When you think of America's deepest and most respectful religious thinkers, do you think of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin? On Faith co-moderators Sally Quinn and Jon Meacham seem to.
On Faith is the Washington Post microsite dedicated to discussions of religion. Creators Quinn & Meacham have explained:
[I]n a time of extremism -- for extremism is to the 21st century what totalitarianism was to the 20th -- how can people engage in a conversation about faith and its implications in a way that sheds light rather than generates heat? At The Washington Post and Newsweek, we believe the first step is conversation-intelligent, informed, eclectic, respectful conversation-among specialists and generalists who devote a good part of their lives to understanding and delineating religion's influence on the life of the world. The point of our new online religion feature is to provide a forum for such sane and spirited talk, drawing on a remarkable panel of distinguished figures from the academy, the faith traditions, and journalism.
In practice, however, On Faith frequently promotes bigots like Cal Thomas and Bill Donohue and Tony Perkins and James Dobson. Sally Quinn and Jon Meacham have yet to explain how promoting a ranting, hateful lunatic like Bill Donohue "sheds light." Nor have they explained why they promote anti-Muslim writings by Cal Thomas that closely resemble the Islamophobia Quinn denounces in others.
But On Faith's troubling tendency to reward some of the most virulently hateful figures in American public life by passing them off as "intelligent" and "respectful" and "distinguished" leaders is not the only way in which it seems to diverge from its stated goals.
So far this year, On Faith has featured 35 discussions, each kicked off with a brief introduction. Only 11 of those 35 discussions were framed around the views of a specific person or group -- and five of those 11 discussions were been built around the deep thoughts of noted spiritual leaders Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck:
August 30: "In the wake of his weekend rally, Glenn Beck kept up the drumbeat of criticism about President Obama's religion, calling it a 'perversion' and saying that America 'isn't recognizing his version of Christianity,' which Beck characterized as 'liberation theology.' … Why is there so much attention on Obama's religion? Does it matter what religion the president is?"
July 19: "The New York City community board endorsed the Cordoba House, a community center and mosque planned for construction near Ground Zero. Significant opposition has emerged against the project. Sarah Palin even weighed in this weekend, tweeting, 'Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing.' Should there be a mosque near Ground Zero?"
May 17: "Sarah Palin pleased fans and angered foes with her speech to the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, calling herself a 'frontier feminist' and saying, 'choosing life may not be the easiest path, but it's always the right path . . . God sees a way where we cannot, and He doesn't make mistakes.' … Can you be a feminist and oppose abortion in all circumstances? Can you be a person of faith and support abortion in some circumstances?"
April 12: "Fox News commentator Glenn Beck claims that faith-based calls for 'social justice' are really ideological calls for 'forced redistribution of wealth . . . under the guise of charity and/or justice,' and that Christians should leave their churches if they preach or practice 'social justice.' … Who's right? How does the pursuit of justice fit into your faith? Is 'social justice' an ideology or a theology?"
January 11: "Media biased against Christians? Fox News analyst Brit Hume said 'widespread media bias against Christianity' was to blame for criticism of his suggestion that Tiger Woods should embrace Christianity to find redemption. 'Instead of urging that Tiger Woods turn to Christianity, if I had said what he needed to do was to strengthen his Buddhist commitment or turn to Hinduism, I don't think anybody would have said a word,' Hume told Christianity Today. 'It's Christ and Christianity that get people stirred up.' Sarah Palin and other conservative Christians have made similar claims. Is there widespread media bias against Christianity? Against evangelicals such as Hume and Palin? Against public figures who speak openly and directly about their faith? Against people who believe as you do?"
It probably goes without saying, but On Faith has not similarly framed discussions around the views of progressive political and media figures. In fact, nobody else's views have been the impetus for as many On Faith discussions as Palin's or Beck's. For reasons that defy imagination, the Washington Post's On Faith site treats Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck as the nation's leading religious thinkers -- and nobody else is even close.