Cool kids on the block

Every year, I usually take a few minutes to go through Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People package to Google a lot of names I've never heard before. It probably says more about the magazine's editors and who they want as subscribers than anything else.

Look, I'm not against these lists. They're fun. They're interesting. They generate light-hearted bickering.

But it would be silly to think it accurately gauges actual influence. I suppose this Time's service to the world: informing us who journalists are watching. If it does indicate journalists' current obsessions, it's an abysmal list.

Remember in 2007 when Doug counted 17 religion references? Then last year he lamented their disappearance. It's hard to know how to really count these religious references. Do you count the person if he or she is known first and foremost as a religious leader? If the short description references religion? Either way, I count two people explicitly known for being religious.

First, we have Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of Senator Edward Kennedy, writing on Sister Carol Keehan, leader of the Catholic Health Association of the United States and supporter of the health care law that passed.

Courageous and purposeful, Sister Carol Keehan, 66, is a deeply religious Catholic woman dedicated to carrying out the healing ministry of Jesus Christ on earth. Her leadership of the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA) has been defined by advocacy for the poor and an unwavering respect for human dignity. Her fight to reform health care was an extension of her concern for the most vulnerable in our society and was as integral to the mission of CHA as providing medical services. Undeterred by her critics, she refused to back down as she fought for reforms that would include prenatal and maternity care and coverage for uninsured children. She fought for those who couldn't fight for themselves.

Then Sister Mary Scullion, a nun from Philadelphia who works on behalf of the homeless, makes an appearance on the alumnae list. Last year, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about Scullion, and this year, she answered some questions.

Was there any specific event, in your life or in the world, that helped define you? As a college student, I participated in an international gathering of Catholics in 1976 that included some of the Church's most outspoken advocates for justice, peace, and compassion: Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Brazilian bishop Dom Helder Camara, and others. The latter gave me a clear direction for my faith and my life as a Sister of Mercy.

As you look ahead, what would you like to achieve? I look forward to being part of a country and a world where homelessness is a thing of the past.

But in a list of 100, only two religious leaders make the list? USA Today's Cathy Lynn Grossman wants to know, "Is this an oversight or reality in a secular world?"

So, overall, no preachers, no priests, no sign of the ubiquitous Bono or even Pope Benedict XVI, turn up on the most and least lists. Do you think the paucity of religious people on the Most list reflects faith voices losing clout -- or it's just oversight on the part of Time editors?

C'mon Cathy, Pope Benedict XVI only leads, what, 1 billion people or so. I guess he's not as mesmerizing as Lady Gaga's flaming breasts. Perhaps the Pope is limited because he can only have fashion-forward shoes.

Who else should be on that list? I'm going to go out on a limb and say the editors could have at least considered the Dalai Lama, T.D. Jakes, Rowan Williams and Rick Warren. Between health care and Proposition 8, would someone from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints make sense? With all the relief efforts in Haiti, might someone like World Vision's president Rich Stearns qualify?

Part of the problem is that religious leaders don't fit neatly into Time's list of leaders, artists, heroes, and thinkers, at least in the traditional way we think of those categories. And yet many religious leaders could probably be considered under each of these categories.

In many ways, the list seems more about issues that are newsworthy (social networking, for example) and people who might represent them. That approach doesn't bode well for religious leaders who are trying to stand fast on centuries-old traditions. So is the issue really about influence?

Help me out. Who would you have nominated? At least we can breath a sigh of relief that Ashton Kutcher made the list.

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