By Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse
"Salvo" describes itself as a magazine committed to "deconstructing the damaging cultural myths that have undercut human dignity, all but destroyed the notions of virtue and morality, and slowly eroded the appetite for transcendence." Editor Bobby Maddex says "Salvo" aims for the type of reader that is "open-minded enough to follow the evidence wherever it leads, and invariably, it leads to Christ and his teachings." Maddex spoke recently with Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse, president of the American Orthodox Institute.
AOI: Welcome, Bobby. Good to have you especially as we inaugurate our interview series on Orthodox leaders who make a difference.
Maddex: Thank you. Good to be here.
AOI: The magazine has a youthful vibe. Describe the typical Salvo reader.
Maddex: Our typical reader is between the ages of 21 and 40, college educated, and at least somewhat religious. I would venture to say that our subscription base is split pretty evenly between Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christians, though we also have a number of secular subscribers due to the fact that we are not an overtly religious publication.
We believe that changes of mind will result in changes of heart further on down the road. In other words, we attempt to cultivate clear thinking about some of the more controversial cultural topics of the day in order to pave the way for the evangelical efforts of others. In terms of our Christian readers, this means that we are trying to prevent them from acceding to the false ideologies and cultural myths circulating throughout society, while we offer our secular readers perspectives on topics that they are not getting from the mainstream media.
Our "vibe," as you call it, was selected to counter the lies emanating from some of the hipper, youth-oriented, and hugely popular newsstand magazines-such as Rolling Stone and Wired. We were tired of the monopoly that these publications had on slick, edgy, and highly ironic content, especially since the worldviews that inhere in such content are so nihilistic, materialistic, and immoral. We are trying to fight fire with fire, using the rhetorical and design tactics of our competition, but in the service of Truth and right living rather than narcissism and a do-what-feels-good behavioral ethic.
AOI: Clearly, you draw from the received moral tradition, particularly when you challenge the secular trends. We don’t see enough of this responsibly done. Why take this approach?
Maddex: Here’s the thing-and it’s something that both our Christian and secular readers are coming to recognize: The Christian worldview, objectively speaking, leads to the healthiest, most satisfying, and most rewarding way of life. Even if one never buys into the underlying theology of Christianity, he will still find that the moral precepts that result from it are entirely practical and psychologically beneficial. Countless scientific studies have show this to be true, and we at Salvo surmise that the reason this is so is because Christianity represents total truth about all of reality. Our readers are young adults who are open-minded enough to follow the evidence wherever it leads, and invariably, it leads to Christ and his teachings.
The problem today is that some Christians, in an effort to engage the culture (which St. Paul definitely encourages us to do), have instead allowed the culture to engage them. Longstanding moral principles-and in some cases, orthodox (small "o") Christian theology-are being abandoned in the name of attracting converts, especially in the areas of sexuality and bioethics. But what such Christians are really doing is depleting the fullness of the faith, which includes bold moral lines that simply should not be crossed. The fear, I think, especially in American culture, is that by calling attention to such lines, we will offend the sensibilities of the secular world. But the cross has already done that; it is an offense in and of itself.
Christianity is antithetical to the culture. Our devotion to it makes us offensive from the get-go. In other words, you know something is wrong when your values no longer offend; it most likely means that you are becoming a part of-and not merely engaging-secular society. And as I said earlier, we have a moral obligation to help keep others from caving in to the culture’s value system, because it will likewise prevent them from making choices that have the propensity to deteriorate their mental, physical, and spiritual health.
AOI: What kind of response are you getting from readers?
Maddex: Most of the responses have been very encouraging. Sure, there are a few who have objected to the in-your-face style of Salvo, as well as to our unyielding opposition to such things as abortion and homosexuality. The charge is that we are not following Christ’s example of love and acceptance when we reject such lifestyle decisions out of hand-that these issues are fraught with complexities that demand a softer touch. But how loving is it, really, to allow sinful behaviors to become culturally destigmatized? We’re talking human souls here; to not call a spade a spade is to make sin a more attractive and enticing option that could obstruct one’s path to salvation. Besides, the Christ of the bible is no hippie-dippy love child. He turned the tables in the temple, responded to some of the disciples’ dumber questions with irony and sarcasm, and suffered death for his commitment to Truth. Yes, I definitely believe that we are called to love the sinner, but sometimes the most loving thing to do for a person is to slap him in the face. I know it has helped me on countless occasions.
