This is a picture of Billy Graham with Cardinal Cushing of Boston in 1964. They were old friends by this time. When Graham held his first crusade in Boston in 1950, Cushing himself wrote an editorial for the diocesan newspaper titled “Bravo, Billy!” Graham in turn encouraged Roman Catholic priests to participate as counselors in his crusades, to meet people who responded to his invitations to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. (Indeed, it was this ecumenical attitude that led many fundamentalists to denounce Graham as a wishy-washy compromiser and, as Bob Jones Sr. put it, a “limb of Satan.”)

But to hear Michael Sean Winters tell it, in his tendentious and willfully ill-informed review of Ross Douthat’s new book Bad Religion, this was impossible: he gives a list of figures on both sides of the denominational divide who professed hostility, and solemnly assures us that “The one sign of convergence came, unintentionally, from the preachings of Father Leonard Feeney, who held that none but Catholics could be saved.” Apparently in Winters’s reckoning Cushing and Graham are marginal figures, unworthy to be considered in this context, unlike, say, Leonard Feeney. In fact, as Douthat acknowledges but Winters, trapped in a simplistic binary narrative, does not, the relationship between Catholicism and the various forms of Protestantism in the mid-century era was complicated, though more often positive than is usually recognized.

Winters’s whole review is constructed from patronizing assertions about Douthat’s “ignorance” — assertions which continue in his retort to Douthat’s response to the original review. I think there’s considerably more ignorance on Winters’ side. For instance, he employs his usual tone of blandly confident assertions when he writes, “If Douthat wishes to consider [Henri de] Lubac a liberal, he is the first to do so.” Now in fact, Douthat does not call Lubac a liberal — he doesn’t mention Lubac at all — but some Catholic traditionalists during the Vatican II era thought him to be so, a claim that Winters could have confirmed by doing a very simple Google search. (News flash for Winters: some Catholic traditionalists are still calling Lubac a liberal.)

So Winters is not only unable to get his basic facts right, he is unable to discern what Douthat is actually saying, as opposed to what Winters wants to make his favorite straw men say. Thus Winters claims that Douthat called Michael Novak’s work a “breakthrough” in Catholic theology, when (as you can see if you turn to page 201 of Douthat’s book) that is Novak’s word, not Douthat’s. Douthat points this out in his reply; Winters ignores the point. He’s not even trying to be accurate, fair, or honest.