2536: Wirecutter

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Jump to: navigation, search
This was always going to be a controversial Wirecutter post, but what really got them in trouble were their 'budget' and 'upgrade' picks.
Title text: This was always going to be a controversial Wirecutter post, but what really got them in trouble were their 'budget' and 'upgrade' picks.


Wirecutter is a product review website owned by The New York Times. Randall is parodying the website by having them "review" the 70 most popular religions. Product review websites typically make posts with the "best" X, e.g. "Best smartphones," or "Best laptops." These reviews are useful for consumers trying to choose among the wide variety of products available.

There are a wide variety of religions. However, unlike electronic devices, a person does not usually choose their religion; they are typically taught one during childhood and most remain in that religion their entire life. Changing religions is (usually) a significant life event.[citation needed] Many religions, including many variants of the three major Abrahamic religions promote exclusivity, and do not recognize other religions as valid. They emphasize the importance of specific practices or belief in specific creeds. Members of those religions might not recognize a reviewer as having truly "tried" their religion if their intent was always to move on to another.

A post "reviewing" religions is sure to stir up controversy, as many religious followers are passionate about their religious beliefs and believe their religion is best. Literal wars have been fought over the idea one religion could be superior to another, and it is not a wound most practitioners are willing to reopen any time soon. Moreover, religions are typically chosen for more fundamental reasons -- such as by comparing the likelihood that each religion makes accurate claims, or the efficacy of each religion in promoting an ethical life, or the connection a practitioner feels to the religion's rituals, metaphors, and images, or by privileging a preexisting cultural or family connection to a particular tradition -- not by comparing gimmicky features or price.

The title text mentions "budget" and "upgrade" picks, which are subcategories for reviewers - cheaper options and options that are good for upgrading your current product. Neither of these categories are typical categories for religions[citation needed] and could further anger their adherents. The association of religion and money could allude to various controversial topics such as tithing, indulgences, televangelism, or Prosperity theology. Budget need not be just about money, it could also refer to the amount of time or effort involved. (e.g., how much time is spent in religious activities, needing to learn a new language, etc.) Some religious followers might be offended[citation needed] if their religion was picked in a "budget" category. The idea of a religion "upgrade" evokes the highly divisive concept of supersessionism among the major Abrahamic religions, which would be guaranteed to cause further outcry no matter which one of those the article would pick for the category. (Various forms of syncretism could qualify as an "upgrade," but whatever Wirecutter's intent, that is unlikely to be the first thing anyone reading such an article thinks of.)


[A New York Times Wirecutter article. There is the NYT logo and Wirecutter logo in the top left. Also in the top of the page is a search bar, a user account icon, and 7 "header" level hyperlinks with illegible text. The article title is as follows:]
The Best Religion
By Wirecutter Staff
[The words "Wirecutter Staff" are followed by illegible text presumably representing the date of the article. Below are icons for Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, and save.]
[The article's image depicts Cueball shrugging in the center of the picture with many question marks floating above him. The content of the article is as follows:]
What does it all mean? Our reviewers tried out over 70 of the most popular belief systems. Here's what they found…

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


Note: they don't say they tried out a large number of religions but a large number of belief systems. This could include things like "Libertarianism" or "Monarchists". (By CWALLENPOOLE, but not signed in.)

But the picture of the article title says “The Best Religion” 20:31, 1 November 2021 (UTC)

The phrase "highly controversial" should not be used in the explanation. For the record, I am opposed to the things listed in that sentence and my objection is not based in a desire to defend them. Religion itself might be said to be "highly controversial" so the use in the last sentence is both superfluous and biased. 00:34, 2 November 2021 (UTC)

I really want this article to be real. ----Dave

Me too. I did something similar in my early 20s, and feel such an article honestly done would be a great help to many. In fact, the current description is slightly inaccurate- in that even lifelong practitioners, do usually have a wandering time in early adulthood if not given direction. Such an article would give some direction.Seebert (talk) 15:03, 2 November 2021 (UTC)
Try kialo.com/what-is-the-best-religion-to-believe-3371 . 00:16, 30 December 2021 (UTC)

The major problem with trying multiple religions is that to fully test a religion you need to die - and most people only die once, with the ability to die multiple times being exclusive feature of small number of religions. -- Hkmaly (talk) 04:49, 2 November 2021 (UTC)

