On Being Tumblr

On Being Tumblr

On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear. So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something hen they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. they forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I just love this quote. Our show on his life and legacy is worth a listen.


Our recent interview with Sounds True founder Tami Simon, whom I guess you might label a “spiritual entrepreneur.” She’s built a successful multimedia publishing company with a mission to disseminate “spiritual wisdom” by diverse teachers and thinkers like Pema Chödrön and Eckhart Tolle, Daniel Goleman and Brené Brown. She offers compelling lessons on joining inner life with life in the workplace — and advice on spiritual practice with a mobile device.



I fear the copious media coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court’s handling of same-sex marriage might drowned out a pivotal case the Court is hearing right now. At stake is who owns the stuff of which we are made.

As Nina Totenberg reports for NPR, Myriad Genetics and ACLU are arguing about the patentability of our own genetic material. As Christopher Hansen of the American Civil Liberties Union argues:

“A patent isn’t a reward for effort. A patent is a reward for invention. And Myriad didn’t invent anything. The gene exists in the body. All Myriad did is find it.”

But, it may not be as simple as that. Research companies want to be compensated for their efforts. They want to ensure that their work is protected  from other profiteers. But, to what extent? Can human genes themselves be patented, or the mechanisms behind them? What is the right of companies like Myriad Genetics to be rewarded for their efforts that contributes to better clinical care and our social good? What are the ethical and moral responsibilities of these companies to put patients first and not keep them from their own genetic information?

Big questions with huge decisions that will impact us and our children.



“Good communities actually take work.”
~Steve Waldman

I’m a bit late to the game today, but this symposium covering journalism ethics in a digital age at the Paley Center for Media should be great. Digital heavyweights attending include John Paton, Clay Shirky, Eric Deggans, Ann Friedman, Gilad Lotan, Vadim Lavrusik, danah boyd, and David Folkenflik.

Here’s the line-up for the day:

9:00 a.m. Welcome
J. Max Robins, Vice President and Executive Director, Paley Center for Media
Karen Dunlap, President, The Poynter Institute
Craig Newmark, Founder, craigslist and craigconnects

9:15 – 9:30 The View From Here
Kelly McBride, Senior Faculty, The Poynter Institute
Tom Rosenstiel, Director, Project for Excellence in Journalism, Pew Research Center

9:30 -10:45 The Truth: Is It Possible in the Digital Era?
Moderator: John Paton, CEO, Digital First Media

Clay Shirky, Professor, New York University “Post Truth, Post Professional, Post Scarcity”
Steve Myers, Deputy Managing Editor, The Lens, “Fact-Checking 2.0″
Adam Hochberg, Instructor, University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications, “Whose Money Should We Take? Credibility in Investigative Non-profit Newsrooms”
Craig Silverman, writer, “Regret the Error,” “The Corrections: A Sign of Sickness or Health?”

10:45 – Break

11:00 – 12:15 The Voices: Will Digital Space Ever Reflect Our Communities?
Moderator: Emily Bell, Director, Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University

Eric Deggans, TV/Media Critic, Tampa Bay Times, “(Mostly) White and (Sometimes) Brown Media People in a (Mostly) Brown and (Sometimes) White World”
Ann Friedman, freelance editor and writer, “It’s Not What You Look Like, It’s What You Eat”
Monica Guzman, columnist, The Seattle Times, “The Community, Formerly Known as the Crowd, Is It a Means or an End?”

12:15 – 1:15 Lunch

1:15 – 2:30 The Vehicle: Can This Ride Take Us to Democracy?
Moderator: Stephen Buckley, Dean of Faculty, The Poynter Institute

Gilad Lotan, Vice President, Research and Development, SocialFlow, “The Unintended Consequences of Algorithmic Curation”
Dan Gillmor, Director, Knight Center for Digital Entrepreneurship, Arizona State University, “Can Private Platforms Coexist With Journalism’s Public Service?”
Vadim Lavrusik, Journalism Program Manager, Facebook

2:30 – 2:45 Break

2:45 – 4:00 The Story: What Stories Do People Want and Need?
Moderator: Andrew Heyward, Former President, CBS News

danah boyd, Senior Researcher, Microsoft Research, “The Cost of Fear in an Attention Economy”
Tom Huang, Sunday and Enterprise Editor, Dallas Morning News, “Should We Let the Daily Story Die?”
Kenny Irby, Senior Faculty, The Poynter Institute, “Seeing Is No Longer Believing”
Kelly McBride, Senior Faculty, The Poynter Institute, “We’re Feeding an Originality Breakdown”

4:00 – 4:30 The New Ethics of Journalism: A Guide for the 21st Century
Moderators: Tom Rosenstiel and Kelly McBride

4:30 Going Forward
Paul Tash, Chairman and CEO, Times Publishing Co.
David Folkenflik, Media Reporter, NPR


"Innovation is the exit strategy for aid."

