When Smart People Write Dumb Things

Whether you agree with Bill Keller of the New York Times or not, the man is not dumb. Whether you agree with Kathleen Parker or not, she is not dumb. Same with Ryan Lizza at the New Yorker. Yes, they may be center-left (or depending on who you talk to, center-right for Parker) and yes, Lizza is arguably more than center-left as is Keller. But these are not really dumb people.Yet this past week they’ve really written some dumb stuff and it is not just a reflection on them, but a reflection on the entire American press corp and its assorted editorialists. In short, instead of lecturing candidates on how the candidates should shut up about religion, it is really obvious the American political press should shut the hell up when it comes to issues of heaven and, well, hell.


Ed Morrisey noted at Hot Air that the media really is ignorant about religion. More specifically, the media is ignorant about Christianity. Even supposedly professing Christians in the media are ignorant about Christianity, the religion a majority of Americans profess to believe in.Via Ed Morrisey, I found this great column by Douglas Groothuis, a Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary. It is important because it points out the egregious errors in Ryan Lizza’s New Yorker hit job on Michele Bachmann.Ryan Lizza’s piece is important because a great many reporters in America and editorialists read it and it shaped their world view and opinion on Michele Bachmann and evangelicals. That in turn has colored their reporting and editorial coverage.Bill Keller of the New York Times admits Lizza’s article shaped his view.But Lizza was fundamentally wrong on some basic fundamentals. It’s one thing to not like Francis Schaeffer. If you are Catholic, you probably won’t like him. But it is a whole different ball game to get Francis Schaeffer wrong. And Lizza either willfully or out of ignorance flat out misinterprets and misrepresents Francis Schaeffer — a very mainstream Protestant theologian who Lizza portrays as making up some fringy element in Christianity.Here’s Groothius:

Lizza notes that Bachmann was influenced by the writings of Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-84), an evangelical minister, theologian, and philosopher. Schaeffer, along with the contemporary writer Nancy Pearcey and others, are “dominionists.” That is, they believe that “Christians alone are Biblically mandated to occupy secular institutions until Christ returns.” Worse yet, Schaeffer, in A Christian Manifesto (1981), supposedly “argued for the violent overthrow of the government if Roe vs. Wade isn’t reversed.” Lizza also writes of the influence of the prolific author Rousas John Rushdoony (1916-2001), who advocated “a pure Christian theocracy in which Old Testament law…would be instituted.” Bachman is allegedly thick as thieves with all these “exotic” subversives—and should be exposed as such.Having read reams of books from all these authors (and every book by Schaeffer) over the last thirty-five years, as well as having taught many of these books at the graduate level, I assign Mr. Lizza the grade of “F.” Consider four reasons.First, Rushdoony argued for a position he called reconstructionism (not theocracy), which would have made biblical law the civil law of the land. However, neither Rushdoony nor his followers desired to impose this system through violence or illegal activity, but rather see it come to fruition through a long-term change of minds and institutions.Second, Rushdoony’s devotees make up but an infinitesimal fraction of Christian conservatives. The vast majority of those who have been influenced by certain aspects of Rushdoony’s writings emphatically reject his understanding of biblical law, as do I.Third, the key Christian influences on Bachman are not Rushdoony and his followers, but Francis Schaeffer and Nancy Pearcey. Schaeffer referred to Rushdoony’s views on mandating biblical law as “insanity,” and never sanctioned any form of theocracy. (The name “Rushdoony” does not even appear in the index of Schaeffer’s five-volume collected works.) Schaeffer explicitly condemned theocracy in A Christian Manifesto (p. 120-1). Nor did he call for the violent overthrow of the government if Roe V. Wade were not overturned. Schaeffer rather explained various ways of resisting tyranny according to a Christian worldview and in light of church history. He saw “civil disobedience” (his phrase) as a last resort and did not stipulate any specific conditions under which it would be advisable in America. In fact, Schaeffer worried (on p. 126) that speaking of civil disobedience is “frightening because there are so many kooky people around.” Further, “anarchy is never appropriate.”


