answering letters (to Harper’s)

Thanks to those who responded to my Harper’s essay by writing letters to the editor — or to those whose letters were published, anyway (there are others that I haven’t seen).

I am especially grateful to hear this from Marilynne Robinson: “The essay on fear that [Jacobs] imagines I wrote for The New York Review of Books and its secular readership was actually a speech written for and read to a conservative church in Michigan.” That’s very encouraging and tempts me to withdraw or at least significantly modify my criticisms of her approach. It would be fascinating to know whether her arguments were understood differently by those two rather different audiences.

I am not sure why Robinson writes “I think the word ‘secularist’ itself is a crude presumption, disrespectful of the mysteries of the soul” — I don’t use the word “secularist” in the essay, though I quote Robinson herself saying “I have other loyalties that are important to me, to secularism, for example.” Why “secularism” is something she can be loyal to while “secularist” is crude and disrespectful I cannot guess, but in any case it’s not relevant to anything I wrote.

Lindsey Kerr’s point that “If the last shall be first and the first shall be last, we who seek to emulate Jesus Christ should aspire to a place in the street rather than a seat at the table” is one that I think about all the time. I wish I did a better job of living up to it. I think Cornel West, for all his showmanship, does that pretty well, which is why I think his career is so interesting and his lack of current influence (in comparison to his stature) so sad.

Pace Jack Jenkins, my decision not to name Martin Luther King, Jr. as one of my signal figures isn’t inexplicable: I explained it to him on Twitter and I developed the argument further here. I suspect that Jenkins is one of those people — I have heard from many of them — who can’t escape the thought that “intellectual” is always and necessarily a term of praise, Karl Mannheim be damned. Whaddyagonnado.

P.S. I’ve tagged all my posts about that essay “christianintellectuals.”