But again, most of what we hear is that Salvo has helped readers change and improve their lives. Those who are Christian typically tell us that, before reading the magazine, they didn’t know why they held the beliefs that they did. I mean, they knew that they were following the teachings of scripture and church tradition, but they didn’t know that these beliefs had a practical dimension as well-that their beliefs were rooted in logic and common sense, as well as the bible and the church fathers. Secular readers, on the other hand, usually say that Salvo has provided them with food for thought on topics that they had never before considered. For example, I can recall one reader who told us that he came to terms with his pornography addiction as the result of an article we ran on the subject in Salvo 2. Such responses keep me energized and focused.
AOI: What do you think are the most pressing issues facing the culture?
Maddex: I would have to say those issues that revolve around human dignity. You know, even the very notion of human dignity has fallen under attack in recent years. Scientists such as Patricia Churchland, Ruth Macklin, and Steven Pinker have argued that it is a useless concept in light of evolutionary findings. According to them, humans have no more value or worth than any other creature on earth. Spain has granted personhood to apes under the same logic, and the Swiss now have laws that protect the "dignity" of plants. We are no longer viewed as having a privileged place in the world; nor are we treating human beings as if they were made in the image of God.
This loss of human dignity is what fuels our culture of death. At the same time that the lives of an increasing number of non-human organisms are being protected, laws that protect human life are on the decline. Abortion has become a common component of our culture, the death-tourism trade (in which people travel to foreign countries in order to undergo assisted suicide) is on the rise, and scientific procedures such as cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, and in vitro fertilization are part of a booming business that takes life to make life. Regardless of whether you believe that the Genesis story is actual history or mere metaphor, its point-that we are special to God-remains. God took on the flesh of man so that man might be saved. To reject human dignity is thus to reject God’s salvific plan.
AOI: Coming up with new material for a quarterly means you have to stay up on cultural trends and the latest ideas. What are some of your favorite online and print influences? Television and film?
Maddex: Just in terms of overall style and structure, Wired magazine has influenced me tremendously. It’s so well done-so appealing and fascinating and easy to read. Everything from the paper quality to the images to the names of the departments is incredibly well-conceived and well-suited to the magazine’s mission and content. Of course, the naturalistic worldview of Wired leaves much to be desired, but as far as the magazine genre goes, I think it most perfectly utilizes the form.
I’m also a big fan of The New Atlantis, a science and technology journal that is always extremely insightful and well-written, particularly those articles composed by Senior Editor Christine Rosen. I learn a ton every time I pick it up.
In terms of online resources, you can’t beat LifeSiteNews.com. I believe it’s run by Canadian Catholics, but it is global in content and includes links to any news story even marginally related to the family. I also love MercatorNet, the Australian equivalent of Salvo, which is hip, witty, and excellently edited, and the website for Stand To Reason, Greg Koukl’s Christian apologetics organization.
And then there’s the journalist Dinesh D’Souza, who just recently joined our editorial advisory board. In a lot of ways, he functions as a sort of patron saint of Salvo, providing razor-sharp insights into American culture. His two most recent books, The Enemy at Home and What’s So Great About Christianity, perfectly model what Salvo is trying to do, as does Nancy Pearcey’s book Total Truth.
For entertainment reviews and news, I go directly to Barbara Nicolosi, the Hollywood screenwriter and executive director of Act One, Inc. Her blogsite, Church of the Masses, contains some of the most erudite and morally solid assessments of film and television available. And I also love Ben Stein and Evan Coyne Maloney. These guys made two of the most thought-provoking documentaries of the past year. Stein’s film, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, exposes the manner in which the scientific community blackballs anyone who dares question even a mere aspect of evolutionary theory, and Maloney’s film, Indoctrinate U, examines the socially liberal bias on American college campuses.
AOI: Your Christian background is Orthodox but Salvo has an appeal that reaches far beyond Orthodox walls. How do you see the other Christian communions contributing to Salvo?
Maddex: I think my list of influences definitely speaks to this question. There’s a culture war going on right now between naturalists and supernaturalists-between those who believe that the material universe is all that there is and those who believe that there is a transcendent reality to which we are subject. If the naturalists win, then our culture will finally and fully become nihilistic, permeated with moral relativism and a complete lack of meaning. All Christians, regardless of denomination, must be involved in this particular battle. It’s one in which we all have a vested interest, and-thankfully-one in which many Christians have already put aside their differences to fight side by side.
I completely understand that there are huge theological issues separating each of the three great traditions of Christendom-Catholics, Protestants, and the Orthodox-and having converted to Orthodoxy, I definitely took a side here as well. But the culture war is a battle that we can all fight together without compromising on any of our differences. The worst thing we could do is refuse to work together on matters upon which we all agree because of those issues upon which we don’t. That’s the surest path to defeat. Fortunately, Salvo has been blessed with individuals who understand what’s at stake and have formed provisional alliances as a result.
