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John Wilson

American Theocrat

A few days ago, Wendy and I were in upstate New York for a literary festival at Houghton College. I shared the program with the poet Julia Kasdorf, author of two excellent collections from University of Pittsburgh Press, Sleeping Preacher and Eve's Striptease; Tim Stafford, who spoke both about journalism and about historical fiction and read from his first-rate novel about the abolitionist movement, Stamp of Glory; Justin Niati, an African journalist who was forced to flee the Congo more than a decade ago after he exposed corruption in his native land and who currently is an assistant professor of French at Houghton; and a number of student writers.

At one session I spoke to students about "The Role of the Journal in Culture." That may sound rather grandiose, but it's a subject that anyone who edits a publication resembling BOOKS & CULTURE needs to keep in the back of his mind. And now and then, something occurs to move it up to the front burner.

In its issue of April 3, The New Republic featured as its cover story an essay-review by Damon Linker, "Without a Doubt: The Christianizing of America," ostensibly occasioned by Richard John Neuhaus' Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth (Basic Books). Linker was until recently an editor at First Things, where Neuhaus is famously editor-in-chief. The essay, posted on TNR's website on March 24, is very long—16 pages in the printer-friendly version I read—and very strange.

Some of its constituent parts, to be sure, are all too familiar. Linker's fevered warnings against the "offense that Neuhaus' political theology gives to American pluralism and civility" are of a piece with Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century (Viking) and dozens of other exercises in apocalyptic huffing and puffing. Linker tells us again and again how "radical" Neuhaus' program is, but he never gets around to saying what terrible ...

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