Wednesday, December 07, 2005

"A cheap shot from First Things"

In his e-letter of December 6, 2006, Karl Keating takes First Things to task for a "cheap shot" against Steve Ray, a personal friend. The offending article, entitled "God on the Internet" by Jonathan V. Last, the online editor of the Weekly Standard, mentions many websites -- some Catholic, some Protestant, some indeterminate -- and also writes about religious bloggers, among them Steve Ray (pictured right). Some of his comments are "snide," says Keating, and, in at least the case of his friend, Steve Ray, "downright malicious." Here's what Last says about Ray:
A more personal strain of consumerism leads people such as Stephen Ray to hawk their wares on the web. Ray, the author of several religious books, runs a web site called Defenders of the Catholic Faith. On it he features a photo album of his family and his travels, conversion testimonials from readers, and even his own blog. But the primary mission of Defenders of the Catholic Faith is to move product. Books, audio tapes, videos, DVDs--it's all there, mingled with explanations of 'Why I'm Catholic' and lessons about St. Mark. There's also a press kit describing Ray, showing his upcoming speaking schedule, and telling you how to book him at your event for a mere $600, plus expenses. (That's for local talks; overnight events are $1,800, plus expenses and, as his site explains, 'Steve rarely travels without his wife Janet.')
Last claims that "the primary mission of Defenders of the Catholic Faith is to move product." But Keating counters: "The man must not have spent much time at Steve's site. By clicking through the drop-down menus one finds that the site's primary mission is to share the Catholic faith."

Keating is understandably upset. There is not only misinformation here but disingenuousnes, as he goes on to point out:
Yes, Steve's books and videos are marketed, but, as he says at the blog at his site, the income from those sales does not end up in his pocket: "The money earned from speaking engagements and product sales go into preparing materials, investing in the ministry and video series, maintaining this web site, donations to the needy, and other causes to promote the Catholic faith." Steve derives his living expenses from running a maintenance (janitorial) business.

Take his videos. Most Catholic videos are "talking head" affairs, taped in a studio. Steve's videos are taped on location in the Holy Land and around the Mediterranean. When you watch a Steve Ray video about the apostle Paul, you see Steve speaking where Paul once spoke. It isn't cheap to produce an on-location video, and Steve uses profits from his product sales to underwrite the expenses.

Steve is on the road much of the year. He happens to like his wife, Janet, and they think--properly, I'd say--that it is not good for a husband and wife to be separated for great lengths of time. That is why Janet often accompanies him on his speaking trips.

As noted, Jonathan Last is the online editor of the "Weekly Standard." Both the "Weekly Standard" and "First Things" have web sites that include (in the case of the latter) or are about to include (in the case of the former) online stores hawking books and other articles. The "Weekly Standard" sends out a weekly e-mail newsletter that includes advertising. Both sites, of course, sell subscriptions to their print publications.

It strikes me as ungenerous of Last, who runs a web site that sells things, to complain about sales at Steve Ray's web site, and it strikes me as ungenerous of "First Things" to have published Last's hit piece in the first place.

Steve has written to "First Things," asking for an apology. He deserves a very public one.
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