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Seery on Coulter on liberals

My friend John Seery seems to take a perverse pleasure in provoking the liberal readers of the Huffington Post. This time, he--sort of--endorses Ann Coulter’s latest, er, literary rant, though he indicates that others have done long ago and much more profoundly what she does so ham-handedly. Here’s a taste:

If Ann Coulter wants to deride Cindy Sheehan, the 9-11 widows, pro-choice proponents, evolutionary scientists, and secular liberals generally for their (concealed) presumptions of infallibility, then she ought to practice what she preaches, rather than adopt an asymmetrical "do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do" position. That is to say, if secular liberals ought to accommodate, respect, and even embrace religious belief within public discourse, then such civic interrogation ought to proceed in both directions. Religious thinkers need to explain and defend their views better, opening them up to challenge, rather than simply asserting them as sacred and thus off-limits. If Ann Coulter is going to disqualify Cindy Sheehan’s trump card of infallibility, then Ann Coulter cannot simply play her own trump card in response.

Unfortunately, all too many of Seery’s commenters can’t get past the headline, preferring to inveigh against Coulter than to engage with his more, er, seerious point.

Discussions - 15 Comments

Seery’s right.

Seery is right in saying Miss Coulter should be ashamed, that the truisms in her book have been said before. Is he also right in accusing her of falling back on her Christianity when attacked? I have seen her on T.V. several times and heard her interviewed on the radio and do not remember her doing that.

Was he also right about God making a sacrifice to himself? And isn’t it great that Christians can ask questions like that and not lose their heads over it?

Seery explains why Coulter offers a grade-school version of critiques of liberal orthodoxy (think Rawls) by various thinkers, incl. Marx, Sandel, Connolly, Deneen, and others. That is, the liberal premises, esp. those which tend to exclude religious voices, need to be publicly aired. But then he turns the tables and says "I, for one, would appreciate more public discussion and earnest examination about the core beliefs of Christianity--especially if they are to influence public policy." And then he "puts his cards on the table," states his unbelief, and gives an involved and earnest critique of Christian soteriology. The logic here strikes me as wrong, even if the outcome alternately fascinates and repulses me. (I imagine a public debate about abortion, turning for twenty-minutes into a dispute about whether John Stott’s Cross of Christ or Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo? really made the case for Christ’s sacrifice, and thus all of Christianity, plausible.) Most of our public issues in which Christian morality bears upon the issue don’t require any discussion of theology, because the premises of the "Christian" side are very general ones, shared not simply by majorities of practicing Jews and Christians, but by many athiests who consciously or not borrow from the Judeo-Christian heritage of the West. And this is before even speaking of natural law, natural right, or modern natural rights. "Infanticide is wrong." "Marriage is between a man and a woman." "Pornography harms persons in ways sociology cannot measure." "Aborting a child because he’s blind is wrong." "Letting distant peoples starve is wrong." "Genocide must never happen again." "Slavery is wrong." "Creating clones of yourself is wrong." Does Seery really want opponents of these propositions to come out with "That’s ultimately traceable to, or only supportable by Christian or theistic doctrine, and such doctrines are untenable for such-and-such reasons."???
I admit my framing of this is somewhat preposterous, but Seery hasn’t made himself clear. If they are to influence public policy? But Christian beliefs have influenced our entire civilization!!! And 19 out of 20 of the "religious right" policy issues have their origins, in, where else, Supreme Court jurisprudence, jurisprudence that overthrew earlier understandings of the role of religion in public life, of state police power, etc. In these, the Constitution is the issue, not the Bible or the Catechism or the Westminster Confession.

What a mess we (America) are in on the politics and religion front--here is one of our better bridge-builders on the secularist and left-leaning side, and his remedy for polarization is after 1) granting the gist of the "liberal orthodoxy" complaint, to 2) propose secularists publically examine and challenge the tenets of Christianity everytime a policy issue arises that sparks the interest of religious conservatives.

Speaking of demogogues, NLT’s favorite gasbag, Rush Limbaugh, was arrested yesterday for possession of illegal prescription drugs. Evidently, the cops also found a bottle of Viagra in his possession without a prescription. Since Uncle Guido seems to be in the mood lately to do pro bono work, maybe he can volunteer to go down to Florida and help prosecute this menace to "family values."

Who cares about Ann Coulter enough to want to refute her? Fore one thing, anyone with a voice like that must be suspected of evildoing. That Limbaugh needs or wants to take Viagra is, of course, funny, although I didn’t think we were rounding up those who were doing it, even on the sly. Seery seems to me very confused: Of course Christian believers have an obligation, as Carl says, to address public policy issues in a language and with evidence that their fellow citizens can share. But it’s hard to know which public policy issue would depend on engaging Seery on his particular theological musings. A Christian might say, in charity: Even his fashionably liberal critique (actuallly it’s been fashionable for a couiple of centuries) of the New Testament "narrative" for being too dependent on the Old is full of apparently unexamined Christian presuppositions. And we turn to Flannery O’Connor for sound opinions about those who think that they retain Christian morality without belief in the reality of Christ (or we can turn to Nietzsche).

