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Friday, 26 February 2010 05:56

Will Huffington Post's New Religion Page Prove to Be More Popular Than [PHOTOS] of Celebrities' Nipples?

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by Meg White

Arianna Huffington finally decided that religion -- along with "Lindsay Lohan," "Dogs" and "Rod Blagojevich" -- is now such "big news" that it huffpo religion 1needs its own page.

As Media Bistro puts it, um, Hallelujah?

"Religion" is the second section of the HuffPost to launch this week; the site rolled out HuffPost College on Monday. In a bitter stroke of irony, "College"'s inaugural series, "Majoring in Debt," is written by unpaid student contributors. Lucky for the "Religion" section, most priests have already taken vows of poverty...

Today's top story is an open letter from [page editor Paul Brandeis] Raushenbush to "Religious (and sane) America." In it, he promises that "HuffPost Religion will demonstrate the vibrant diversity of religious traditions, perspectives and experiences that exist alongside and inform one another in America and throughout the world." He goes on to highlight the positive aspects of religion and -- of course -- invites users to submit content to the site. Below the article are images of books written by Raushenbush. Click on one, and a pop-up window invites you to buy it.

Other articles focus on the issues one typically sees addressed on the HuffPost, with a God angle tacked on. Examples: "Gays in the Military: A Religious Issue?"; "Judaism, Ethics, and Ecology"; and "The Great Recession: A Spiritual Crisis." 

Oh, and what Media Bistro didn't mention? It's purple! Granted, that is also the color that signifies Lent, so maybe HuffPo is planning on changing its religion page's vestments with the liturgical season.

I couldn't say exactly why religion was deemed to have all of the sudden risen to the importance of "Style," or "Impact" (whatever that means) in the mind of Arianna Huffington. Maybe she's trying to serve up some competition for James Dobson's latest media move. For her part, Huffington explained the roll-out earlier this week:

Like all our sections, HuffPost Religion will bring you the latest news -- in this case about all things religion-related -- served up in the HuffPost style. It will also be home to an open and fearless dialogue about all the ways religion affects both our personal and our public lives. And it will do so in a way that moves beyond the pigeonhole depictions of both the faithful and the agnostic we see so frequently -- and also beyond the tired assumption that God is a card-carrying member of one political party or another...

So give a little time over to explore these questions and concerns that are at the heart of HuffPost Religion. And let us know what you think. The conversation starts now.

Rather than risk being censored or unread in the comment section at HuffPo, I thought we could have our own little discussion here.

To begin, let me say first that I'm not real concerned about being offended. Not only do I check The Huffington Post less and less these days (IT PROBABLY HAS SOMETHING TO DO WITH ARIANNA'S KEYBOARD GETTING STUCK IN ALL CAPS WHENEVER SHE SITS DOWN TO COMPOSE A HEADLINE), but I'm also not a very sanctimonious person in the first place. 

But I do worry that HuffPo's religion page will become just another way for Arianna to pedal her fluff ("with a God angle tacked on" as Media Bistro puts it). Regardless of my own beliefs, the vast majority of the world communes with life via a spiritual intermediary of some sort, and I don't know that using such a fundamental part of so many peoples' lives to get more Google hits is a good use of time or energy.

I'll admit that my first concern came with this image:

huffpo religion 2

And then the story that HuffPo's religion page ran, presumably to back up their bizarre pictorial claim that Christianity leads to religion leads to famous golfers, was from USA Today. The religion professor who wrote the column expressed something close to shock that not only did Woods actually admit to having an affair (unlike Bill Clinton!), but that "in an effort to make sense of his behavior, he turned not to Christian theologies of sin but to Buddhist teachings about craving."

Well, what were we expecting? That a Buddhist man, whose affairs have been exposed repeatedly and unrelentingly over the past few weeks, was going to ask Jesus forgiveness for some unnamed sin?

Oh well. Can't blame them for stretching the Tiger story. Pretty much everyone else did.

I guess the appearance of Tiger was more of an ominous sign of what the page could become. Just take a look at the HuffPo Green page. At a certain point all of their articles became either stories about cute animal videos on YouTube or all the stuff you should be buying/consuming in order to get your green groupie membership card.

Or perhaps it'll go the way HuffPo's health page did. Instead of reporting on, say, endocrine-altering or cancer-causing chemicals in U.S. drinking water, we've got a writer asking a question that is so rarely tackled outside the elementary school playground: "Would you drink your own urine if it would save your life?"

Last year Rahul Parikh, an M.D. contributor for Salon.com, wrote that HuffPo's wellness coverage "seems defined mostly by bloggers who are friends of Huffington or those who mirror her own advocacy of alternative medicine, described in her books... frequent visitors to the Huffington's Post 'Living' site, home to its health and medical coverage, cannot avoid the preponderance of posts by enthusiastic champions of dubious treatments and therapies."

Reading Parikh's piece again, I started to think about who those "frequent visitors" to Huffington Post are. Maybe pseudoscience and fluff is what they're looking for.

And then I realized that no matter how many "serious" topics The Huffington Post pledges to take on, their most popular stories will always be about celebrities and/or mammaries anyway.

So carry on, HuffPo. And in the meantime, I await your ruling about what is so important that it deserves its own Web page. 'Til then, peace be with you.