Then there is Bill Keller and his ridiculous quiz for the candidates that has nothing to do with national security, foreign policy, or domestic affairs and everything to do with their religious world view. But Keller admits that Lizza’s article helped shape his view. And if Lizza got things woefully wrong, Keller goes even further off the rails. Mollie Hemmingway rightly points out that either Keller is engaged in satire or he is a deeply religious bigot — and ill informed at that. Keller is, by the way, fairly well known to have some sort of bias against Catholics or at least does his best to leave that impression with people.Then, perhaps most egregiously for me because so many think she is one of us, Kathleen Parker weighs in on Perry and his religion. In her Washington Post column, Parker writes:

If we establish Earth’s age at 4.5 billion years, then we contradict the biblical view that God created the world just 6,500 years ago.

This one keeps coming back up with lefties who heard Perry say he believes in creationism. “OMG!!!! He thinks the world is like 6,000 years old,” is the typical reaction and one Kathleen Parker is having here.What ignorance. That Parker would leap to this conclusion is, along with Lizza grossly misrepresenting a mainstream theologian as fringe and Keller conflating Catholic theology with various shades of protestant theology, either bigotry against actual believing Christians or just simply dumb. I hope I either misunderstand the point or it is just dumb.I am a practicing, evangelical Christian. I believe in creation. All my friends in church believe in creationism. And to my knowledge, not a single one of them nor I believe the world is 6500 years old. In fact, I, like Kathleen Parker, was under the impression that the world is 4.5 billion years old. But according to Kathleen Parker, if I believe in creationism, i must think the world started 6500 years ago despite what I actually believe. Nevermind that in Genesis the sun and moon weren’t even created until the third or forth day so how could anyone even possibly say how long a day and a night were the first few days, let alone how even biblical literalists such as myself and others recognize days could very well have been phases and not 24 hour calendar days.Oh, and it is not just me and my church anecdote. The data backs it up. Polling on the subject is horrible if only because the topic is both extremely complicated to ask about and very nuanced, but a Gallup survey in 2010 found that more than 78% of Americans believe in a creator playing an active role in creation. Roughly 40% of Americans believed in 2010 that God created man in his image in the past 10,000 years in a form that largely has not changed — Gallup did not poll to see if these people actually believe the world was created in the last 10,000 years too. 38% believe God guided the process over time. Included in that latter subset are 49% of people with post graduate degrees claiming God played a role.But somehow, when Perry or any other Christian politician says he believes in “creation”, Kathleen Parker and a host of other editorialists and reporters think he means the whole world was created in the past 6500 or so years.These examples are, at best, deeply, deeply ignorant of Christianity and have taken atheist formed stereotypes of Christianity and treated them as mainstream depictions of evangelicals. These are complex questions for which even within Christianity there is no settled answer. Labeling the whole of the Christians who actually believe their scripture as some group of fringe nuts is rather vile and we could never expect reporters and editorialists to do the same of other mainstream religions.In fact, were any Christian to raise similar points about Islam, the media would immediately call them bigots — dare I say despite the Christians having a more thorough understanding of Islam than the same members of press willfully bashing Christians and painting Christians as bigots if they engage in discussions on Islam.In Ed Morrisey’s great piece on this subject, he quotes from Rick Perry’s book Fed Up!.


Let’s be clear: I don’t believe government, which taxes people regardless of their faith, should espouse a specific faith. I also don’t think we should allow a small minority of atheists to sanitize our civil dialogue on religious references.

What’s sad is the American press corp at the national level is largely devoid of practicing Christians and these largely secular, if not out and out atheist, reporters are attempting to write about and cover a religion most Americans profess to believe in and they write about it with either ignorance or outright contempt.It’s not the politicians who should stop talking about religion. It is the American press corps who should shut up.


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