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.
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.