I ain't mad Hkmaly, but the idea that a religion's primary purpose is to promote a vision of the afterlife is alien to a lot of religions (including my own flavor of Judaism), whose policy on the hereafter is "afterlife, shmafterlife, pass the bagels." Hence also my edits toning down the "religions are about provable belief claims" rhetoric (eyeroll). ----Ben
Reviewers rarely fully test tech items. (e.g. they often don't cover complete lifecycle costs - what happens to the device after it dies, how easy is it to move on to a new one, etc.) Don't have to test everything to have a meaningful review.
Many religions make claims about impacts in this life. (e.g., intercessory prayer) Such claims are eminently testable. A comparative review would be interesting. I am only aware of a few such tests, mostly comparing a single product to general average or to no intervention Efficacy of prayer. 19:18, 3 November 2021 (UTC)

It doesn't look like the search bar text says "search," but I can't make out what it actually says.--KrazyKat (talk) 06:33, 2 November 2021 (UTC)

Maybe it says Seance, since for "seach" the high stoke from the H is missing. -- 07:33, 2 November 2021 (UTC)
or Sermon maybe, that would fit the theme
Could be Search with large S and smaller caps for the rest? Anyone subscribe to the NYT and care to visit the actual WireCutter site to see the formatting? 12:40, 2 November 2021 (UTC)
Don't need to be a subscriber to see the site. It says "Show me the best..." Paddles (talk) 13:26, 2 November 2021 (UTC)

I don't want to sound controversial but tithing would be a refreshing change comparing to current tax systems Tkopec (talk) 10:31, 2 November 2021 (UTC)

Agreed- 10% is much less than the near 50% I'm paying when I figure it all in.Seebert (talk) 15:03, 2 November 2021 (UTC)
You really want to pay tithes AND taxes? 18:54, 2 November 2021 (UTC)

Last night I was writing a huge thing about religions' almost universal reluctance to be 'tried out' (lestways allowing easy unsubscription at the end) but on reflection, after a night's sleep, I'm wondering if they just had 70+ 'mystery shoppers' tasked to report back on one assigned 'product' each, their reports aggregated so this didn't matter too much (to the overall report-writers, at least). 14:31, 2 November 2021 (UTC)

Also, the 'religious' wars metaphor extends quite easily to different platforms, yet (say) laptop reviews might compare a set of Windows vs a Mac or two (vs Chromebook, and maybe others) as options. And when it comes to keyboards, the QWERTY-Othodoxy and the Dvorak-Reformists both have bad (and untrue) things to say about each other, when 'enough time' with any given layout should be good enough to prosper in that. (That said, I had a programmable calculator from the '80s until it gave up the ghost some time post-Millenium, and I really did not get on with its alphabetical-order keyboard all that time, perhaps because I was QWERTYing almost everywhere else.) 14:31, 2 November 2021 (UTC)

In the case of religions though, the wars are not allegorical, they are literal. Nothing else in human experience really compares to the effects of a religious war (except maybe our wars to support a certain socioeconomic idealogy). The impact of format wars don't even come close; even if you count Uranium VS Thorium. This comic doesn't really draw a comparison between reviewing religions & reviewing products; so much as it contrasts the enormous differences in how we approach the two subjects...
ProphetZarquon (talk) 17:41, 2 November 2021 (UTC)

(Also also: QWERTY with UK-layout is my own personal sub-sect, with occasional need to adapt to US-layout (physically printed keycaps and/or what the computer thought was plugged in) with " and # and ~ characters amongst the main jumbled up ones, and no easy £ access. Which wasn't actually as unnerving as being in the 'wrong' bit of Belfast, but had the same subtle note of discordant undertone to it until I shifted my mental gears or ideally corrected the situation satisfactorarily by configuration.) 14:31, 2 November 2021 (UTC)

There's a book by John S. Dunne, The Way of All the Earth, that advocates essentially trying out religions while keeping one foot in one's own (Dunne describes it as "crossing the abyss and crossing back"). 17:17, 2 November 2021 (UTC)

Surprised no-one has yet mentioned this joke was done in almost exactly the same way on the UK satirical TV show TW3 in 1963 by David Frost (of later Frost/Nixon fame). --- jg https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRZWyfERiCc

I was just looking for psychological/psychiatrical papers that say something about the frequency of mental illnesses by religion. Maaaaaaaaaayyybeeeeeeeeee there is a religion that is clearly superior to other religions in that regard, and so government health officials could make a recommendation to change to a specific religion. :-P -- 10:58, 3 November 2021 (UTC)

But then, illnesses (as well as the symptoms of the same illness) depend on the culture, so my sardonic idea was probably left unresearched...-- 12:23, 3 November 2021 (UTC)

