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March 9: Michael Kinsley

Michael Kinsley (1951)

Michael Kinsley

It was on this date, March 9, 1951, that writer and editor Michael Kinsley was born in Detroit, Michigan. Kinsley graduated from Harvard University in 1972, there distinguishing himself as vice president of the University's daily newspaper, The Harvard Crimson. After spending his Rhodes Scholarship at Magdalen College, Oxford, in the UK, he returned to Harvard and finished law school. Over his career he has been editor of The New Republic, columnist for the Washington Post and co-host of the CNN program “Crossfire.” He was the founding editor of the online magazine Slate and has written for many other venues. His books include Please Don't Remain Calm (2008, a collection) and Creative Capitalism (2008, co-editor).

By his own admission, Kinsley is “rumored” to be Jewish from birth, but evidence of his atheism abounds in his reviews and commentaries. He called God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens an “impressive and enjoyable attack on everything so many people hold dear.”[1] In a 2007 article called “God Is Their Running Mate,” Kinsley observed,

These days presidential candidates are required to wear their religion on their sleeve. God is a personal adviser and inspiration to all of them. They all pray relentlessly. Or so they say. If that's not true, I want to know it. And if it is true, I want to know more about it. I want to know what God is telling them--just as I would want to know what Karl Rove was telling them if they claimed him for an adviser. … For me, any candidate who believes in the literal truth of the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon or the novels of Jane Austen is probably too credulous to be President.[2]

In another article, “Don't Want to Convert? Just Say No” in Time, Kinsley wrote:

As an ethnically Jewish nonbeliever, I find this fuss over conversion utterly baffling. Jewish leaders complain that conversion attempts imply that Judaism is an inferior religion. This seems unavoidably true. Any attempt to convert implies that the faith on offer is superior. "Theological arrogance" isn't a bad description. But if theological arrogance is insulting to rival theologies, the insult is inherent in religion itself, isn't it? Unlike Christianity, Judaism does not claim to be a universal faith and does not seek converts. It doesn't believe that non-Jews are damned. But even Judaism considers itself to be right and Christianity to be wrong about some pretty basic issues. All religions claim to have answers to life's most central questions. Any one of them may be right, but all of them can't be right. And each one's claim to be right necessarily implies that others are wrong.[3]

Musing on the same subject for Slate, Kinsley explains why he finds ecumenism “baffling”,

As a nonbeliever, I find the conventions of ecumenism baffling. I don't want to tell you people how to run your religions. And obviously we want to avoid an outbreak of religious war, or even lesser forms of intolerance, if possible. But why does tolerance require people to pretend they don't believe what they do? Wouldn't tolerance be easier if it only required agreement to disagree peacefully rather than demanding actual sharing of religious doctrines at some level of abstraction?”[4]

In still another article, called “Don’t Let Miracles Trump Science” in Politico, Kinsley points out the illogic of miracles in the move toward declaring the late Pope John Paul II a saint. Apparently the first of two required miracles was that John Paul II cured Sister Marie Simon-Pierre of Parkinson’s Disease, which is generally considered incurable. Kinsley should know: he has it. He concludes, “It seems more than a little unfair — not characteristic of John Paul II at all — that he would cure Simon-Pierre but leave the rest of us hanging out to dry. I hope that, in his next miracle, John Paul II will do something to rectify this situation. After all, it might be his last one.”[5]

Kinsley also famously wrote, “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth.” a definition that has since become known as the “Kinsley gaffe.” Michael Kinsley is currently a writer and editor for the Los Angeles Times.

[1] “In God, Distrust,” review of God Is Not Great in the New York Times Sunday Book Review, 5/13/2007. [2] “God Is Their Running Mate,” by Michael Kinsley, Time Magazine, 9/6/2007. [3] “Don't Want to Convert? Just Say No,” by Michael Kinsley, Time Magazine, 2/11/2001. [4] “Go to Hell,” by Michael Kinsley, Slate, 7/24/1999. [5] “Don’t Let Miracles Trump Science,” by Michael Kinsley, Politico, 1/22/11.

Originally published March 2011 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.

Ronald Bruce Meyer

Our Fearless Leader.

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