Wheaton, Catholics, blogs, and some really stupid people

Whew! These past few days have been insane in the blogosphere. Unfortunately, I never got around to posting about the Wall Street Journal article that featured Wheaton College prominently in the news. The article is no longer available online, but I will make it available to anyone who asks as a PDF file. In short, the article was about the firing of the (great) philosophy professor Joshua Hochschild because he was confirmed (or converted, if you prefer) as a Roman Catholic, thus alienating himself from Wheaton's president, Duane Litfin. The article is rather behind on the reporting (since it first became an issue back in 2003), but it makes up for it by connecting Wheaton to Notre Dame and Boston College, which are also moving towards a hiring policy that pays attention to religious background in order to bolster its specific religious identity. Litfin comes off as the bad guy, and in many ways, he is. Litfin is a dispensational fundalit from Dallas Seminary who is taking the college in a direction that simply has no future. That said, the fallout from this article among bloggers is fascinating ... as well as insanely frustrating.

I point readers to The New Pantagruel, a "theocon" online journal that is basically an arch-conservative, arch-Catholic site devoted to cultural criticism. Here are the background details you need to know: (1) tNP cannot stand evangelicals or evangelicalism in any of its forms; (2) tNP cannot stand Wheaton College as the arch-evangelical institution; (3) tNP claims as one of its editors the one and only Joshua Hochschild, primarily because he played an influential role in the journal while at Notre Dame; (4) though you already know this, it bears repeating now that Hochschild was fired from Wheaton College for being a Roman Catholic. The results of all this can be predicted. What could not be predicted was how astonishingly insipid, nay, even offensive, were many of the remarks made about Wheaton, but for reasons that one would never expect. I (hesitantly) recommend reading tNP's article on Hochschild, but it's mostly for the links they provide to other blogs and discussions going on about this same topic.

To sum up their position: by firing Hochschild, Wheaton is endorsing the liberal (!), anti-Christian (!!) views of its professors who, along with Dr. Litfin (!!!), are really just pawns of the liberal politics of people like Jim Wallis, who is evil and of the devil. No joke. Read it and see.

Then after reading the article, read the comments posted by Shane Wilkins and yours truly. I believe we are incensed for a reason. I expect most of you will be incensed as well, if you are not already embroiled in the debate.


Shane said…
they aren't all catholics. to wit, david wright of wheaton poetry fame, is one of their editors as well.

Douglas said…
It sounds like the article comes from a rather curmudgeonly blog/publication. I wouldn't take it too seriously. They obviously speak in hyperbole instead of measured terms. That of course does not justify ill-advised attacks against others, but it sounds like a publication that speaks more to the talk radio types... to use a generalization that doesn't "always" apply.

You asked where all the Catholics have gone who were of the spirit of Thomas Aquinas... I think they read First Things instead. Note the specific attack in the a contributor to that fine publication.

If you are interested in learning about the future of intellectual and conservative Catholicism you might try subscribing to First Things and joining your local ROFTers discussion group. :-)
Clement Ng said…
D.W. wrote:

"1) tNP cannot stand evangelicals or evangelicalism in any of its forms..."

You obviously haven't done your homework. Had you even glanced at tNp's "About Us" page (http://www.newpantagruel.com/about.php), you'd have realized that the journal is managed by Catholics and Protestants. In fact, the editor-in-chief, Caleb Stegall, is of Reformed Presbyterian stock. "Arch-Catholic" indeed...

Maybe you should take time out to actually read the journal before you (mis)characterize it?
G.J. said…
Most of the TNP folks are protestants of an evangelical bent and widely ranging politics. (Most everyone disagrees with me on something or other; usually a lot.)

Various reformed folks are well represented at TNP. There are no Catholics whatsoever involved with the major day-to day work on the journal, unless I count. (There are some of a moderately recusant or nicodemite character, however.)

If you want to be more infuriated, read the far more numerous comments at Touchstone's Mere Comments, Amy Wellborn's Open Book, or TitusOneNine (The Anglican resistance), including many from current and former Wheaton faculty. Pres. Litfin or a very good fake posted on Wellborn's comments.

I also recommend FT as the best magazine of its kind--it is the paradigm, the gold standard, and really an inimitable model for all the rest. TNP and the Japery honor FT and RJN by parodic emulation; we have represented ourselves as FT's "loyal opposition." That is, amid our differences, we reject neocon ideology, extreme christian apologists for capitalism, and anyone who thinks liberal statism is fundamentally compatible with Christianity. On these points we clash with several of FT's key contributors and historic agendas. Reading FT and other publications and getting upset is probably the single-most important and ecumenical motive among the forces that brought TNP into existence. Another would be our evangelicals who are disgusted with evangelicals.

