Sunday, December 10, 2006

Person of the Year

The atheist limelight has been grabbed this year by Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, and, to a slightly lesser extent, by Julia Sweeney. Clearly, there's no denying that these champions of rationality are all worthy of our secular adoration.

But as far as I’m concerned, the person who has done the most in 2006 to wake people up to the sins of the theocrats is a New York Times business reporter named Diana B. Henriques. Whether or not she’s an atheist herself is immaterial, although, god doesn’t know, I wish she were. In fact, her short bio on The Times’s Web site specifically references her lengthy religious history, stating that “throughout her life, she has been an active member of various Protestant congregations, serving for several years as an elder at a suburban Presbyterian church and currently serving as the senior warden at an urban Episcopal church in New Jersey.” The blurb makes her sound like she’s a sects addict, for heaven's sake. Since New York Times staff bios do not generally refer to a journalist’s church-going record, obviously this information is included about Henriques so that readers will not be able to dismiss her reportage as the work of some heathen crank.

Henriques’s crusade against holy thievery began with a five-part series, “In God’s Name,” that ran from October 8th through 11th, with its final entry on the 20th. These articles, as The Times says, “examine how American religious organizations benefit from an increasingly accommodating government.” The reporter has now coauthored another feature that appears in today's paper. After six such efforts, she might look over her accomplishments and rest contentedly, as a lazy deity would. But I’m prophesying that there’s more to come; perhaps a good book is in the works.

The titles of Henriques’s articles ought to be enough to get us heathen cranks weeping and gnashing our teeth:
* Religion Trumps Regulation as Legal Exemptions Grow
* Where Faith Abides, Employees Have Few Rights
* As Religious Programs Expand, Disputes Rise Over Tax Breaks
* Religion-Based Tax Breaks: Housing to Paychecks to Books
* Ministry’s Medical Program Is Not Regulated
* Religion for Captive Audience, with Taxpayers Footing the Bill
She’s not writing only about the recent faith-bait initiatives here. Some of the laws she cites have been on the books for more than a decade. The promulgators of superstition have been riding the gravy train for a long time, and the conductors have come from both major parties.

Here’s a link to the Dec. 10 article. The first five installments are also just a click away. There are some nifty graphics you ought to check out, as well.

The Times, unlike most of Henriques’s subjects, is not a tax-free charity; it doesn’t keep its stories online for free very long. If you’re interested, you’d better read or download these gems quickly.