100 men and women who are “transforming our world,” Time editors included 27 “artists and entertainers,” 16 “scientists and thinkers” and many other powerful people. However, the list included only three religious leaders. This is the planet earth we are talking about, right?

I enjoy lists like these primarily as exercises in cheekiness, the journalist’s equivalent of singing “My Favorite Things” off-key and then declaring it definitive. I don’t suffer any illusions that the editors of Time (or Entertainment Weekly or Rolling Stone) have a foolproof way of determining who should be on a list of the most powerful, or It People or the most important rock & roll songs ever. Lists by magazines are so clearly subjective that they could just as easily be about tastes in cheese, pipe tobacco or kitschy television shows.

I was most interested in identifying the people on this year’s list who are known for embracing — or, in one case, regularly attacking — religious faith. I present the list here and quote from relevant passages in Time. Where I am stretching the boundaries (Sacha Baron Cohen, Rick Rubin), I acknowledge this. I’ve left off Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Edwards, Al Gore, Garry Kasparov, Oprah Winfrey and Queen Elizabeth II because their profiles do not engage questions of faith that could have been engaged).

For the sake of continuity, especially for anyone following along at home in the paper version, I’ll follow the same order as Time‘s package.

Barack Obama:

From his very first moment in the national spotlight — his keynote speech to the Democratic National Convention in 2004 — Barack Obama has attached himself to the notion of audacity. He spoke that night of the “audacity of hope,” a phrase he borrowed from his minister at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

Condoleezza Rice (in a strikingly warm tribute by Democratic consultant Donna Brazile):

Condoleezza Rice knows who she is and remembers where she came from. Early in her tenure as U.S. Secretary of State, she brought then British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to her home state of Alabama. She took him to the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, where four little girls had been murdered by an act of racist terrorism. She took him to the Civil Rights Institute, the South’s finest museum about its worst embarrassment. And she took him to attend services at the church where her father served as pastor during the turbulent 1960s.

John Roberts (by Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School):

His early decisions and questions from the bench suggest that Roberts has figured out how to achieve substantive results without appearing to be results oriented or activist. He accomplishes this through the technical mechanism of “standing,” which means a litigant’s power to challenge the actions of the government. . . . Roberts’ statements suggest that he would deny standing to citizens who challenge on First Amendment grounds the Bush Administration’s giving money to church groups that proselytize.

[Ayatollah] Ali Khamenei:

The intimates of [Ayatollah] Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, call him “the great balancer.” They could as easily call him “the great hedger.” The reticent cleric refuses to make peace with the West but eschews open confrontation. He obstructs democratic reform but holds the country’s most hard-line radicals in check.

Osama bin Laden (a masterpiece of pithiness by Martin Amis, though I do not share his sense that so many moderate Muslims are sympathetic with bin Laden):

What he has is charisma — the visionary smile and a talent for asceticism. Moderate Islam has had to decide whether Osama is a good Muslim or a bad Muslim. That many have opted for the former view owes much to the sacrifices that seem to have been made by this rich but stoic troglodyte.

Pope Benedict XVI:

What makes people rush to this fragile man who speaks softly and politely without moving his hands, without ever acting? Evidently, there is a sort of secret attraction, as if many can sense the fascination of the sacred through the witness of Benedict’s thoughts and his modest and humble life.

Sonia Gandhi:

Imagine if the U.S. were run by an Indian Hindu woman without a college degree. It’s tough: the U.S. has never elected anyone who’s not Christian, white and male — even as Vice President. But India, which is an even bigger democracy, is run in all but name by an Italian Catholic widow with a high school education.

Peter Akinola:

Full schism would be achieved if Anglicanism’s conservative southern provinces decided that even the Anglican Church’s top official, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is too liberal and chose their own leader — perhaps Akinola.

Sir John Templeton:

The native Tennessean, 94, began awarding the annual Templeton Prize in 1972. Valued at more than $1.5 million, it is for those who exhibit “progress toward research or discoveries about spiritual realities,” from philosophers to physicists.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud:

With his $20 billion fortune, he has endowed American studies at Middle Eastern universities, given $40 million to underwrite Islamic studies at Harvard and Georgetown and helped fund the construction of an Islamic wing at the Louvre in Paris.