I think TNP also reflects a general admiration and openness to learning from serious leftist radicals and anarchists who are with us in our anti-liberalism. However, we also have a general bias against actual leftist commitments, though some on the masthead do not.

The Japery, at present, is intended as serio-comic polemic, a source of provocation, and it works very well as such. Significant scholars and editors who need their chains yanked--precisely the people we hope to reach--frequently write to complain and warn me of how I am surely turning off all my possible audiors. Others, who are in need of no such therapeutic suggestives as we may offer, send their compliments.
G.J. said…
PS--Congdon has obviously got my critique wrong in his inability to translate the hyperbole and jokes to any kind of sensible points.

Along with Mere Comments, all or most of my serious points are made (by Protestants) at Joel Garver's blog:
Shane said…
to father jape.

it is not david's inability that keeps him from "translat[ing] the hyperbole and jokes to any kind of sensible points," it is the fact that you have no 'sensible points' to make.

I see that your last two paragraphs are "serio-comic polemic, a source of provocation," but I cannot see how the rest of it is. You know that if you tell a joke and nobody realizes it is a joke, you are a poor joker and should try to get a job as somebody's straight man. At the very least, I contest your claim that your column, "works very well as such." Reading your column has turned me off to tNP completely. I started reading on the force of Hochschild's name being associated with it and i liked several of the articles, such as the interview with scruton.

But, your columns are either buffoonery (which is all well and good and has its proper place) or 'serio-comic parody' that is indistinguishable to me from straightforward advocacy of reactionary political views.

You say this is all a joke, but it certainly isn't funny. Moreover, real wit is an amusing way to say something which one believes at depth to be true, and which, presumably one has good reasons for believing. Neither you nor the j-apes have conspicuously failed to advance a single argument to defend any of the claims david and I have tried to call into question.

Instead of responding to perhaps too-serious questions with wittily well-argued rejoinders . . . you and your followers have simply abused and slandered us. I don't mind being the butt of a joke and my own humor tends towards the self-deprecating, but I will not waste my time further with you or your column.

You say that this is all just to be provocative. But that really isn't it. Suppose I meet a man and say perfectly straightforwardly, "Did you know that i slept with your wife last night?" And then when responds angrily, i begin to mock him, "Can't you tell this was all just a big joke. i mean are you really honestly not smart enough to see that i'm being provocative?"

This is absurd. To be provocative, you have to actually have something important to say. Simply make an unfounded false assertion because you think that it will make someone mad--which is all i've seen of your work--is not being provocative; it is being an asshole.

I don't have time for assholes and, consequently, you don't have me as a reader.

shane wilkins
Shane said…
wait, what i said isn't quite right.

fr. jape is quite good at playing the buffoon (cf. his hilarious chuck norris column). But being a buffoon differs from being a provocateur, in that the provocateur says more evocatively the same thing the philosopher says rigorously. The provocateur too has arguments.[1]

Jape hasn't shown me that he can be the provocateur or the philosopher. So is he just a monkey with cymbals tied to his hands dancing in the corner? I'm unclear how making a racket can 'provoke' anyone. 'Annoy,' perhaps, (or in my case 'enfuriate'), but not 'provoke'

One of the j-apes mocked me for being an adolescent. But even though I assume he is twice my age, Jape is the one who seems the more juvenile of the two of us. Perhaps my questions are ultimately fruitless, but making an ass of yourself has no possibility of ever being fruitful.


[1] That Jape now says his arguments all come from the blog he links is misleading. I don't see how the few observations made there ground his absurd comments about wheaton being rife with liberalism, etc. etc. etc.
Shane said…
p.s. please pardon the grammar and spelling mistakes in the foregoing. i do all of my blogging between 1 and three in the morning local time and my mind is a bit foggy.

Shane already said what I was going to say. Basically, the Japery actually has to say something worthwhile if it ever wants to live up to the mission statement that tNP has set for itself.

I will accept the corrections which my original post oversimplified. In response to clement ng, just because tNP is managed by both Protestants and Catholics does not exempt it from my (and Shane's) critiques, even if we are only dealing with the Japery and specifically the recent column. I am well aware of the various editors and contributors at tNP. David Wright was a very influential professor for me while at Wheaton, since I was an English lit major as an undergrad there. That said, you have yet to convince me that tNP truly represents a variety of religious views that responsibly and sympathetically engages with different positions.