AOI: Your subheading for the journal is "Science, Sex, and Society." Why did you pick these three themes?
Maddex: Well, that pretty much covers everything that we mean by the word "culture," right? Under the category of "sex," for example, Salvo looks at such things as in vitro fertilization, alternative sexualities, gender theory, contraception, and pornography. In science, we are looking at the theory of Intelligent Design, Darwinism, the origins of life, and bioethics. And under society, we are looking at the influence of the media and the academy, at consumerism and family makeup, at art, music, film, literature, and anything else that might impact the worldview of young adults. There is not an aspect of culture that Salvo does not address, and we felt that the tagline "science, sex, and society" encompasses them all.
AOI: Where is Salvo heading?
Maddex: That’s a really good question. I’ve never thought of Salvo as merely a magazine; rather, I’ve always viewed it as a movement-as the beginning of a mass resistance to dominant cultural myths that is not dependent on any one medium. I would love to see us grow and thrive to the point where we host film screenings, discussion groups, and media-literacy conferences-where we organize protests, create home-school curricula, and bring speakers to college campuses. I want Salvo to become a multi-media assault on all of the destructive lies emanating from Hollywood, the academy, legacy news outlets, and the Darwinist science community.
In the meantime, we’ll keep pumping out magazines. We just went to print with an issue on what Dr. Allan Carlson calls "the natural family," and our next issue tackles the New Atheists. Beyond that, I would love to do an issue on "environmentalism versus stewardship," or one on "psychology as religion," though we will most likely stop doing thematic issues after Salvo 7. The problem has been that each reader has his own pet topics that he wants to read about, and when an issue focuses on a single topic, we lose the interest of readers who are geared toward something else. Thus, beginning with Salvo 8, we will probably fill each quarterly issue with a full range of articles that fall within our mission. We’ll still have a cover story, obviously, but the rest of the magazine will concentrate on other things. I think it’s a smart move that will make Salvo more appealing to a wider group of readers. I’m excited about it.
AOI: You mention that Salvo seeks the "systematic deconstruction of false ideologies, philosophies, and worldviews." What do you mean by this? Why is it important?
Maddex: What many Christians lack these days is the ability to think critically about highly persuasive messages and ways of being that have the potential to negatively impact their lives. To some degree, Salvo is trying to teach our readers to think-to provide examples of clear thinking about the pressing issues of the day in an intellectual, though very readable, format.
Let me give you an example. Slated for Salvo 7 is an article by Dr. Karen Swallow Prior, an English professor at Liberty University, that counters the accusations of such New Atheists as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris. In it, she describes a private meeting that she had with two students who had begun to question their Christian faith. The reason? For the first time in their lives, they had been confronted-via the bestselling books of these New Atheist authors-with serious (in their minds at least) arguments against the existence of God. What Prior goes on to point out is that these students simply weren’t trained by their Christian parents, churches, and schools to understand that such arguments exist. They were thus unaware that there is likewise a whole host of solid counter-arguments that sufficiently answer the New Atheist claims. As a result, these kids were severing their relationship with Christ.
Salvo was created to prevent this sort of thing from happening. We are trying to reach young adults before their worldviews have solidified-while they are still searching for answers to the significant questions of life. It is so important that they have access to all of the information before settling into their habits of mind. Again, we are talking about the salvation of souls here, and a false assumption formed early in life is all that it might take to send someone careening into an eternity of meaninglessness and despair.
AOI: Where can we find Salvo?
Maddex: The magazine is becoming available at an increasing number of Barnes & Noble booksellers. We have a list of the stores that currently carry Salvo at http://salvomag.typepad.com/blog/2008/06/salvo-5-on-news.html.
But you can also, of course, order a subscription to our magazine on our website at http://www.salvomag.com/new/subservices.php. We also sell back issues here, and there is a ton of free content as well, including a daily blog, daily news items, podcasts, a suggested reading list, and Ism Central, our guide to every ideology under the sun. Please feel free to drop by.
Bobby Maddex graduated from Wheaton College in 1994 with a degree in Political Science. After spending five years as senior editor of "Gadfly," a national arts and culture publication out of Charlottesville, Virginia, and serving a one-year stint as the marketing director of "Touchstone" magazine in Chicago, he earned a Masters Degree in British Literature from DePaul University in 2002. Bobby is now the editor of "Salvo," a magazine committed to deconstructing the damaging cultural myths that have undercut human dignity, all but destroyed the notions of virtue and morality, and slowly eroded the appetite for transcendence.