Dr. Abdallah Daar during his conversation with Krista Tippett at the Chautauqua Institution to kick off a week-long series of interviews based on the theme of “Inspire. Commit. Act.”


How Do We Swing Honor Around?

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Can we make the world a better place if we change the way people think about honor? This is the question philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah explores in this smart, three-minute short film. He gives several examples of how customs that were once considered a matter of honor — challenging someone to a duel or foot-binding small girls — persisted for thousands of years but ceased after a few decades.

But why? Only when the fundamental dialogue in society is based on respect, Appiah says, can we change the way accepted practices, such as honor killings, are viewed by the people who carry them out.


On Jealousy, Transparency, and Lies: John Moe on Mike Daisey and the This American Life Retraction

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Yesterday Ira Glass sent an email revealing that This American Life's report on Apple's manufacturing supplier in China "contained significant fabrications." Mike Daisey’s story and TAL’s decisions to go to air and later retract the show have sparked a lot of discussion in journalism and public radio circles.

There’s a lot of praising, challenging, and questioning going on. Frankly, much of it feels like punditry and harmless posturing. But, this Saturday afternoon a stream of tweets by Marketplace's John Moe put a human face on this story and some of the underlying ethical issues at stake.

(I’ve kept the format in order to preserve, hopefully, the rhythm of Moe’s thoughts.)

John Moe John Moe @johnmoe

I knew Daisey for many years, although its been several years since I’ve talked to him. But I saw his first audition when he came to Seattle

5:22 PM - 17 Mar 12

John Moe John Moe @johnmoe

It was the best audition I’d ever seen. A monologue about Wrath of Khan. Astounding. Completely improvised, I later learned.

5:23 PM - 17 Mar 12

John MoeJohn Moe @johnmoe

I worked at a temp agency and gave him temp jobs. Mike later worked at Amazon when I did. Then he quit and made a 1-man show about Amazon.

5:25 PM - 17 Mar 12

John MoeJohn Moe @johnmoe

It bugged me that Amazon paid him salary and benefits and then he turned around and ripped them. I was also jealous of his talent & success.

5:26 PM - 17 Mar 12

John MoeJohn Moe @johnmoe

Then he got a book deal! So I was jealous of his talent and success in writing and theater.

5:29 PM - 17 Mar 12

John MoeJohn Moe @johnmoe

In his book, he said things about my department at Amazon that weren’t true or were exaggerated and/or twisted. Which angered me. So…

5:30 PM - 17 Mar 12

John MoeJohn Moe @johnmoe

Over the years I haven’t known how to view his success. Astoundingly talented guy, I questioned his ethics, but I was jealous/petty too.

5:32 PM - 17 Mar 12

John MoeJohn Moe @johnmoe

But this China thing hits me hard. As a tech reporter, I know the Foxconn issue is huge and complex. As a journalist, ethics are critical.

5:33 PM - 17 Mar 12

John MoeJohn Moe @johnmoe

The Foxconn suicides first taught me the word Foxconn. It’s a big issue for me (my brother died of suicide) and I wanted more attn on it.

5:36 PM - 17 Mar 12

John MoeJohn Moe @johnmoe

Then when Daisey became a leading spokesperson for Foxconn issues, I was all jumbled up. How did he get these scoops? I was jealous again.

5:37 PM - 17 Mar 12

John MoeJohn Moe @johnmoe

Now all this. I don’t hate Mike, I wish him well, and I just hope more truth and light and transparency somehow emerge from this mess.

5:39 PM - 17 Mar 12


A Free Ride to Religious Groups in Secular Times?

by Martin Marty, guest contributor from Sightings

DSC_0049.jpgPhoto by swatjester/Flickr

Those who observe United States Supreme Court decisions on “church and state” are dealing with what many call the most important “religious liberty” case in decades, at least since the 1940s. Like so many cases, this one had a parochial start.

