Monday, June 14, 2004

National Review Online Revisted

Because of the death of President Reagan, I decided to place a moratorium on my self-imposed ban on visiting one of the most popular sites of my fellow bloggers: National Review Online.

I boycotted NRO for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the writing is not up to the standards of the previous generation of NR contributors. I am also convinced that the new generation at NRO, as a whole, represents the worst form of conservatism: what I would call scientific or pragmatic conservatism. That is, they support conservatism, actually economic conservatism, merely because it works. The moral underpinnings of conservatism are not, by this crowd, considered particularly relevant. My gut feeling is that many NRO contributors are just a stone's throw away from secular humanism.

I always had the impression that they viewed evangelicals as useful idiots. My favorite example of this mindset was this article from a couple of years back describing evangelical support for Israel. The writer characterizes their support:
It's clear, then, that Evangelicals, as a whole, are devoted not to the people of Israel but to the concept of Israel, in the cosmic context of the Book of Revelations [sic].

And later in the same article:
Many pro-Israel Evangelicals with a taste for eschatology or End Times theories — of the sort described in the bestselling Left Behind novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins — may not even be aware of the origins of the Israel they devotedly support.

Here the writer made an ill-informed equating of evangelical and dispensationalist. Even if that were not so, I would still resent the elitist attitude taken toward my dispensational friends, that "many" may not even be aware of the origins of Israel. (I can bust on dispensationalists for faulty theology, but you leave them alone!) Presumably the NRO staff supports Israel for unimpeachable, intellectual reasons. Evangelicals only because of bumpkinish eschatological zeal.

Well, as I said, I decided to visit NRO to see if it was more of the same. I discovered that I like Goldberg's writing a lot more. Before it seemed to me that his technique mostly involved trying to be funny through wisecracks and sarcasm— I could almost see him smirking as he penned his articles. I would say that he has matured significantly.

On the other hand, Derbyshire still writes about himself in third person, with headings such as "Derb cries in his beer." That is more than mildly annoying. Note to "Derb": writing about oneself in third person is a privilege reserved for intellectual titans, although they tend not to indulge themselves in such petty narcissism.

Dreher, it seems to me, is still the overall best writer.

A writer with whom I was not familiar, Andrew Stuttaford, had some interesting posts but also exhibited what I most dislike about NRO: their elitist tolerance for religion:
Trust me, there is no contradiction at all in being profoundly skeptical about the existence of any deity while being quite happy to recognize that God is part of the warp and woof of America's culture, history and heritage. Throwing the old fellow out of such national ceremonies would be nothing more than vandalism, and vindictive at that. As for the pledge, the dollar bill, and so on, I am at a loss to understand why the religious elements in these symbols seem to worry so many secular sorts. In an age of rising fundamentalism, ever more crass superstition (and don't even get me started on creation 'science') there are a lot more important matters to consider - and, of course, we only have one life in which to do so.

NRO, in general, goes no further than to admit that God (the "old fellow") is part of our culture, so deal with it.

I don't know what comprises the "rising fundamentalism" and "crass superstition" that Stuttaford is so worried about.

I was left with the same overall impression. Evangelicals are paid lip service because we tend to vote Republican. Were that not so, I believe NRO's lukewarm support for social conservatism would degenerate into simple ambivalence. I’ll check back in another year. For now, I'm re-imposing my boycott.

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