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James Warren

James Warren

Posted April 12, 2009 | 03:42 PM (EST)

This Week in Magazines: Where Have All the Christians Gone? How Corporate America's Self-Interest May Trump Concern with Drugs and Guns in Mexico, Katha Pollitt Critiques the Michelle Obama Critiques


Now that millions of Americans have cleaned up after the Easter egg rolls, both indoor and outdoor, it's time to mull Newsweek's essay cum cover opus, "The Decline and Fall of Christian America."

Jon Meacham, the magazine's editor and co-author of the Washington Post's lively "On Faith" blog, opens by noting that an important survey of how we characterize ourselves religiously notes that the Northeast has replaced the Pacific Northwest as bastion of the "religiously unidentified." To lose New England, says one influential seminarian, "struck me as momentous."

Meacham does well in sorting out facts and myths, seeing Christianity as less a force in politics and culture (which he argues is a good development) but refraining from announcing its death, while correctly noting the wide-ranging diversity of religious experience. And, certainly, he won't do that with religion in general in the U.S., especially given both the large numbers calling themselves born again and a rising Hispanic immigrant population within the Roman Catholic Church.

Meacham and colleague Eliza Gray depend heavily on R. Albert Mohler Jr, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the man who was taken aback by changes in the Northeast. He recently wrote a column titled, "Does Your Pastor Believe in God?" and has written columns on abortion and assisted suicide, plus on what he deems a changing generation of pastors.

The new one, he tells Newsweek, "intends to push back against hell in bold and visionary ministry. Expect to see the sparks fly." In his mind, "What we are seeing now is the evidence of a pattern that began a very long time ago of intellectual and cultural and political changes in thought and mind. The conditions have changed. Hard to pinpoint where, but whatever came after the Enlightenment was going to be very different than what came before."

Now if this is all too ambiguous for you, stay within the supposedly endangered newsweekly fraternity. April 20 Time just happens to review a new book, God is Back, by John Micklethwait, editor of the Economist, and Adrian Wooldridge, the weekly's Washington bureau chief. They argue that, "The great forces of modernity----technology and democracy, choice and freedom---are all strengthening religion rather than undermining it."

The review contends the argument is unduly limited when it comes to non-Christian faith. But, together, get Newsweek, buy the book, and sort this fascinating matter out by the time you, or neighbors, are coloring next year's eggs.

---Forget about what we think of religion. What about our views on, ah, our supermarkets?!

May Consumer Reports surveys 32, 599 readers and its "Shop Smart & Save Big" rates the top ten as Wegmans, Trader Joe's, Publix, Raley's, Harris Tweeter, Fareway, Costco, Whole Foods Market, Market Basket and WinCo Foods. It offers 13 characteristics ways to save, including being a bit wary of products on aisle ends, which actually may be about to expire or aren't really the bargain you assume. When it comes to "Great Everyday Products," it will make manufacturers of these quite happy: Windex, Comet, Tide laundry detergent, Quaker Steel Cut Oats, Mrs. Smith's Dutch Apple Crumb pie, Eight O'Clock 100% Colombian coffee, Cheerios and Smucker's Natural peanut butter, among others.

---April 13 Sports Illustrated has the expected solid coverage of the NCAA final win by North Carolina but its best is Phil Taylor's "March Madness Comes to High School Hoops. Is That a Good Thing?" It's the tale of a somewhat odd entity, Findlay College Prep of Las Vegas which just won the inaugural ESPN RISE National High School Invitational tournament. Findlay is really a team, not a school, with the players living together, traveling extensively and taking classes at a private school.

The big national federation of high school associations bar members from participating in national championships, as is true with many state athletic associations, in part to limit the length of seasons and the challenges to classroom time. But Findlay Prep, and other competitors in the ESPN gambit, aren't members of such federations. In sum, the problem presented by Findlay is put thusly: "The Pilots represent the latest step in the evolution of elite high school basketball: a program that operates completely outside the traditional high school system and makes no pretense about its top priority---to acquire the best talent from all over the world. (Players from Canada, Mexico, Nigeria and Sweden have passed through Findlay Prep.) Not being sanctioned by the national federation means the Pilots have no academic eligibility requirements and no restrictions on travel, transfers or practice time, as conventional high schools do."

---Katha Pollitt has had about enough of the amateur psychoanalyzing of Michelle Obama, as well as those who seem somehow threatened, even by her bare arms. Then there are the de facto cheers when she surfaces with symbols of being a traditionalist homebody:

"Some days I think just being a highly visible admirable black woman is a social cause all by itself, given how little of that side of black life most white Americans see," writes Pollitt in April 20 Nation's "Mad About Michelle."

"Still, there's something depressing about the joy and relief with which the high-end media have greeted Michelle's makeover from accomplished professional and outspoken social critic to new-traditionalist homebody. They're not only not ready for Hillary Clinton, they're apparently not even ready for Eleanor Roosevelt."

---The April 10 The Week's "Mexico's Brutal Drug War" and April 20 Business Week's cover, "Mexico: Why Business Is Standing Its Ground" offer rather contrasting takes. The former offers a primer which includes how the U.S. is not only the biggest consumer of Mexico's illegal drugs, "it also is the source of most of the cartels' munitions. In fact, more than 90 percent of AK-47s and other guns seized at the border or after raids and shootings in Mexico have been traced to the U.S.---most of them apparently purchased openly and legally by 'straw buyers' who then sell the weapons to the gangs."

Meanwhile, Business Week suggests why economic self-interest may trump moral or ethical qualms since "Manufacturers have good reason to hang tough. The 41% drop in the peso against the dollar since August has made Mexico an even cheaper place to manufacture: Factory workers in Juarez can be hired for $1.50 an hour. When President Barack Obama visits Mexico in mid-April, he will find a nation that has enhanced its position as a global manufacturing and design base for everything from appliances to aircraft parts. If Mexico can rein in the drug cartels---a huge if---it cold emerge a more valuable partner than ever for U.S. industry."

Indeed, this offers evidence that most U.S. companies plan to expand in Mexico at a far more rapid pace than they do in China.

---For those who are plan roughing it with an Outward Bound vacation, check Dorothy Wickenden's "Roughing It" in April 20 New Yorker. It's a most curious and enjoyable tale of two young women of privilege who left their boring lives in the East and headed to Elkhead, Colo., in 1916, taking up offers from a very calculating lawyer-cattle rancher to teach at his new school in the mountains (turns out he had both education and procreation on his mind). For sure, they didn't know much about teaching, had to ride four hours by horseback to the school, taught grades one through nine (apparently no union strictures back then) and had their problems with disciplining some of the rough-hewn lads. But somebody better get the movie treatment of this in shortly, since Hollywood should inspect this tale of a somewhat comic dalliance, which didn't last very long but still left a distinct, positive impression on some of the students. I'd go with Anne Hathaway and Renee Zellweger to front a small, wonderful story.

---And put aside the microwave for a week or so and dissect "The New American Classics" in May Bon Appetit. If offers alternative ways to revive old standbys, such as beef stew, pizza, a burger, mac and cheese, a chef's salad, spaghetti and meatballs and fried chicken, among others. The one which seems to be close to impervious to change is mac and cheese, with the magazine convinced it "will be appearing on American tables hundreds of years from now." For the moment, it can only suggest getting creative with the cheese and, here, uses a combo of Gouda and Edam i.e. our standby is infiltrated by cheese from the Netherlands!