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John Wilson


Stranger in a Strange Land

Seven Years of Culture

Several months ago I was riding an elevator in Washington with a political commentator whose work I knew but whom I had never met. Reading my nametag, which I'd forgotten to remove after the event we'd just attended at the Ethics & Public Policy Center, he snorted and said "Books & Culture, huh? Well, I've published a few books, but I don't know how much culture I have."

It was a characteristic performance. This is America, after all, where no one bats an eye when the omni-intellectual David Gelernter publishes a piece in Commentary (March 1997) called "How the Intellectuals Took Over (and what to do about it)." Unless you're addressing a university crowd, you can count on visceral approval from the audience whenever you express scorn for "the intellectuals"—and if the crowd is made up of evangelical Christians, the approval is likely to be thunderous.

But some of the scorn is earned. In response to John Brockman's challenge to futurists (www.edge.org) to pose questions that "render visible the deeper meanings of our lives," questions "that redefine who and what we are," the same David Gelernter contributed this provocative response:

Why is religion so important to most Americans and so trivial to most intellectuals? Is it just a matter of IQ? (Though I thought intellectuals no longer believed in IQ … ) But empirically it can't be an IQ issue, because so many of history's greatest minds based their lives on religion—from Michaelangelo or Bach to Spinoza or Dante or Kant. Do modern intellectuals actually believe that all such people are naively deluded? Or could they be missing something themselves?

And in this issue ("Force of Habit," p. 20), sociologist Christian Smith considers the prevailing hostility and condescension toward religion in the academy.

Since Books & Culture began publication in September 1995, we have been resisting both reflexive anti-intellectualism and the modish assumption that faith and reason are fundamentally incompatible. In that vein, we are introducing ...

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