When I am not involved in matters religious or scholarly, one of my favorite escapes is science fiction and fantasy literature or media. My favorite series is The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.
The series focuses on the actions of four friends, pushed by circumstances from their little village into the larger world. They discover along the way that they are meant to play central roles in the coming Last Battle of the Ages.
I'm grateful to Amy Frkyholm for her thoughtful response to my media column on clickbait. I have a religious autobiography similar to Amy's: raised in a highly emotional evangelical/charismatic church, which I left in young adulthood for high liturgy. My response to liturgical forms of worship was very much the same feeling of relief and freedom within structure that Amy describes so well. I appreciate, and in many ways share, her experience with and insight into the pitfalls of coerced emotionality—in worship, church groups, or online.
I'm not sure, however, that the parallel between clickbait and worship really works.
In her media column for the Century last month, Kathryn Reklis, a theology professor at Fordham University, wrote about the many times a day that social media asks her to watch a video and feel something. “You too will cry after watching this . . . 90 percent of people cry,” the Facebook post tells her. She argues that, while kitschy, these videos contain the power of shared feeling, and shared feeling is a step toward empathy and a further step toward compassion—and so, in essence, a social good. I am not sure I agree.
Several weeks ago, Chipotle founder Steve Ells published a column headlined "Conventional vs. Grass-fed Beef." As you've probably heard, Chipotle prefers the latter—the fast-casual burrito chain has a lotto say about agricultural reform, ethical food, etc. But here the subject is more complicated than the title suggests: Ells was defending Chipotle's decision to stop buying exclusively domestic beef in favor of importing some of it from Australia, where the grass-fed supply is better.
It's a classic food-ethics connundrum: should you go with the higher production standard, or the food produced closer to home? Chipotle chose the former, a perfectly defensible choice if you just have the two.
Philosopher Michael Ruse is an ardent evolutionist and unbeliever, but he often comes to the defense of believers who are under fire from militant atheists like Richard Dawkins. Ruse says his sympathetic stance toward religion is partly due to his Quaker upbringing. “I grew up surrounded by gentle, loving (and very intelligent) Christians. I never forget that,” said Ruse. He also objects to what he regards as bad atheist arguments. Evolution explains the existence of religion as an adaptive mechanism, but that doesn’t necessarily explain it away. “It is as plausible that my love of Mozart’s operas is a byproduct of adaptation, but it doesn’t make them any the less beautiful and meaningful,” Ruse said (New York Times interview, July 8).