by Conor Friedersdorf
In 2007, I studied under Mark Oppenheimer, whose writing on religion and other topics is worth your while, or so I've thought ever since I encountered his New York Times Magazine piece on an evangelical college hosting its first ever student dance. The course I took included units on snake handling Pentecostals, Mormons, Scientologists, and many others. A semester long journalism school course is obviously too short to convey all the information needed to write knowledgeably even about a single denomination. What it afforded, among other things, were lessons on the attitude one must assume to write well about any religion -- a mix of open-mindedness and skepticism, appreciation and critical distance, empathy and rational judgment, generosity and commitment to writing the truth.
Mark's work possesses all these qualities, due in large part to the intense curiosity he has about whoever he is writing about. A religion writer must, by the nature of his beat, dilligently grapple with truth claims that are unverifiable at best, and certainly wrong most of the time, if only because he covers sundry religions making contradictory claims. So it excited me to learn that my old professor recently published a series on two prominent American Holocaust deniers. How would a Jewish writer with Mark's particular skill set navigate a subject as fraught and absurd as that one?