February 5, 2007
A Letter to Professor Küng
— Martin E. Marty
Professor Hans Küng
Instead of my usual Monday "op-ed" Sightings, I will write to you and publish this e-mail letter. First, let me congratulate you on the honor of winning the very significant Lev Kopelev prize, and for your response, which accents the Kopelev theme and your own: educating for peace. It occurred to me that you and I "go back" more than half a lifetime, to 1964, when we had our first times together at Vatican II. What rich years! I now await the second volume of your autobiography.
Today I want to respond to your comments on Sightings and other outlets like it. By the way, the host Martin Marty Center is nine years old this very day, and I find I have written about 350 Monday columns for it. These columns are the only service I perform for the Center, and I don't keep a desk there, but I am honored by its existence and name, and I applaud its many works promoting the advanced study of religion, especially in public life. When I hear from overseas about Sightings, it reminds me that the internet has made the world seem smaller -- and that we should keep the international readership and its issues in mind, not just the domestic readership to which so many of the columns are directed.
To the point -- why I am sending this letter into cyberspace and making it public. Your critique in the form of a question was: Why don't Sightings and people like me speak out more emphatically against the gross ills perpetrated by the United States, especially in respect to the Iraq War? On occasion I do address this preoccupying theme, and our guest columnists on Thursdays do it also. You are right, however, that this "main theme" of domestic and international affairs is not the main theme in Sightings. In response:
First, there's the matter of mode or genre. My charter is less to editorialize than to engage in what I call (following José Ortega y Gasset) "civic pedagogy," or in this case "civil-religious pedagogy." This does not mean that I know so much about subjects that I can impart condescendingly, but rather that I can adopt the stance of the teacher, as described by Alfred North Whitehead -- an "ignorant person learning." As pedagogue, however, I interpret my work as "framing" issues and pointing to resources -- not dispassionately, but also not ideologically. Our airwaves are full of ideological screams, and we are among those who try to provide alternatives.
Second, were we to "unload" on the current administration, whether about the Iraq War -- immoral, ill-conceived, futile, and, whatever the mixed intentions, evil -- or domestic policy -- with which I am out of sympathy -- the "framing" aspect would disappear. I have and make use of other outlets for venting on such subjects. And blasting away might seem to be "preaching to the choir," confirming the confirmed and mobilizing the mobilized. I think that to be effective journalism has to offer elements of surprise; predictability is deadly. Others do the heavy hitting on these subjects better than do I and my kind, and have better credentials.
By the way, speaking of "the choir": I do not know what the make-up of our subscribership is. If our readers match the national ethos, we can say that 70 percent of them oppose the war, as we have from the first. But who knows? We get responses of all kinds. Still, your prod to our consciences is in place. We're listening.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.
The current Religion and Culture Web Forum features "From Artaxerxes to Abu Ghraib: On Religion and the Pornography of Imperial Violence" by Bruce Lincoln. To read this article, please visit: http://marty-center.uchicago.edu/webforum/.
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