Ah, December -- the month of office parties, hearing "Jingle Bell Rock" in airports and reading incessant Top 10 lists. Time is ahead of the pack this year, rolling out 50 lists, and David Van Biema does the honors on the year's top religion stories. Because the list is the work of this one impressive religion writer, I find it quirkier and more entertaining than similar lists based on straw polls of multiple religion writers. How many other Top Ten lists would you expect to include the story that Extraterrestrials May Already be Saved? As I've argued here before, because subjectivity is a given in these lists, a certain degree of attitude is necessary and even helpful.
Van Biema gets past sleep-inducing headlines such as "Mormons Support Proposition 8." Instead, he casts Latter-day Saints' support for that measure as restoring their clout, which he argues had taken hits from Mitt Romney's failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination and from guilt-by-association stories about the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I don't agree with Van Biema's interpretation of all ten stories. Yes, the Anglican Communion's decennial Lambeth Conference was stage-managed to prevent open arguments about sex or doctrine, but the post-Lambeth conflict is more vigorous than Van Biema's description of a communion that "staggered on like a push-me-pull-you in opposing directions."
Van Biema places "The Birth of the New Evangelicalism" at No. 7, but reports it with some healthy caution:
The new trend is hardly cohesive, and evangelical opposition to abortion has, if anything, increased. But powerful pastors like Florida's Joel Hunter and California's Rick Warren are pressing the culture beyond the narrow concerns of the religious Right.
Meanwhile, Details magazine worked six clear religion references into its Power 40 list. Its most insightful (albeit unsettling) choice is Baitullah Mehsud, commander of the Pakistani Taliban. Details editors include predictably breezy shots at "The Palin Bunch" and Joel Osteen, and offer qualified admiration for Gov. Bobby Jindal's intelligence and political skills.
Alex Bhattacharji writes a fluff piece about Tom Cruise, whom he depicts as courageous for starring in Valkyrie, a film about Claus von Stauffenberg, "an aristocratic Bavarian army officer who joins the German resistance and leads an attempt to assassinate the fuhrer and wrest Germany from Nazi Party control." I wish that Stauffenberg had succeeded, but Cruise's depicting an anti-Hitler ex-Nazi is not quite standing against a headwind of American ideology. Bhattacharji alludes to Cruise's Scientology, but only to the extent that it interfered with on-site filming in Germany.
The liveliest entry in Details' Power 40 is about Tibet's "Badass Buddhists":
Thousands of paramilitary police were rushed into Tibet's capital, Lhasa, after local police shut down the monks' march on the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising. In the fierce clashes and crackdown that followed, 140 were killed and thousands jailed as crimson-robed monks threw rocks, charged police lines, and bombed a government building. Authorities later seized caches of guns, explosives, and knives from monasteries. Tibet's militant monks sent a clear message to Beijing's hard-liners: Push us around and you might get a little om upside your dome. As Samdhong Rinpoche, a high-ranking lama and the prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, announced, "Preaching is not enough. Monks must act to improve society, to remove evil."