Dear readers (and you know who you are):
Yes, yes, yes. Your Getreligionistas received your emails about the pre-Christmas Newsweek cover story "about" the Bible. The problem was trying to figure out how to respond. Let's take this slowly, dealing with a few of the questions that I received in emails.
(1) Hey, who knew that Newsweek still exists? Yes, there is evidence that Newsweek still exists.
(2) Wait a minute. Why is Newsweek publishing a story that is attacking the Bible? Isn't Newsweek owed, these days, by people with connections to one of the other Messiah figures from Korea, as in David Jang of "The Community"?
The short answer is that Newsweek is linked financially to Jang, and this is one of those rare cases in which a commentator (that would be me) gets to point readers seeking background materials to coverage on this and related issues in both Christianity Today and then over in Mother Jones. Dig in. And be careful out there.
(3) Does Newsweek still hold itself out as a "news" publication, these days?
In other words, what, precisely, IS this piece by Vanity Fair contributing editor Kurt Eichenwald supposed to be? Was this actually supposed to be read as a news article, as a work of basic journalism? Is it a simple work of advocacy journalism reflecting the author's perspective? Is it, you know, an editorial screed and that is that?
This is where your GetReligionistas were scratching our heads. It is very hard to critique issues of balance and fairness (and sometimes even accuracy) in articles that clearly represent an advocacy approach to journalism.
You see, it's important to note that, from the viewpoint (apparently) of Newsweek editors, this was not, as many critics stated, an "anti-Bible" article.
No, it was an 8,500-word article -- "The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin" -- in favor of a specific approach to the Bible (one held by smart, enlightened people) and opposed to another approach (held by shallow, stupid, dangerous people).
Remember the opening passage?
They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.
They are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch. They are joined by religious rationalizers -- fundamentalists who, unable to find Scripture supporting their biases and beliefs, twist phrases and modify translations to prove they are honoring the Bible’s words.
This is no longer a matter of personal or private faith. With politicians, social leaders and even some clergy invoking a book they seem to have never read and whose phrases they don’t understand, America is being besieged by Biblical illiteracy.
That's pretty blunt stuff and if you are looking for balance in this piece, that's sort of like expecting balance in a Rush Limbaugh piece on the legacy of President Barack Obama.
The key, however, is that this work of opinion is trying to make factual claims, which means that those who hold other viewpoints on the facts at hand are -- in the age of social media -- going to scream bloody murder, since the Newsweek editors were not interested in a diverse set of voices in this piece.
Luckily for us, former GetReligionista Mark Kellner -- now with The Deseret News -- has rounded up a pack of helpful links for those who wanted to follow the debate about the debate that was not allowed to take place in the Newsweek cover piece. Click here to read your fill, including this thesis statement from the scribe at the center of the storm:
"No television preacher has ever read the Bible. Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you," Eichenwald wrote. "At best, we’ve all read a bad translation -- a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times."
And on the other side of the debate, there was -- in a choir of dissenting voices -- Daniel Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary:
"Time and time again the author presents his arguments as though they were facts. Any serious disagreements with his reasoning are quietly ignored as though they did not exist," Wallace wrote. "Eichenwald is in need of a healthy dose of epistemic humility as well as a good research assistant who can do some fact-checking before the author embarrasses himself further in print."
As several critics have noted, it will be interesting to see where Newsweek goes for a sequel -- such as an Eichenwald cover story on the Koran just before Ramadan.
However, that misses the point. The journalistic question is, once again, "What is this?" What was this article supposed to be and, carrying that logic a bit further, what IS this institution called Newsweek at this moment in time? What is the work that it is trying to do? What is the product it is trying to sell and to whom? Is this product called "journalism" and, if so, what kind? Readers might like to know.