June 30, 1999
Looking to the Left: Religious Attitudes in Periodicals on the Left
-- Martin E. Marty
Attempting to trace religious attitudes in magazines that are decisively on the left is difficult, chiefly because there are so few surviving periodicals over on that side. On the right one can do sightings in the NATIONAL REVIEW, the AMERICAN SPECTATOR, and COMMENTARY, among others. As for the left, one finds only traces of its survival and presence in left-and-right publications such as WASHINGTON MONTHLY and the NEW REPUBLIC. That leaves the NATION determinedly on the left. And it fits the rights' stereotypes that the left is often religiously unmotivated or disdainful of faith.
We have received a fistful of clips annotated with "have you seen this?" of a page--"Religion in the News"--in a recent NATION (June 7). Yes, we had seen it, but since so many are sighting it, we will pause for a moment and see what passes for "Religion in the News" to the editors and in particular to cartoonist Edward Sorel, who adorned a page of four items with two cartoons. One drawing shows Senators Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch reading Mary Baker Eddy's SCIENCE AND HEALTH WITH KEY TO THE SCRIPTURES in bed. We'll say why in a moment.
The other drawing takes off from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel portrayal of God creating Adam; here God is the force creating a Star Warsy creature. We'll explain that one first. Sorel sighted George Lucas in TIME magazine promoting THE PHANTOM MENACE, saying he "put the Force into the movie to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people." God? Lucas: "I think there is a God. No question. What that God is or what we know about that God, I'm not sure."
As for the strange bedfellows senators, they are precisely that, according to Sorel. The Utah Republican and the Massachusetts Democrat ("the latter of which represents the state with the most powerful Christian Science lobby") wrote legislation allowing payments to "religious nonmedical healthcare institutions," resulting in Medicare paying $8 million last year at twenty-two Christian Science facilities for "praying, Bible-reading, and hymn-singing."
The third item revisits Bryant Gumbel, who will be hosting the CBS morning TV program this fall, and Jimmy Carter, who likely won't be one of his guests. Gumbel had once asked Carter on camera about prayer. In particular, if he was a very prayerful president but is "consistently reviewed as one of the more ineffective Presidents of modern times," what does that say about the power of prayer? And there's a paragraph about how Hindu groups got Renaissance Pictures to pull an entire episode of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS because it made Hindus look foolish and superstitious.
Sorel's choices struck us as valid probes and puncturing of religious egregiousnesses. Too bad, however, if the NATION readers have nothing on their menu about the spiritual life but such unbalanced fare. The magazine overlooks some motivations of liberals who, century-long, have put religious impulses to work. Or so, at least, charges the right.