I came across Jeff Sharlet a couple of days ago, featuring on God 2.0, a podcast from Open Source.
Jeff Sharlet is editor of “The Revealer“, a daily online review of religion and the press. Jeff’s journalist team begins with three basic premises:
1. Belief matters, whether or not you believe. Politics, pop culture, high art, NASCAR — everything in this world is infused with concerns about the next. As journalists, as scholars, and as ordinary folks, we cannot afford to ignore the role of religious belief in shaping our lives.
2. The press all too frequently fails to acknowledge religion, categorizing it as either innocuous spirituality or dangerous fanaticism, when more often it’s both and inbetween and just plain other.
3. We deserve and need better coverage of religion. Sharper thinking. Deeper history. Thicker description. Basic theology. Real storytelling.
Jeff’s also the co-author of “Killing the Buddha: A Heretic’s Bible“, a collection of ‘psalms’ connecting with a travel log on the ‘underbelly of America’s religious culture”. It’s like an American version of “John Safran vs God” or a contemporary version of The Chaucer Tales. Together with Peter Manseau, Jeff mingled with a philosophical stripper working out of a converted Baptist church in Nashville, a one-eyed rodeo preacher from the “Cowboy Church” of Texas, a clan of bloodthirsty Jesus freaks in Florida and a cross-dressing terrorist from North Carolina badly in need of an exorcism. Sharlet and Manseau invited thirteen contributors to develop a book of the Bible each – seven pieces of non-fiction and six of fiction.
Sharlet and Manseau are probably better known for their online magazine, “Killing the Buddha“. a religion magazine for people made anxious by churches, people embarrassed to be caught in the “spirituality” section of a bookstore, people both hostile and drawn to talk of God. The idea of “killing the Buddha” comes from a famous Zen line: After years on his cushion, a monk has what he believes is a breakthrough: a glimpse of nirvana, the Buddhamind, the big pay-off. Reporting the experience to his master, however, he is informed that what has happened is par for the course, nothing special, maybe even damaging to his pursuit. And then the master gives the student dismaying advice: If you meet the Buddha, he says, kill him. Why kill the Buddha? Because the Buddha you meet is not the true Buddha, but an expression of your longing. If this Buddha is not killed he will only stand in your way.