(Disclosure: John Templeton and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud are mentioned in a sidebar on “Power Givers.”)

[Army Capt.] Timothy Gittins:

Based at Fort Campbell, Ky., the 31-year-old Southern Baptist is devoted to his wife Shelley and their two sons T.J., 6, and Cole, 4. He drinks Bud Light and tries to find time to zoom around on his new Harley.

. . . The Army recently recognized Gittins as one of its most outstanding young officers. The highly decorated Ranger says he loves leading troops in combat. “We have liberties that we stand to lose if we aren’t willing to fight for them,” he says.

Tony Dungy. The tribute by his former colleague and fellow Christian, coach Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears, does not mention Dungy’s faith. But you’d have to live in a cave not to be aware of Dungy’s evangelical Christianity, and I say this as a person whose exposure to professional football is limited to an annual indulgence in the Super Bowl.

Amr Khaled:

At a time when conservative clerics have become primary arbiters of power, Khaled, a layman, has one of the Arab world’s most popular websites; regular shows on Iqra, a Saudi-owned religious satellite channel; and an influence that prompts comparisons with everyone from Dr. Phil to Pat Robertson. But Khaled may be most like Rick Warren, who has built an empire around his “purpose driven life” philosophy.

Richard Dawkins (in the most brilliantly counterintuitive pairing of author and subject, this one is by Michael Behe):

Dawkins had a mild Anglican youth but at 16 discovered Charles Darwin and believed he’d found a pearl of great price. I believe his new book follows much less from his data than from his premises, and yet I admire his determination. Concerning the big questions, the Bible advises us to be hot or cold but not lukewarm. Whatever the merits of his ideas, Richard Dawkins is not lukewarm.

Rick Rubin. Natalie Maines uses her tribute as another opportunity to vent about the angry response to her criticism of President Bush. Still, any Buddhist who shared a daily Holy Communion with Johnny Cash during Cash’s waning months is a figure worth watching.

Sacha Baron Cohen (Roseanne concentrates on Cohen’s comedic talents rather than his observant Judaism, but that’s Roseanne):

The bigot comes to America and insults its most genteel members, agrees with its most ignorant, and sets out to pursue the Big Breasted Virgin Blonde, the real American male dream. He gets broken, abandoned, betrayed and cuckolded, and then born again. And at long last, he finds his true love in the form of a fat hooker with the proverbial Heart of Gold.

. . . The heart of America honored by Arabs, Jews and vice versa, and versa vice! That, as Borat would say, is NIIIICE!!!

Rhonda Byrne (by Jack Canfield):

I first met Rhonda Byrne in July 2005, when she asked if she could bring her film crew to a meeting of the Transformational Leadership Council and interview our members for a movie she was creating called The Secret.

I’ll stop there in Byrne’s item, because to continue would be to drown in a vat of spiritual molasses.

Religious figures also make a few appearances in Joel Stein’s wonderful “Alt Time 100,” in which Stein gathers the collective wisdom of “Xzibit, rapper and host of MTV’s Pimp My Ride; Bridget Marquardt, 1/3 of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend and star of E!’s Girls Next Door; Eddie Sanchez, UFC fighter; Tommy the Clown, krump dancer; Dr. Boogie, hairstylist and contestant on Bravo’s Shear Genius; Jimmy Jimmy Coco, spray tanner; Glenda Borden, party planner.”

Here are some of their choices:

3. Russell Simmons, owner[,] Phat Farm
Simmons appeared on a surprising number of the panelists’ lists. It turns out that’s because most of them knew him. “He’s a really nice guy,” said Bridget Marquardt. I had a chance to work and live with him,” said Dr. Boogie. Russell Simmons, despite all the meditation, is not a quiet homebody type.

25. Osama Bin Laden, head of Al [Qaeda]
The panel pointed out that he’s likely to outlast Bush as head of an organization.

