Ten of Our Favorite Top Tens

Religion is all about top ten lists. From the Ten Commandments, to the ten avatars of Vishnu (Krishna was number eight), to Buddhism’s ten precepts, religions are all about systems, ethical prescriptions—or proscriptions—and grand schemes.

Order out of chaos is the name of the game. All this to suggest that the Top Ten list is obviously something deeply ingrained in the human experience.

So here, without further preamble, RD’s picks for the Ten Best of 2008’s Religion Top Ten lists.

1.) By now, everyone has seen TIME MAGAZINE’S TOP TEN RELIGION STORIES FOR 2008 by the wise and learned Dave Van Biema.

The top story, per Van Biema, is the fact that we’re all going to the poorhouse. In other words the top religion story is that it was not religion, in the end, that decided the presidential election.

(Patting ourselves on the back, let us just note that we at RD covered all of the stories on Time’s list, everything from the Mormons to monks rioting in Tibet, the new evangelicals, the Kosher workplace debacle—and even the Catholic church on aliens.)

2.) Heading the list of TOP TEN RELIGION STORIES FROM RELIGION NEWS WRITERS is the “Pastors Gone Wild” story.

Religion journalists agree that the top story of the year was that of presidential candidates and the pastors they kept company with; Jeremiah Wright “damned” America, discredited himself (in the mainstream press) and almost took Obama down with him, while McCain’s pursuit of the demented John Hagee’s endorsement almost sent the candidate home to Arizona.

3.) TOP TEN RELIGION STORIES FROM CHRISTIANITY TODAY

What’s particular to this list, posted by the Billy Graham-founded “magazine of evangelical conviction,” is the focus on international Christianity. Number five on the CT list:

Christians flee Iraq and Gaza: About 13,000 Christians—or one in two—left Mosul in October. In Gaza, churches where hundreds worshiped until recently are attended by less than a dozen. Historic Christian communities are becoming history.

4.) TOP TEN ONION RELIGION STORIES:

“Jewish Elders Lift Ham Ban.” For instance.

5.) TOP TEN ABUSES OF RELIGION DURING THE ELECTION SEASON

The Interfaith Alliance critiqued what it called the Unholy Use of Religion in the Presidential Campaign with this list of the worst abuses of the primary season. Among them:

Hillary Clinton said we need to “inject faith into policy” (CNN/Sojourners town hall 6-26-07).

Barack Obama asked a congregation to help him “become an instrument of God” and join him in creating “a Kingdom right here on Earth” (10-17-07).

Mike Huckabee tells a crowd: “What we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards” (1-14-08).

6.) TOP TEN COMPARISONS BETWEEN RELIGION AND DENTISTRY:

Between Google ads for “oral sedation” and “dental fear,” blogger Mark Wright writes thoughtfully about many things. On this list he points out, helpfully, that “Both Dentistry and Religion benefit financially from your sins” and reminds us that “In Religion there is the promise of Heaven. In Dentistry there is only Hell.”

7.) BOOKLIST’S TOP TEN RELIGION BOOKS FOR YOUTH

Booklist, a magazine published by the American Library Association, has posted their top picks in a category that includes a book by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, God’s Dream—and one that sounds particularly good to our inner teenager, by RD contributor Donna Freitas, called The Possibilities of Sainthood. (“Antonia wants to be kissed,” the description goes, “but she’d like to be a saint, too. This warm, funny story speaks to faith and to a longing to be part of something greater than oneself.”)

8.) TOP TEN PAPERS FOR THE JOURNAL OF THE PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION:

Just to show that we are hardcore.

Check this site to see what kind of work people are doing in this field. Of particular interest to RD readers, perhaps: “Instruments of Accommodation: The Military Chaplaincy and the Constitution,” by Ira C. Lupu and Robert W. Tuttle or “Undressing Difference: The Hijab in the West,” by Anita L. Allen.

9.) TOP TEN INTELLECTUALS IN THE WORLD

Bimonthly US international affairs journal Foreign Policy published a survey of the world’s top 20 public intellectuals this summer and the first 10 on the list were Muslims.

There were some questions in the press about how votes were generated, but the list is a mix of people who are famous in both religious and secular contexts: key figures on the list are Nobel prize winner Muhammad Yunus and Orhan Pamuk, the novelist.

10.) REALITY TV’s MOST MEMORABLE CHRISTIANS:

Over at Beliefnet, Murdoch-owned, there’s a list of reality TV Christians. They name Clay Aiken, (although we’re guessing he’s not going to be eagerly claimed by the more conservative elements in the Christian communion now that he’s a proud gay dad), MC Hammer, and a bunch of people we’d never actually heard of. Haven’t been watching enough TV, we admit it.

But we’ve watched enough to know that the list-makers at Beliefnet missed our favorite in this odd category. They forgot about reality television’s most charismatic Christian, ex-Run-DMC rap star, Reverend Run.

In MTV’s Run’s House, the Rev lives with his big, blended family in New Jersey. It’s part hip-hop, part Brady Bunch. And he sermonizes from the bathtub.

Bet he would have given a heck of an inaugural invocation too…

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Evan Derkacz and Lisa Webster have been co-editing Religion Dispatches since the site launched in 2008. They are still speaking to each other.