The details are familiar, and we need not rehearse them all. Let it come to focus on the fact that a Lutheran parochial school teacher had been dealt what to her was a manifest injustice. She countered by seeking to pursue her case in court. Doing so, claimed the church, was counter to church teachings, so it fired her.

Had she been a simply secular employee in a simply secular post, the usual standards for administering justice would have applied. But the church named her a “minister,” and argued for a “ministerial exception” to secular standards. The Supreme Court decision left the teacher out in the judicial cold and left many citizen justice-advocates heated up.

So we add a “ministerial exception” to a national vocabulary and code which makes another exception in religious matters, alongside “tax exemption for the churches.” Such a tax exemption practice is so widely appreciated that few think of its rationales and practices. Try getting elected to Congress on a platform which would question and even abolish such tax exemption.

Is exemption just? Clearly, it is privileging religion, and many court decisions recognize and affirm this. Once again: is it just? Is it just to the significant percentage of the population which disfavors religion, ignores or disdains its institutions, yet pays higher taxes than if church properties were taxed. Never mind. Without such an exception, religious institutions would not thrive or always survive. So it is regarded, not always with clear rationales, as a public good.

Does this mean that the church, which is supposed to be prophetic, has to mute critical roles and support religious institutions even when they have, in the eyes of their critics, malign purposes and malignant practices? Yes. Being uncritical is a price religious institutions pay for the goods they derive for their prosperity in a free republic and letting the institutions go free from taxing is the price it pays when it can only wink at religions damaging the public good, as many of them do.

"With liberty and justice for all…" is an ascription in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, one that sets up a difficult balancing act. The founders, among them James Madison and others who quoted Montesquieu, were nervous. They quoted him: granting privileges to religion, as America does, has many upsides, but it can also contribute to downsides. If you want to destroy religion, Montesquieu had advised, give it favor. By granting "tax exemption" and now "ministerial exceptions," the citizenry and its courts (unanimously in this case of the Supreme Court) are giving favors unmatched by policies of European nations which have or until recently had "established churches."

These years one hears from some cultural and political factions the gross generalization that religion in general and Christianity in particular are being discriminated against and are suffering from the actions, policies, and expressions of secular society. Cases like the current one counter evidences. There are many assaults on faiths, including Christianity, in the culture at large. But the generally free ride given religious institutions even in a “secular time” should inspire thought: With all its contradictions, the United States remains a wonderful place in which religions can prosper. They do well when they serve the common good freely and openly.

Martin MartyMartin E. Marty is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at The University of Chicago. He’s authored many books, includingPilgrims in Their Own Land and Modern American Religion.

This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Reuben found that, on average, both men and women lied about their performance. When participants had an incentive to lie, they lied more; and the incidence of lying increased as the monetary award for being chosen as leader increased. But while women kept pace with men on how frequently they lied, women did not exaggerate their performance to the same degree, and it cost them: women were selected a third less often than their abilities would otherwise indicate.

Rebecca Knight of the Financial Times "Women at the Top" blog highlights research by Columbia Business School professor Ernesto Reuben, who finds that men “honestly believe their performance is 30 percent better than it really is.” This is research that should make all men and women pause as it concerns not only gender equality in the workplace but also ethics and morality.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor


GOP Presidential Candidates’ Stories Reveal the Depths of Their Positions at the Thanksgiving Family Forum

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Republican Candidates at the Thanksgiving Family Forum

"You guys are in a church, and that is not by accident."
~Bob Vander Plaats

There’s something that “opens everything up,” as Paul Raushenbush said on our program, when you ask a person about their religious or spiritual tradition. Asking such an intimate question conveys a sense of respect. And to be asked may be somewhat disarming; it tells the person that you’re interested in not only his or her worldview, but what makes that person who he or she is. More importantly, it communicates that you’re ready to sit and are willing to listen to a thoughtful, complex, nuanced response. That’s something we don’t expect or demand enough in our national political races.

The Thanksgiving Family Forum at First Federated Church in Des Moines, Iowa gave six GOP presidential candidates that chance. Absent were the gotcha questions that left Rick Perry fumbling to remember the government agency he wanted to eliminate and prompted Herman Cain’s Libya flub. Instead, personal storytelling and exploration of formative experiences fueled this faith-focused conversation.

