I love you, you love me


Time‘s latest list of the world’s 100 most influential people is a frustrating exercise. I’ve praised this list before, but that was in a year (2007) when religion attracted 17 references. This year’s list makes me more sympathetic to the argument that Time‘s categories of influential people — Leaders & Revolutionaries, Builders & Titans, Artists & Entertainers, Heroes & Icons and Scientists & Thinkers — make it too easy to ignore spiritual leaders.

Rick Stengel, Time‘s managing editor, explains in this video that the list does not reflect the most powerful or smartest people in the world. He also praises the magazine’s practice of asking other influential people, often friends of their subjects, to write the very brief profiles. Generally I have enjoyed that practice as well.

This year, however, the bylines have been too cliquish:

• Rick Warren praises Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, without mentioning his own involvement with Kagame’s efforts to reform the nation.

• Ted Turner shows some love to his “good pal T. Boone Pickens” and Pickens returns the favor.

• Oprah Winfrey writes a heartfelt tribute to Michelle Obama and Diane Sawyer practically nominates Winfrey for sainthood:

This past year, for the first time, she publicly supported a presidential candidate, knowing full well the risk but unable to imagine any point to having power if you won’t put it on the line for something you believe in.

… How on earth can you summarize Oprah? If she were a destination, it would be the place where joy serves the world’s great need.

• Ann Coulter blames Sarah Palin’s image problems on John McCain and on the cultural left’s hostility:

John McCain was so preposterous a candidate (at least on a Republican ticket) that Palin was responsible for far more votes than the usual vice-presidential candidate. The biggest red flag proving her popularity with normal Americans is that liberals won’t shut up about her. Palin is a threat to liberals because she believes in God and country and family — all values liberals pretend to believe in but secretly detest. There’s a reason there’s no “Stop Olympia Snowe before it’s too late!” movement.

• Poor Chuck Yeager must reflect on the heroism of Chesley B. Sullenberger without having met him.

• In the piece most lacking any sense of perspective, Bill Gates depicts Jeff Bezos of Amazon as the sort of revolutionary who only comes along about every 500 years:

[The Kindle] is Jeff’s brainchild and may well revolutionize not only how we acquire books and periodicals but also how bookworms like me actually read them. That would put him in the same ranks as Johannes Gutenberg.

There are some gems in the mix. My favorites are J.K. Rowling on Gordon Brown; retired judge Abner Mikva on Sheriff Thomas Dart of Cook County; Liz Cheney on Norah al-Faiz, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Minister for Women’s Education; and James Carville and Mary Matalin on Brad Pitt.

Generally, however, Time‘s list is beginning to read like the coolest high school students’ yearbook scribblings to one another, and it’s lacking much awareness that religion will influence far more lives than the Kindle ever will.

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  • Mickelle

    Well put. Despite Christianity’s great ability to be good and do good, the media has us on ignore.

    Until they can generate controversy. Then, it seems, the news and pundits are all over it.

  • Dr. Joan


  • Jerry

    I went to the Oprah link and then back a page where I found the writeup about Sister Mary Scullion by Elizabeth Gilbert so it’s not a total wasteland.

    But “influential” can have another meaning. A mass murder might influence a change in the political or judicial system, for example. I’d much rather see “inspirational” rather than “influential” as the fundamental criterion.

  • Bern

    Jerry, agreed. “Inspirational” is more specific–and religion friendly. But no matter what side of the continuum you come down on, “influential” in the minimal sense of sheer number of followers would still have to include the Pope, the Dalai Lama, Metropolitan Kirill, etc. and so on.

  • http://www.followingthelede.blogspot.com Sabrina

    I can’t complain about the list this year — Philly’s own advocate for the homeless Sister Mary Scullion made it to the top 100 and she’s way cool. Read more about her here:

  • Julia

    I read the most puzzling entry by Senator Hatch about a scientist who works with adult stem cells. Some of the entry is contradictory or was it too ruthlessly edited?

    Check it out at http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1894410_1893209_1893474,00.html

    Douglas Melton is a molecular biologist at Harvard who started by studying the cell structure of frogs.

    His genius in this area led to the creation of new stem-cell lines that could one day replace the malfunctioning pancreatic cells that lead to diabetes. More important, his methods sidestep all the debates about embryonic research because the cells don’t start out as embryos at all, but rather as adult skin cells.


    Through his research, adult cells may one day be transformed into a variety of tissues to replace other human cells that no longer function.

    But then Time adds this at the conclusion:

    Fast Fact: During the stem-cell-funding ban, Melton gave free cell lines to labs that needed them

    Were these adult stem cell lines? Federal funding of adult stem research wasn’t banned. Or did he already have some of the older embryonic stem cell lines he was sharing?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    No stem cell research of any kind has ever been banned.

    You would be forgiven for not knowing this since dozens/hundreds/thousands? of mainstream media stories said otherwise.

    But people have always been free to destroy embryos for stem cells. If they were using federal funds, they had to use particular stem cell lines.

    If they were using private or state funds, they could use whatever they wanted.

  • FW Ken

    a work ethic to shame a nest of ants

    Without comment on Gordon Brown, this phrase is why I love Rowling so much.

    Well, that and the Dementors. What a writer!

  • Julia


    I didn’t say stem cell research was banned. But Federal funding of embryonic stem cell research was banned.

  • http://www.nhreligion.com Stephen A.

    Fast fact on J.K. Rowling: She must be the very last Briton who thinks Gordon Brown is influential.

    These MSM lists are almost always 100% secular, and frankly, Oprah aside, I don’t even see a good number of New Age gurus here. This seems like a very secular list indeed, but hey, it’s their ink and it’s not a religious magazine.

    Still, it neglects a HUGE part of our daily experience, so that’s worth noting.