Francis Beckwith responds to New York Times executive editor Bill Keller

On Catholic Thing. (H/T Lex Communis)


Today’s Gnostics are secular, but just as determined to make sure that their intellectual powers remain neatly sequestered from engaging contrary points of view in a serious fashion. This is why when they opine on matters religious their works seem to many of us as products of automatic writing channeled through uncurious literary zombies who aimlessly roam the Internet to traffic in shallow bigotries.

Take, for example, a question Keller poses to Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann in a follow-up blog post: “You have recommended as meaningful in your life works by leading advocates of Dominionism, including Nancy Pearcey, whose book Total Truth warns Christians to be suspicious of ideas that come from non-Christians. Do you agree with that warning?”

First, Pearcey is not a Dominionist, a term that refers to a very tiny group of Reformed Protestant writers (who are more accurately called “Theonomists”) who advocate the institution of Old Testament law in American jurisprudence.

Second, Pearcey’s Total Truth is not a brief for theonomy or “being suspicious of ideas that come from non-Christians,” as Keller clumsily puts it. How do I know this? I have not only read the book, but I published a review of it seven years ago in First Things. Although I think she gets some things wrong, such as her take on St. Thomas Aquinas’ view of nature and grace, my overall opinion of the book is that it is a needed corrective to those who insist that theology has no cognitive content. (I would also part ways with her on Intelligent Design, which I critically assess in an article I published two years ago in the University of St. Thomas Journal of Law and Public Policy).

What Pearcey suggests to her readers is that the Christian should treat his beliefs seriously, and not as if they were merely matters of taste that we should keep out of public view, as Keller thinks we should (which, ironically, puts him in the position of being suspicious of ideas that come from Christians, just as one would expect from a secular gnostic).

How did a New York Times editor make such simple mistakes? He didn’t do any research. He didn’t read the writer he wrote about. And for that reason, he didn’t try to understand what clearly would have seemed culturally peculiar to him if he had actually taken the time to read Pearcey’s book and show some intellectual curiosity about it.

Instead of elevating his inquiry and pursuing the research agenda of the average college sophomore – Googling – he relied on sources such as The New Yorker and The Daily Beast – whose reputations had already been dispatched by scores of writers by the time Keller had published his follow-up questions online.

I removed his links from my excerpt.

This is the problem with people on the secular left. They don’t have enough respect for the intellectual life to stop and read about issues, and then dialog long enough to understand the arguments for and against differing views. Their intent is to defame and marginalize, not to gain knowledge.

Here is a post with my advice for Bill Keller.

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