Feels like there should be a line in there about how religion is itself often "that which determines what is valued" and therefore very hard to treat objectively. So, for example, if your religion taught that discipline was inherently good, you would think less of another religion that specifically warned against the dangers of excessive discipline. Meanwhile, a member of that religion might think YOUR religion was worse, because - according to the tenets of THEIR religion - you put TOO MUCH emphasis on discipline, while you think your emphasis is correct and THEY are wrong for not having it. Now, granted, people might want different things from their technology - one person might want user-friendliness, another might value greater customizability - but religion is different in that it, in itself, informs our understandings of "what is valuable". It would be like if Apple users actively began extolling the benefits of user-friendliness BECAUSE they are Apple users and Apple itself is what taught them to value user-friendliness, while Linux users were originally indifferent but BECAME fans of customizability BECAUSE they used Linux. (And yes, there can be cult-like elements of both fandoms, but hopefully the distinction I'm drawing here is reasonably clear: religion tells you what is valuable, technology does not.)

(Also, why all the Judaism-specific stuff now?) --mezimm 16:42, 3 November 2021 (UTC)

Rather than picking one religion - join them all. Slag-blah takes a militant agnostic approach (we don't know, and neither do you). So they believe in/practice all religions (one a day for a year, so their calendar is 7,823 days long). From Buck Godot Zap Gun for Hire - Learning about Slag-blah by Phil Foglio, Dec. 2007 Sadly hard to find online, but here is the relevant page from the archive. 19:18, 3 November 2021 (UTC)

Went to graduate school (Wash U, St Louis) where one of my classmates said [of the weather!], "I don't know what religion to be." Huh? He explained his habit was to try out a different religion each season, but the weather that month had been changing so often that he didn't know which one to follow on a given day! [Think he was only half serious]

I feel like the explanation's focus on "can't easily change religion" is both inaccurate and quite missing the point. Religious freedom is not about whether belief is inherent or chosen, but rather about the fact that no one has the right to tell anyone else what to believe. The controversial part, IMO, is not "criticism of an inherent feature like race", but rather, it's the fact that Wirecutter is analysing belief systems, not by trying to judge their truthfulness, but in simple ROI terms. It's a bit like analysing whether female or male children are more cost-effective; people will get upset about the fact that you made the analysis in such mercenary terms at all.

I am also concerned with the paragraph speculating about ease of changing religion and its possible implications towards comparison between discrimination on the basis of political belief versus skin color. This is a topic about which there is much debate in many places and I'm not sure that debate is appropriate for this site. I say this not out of any particular stance regarding that debate, I say that because this site is intended to provide explanations relating to XKCD and not really for comparison of different kinds of discrimination. I'm going to remove that paragraph. If you strongly disagree please feel to revert my edit but I'd appreciate it if you would then share here why you think it helps explain the comic to someone who might not otherwise understand. Tomb (talk) 13:31, 5 November 2021 (UTC)

The fact that people cannot compare and choose a religion (and are also willing to die with their chosen religion, e.g. in the face of persecution) is the very reason religious freedom exists. Thank you for deleting the section. I will not contribute here for a while.-- 22:42, 5 November 2021 (UTC)
This wiki is exclusively about presentation of the comic, not discussion. Nor is it a Mom an' Pop shop where you can threaten their lively hood and stomp out and feel superior. Consider going to reddit or any other media to discuss the expanded meanings of these comics. 18:00, 6 November 2021 (UTC)

Pascal's Wager has literally nothing to do with this comic. Literally nothing. I'm tempted to remove that paragraph altogether, especially since it's also presenting an atheistic critique of the idea and thereby slanting the neutrality of the explanation. --mezimm 13:46, 5 November 2021 (UTC)

The assumptions here really need pruning. For starters, groups *exist* to do exactly what is suggested here: http://shipoffools.com/mystery-worshipper/ being a perfect example. Just as brand loyalty to car manufacturers doesn't prevent reviews, neither does loyalty to religions. And while the claim that all wars are purely economic has been debunked, the idea of purely religious wars will get similar mocking from historians. The claim of exclusivity is absurd, given that Christians use the Jewish scriptures, and Muslims regard both Moses and Jesus as prophets; the Messianic Jews are the most famous example of belonging to two religions.

Huh? Mystery worshipper isn't about reviewing *religions* but different congregations of the same religion (at least if we consider Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox etc. all part of the same religion, which many do). This is a much easier (and less self-defeating) task than what the comic suggests.-- 01:48, 3 November 2022 (UTC)
"...which many do..."? It depends upon who you ask... (Multiple versions there of the one that I mean!) 06:45, 3 November 2022 (UTC)