Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

More Linker

Books & Culture editor John Wilson writes incisively and well, showing, for example, how Linker’s analysis tracks Franklin Foer’s, all the way down to using the same mistaken formulation. Here’s Wilson’s summary of Foer (whose explanation is adopted, almost verbatim, by Linker):

Evangelicals supply the political energy, Catholics the intellectual heft." And again: in the culture wars, "evangelicals didn’t just need Catholic bodies; they needed Catholic minds to supply them with rhetoric that relied more heavily on morality than biblical quotation."

Here’s Wilson’s riposte:

In general, the figures most readily identified with the Religious Right—Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Tim LaHaye, et al.— have been negligibly influenced by Catholic thought. Among evangelical intellectuals, Catholicism is much more influential than it was a generation ago, but it is only one stream among many shaping public discourse among evangelical élites, and certainly not on a par with the Reformed tradition represented by thinkers such as Nicholas Wolterstorff, Richard Mouw, and many others. Hard as it may be for Foer and Linker to grasp, evangelicals are not entirely dependent on crumbs from the Catholic table.

Fair enough, but many of Wolterstorff’s practical political stances aren’t going to endear him to religious conservatives, while Mouw himself had this to say:

We might even ask some help from our Catholic friends, who agree with us on some of our social concerns, and who also have a long tradition of reflection on political involvement. We
evangelicals might be well served by an opportunity to do some homework, so that we can find ways to make our case on abortion and sexual behavior to our fellow citizens without simply quoting Bible verses.

Mouw and Wolterstorff both stand (with Neuhaus) for the proposition that religious language and witness can and ought to be admitted into the public square, and that speaking in biblical cadences isn’t tantamount to theocracy. Both mine traditions other than the Roman Catholic (in their case, above all the Reformed tradition) for arguments, insights, and foundational perspectives. In this respect, Wilson is right, though I’d put his argument a little differently. I’d venture that there are more readers of Books & Culture who also read First Things than there are readers of FT who also read B&C. I’d also venture that the way that most readers of B&C are exposed to ideas associated with FT is through the mediation of authors associated primarily with the former.

Discussions - 1 Comment

Professor K.,

Agreed. Especially on your comments about readers of B&C and FT. But not very many people read either (I subscribe to both). I suspect that most evangelicals who are thinking about these sort of things are getting them 2nd hand - not from Mouw or Wolterstorff - but from Colson. Of course, the same could probably said for most of your average conservative Catholics (though I don’t know who the corollary figures are.

Now, if you’re talking about evangelical intellectuals and catholic intellectuals things might be different. But perhaps more read FT than B&C simply because FT has been around longer, and is more like a journal and less like a book review magazine?


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