28. Jesus
When I made it clear that only living people could make the list, the panel — in loud unison — pointed out that he’s very much alive. There was no talking Jesus off this list.

45. Bono, singer
All that Africa stuff.

48. Rhonda Byrne, author, The Secret
The real Time 100 will probably be nice to Ms. Byrne. But the Alt Time 100 panel was much more honest. Which was striking for a bunch of L.A. celebrities. “People have to watch this to figure that stuff out?” asked Xzibit[.] Still, he wanted her on the list for pulling one over on people so well.

53. Tyler Perry, actor [and friend of T.D. Jakes]
He makes those movies all by himself, basically.

64. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran
“Not because of his mental disabilities, but because he always has a tight blazer on,” explaned Xzibit.

73. Virginia Tech victims’ parents
The group suddenly turned into a group of Time editors. “How do we handle the shooting on the list?” the asked out of nowhere. There was no way they were putting the shooter, even though that seemed the most intellectually honest. At first the victims were considered. Then the grief counselors. Then someone suggested the parents, and everyone was quite pleased. It was exactly like being at a 10 a.m. meeting at Time.

77. Coco Brother, host of Spirit of Hip-Hop
Corey Condry hosts a radio show where he bridges hip-hop with the gospel. And it’s sweeping the nation! Maybe not, but Tommy the Clown thinks it’s important.

90. Barack Obama, senator
A huge hit with the panel. Bridget particularly liked his proposals on health care.

100. Dog the Bounty Hunter, bounty hunter [and self-identified born-again Christian]
Xzibit likes that show. I’m just mad because he was out of town and couldn’t make the lunch.

Grand totals of religion citations:
The Time 100: 17
The Alt Time 100: 10
Inside joke about Time: 1
Clerics: 3
Deity: 1

Thank you for playing, and please visit us again next year!

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  • http://mithras.blogs.com Mithras

    Did you mean to put this in the category “Islam”?

  • http://flatlandsfriar.blogspot.com Brett

    This isn’t nit-picking, it’s a real question because I haven’t seen the issue. Was the Rick Rubin portrait written by Natalie Merchant or Natalie Maines, the Dixie Chicks member who caused all the hoo-rah? I confess I’d like to see what Merchant might write.

  • http://clientandserver.com dw

    Natalie MAINES. Especially since Rick Rubin has never produced a Natalie Merchant album.

    Correction time!

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    Please forgive my confusing one Natalie for another. Correction made.

    Mithras: Yes, I meant to place this post in the Islam category because it mentions Muslims. I also placed it in the Catholicism category because it mentions the Pope.

    Our site treats categories primarily as filing devices for future reference. (Hence we do not bore you with a list of every category to which a post is assigned.)

  • http://mithras.blogs.com Mithras

    Douglas-
    Ah, I see. I read the posts through an RSS feed, so it only shows the first category assigned. Thanks.

  • http://flatlandsfriar.blogspot.com Brett

    Thanks for the answer. My desire to read that piece has now dropped to zero.

  • Jerry

    Nice post. It does point out the difficulty in categorizing people into yes or no columns when in fact there’s a lot of grey in how one looks at them.

  • http://knapsack.blogspot.com Jeff

    Kingsley Amis is still writing? From beyond the grave? May i request that he leave off scribbling for Time and write a sequel to “The Green Man.” Just a personal request.

    Or was it Martin Amis, his son? Darn it.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    D’oh! That makes two goofy errors in one post — although Kingley Amis being dead does add a humorous edge to my second blooper.

    Clearly I should have spent less time gathering URLs and more time double-checking my bleary-eyed writing.

    Thanks, Jeff, and I’ll fix this one too.

  • http://knapsack.blogspot.com Jeff

    ….but i’d rather hear Kingsley Amis’ opinion! (Douglas, you were probably thinking of the review of the bio in The Atlantic, which keeps Kingsley vividly in mind for quite a while.)

  • http://carelesshand.net Jinzang

    The Dalai Lama didn’t make the list? Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, or whatever the Sanskrit equivalent is.


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