First an apology. I know there are probably not too many people interested in reading yet another review of Paul Manata’s review of my review of his review of my book. But gosh darn it, the guy just doesn’t know when to quit! He’s like Bob Dylan trying to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody” at the karaoke bar. So don’t you see? I can’t stay silent with a performance like that.
I am not going to bother responding to all of Paul’s points. The way things are going, to attempt that would soon bring me into the territory of undergraduate senior paper length. And I just don’t have time for that. Instead, I’ll focus on some representative examples to illustrate Paul’s penchant for pedantic points, his indefatigable contrarian attitude, and his apparent disdain for anything that looks remotely like a principle of charity.
First let’s consider the tiresome charge of hypocrisy. In his original review Paul leveled this charge against me. When I took issue with that in my review, he then replied in his response: “I claimed that Rauser’s argument appears hypocritical.” Oh, of course, he was saying the argument is hypocritical, not the person. How silly of me! (!?)
Sorry Paul, that’s like saying “I didn’t shoot that person officer. The gun I was holding shot him.” You see Paul, guns don’t shoot people. People shoot people with guns. And arguments aren’t hypocritical. People are hypocritical with arguments. Thus, if you call the arguments I use hypocritical, you call me hypocritical. (Astonished pause: I can’t believe I have to explain this!)
Second example: consider Paul’s contrarian, uncharitable interpretation of a simple statement. I originally wrote in the book: “What happens when people are taken in by the notion that a truthful person is simply one who exudes passion, conviction, and simplicity?” (27)
Paul didn’t like this statement and so in his review he complained: “But who thinks like this?”
I replied to him in my review of his review:
“First off, let’s understand what I’m saying here. I’m saying that when people are looking for trusted authorities, they often gravitate to the loudest voices that express the simplest views with the most intensity. Who thinks like this? What kind of question is that? This is a pervasive problem in contemporary society. Here’s one vivid example: Rewind to the 2004 presidential campaign and get in your mind’s eye legions of Republicans caricaturing John Kerry’s complex foreign policy decisions by holding sandals in the air and chanting “Flip flop!” (Incidentally, as I note in the book, political lefties are just as likely to caricature their conservative rivals.)”
Now consider Paul’s reply:
“That’s not what Dr. Rauser said in the quote. I emphasized the word “simply.” Indeed, the people he mentions in his response clearly think that it is objectively true (for reasons (!), even if not good ones) that Kerry is a flip-flopper, even if they express what they believe in obnoxious and infelicitous ways. So Rauser’s response to me fails. Rauser needs to show people who are “taken in by the notion that a truthful person is SIMPLY one who exudes passion, conviction, and simplicity.” Showing people who happen to be taken in by people who exude passion, conviction, and simplicity does not entail that you’ve shown people who are SIMPLY so taken.”
Judging by this response it is quite clear that Paul has little interest in the principle of charity. This is the philosophical principle that when interpreting another person all things being equal (e.g. assuming one is aware of no defeaters for the basic rationality and moral integrity of the person) one must seek the most plausible interpretation of the person’s statements.
Why is this interpretation a violation of the principle of charity? Because Paul is insisting that in my original statement I was claiming that many people believe others “simply” if their statements passionate, simple, and said with conviction. This is a bizarre interpretation. It would entail that I believed people would automatically believe a street preacher with a sandwich board that said “The end is near.” It is sad that Paul insists on knocking down such ridiculous strawman interpretations of the author’s book rather than listening to the author’s explanation of his words! (Maybe Paul holds to some sort of reader’s response hermeneutical theory in which he constructs the meaning of the text as he reads it.)
My third example is Paul’s rabbit trail focus on urban legends. Initially Paul suggested that I was appealing to an urban legend in my book despite my disavowal of them. I pointed out that this was false: the story I referred to was true. So how does Paul respond? He goes into a long-winded discussion which switches from whether the story was an urban legend to whether we could be sure it was true. Here’s a sampling of his rambling discourse:
“Rauser says that he’s not guilty of perpetrating an urban legend because the person who allegedly had it happen to him relayed it to Rauser roughly twenty years later. Is that what counts as “rigorously analyzing and vetting” a truth statement? Why think no one else but Craig’s wife knew of the specific amount of money needed? Women talk . . . a lot.” (emphasis added)
Did you catch that? Paul has dropped the urban legend charge and instead switched to challenging the credibility of William Lane Craig and his wife, the latter apparently because “Women talk … a lot.” Nice. So now we’re descending into misogyny?
My fourth example concerns Paul’s ongoing dislike for my character Ted. Paul originally was scathing in my characterization of the fictional evangelical character named Ted. He called poor Ted an “egregious caricature”, “a ridiculous, loud, obnoxious, wasteful American evangelical”, a “Neanderthal” who is an “angry, small-minded, bigoted, rash, and arrogant man.” Wow. Rough stuff!
Now that I’ve challenged that reading Paul has responded by quoting the very sympathetic paragraph where I introduce Ted (5), a paragraph that bears no resemblance to his description. But then he retorts “I suggest that this Ted is not at all the Ted we find in the book, who gets progressively more silly.”
And why this sour view of Ted? In a nutshell, Ted is hostile to (and does not understand well) Christians from a more liberal theological tradition; he thinks Darwinian evolution is ridiculous; he is suspicious of animal rights activists; and he believes atheists have severe character issues. I don’t know what Paul’s experience with the evangelical community is, but Ted is reflective of many of the beliefs and attitudes that are prevalent within the evangelical community. Insofar as these attitudes are “silly” it is an indictment of those attitudes within the community, not the portrait I draw of Ted.
The fifth example concerns finding truth in others. Paul writes:
Here’s what Rauser wrote: “Thus we become truth only insofar as we conform to Christ” (20). Who conforms to Christ? “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Romans 8:29, cf. Crazy, p.19). So, if you are a truthful person, then you conform to Christ. If you do not so conform, then you cannot become or be a truthful person.
No atheist or non-Christian conforms to Jesus in the Bible’s sense, and so no atheist or non-Christian can be or become a truthful person. On what basis does Rauser suggest that atheists or non-Christians (those who hold to another religion) can be conformed to the image of Jesus?
Actually, none of us conforms to Jesus in the Bible’s sense. But to the degree that we perform actions in keeping with the kingdom of God we are to that degree and in that moment conforming to Christ. To put it in terms Paul might appreciate, we are in that moment conforming not only to the decretive will but also to the divine preceptive will. This ain’t rocket science. It is a simple and uncontroversial point: when an atheist or Buddhist gives a thirsty man a cup of water, they are doing what Jesus would do. But again Paul is determined to try and invent a problem where none exists.
The sixth and final example concerns liberalism. Paul insists that he knows better than I what my views of liberalism, doctrine and the church are. Let’s take a closer look.
To begin with, I presented a soteriological thought experiment which shows the plausibility of views that elevate action over belief. This doesn’t mean that these people (e.g. Diagne the Muslim) belong in the church (as Paul seems to have assumed). It only means that they could be in a salvific relationship with God. That’s the first point. The more basic point however is that I never argued this inclusivist soteriological position is true. I only argued that it was plausibly or at least possibly true, and thus that those who hold it are not wicked or stupid for doing so. (This is the same form of argument I utilize in every one of the final four chapters.) Paul doesn’t like inclusivism. I got that. But that doesn’t mean he should insist that I hold views I haven’t argued.
So there we are. In his critique of my book Paul continues to focus on pedantic points, contrarian methods, and uncharitable interpretations. Enough is enough. Mr. Dylan, please step away from the microphone.