Some book reviews and articles for your perusal:
– Nice take-down of Andrew Sullivan by by Chris Roach over at AFF’s Brainwash: Andrew Sullivan: Defining Conservatism Down. You should read the whole thing, but here is a taste:
Sullivan’s confusion about secularism and the First Amendment leads to his hair-brained assaults on so-called Christianists. Itâ€™s true, some Evangelical Christians may be crude in their beliefs, not quite well read in the Constitution, ridiculously messianic in their treatment of Israel, and inclined towards other types of radicalism. But they are not the Taliban; their aims are chiefly defensive. Sullivan’s attacks on radical “Christianists” miss something important about cause and effect: right-wing Christians’ views are a reaction to an assault on their way of life by liberal political radicals, which is exacerbated by their disempowerment by Sullivan’s beloved judiciary. Their reaction is healthy and normal and predictable. But Sullivan and his ideological brethren only see hate in this defensive posture. Any normal person in any other era in history, whose mind is not warped by liberalism, would see this defensiveness and radicalization as a natural reaction to radical change imposed from hostile forces.
– Interesting portrait of Sam Harris, the author of Letter to a Christian Nation, in the Washington post: Atheist Evangelist. The article seems to make it clear that Harris’ project is unlikely to be successful:
Which gets us to another problem with Harris’s work often cited by critics: He can preach only to those who have left the choir. As a critique of faith, “You people are nuts” isn’t likely to change a lot of minds. There is the broader question, too, of whether religious moderates really are enablers for extremists. Maybe moderates are a bulwark against fanatics. If this is really a war of ideas, it is probably not a war between no religion (which is what Harris would like) and extremism. It’s a war between moderation and extremism, which is a war one needs moderates to fight.
“You’re not going to convert everyone to atheism,” says Harvey, the retired Stanford professor. “Secular humanists like Harris ought to be concerned with allies, to win fights on questions like the separation of church and state. But Harris isn’t concerned about the political implications of his arguments, because he thinks that anything supernatural is evil.”
Points for honesty, Todd, but no cigar. In the end, Gitlin took down his flag. It was too much, he explains, to see the Patriot Act dispose of civil liberties (although I am not sure how many Black Marias Gitlin has counted rolling through Manhattan), too much to see a “lazy ne’er-do-well, this duty-shirking know-nothing who deceived and hustled his way to power” in the Oval Office, too much to see “a supine media” bending over backwards to accommodate “apocalyptic Christians and anti-tax fanatics” (and what bubble must Gitlin live in, that he imagines “the media” to be even slightly accommodating to “apocalyptic Christians”). We now know how much automatic revulsion is actually required before Gitlin junks the “common good,” and it doesn’t seem to be much.
Can there be a decent Left? Walzer thought this would only happen (a) if the Left stopped turning the world into a cheap economic melodrama and went back to the 18th-century basics of “secular enlightenment, human rights, and democratic government,” (b) if it stopped regarding “good bourgeois valuesâ€¦ like temperance, moderation, and cleanliness” as the enemy of “radical politics or incisive social criticism,” and (c) if it would, for once, treat other Americans as fellow citizens (“We can be as critical as we like, but these are people whose fate we share”). It is a hopeful sign that 9/11 could shake Todd Gitlin free to consider these possibilities seriously. But it is not encouraging that even such a catastrophe could only shake Gitlin free for a little while.