The following essay is adapted from the Epilogue of my new book, The Religious Test: Why We Must Question the Beliefs of Our Leaders. An overview of the book’s argument from the Washington Post can be read here, while an excerpt from a different section of the book—on the right’s nostalgia for a vanished consensus on sexual traditionalism—can be read here at the wonderful cultural webzine The Utopian. For the better part of the past twenty-five-hundred years, the political imagination of the Western world has been enchanted by an image of communal unity.
What is it, finally, that divides the believer from the atheist? The question comes to mind in observing renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens endure, in full public view, metastatic esophageal cancer.
My old friend (and antagonist on gay marriage) Rod Dreher has a new blog at the outstanding new web-magazine of the John Templeton Foundation, which goes by the supremely Templetonian title of Big Questions Online (BQO).
The characteristic of the American journalist consists in an open and coarse appeal to the passions of his readers; he abandons principles to assail the characters of individuals, to track them into private life and disclose all their weaknesses and vices. A description of Andrew Breitbart’s consistently scummy contributions to our public discourse? A reaction to ideological strategizing among the members of the liberal listserve Journolist? Hardly. The quotation comes from the first volume of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, published in 1835.
Rand Paul’s touching (and temporary) display of honesty on the Rachel Maddow show last week has triggered an enormous amount of criticism. Liberals and progressives have denounced as morally offensive Paul’s constitutional concerns about certain provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Conservatives, meanwhile, have taken to ridiculing Paul as a political novice who doesn’t know when to compromise his principles for the sake of expediency.
About 2-1/2 years ago I wrote an essay for TNR in which I criticized the so-called new atheists (primarily Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens). A few months later, I followed up with a critical take on Bill Maher’s Religulous. In both cases, my focus was politics. There was, I argued, something deeply illiberal about the new atheists’ intolerant hostility to the spiritual beliefs of their fellow citizens. I still believe that, as readers of my forthcoming book will discover.
Blogging at World Affairs, David Rieff has written several recent posts in which he explores, and severely criticizes, the idea of American exceptionalism and its influence on the conduct of American foreign policy. Along the way he also has some flattering things to say about my own examination of the idea in several posts over the past nine months. But he also voices some concerns about my position. As he writes, Linker is only willing to call for [the] modification [of exceptionalist thinking], not its abandonment.
Every now and then a piece of writing captures the mood of the moment and the essence of an ideology so completely that it warrants special attention. This is certainly the case with “An Exceptional Debate: The Obama Administration’s Assault on American Identity,” an essay (and cover story) by Richard Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru in the March 8 issue of National Review. Lowry and Ponnuru’s thesis—that President Obama is an enemy of “American exceptionalism”—is hardly original.