In the interest of full disclosure, I provided limited research assistance for Mr. Hunter’s book. In addition, Mr. Malloch considers himself a personal friend of my grandfather, the late Sir John Templeton.
Because of these personal connections, I was particularly disappointed to read Mr. Malloch’s review (“Exile Chic,” TAS, June 2010) of Mr. Hunter’s new book (To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World). Critical book reviews are warranted and Hunter’s argument deserves to be debated. Malloch’s review, however, renders substantive debate impossible. It was full of so many factual errors, misreadings, and veiled (or not so) slanders that one wonders if he actually read the book.
Here are a few of the factual errors and misreadings:
Hunter was raised in a Lutheran home, not as a “Fundamentalist” as Malloch asserts.
Hunter does not claim to have invented the term “culture wars,” rather, as he argues in his book with that title, he is applying the 19th-century German Kulturkampf to late-20th-century American political culture.
Malloch charges Hunter with thinking of the Church fathers as “unlettered yahoos.” Malloch must not have read pages 50-56, where Hunter argues that the fathers were successful in building a culturally consequential social movement precisely because they were highly sophisticated and educated men.
Malloch misquotes Hunter throughout the piece and not always innocently. He turns Hunter’s words, “Barna’s view of culture is what one would expect from a pollster” into “Barna is just a pollster,” changing a point about Barna’s methodological individualism and truncated definition of culture into some kind of arbitrary bias against pollsters. Hunter is a social scientist; survey research is the tool of his trade. He’s simply noting the limitations of polling for fully grasping the power of culture.
Malloch further misquotes Hunter and suggests that Hunter’s whole thesis is undermined. According to Malloch, Hunter says “ideas not just social forces sometimes do change history.” Hunter does not say this. Instead, he says “not all ideas have consequences” and “under specific conditions and circumstances ideas can have consequences.” And this is precisely the point. Hunter goes on to lay out the cultural conditions that make ideas consequential.
In addition to direct misquotations, Malloch takes quotations out of context to suggest the opposite of their intended meaning. Malloch uses Hunter’s words, “America is a bundle of contradictions,” to charge him with anti-Americanism. In the context, the sentence opens a paragraph outlining some of the major concerns with contemporary American culture that Christians of all types share. Moreover, Hunter identifies important ways that Americans have contributed to economic and political stability around the world. It is hardly anti-Americanism.
Malloch also appears to be confused by Hunter’s summarizing the views of other people. Hunter states that there are three dominant views and stances toward the culture in contemporary Christianity, and each gets something right, but all miss something too. Heedless of such distinctions, Malloch attributes those views to Hunter. For example, Hunter does not argue for redistribution of wealth; he says progressive Christians do. Hunter is not advocating a new monasticism; this is what some neo-Anabaptists want. Malloch also attributes negative comments about Father John Neuhaus to Hunter, when in fact Hunter is summarizing Stanley Hauerwas’s criticisms of Neuhaus.
Furthermore, the title of the review challenges Hunter’s use of the imagery of the exile. Malloch has every right to object to thinking of himself as an exile, but before dismissing the metaphor outright, he would do well to note that there is a long tradition of Christian theology that uses the theme, from St. Peter to the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, to St. Augustine, to Father John Neuhaus (whose posthumous book American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile was reviewed favorably in these pages).
Finally, Malloch is dismissive of the book’s endorsements. He comes quite close to a character slander of esteemed philosopher of religion Nicholas Wolterstorff, insinuating that he endorsed the book only because he is a senior fellow at Hunter’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture and thus on Hunter’s payroll. He dismissed Charles Taylor as a “philosopher of secularity,” even though Taylor is one of the world’s leading Catholic intellectuals and a recent winner of the Templeton Prize, an award my grandfather started to honor innovative spiritual thinkers. Malloch also implies that Mr. Hunter has quit Christianity (as one quits smoking) and is now a dangerous zealot against the faith; such unfounded slanders have no place in a substantive review.
The Hunter that Malloch fabricates is a bundle of contradictions. In Malloch’s words, Hunter is an anti-government leftist and an anti-modern who deploys Cartesian logic. He thinks institutions should be “leaderless and without authority,” but he’s also an elitist. These charges are simply incoherent and fail to engage the actual argument of the book.
To Change the World deserves serious, thoughtful attention and criticism where it is justified. Unfortunately, Theodore Malloch’s review offers neither.
Heather Templeton Dill
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