It’s probably right to say that if you want to bring your religious views to bear on public policy, you should be prepared to have those views critiqued, often from premises hostile to the views themselves. I don’t really share Peter’s view that we have the kind of obligations he suggests (or more precisely, I think those obligations can run out), but the relationship between religious beliefs and public policy is for most people a pretty tangled one. And for the most part, the most basic theological claims (including, for instance, soteriology) are not involved. Now if Seery wanted to talk about Providential Sovereignty, that might be a discussion worth having...

I don’t care one whit about Ann Coulter’s je accuse le liberalisme/les liberaux ad infinitum/ad nauseum; in fact when one of my students likes her, it bothers me, or when one asks me about her I tell him or her that she adds nothing to the public debate.
Carl: C. S. Lewis would approve of your rejoinder about Christianity and the Tao. I agree with you about one of the most important sources of our public life-and-morality problems: the imperial Court.
Apropos to John Seery: at least he’s honest and he has a thought-out position on Christianity! Maybe we could have a Berry-Oglethorpe conference on Christianity, faith, reason, politics, morality, liberalism, and liberal education. He’d be a great keynote speaker, as you all know; or better yet, 1/2 of a debate.

"Who cares about Ann Coulter enough to want to refute her?"

Well, I’d suggest that principled conservatives start caring and start refuting, as she’s seen as a very significant public face of conservatives today (what with those best-sellers and TV appearances) and it ain’t pretty (9/11 widows "enjoying" their husbands’ deaths??!!?). I trust you’re aware that a solid majority of Bush/GOP voters don’t know, think or even really care about natural rights or Plato or Strauss or any of that. They’re swayed by the vulgar rhetoric of Coulter (and Claremont-Statesman-Award-Winning Limbaugh) and the like. Someone must care about her (the American Conservative Union, perhaps?) as she shared the same stage with Cheney at the Conservative Political Action Conf. this year, and the young Republicans gave her some of the biggest props there, hanging on her every froth-punctuated word.

Coulter has been cited approvingly here by Ponzi (even recently) and Schramm on several occasions.

Corection to #7: Coulter’s j’accuse ... . (Typo, not ignorance of French.)

Let’s be honest: Coulter will say anything to sell books and even the things she says that are true aren’t said well. I still say: Ignore her, which is advice to the Claremonsters etc. who mistakenly want to have her as an ally. So Paul is right. I also agree that Seery should be commended for having and being willing to express an opinion about Christianity. He’s already been to Berry, and he’s a great guy.

Coulter reminds me of this guy in my high-school who used to wear prominent Nixon buttons to try to piss people off. Oddly, I view the Scanlon-Lawler dispute here as I did Madonna’s career--obviously it did matter, as Paglia and the Selena movie showed, but who wanted to fall into Madonna’s game and give her any attention? Still, Craig’s gotta admit that perhaps the most groaningly hilarious image of the year is the cover of Coulter’s latest book, with her wee little cross dangling above her cleavage, the whole supposedly sexy package topped-off with her flinty stare.

Everytime Ann Coulter opens her mouth and that horrible noise comes out, it’s clear she’s overdue for an exorcism.

Unfortunately, all too many of Seery’s (correction: NLT’s) commenters can’t get past the headline, preferring to inveigh against Coulter than to engage with his more, er, seerious point.

Whatever Coulter’s personal motives might be, what she is engaging in is the politics of hyperbole. It’s an old tried-and-true method for capturing the attention of mass audiences...heat speaks louder than light. I for one figure there is room in our big, sprawling, rowdy democracy for such as her (or her counterparts on the Left). If you don’t like the work...don’t read it. If you hate the sound of her voice, grab the remote. I personally enjoy reading Coulter because I understand what she’s doing...grabbing the bombs thrown by the Left and lobbing them back...with interest. Of course, only naive people would believe every word she says, any more than I would believe every word of George Carlin (who tells some mighty big whoppers on stage).

"Uncle Guido" said: "Unfortunately, all too many of Seery’s (correction: NLT’s) commenters can’t get past the headline, preferring to inveigh against Coulter than to engage with his more, er, seerious point."

My first comment above was simply in response to Lawler’s dismissal of Coulter as apparently unimportant. Sure, she has no lasting philosophical or theoretical importance, but she certainly compromises the notion of conservativism as being principled, civilized, high-minded, serious, etc.

As for Seery, I’m not exactly sure which point Mr. Knippenberg sees as his more serious one, but if it’s contained in the paragraph that was highlighted above, and I think it is, I think he starts by agreeing with one premise of Coulter’s that I don’t buy - that "Cindy Sheehan, the 9-11 widows, pro-choice proponents, evolutionary scientists, and secular liberals" operate under "(concealed) presumptions of infallibility."

Who among these people or groups of people, has claimed infallibility, or who has attached such a label to these people? I certainly would not. Ok, so the presumptions of infallibility are "concealed." Well, this is certainly a handy way to start an attack on such people, isn’t it - start with an unfalsifiable premise that, apparently, must be based on reading people’s minds.

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