Giving RD The Finger?

The Christian Century recently asked a group of distinguished culture commentators how they get their news, focusing on what they read and how they read when their topic is religion.

Mark Silk—a wonderfully thoughtful and creative analyst of religion in the news, especially the new media outlets that proliferate, and professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College—walked us through his day in an interesting, provocative, and remarkably recognizable way.

He reads two newspapers at home in the morning:

The New York Times and the Hartford Courant.

Then he listens to NPR in the car: “Morning Edition” on the way to work; and “All Things Considered” on the way home.

Once in the office, he hits some of the main blogs and websites: Daily Dish, Politico, Talking Points Memo, the Huffington Post and the Daily Beast.

Given his interest in religion coverage, Silk pays closer attention to blogs associated with the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, US News & World Report, and USA Today.

This is all brilliant in its quiet, descriptive way. Silk is especially mindful of the ways in which we are bombarded by news and information from the time we wake to the time we retire. He has structured his response by simply walking us through his day, reminding us that we are always (both actively and semi-passively) receiving such information, sometimes to the point of overload.

But then I come to the curious final line, a sort of electronic afterthought:

For professorial thumb sucking there’s Religion Dispatches ‘zine and Immanent Frame.


It is striking that Professor Silk couldn’t bring himself to say that he reads RD, though he presumably must, from time to time, in order to have come to this strange assessment.

And while I don’t want to be overly sensitive, nor seem defensive about a site that does not need defending, the comment is puzzling. I always am puzzled by those academics who look askance at academic pursuit, the sly professorial sneer at the professoriate. I find this as false and distorting as the alternative attitude, the professorial looking down the nose at “popularizers,” as if we are not all popularizers, each and every day that we set foot in a college classroom.

Mark Silk is a professor; so am I. It’s a noble profession, and in the right hands, it makes possible some marvelous examples of community outreach. RD provides precisely such outreach, and the reason I write here is that its editorial mission so neatly coincides with my own.

Religion is not protected in the United States. Free speech and thought are.

What does it mean for a professor to suck his or her thumb? Is the suggestion that what we do is infantile? Perhaps.

But there is something close to infantile in the subtle invoking of a thumb as the way to offer a colleague a very different finger by implication.