Blitzer, Vitsmun, and Authentic Interfaith Dialogue

Wolf Blitzer – prized journalist for CNN – made what some are affectionately referring to as a ‘teachable moment’ when he asked an atheist survivor (Rebecca Vitsmun) of the Moore, OK tornado:

‘You’ve gotta thank the Lord, right? Do you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?’

‘I – I’m actually an atheist,’ Vitsmun replies.

Noticeably tripped-up, Blitzer quickly back-pedalled and offered her congratulations for making the decision herself which saved her and her child’s lives. Rather than soap-box, or get offended, or even slighted – Vitsmun graciously extended the following: ‘We are here, and I don’t blame anyone for thanking the Lord.’

This interaction can stand as representative of many things. That journalists ‘should’ keep their own worldview out of reporting. That they ‘should’ check their assumptions at the door. That theonormative assumptions should be allowed – or – that theonormative assumptions need to be challenged at every turn.

Most importantly, in my perspective, is that this piece is a great example of authentic, interfaith dialogue. Both parties accurately, transparently, unapologetically, and non-evangelically represented their position. Neither – overtly – held aims or intents of offending or persuading the other. Blitzer didn’t badger Vitsmun into thanking – his signifier of – the Lord; Vitsmun didn’t harangue Blitzer for proffering a theonormative assumption.

Instead, both parties recognized the others’ position, whilst retaining their own. They dialogued around a centrally-connecting, human-impacting circumstance modelling grace, humility, and acceptance of divergence.

Perhaps this interaction will cause a stir in news broadcasting. Perhaps Blitzer will have a behind-the-doors conversation with his editor. Perhaps Vitsmun will suffer criticism or microaggressions by people in her community who may not have previously known of her atheist perspective.

For the time being, I would like to applaud both of them for their unapologetic – if unplanned – example of genial, interfaith dialogue.

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5 thoughts on “Blitzer, Vitsmun, and Authentic Interfaith Dialogue

  1. It is indeed heartening to hear gracious speech between the faiths – theist and atheist – on the televised national news. I like Joseph McLendon’s analysis of the exchange between CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and tornado survivor Rebecca Vitsmun as a model of authentic interfaith dialogue. It’s interesting to note some responses: Glenn Beck declared that the interview must have been a set-up by a CNN producer who wanted to promote the atheist cause or “just doesn’t like Christians.” Is it so difficult to believe that spontaneous geniality can occur? Admittedly, it is rare. Meanwhile secular humanists and the internet community Atheists Unite are basking in the positive publicity, and raising money to support Ms. Vitsmun and her family. “It’s important that our community shows that we have your back when you come out publicly as an atheist,” the Indiegogo Internet community Atheists Unite stated. “Let’s show the world that you don’t need to believe in a god to have human compassion nor does all charity fall under the banner of religion. Let’s get this courageous woman and her family back in their own home.” Points to all who put compassion first. A positive public response with compassion and grace to a common social cause – the tornado and its destruction and human tragedy – is the ethical bridge and hallmark of interreligious dialogue through service and advocacy.

    1. ‘Is it so difficult to believe that spontaneous geniality can occur?’

      So often, yes, when it challenges or even troubles our worldview. When we have carefully crafted a complex system of signifiers and rituals to maintain object permanence, meaning, and a sense of belonging in an otherwise bewildering world; when that system becomes disturbed: yes. Yes it is difficult to believe that people not operating in our system can be equally happy and nice.

      Thank you for your comment!

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