Monday, November 13, 2006


I spend much too much time meandering about the web, like most people nowadays. One place I visit far too often is Mark Steyn’s website, which is where I found the link to this sad little book review.

I am assuming the Mr Christian who wrote it is not one of the ones on Pitcairn Island, because I would expect a randomly selected inhabitant of a remote inbred island to write something more coherent. I am afraid, however, that you will have to read his book review if you want to make sense of the rest of this post.


Mark Steyn’s arguments may well be wrong. But they are not self-evidently wrong. It is not sufficient to repeat his premises without refutation, give his conclusions which follow logically from his premises, and then just state: ‘There certainly seems to be a large market for rants of this sort in the United States.’ What sort of feeble excuse for thought is that? O tempora, O mores!

Without any hint of irony, or even the rudimentary self-awareness of a mollusc, William Christian segues from:

(a) Mocking as ridiculous the idea that a strong Islamic faith might be incompatible with the core values of Western-culture-as-we-know-it, to

(b) Assuming that a strong Christian faith- an integral part of Western culture until a hundred years or so ago- is incompatible with the core values of Western-culture-as-we-know-it.

Mr Christian says that Christians said; ‘People who said that this wasn't a black-and-white issue simply didn't understand it.’ But look at the words he was using a few paragraphs before! ‘A woman’s right to choose,’ are not the words of someone attentive to shades of grey. They are the words of someone for whom abortion is a black-and-white issue, just with a different white and a different black.

And I hold this simile up for mockery: ‘Life is like a conversation. It is important to keep the conversation going. There is no defined conclusion that it is required to reach. It is the nature of an ideologue to demand the certainty of a conclusion.’

Perhaps there is no defined conclusion that it is required to reach, but I would hate to be dining with Mr Christian if he thinks that this obviates the need to reach some conclusion. ‘You want me to pick an entree? What are you, some kind of theoconservative ideologue? It is important that we keep talking about lunch, but only a fanatic would demand that we actually order something.’

In order to do anything, surely it is necessary to come to some sort of conclusion about what ends we want to achieve? And then come to some sort of conclusion about what means are best to achieve those ends? Obviously there will never be unanimity about either ends or means, but collectively we still must do something. Maybe Mr Christian really does believe that muddling along without explicitly defining either ends or means is noble and proper. But I think it is more likely that what he means by ‘conclusion’ is ‘conclusion different from my (self-evidently correct) conclusion’. Perhaps Mr Christian does not approve of the conclusions of Barry Goldwater and Andrew Sullivan that he quotes. But there is nothing in the review to suggest that he disapproves of them. There aren’t any weaselly statements like ‘appalled by this intolerance’. Sigh.

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