Moderator Frank Luntz, a pollster for FOX News, began the two-hour conversation by laying out his intentions in his introduction, “I want you to understand what’s in these people’s hearts, not just the soundbites” and “understand their worldview so that you will know what to do come January 3rd.” His style of questioning gave the candidates an opportunity to flesh out their ideas and explain their moral positions in the context of their Christian traditions.

There were plenty of unscripted, dare I say sometimes moving, moments too. Luntz asked several valuable questions to draw out the candidates’ character: to describe a personal failing that would inform their work as president, to share an experience that helped shape their faith and spirituality. A choked-up Herman Cain relayed a story about facing his mortality upon being diagnosed with cancer. Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann describes the pain of her parents’ divorce while she was a teen. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum confessed to seeing his daughter who suffers from Trisomy 18 as less of a person, and trying not to love her to avoid the pain of losing her during her medical crises as an infant. Rick Perry confesses that Jesus filled a hole in his soul.

And even though Luntz, in an artful move, invites Occupy Wall Street protestors to address the audience before the roundtable discussion, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich did not extend a hand across the aisle of the culture wars in America with his attack on Occupy Wall Street protestors and specifically secularism, “…(secularism) has dominated our academic world, our academic world supplies our news media, our courts, and Hollywood, so you have a faction of America today who believes things are profoundly wrong…they are determined to destroy our value system.”

The event was hosted by The Family Leader, a conservative Christian organization based in Iowa, and co-sponsored by Focus on the Family-affiliate CitizenLink and the National Organization for Marriage. Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of The Family Leader, said in introductory remarks, “We don’t the church to be political…we don’t need you to be Republican or Democrat, but we need you to be biblical.” His effort to make religiosity non-partisan was later overshadowed by his comment that the next President of the United States will come from the Republicans present at the debate that night.

The civil nature of the discussion was the real standout of the evening, and how that tone was created and sustained is worth pondering. Was it the way Luntz established the ground rules for the discussion? Without overtly saying so, he somehow made it clear that the “winner” of the night would not be the candidate who outdid or shamed the others, but the one who emerged from the discussion with the most integrity.

At lectures there are always some who raise their hands. But I think it’s unethical to send young people, since there are serious health risks. You need highly trained scientists with a life expectancy of less than 20 years.
- Paul Davies, on sending people on a one-way trip to Mars in this month’s issue of Wired magazine

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Are Legal Obligations Enough? Did Penn State’s Joe Paterno Fail a Moral Test? What’s His Culpability?

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

The Patriot-News editorial board has issued a stinging condemnation of the moral and ethical responsibility of Penn State officials, including the university’s legendary head football coach, Joe Paterno. How are you thinking through this mess and the moral and ethical responsibilities of Paterno about these alleged crimes against children?

The Patriot-News calls for Joe Paterno's Removal


Religion and Taxes: Reconciling the Views of Ayn Rand and Michele Bachmann with Jesus’ Concern for the Poor

by Alexander E. Sharp, special contributor

Michele Bachmann and the Tea Party 2Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) gives an interview to Pajamas TV in front of a “Kill the Bill” sign after addressing the Tea Party crowd at a protest on March 21, 2010. (photo: The Q/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The deficit and budget battles in Washington make clear that the divisions between us are deep, even spiritual. The fight is not over the size of the deficit, nor even about expenditure cuts. It is about taxes as the lifeblood of government.

Why are taxes so important? The playbook is no secret. Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform and the driving force behind the “no-tax-increase” stance, said it over 20 years ago: “Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bath tub.” The way to do that is to cut taxes.

The George W. Bush administration supported this goal. It happily organized the political religious right concerned about social issues: pro-choice, sexual orientation, sex education, and school prayer. Many of the religious right feared that secular values were eroding their fundamentalist reading of the Bible. Their numbers swelled Republican ranks.

Those seeking to limit the size of government surely continue to welcome this faith-based support, but they now have a new moral underpinning: Ayn Rand as their resident philosopher. We do not need to tackle her 800-page novels to get her message. The title of one of her shorter essays says it all: “The Virtue of Selfishness.” In it she writes, “Altruism is incompatible with freedom, with capitalism, and with individual rights. One cannot combine the pursuit of happiness with the moral status of a sacrificial animal.” For her, the Great Commandment to love your neighbor is tantamount to “moral cannibalism.”