To fr. jape, I can appreciate the need for "a general bias against actual leftist commitments," but only if you actually engage with leftist views sympathetically and appropriately. Unfortunately, you do not. If you have in the past, please, for everyone's sake, return to those times. If you have never done so, then for God's sake and everyone else's, start now. If anyone is mischaracterizing people, it is you. I may not know all the ins and outs and opinions at tNP, but you know absolutely nothing of Wheaton and the evangelical academy, based on your column.
By the way, those of you at tNP, I would love to hear what you think of William Cavanaugh, who is both Roman Catholic and deeply critical of Republican-conservative ideologies. He, like Thomas, also critically engages with Jews and Muslims, at least based on his recent lecture at Princeton Seminary. (Read below for more details.)
One more comment to Fr. Jape and those at tNP: I posted a second comment to the column in question, but it has not appeared on the site. Are you withholding it for some reason? I was quite careful to be reasonable and rational in my statements. Is there some suppression of my thought here? GRG was far more vitriolic. Or is it just taking awhile to get posted? I would appreciate your response.

Clement Ng said…
D.W. wrote:

"That said, you have yet to convince me that tNP truly represents a variety of religious views that responsibly and sympathetically engages with different positions."

At what point was I trying to convince you of this? I do not recall defending tNP as a broad, fair-minded journal, sympathetically engaged with different positions (which is not to say that it isn't). Are you responding to Fr. Jape or to me?
It's pretty clear in my post that I was only only reacting to your charge that the tNP is an "arch-Catholic" outfit at war with evangelicalism. Even a cursory reading of tNP's material shows that this claim is way off the mark. What kind of arch-Catholic journal would have all these non-Catholics writing for it?

Whether or not the journal truly represents a diversity of views ia another matter, one that I did not address.
timcoe said…
I said something to this effect on Shane's blog, but the little I know about the internet has taught me: You can't argue with people like this. No one enters a circlejerk because they want to find out if it's the right thing to do.
G.J. said…
"nobody realizes it is a joke..."

You think you represent "everybody?" You have represented yourself as among those who are the butt of the joke--and the tragedy. Don't flatter yourself that your position is normative.

You have read very little of my writing and very little of TNP, yet you (SW and DWC) speak as if you have some great entitlement to be received as aggrieved representatives of all right-thinkign people whose views must therefore be immediately gladhanded, if not accepted.

As for the comment circle-jerk, look at all the replies to replies of yourselves here. You have nothign better to do?
Douglas said…
Methinks there's a bit of hatred brewing here.
Anonymous said…
Coinciding with the February 21 release of National Review alum and Dallas Morning News columnist Rod Dreher's much anticipated book, Crunchy Cons (which contains a chapter on The New Pantagruel and its editor-in-chief, Caleb Stegall), The National Review Online is launching a blog on Tuesday morning that is dedicated to discussing the book. (Rod will be on the air tomorrow as well, discussing his book and the blog on Bill Bennett's radio show, Morning in America.) At the NRO blog, Stegall will join with Dreher, Kathryn Jean Lopez, some NRO regulars, and other guest bloggers for a lively discussion on conservatism and its future in light of Dreher's arguments.
Some of the other guest contributors to will include TNP & ISI Books editor Jeremy Beer; past TNP contributor and senior fellow at The Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal, Bruce Frohnen; Catholic author and blog maven, Amy Welborn; GodSpy publisher and editor, Angelo Matera; Orthodox religion and culture writer Frederica Matthews Green; Touchstone senior editor and author David Mills; and political writer and editorial analyst for The Atlantic Monthly, Ross Douthat. We hope you tune in. Comments and questions can be sent to the participants, and reader responses will be considered for inclusion in the discussion.

As "crunchy cons" or at least non-neoconservative conservatives with varying degrees of opposition to the US intervention in Iraq, this estimable group of guest writers will probably generate some interesting dialogue with committed neocon NRO regulars, one of whom took a rain-check on TNP's challenge in 2001 to a lumber-jack style wrestling match after The New York Times' David Kirkpatrick suggested TNP as an heir-apparent of the National Review of William F. Buckley. It is an interesting moment for this discussion, as neocon architect Francis Fukuyama has just pronounced the movement dead in the Times.

If your interest is piqued, you can read more about (and purchase) Rod's book at Amazon.com: Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican Party).
Anonymous said…
Hey, Fr. Neuhaus in the latest First Things pretty well agrees with Fr. Jape on the Hochschild incident and Wheaton's situation.