A Disarming "Lack of Self-Awareness"

Adam Gopnik at the New Yorker has an essay calling into question something Paul Ryan said last week he found "genuinely disturbing," "scary," and "shocking." Here is the offending remark:

“I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do.”

Yes. Terrifying, indeed. Mr. Gopnik follows up with the tried-and-true, good 'ol "evangelical Christians are the Taliban" argument: "That’s a shocking answer—a mullah’s answer, what those scary Iranian 'Ayatollahs' he kept referring to when talking about Iran would say as well."

Now, I thought his entire article beyond silly. Therefore, while considering responding, I never thought I'd go into the kind of detail Steven Wedgeworth does in his reply. His is an edifying exercise in reason, and I'd recommend reading it. Although I think he takes Gopnik's scribblings way too seriously.

No, I thought the whole thing could be disarmed a bit easier.

Gopnik is suggesting that Christians acting in public as, well, Christians, is just like radical Muslims acting in public like, well, radical Muslims. Now, let's see if, by thinking really hard, we might come up with some differences.

Muslims worship a mythical, false, insecure, legalistic tyrant who knows nothing of grace; Christians worship a God who "so loved the world that He sent his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

Radical Muslims have an ethic that infidels and unbelievers should either be exterminated or subjugated. Indeed, those who draw cartoon characters of their "Prophet" should be beheaded. Christians have an ethic that goes something like this: "Love your enemies. Do good to those who persecute you." "Do not repay evil with evil, but repay evil with good."

Yep. Christians walking around in public loving their enemies and doing good even to people who persecute them is just like radical Muslims rioting over cartoons or murdering Dutch filmmakers in broad daylight.

Mr. Gopnik styles himself a man of Reason and science. This bit of false equivalence is absolutely insane. It is breathtakingly obtuse, and completely unworthy of a reputable magazine like the New Yorker

The substance of his complaint really is that all people should agree to leave their personal beliefs in their closets when they leave the house. The public square must be governed by purely secular principles, those informed by reason and science. In a "disarming lack of self-awareness" of his own (of which he accuses Paul Ryan), he tries to pass off his views of the value and dignity of human life as somehow not informed by his own pre-critical beliefs. What goes on in Adam Gopnik's head is normal, sane, objective, neutral, and self-evident. Not measuring up to his thoughts makes you a religious fanatic, or worse.

Adam Gopnik needs to read a book. Or two. He would learn very quickly that his pretensions of "objectivity" and neutrality are exactly that: pretensions. If he does not find it terrifying that he himself does not separate his public life from his subjective, private, faith-based worldview, then he shouldn't find it terrifying in Paul Ryan, either.

In Volume 1 of Robert Jenson's Systematic Theology, he makes a point that, in light of Mr. Gopnik's article, should be trumpeted from the rooftops, repeated incessantly, and be positively insisted upon. The Enlightenment's trust in "Reason" was just a return to Greco-Roman philosophy. And Jensen reminds us that "Greek philosophy was simply the theology of the historically particular Olympian-Parmenidean religion, later shared with the wider Mediterranean cultic world."

And, more to the point:

The secular mood by which some forms of 'philosophy' contrast with Christian theology and that tempts us to take them for a different kind of thinking is simply a character of Olympian religion itself, which pursued a divinity purged of mystery. Insofar as Western philosophy is not now reduced to the pure study of logic, it is still in fact theology, Christian or Olympian-Parmenidean. Theologians of Western Christianity must indeed converse with the philosophers, but only because and insofar as both are engaged in the same sort of enterprise.

Let me translate that for the layperson: The so-called rational objectivity prized by Mr. Gopnik, and which he chastises Paul Ryan for not embracing, is just an ancient Mediterranean religion.  

And Paul Ryan's religion is vastly superior.

Brian Mattson