Michele Bachmann brings another clear spiritual perspective. She received her legal training at Oral Roberts University School of Law. The curriculum was based on Christian Reconstructionism, which argues that “God granted certain jurisdictional authority to the government, the church, and the family — therefore any government action exceeding its God-granted authority is in violation of God’s commands.” Under this view, it is not within the government’s “authority” to take care of the poor.

Recalling her own family’s struggle against poverty as she was growing up, she has said, “We had our faith in God, we depended on our neighbors, we depended on ourselves, and we just did without… And we were just grateful for what we had. We knew that one day things would be better than they were. And God was faithful, and they were better.”

Her view of government, perhaps shaped by her law school training, may explain her questioning of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in a congressional hearing over federal bailout programs. She asked, “What provision in the Constitution could you point to that would give authority for the extraordinary actions taken by the Treasury since March of ‘08? What specifically in the Constitution?” In the current Iowa primary she is calling for the abolition of the Departments of Education, Energy, and Commerce: “Wherever we can cut and abolish, we should cut and abolish.”

Those who believe government has a role in providing society’s safety net think it is essential to give a hand to those whom society counts least. Protestants for the Common Good, for example, supported the recent tax increase in Illinois because we were both saddened and shocked at the cuts in human services. Aid to children, the elderly, the mentally ill, and the disabled has been reduced by $3.1 billion since 2002 and $600 million in the current year alone.

Protestants for the Common Good believe that freedom exists in two forms: we are free from loyalty to anyone or thing other than God; and we are free for the opportunity to serve all whom God loves. We are free to care for, and love, others. That’s what our faith calls us to do.

The political religious right may argue that they want the same things we do. But they would say that it is freedom from government that makes it possible for people to flourish. The best way to help others is to get government out of the way.

Those who are for smaller government rarely express concern for people in need, even though almost 20 percent of Illinois children live in poverty, only about half of the people who need treatment for mental illness receive it, and after health care reform, there will be over 700,000 Illinoisans without health coverage.

Those of us who think government is central to establishing community and serving others have been enablers in this debate. We have not insisted that the political religious right, and those who oppose raising the debt ceiling, explain why the current deficit is so high. We have not pressed for a public discussion of how the economy performed under the tax cuts and financial deregulation starting in 2000. How can the views of Ayn Rand be reconciled with Jesus’ concern for the poor?

There is no Christian answer to complicated matters of public policy, but there are spiritual values that should inform how we think about such questions. They are expressed as ideology and pursued through politics and the media. But they have an underlying spiritual basis that is as profound and explicit as it was at any time in our national history.


Sarah Posner, “The Perry vs. Bachmann Primary at Liberty University,” Religion Dispatches, July 11, 2011.

The Rev. Alexander E. Sharp is the founding executive director of Protestants for the Common Good, a faith-based education and advocacy organization in Illinois. He received his M.Div. from the University of Chicago Divinity School and has a Masters of Public Affairs from Princeton University.

This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Ritual sanctification is assumed to take place at the moment when questionably obtained information passes into the hands of a reporter. This is a little facile. … Journalists are indispensably well positioned to expose abuses of power, but a press pass is not a moral unlimited-ride card. If the scandal caused journalists to reflect upon their own power, and their capacity to abuse that power, it would be a good thing.

Nicholas Lemann makes some astute observations and smart points in The New Yorker's Comments section.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor


A few recent newsgames do something curious: They hide basic trivia questions under a layer of moral decision-making. It is often assumed that taking a tired design and adding some nominal amount of ethical choice — usually in the form of binary story branches or good/neutral/evil alignment meters — will somehow reinvigorate and edify its players.

But there’s a serious problem with this easy inclusion of moral choice: Even a simple move to branch out from the standard structure of a game results in an exponential need for more content. And in a genre where budgets are often tight, cuts will likely need to be made as a result. This means less thought goes into the causal chain between choice and consequence, undercutting the very goals that the inclusion of the simple moral system hoped to attain. A half-baked moral system can have the opposite effect on people’s reasoning, and can even become confounding.


Simon Ferrari, from "When Moral Systems Miss the Point in Newsgames"

The 2010 Knight News Challenge winner’s post on MediaShift’s Idea Lab blog is a smart assessment of the pitfalls of applying morality or ethical veneers to news quizzes and interactive games. His premise, which ought to be deliberated upon more by reporters and producers, could just as well be applied to all forms of journalistic output too.

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor