A LOOK AT ONE REVIEW OF AMERICA UNRAVELING
On July 15, 2008, someone named Jordan Richardson posted on the net a review of my book, America Unraveling: A Politically Incorrect Analysis of Public Faith and Culture. Most reviews, thus far, have been exceedingly fair, even flattering, in their commentary, but this one was characterized by falsehood and invective, not to say by one unsupported generalization after another. For those of you who would like some comedic relief, you may read the review at the following address: http://blogcritics.org/archives/2008/07/15/174730.php.
It is not my practice to give book reviewers a hard time. They have a job to do, and when they do it with thoughtfulness and critical insight they render a valuable service. Yet, when a review is little more than a study in ideological malice, the reviewer becomes an impediment to reasoned discourse and part of a broader societal problem. I wish to illustrate the point by referring to the review in question. It is a noteworthy example of the loathesome gruel that all too often passes these days for reflective criticism. Except to consider a substantive intellectual issue, I intend this to be the only occasion in my blogging career when I lend valuable time to a transparently agenda-driven critique.
You will first observe that Richardson attempts to discredit me. He notes that I am an ordained Protestant clergyman, but places that phrase within quotes. He also points out that I have "apparently" been widely published in the area of religion and politics, but descants, "Try as I might, I was hard-pressed to locate other publications from Dr. Smith." The fact is that he did not try to do so at all. My law review monographs are cited in the Acknowledgements of the book. (Of course, before reviewing any book, it is helpful to read it first, something that I frankly doubt Richardson bothered to do. Based upon the intellectually anemic quality of his review, I am compelled to wonder whether the man has read and digested much of anything.) By the way, all my writings, excluding the numerous op-eds that I have authored, are explictly referenced on my website as are my professional credentials. My name, along with the title of my book, when typed into any search engine will deliver a person to that site.
Richardson's goal of attempting to discredit me soon degenerates even further to a kind of cornball ad hominem attack. He implies that I am a member of the Ku Klux Klan, when he states in passing that, upon addressing the issue of immigration I "don [my] Grand Wizard hat." But this is not the end of his essentially fascist response. In the best tradition of book-burners, he remarks, "This book is better suited at the bottom of an Indonesian-made wastepaper basket or perhaps engulfed in some sort of bonfire . . ." It is ironic that the reviewer begins his limp-wristed diatribe with the words: "The public discourse, when it comes to religion and its role in American culture, is sorely lacking voices that inhabit mansions of reason." Hmmm, what --pray tell me -- would he know about that?
He goes on to state that I engage in "unreasonable rhetoric", but never bothers to provide a single example of the same. He maintains that my positions are not "credible", but adduces no factual support for the comment. He insists that my book is "embedded with obsessed and parochial ramblings", but he offers not one shred of evidence to support the charge. He furthermore accuses me of "paranoia, out-of-date philosophies, and alarming repugnance towards diversity . . ." as well as "sightless, paranoid intolerance." Again, all of this without a modicum of support for his hollow assertions. The review left me wondering how readers who are looking for literary insight respond to such gaseous rhetoric. Somebody's got to be asking and rather indignantly at that: "Where's the beef?"
The closest that the reviewer comes to an actual factual challenge concerns my treatment of Thomas Jefferson. "Dr. Smith suggests that Jefferson's 'deism was far more sympathetic to true biblical teaching that [sic] averse to it.' The reality is, of course, just the opposite." On page 19 of America Unraveling, one can read for himself some of what I said in the book about the third president. Quoting David L. Holmes, a distinguished historian, I pointed out that Jefferson thought his deism, which propounded the ideas of God, freedom, and immortality without mystery or revelation, helped restore the Christian gospel to its pristine purity. I went on to add the following, "For Jefferson, then, deism was far more sympathetic to true biblical teaching than averse to it." My comment concerns what Jefferson himself thought about the relationship between deism and Christianity. I never personally suggested that deism was in any respect sympathetic to biblical teaching. That was Jefferson's idea! The reviewer falsely attributes to me a position that I clearly state belonged to Jefferson. If a tendentious critic wishes to lambast a particular opinion of mine, certainly it is not too much to ask that he first establish it belongs to me.
As a lawyer I learned that when the law was not on my side, I had to pound on the facts. When the facts were not on my side, then I pounded on the law. But when neither the facts nor the law were on my side, I pounded on my counsel's table! This reviewer has adopted a similar approach. When he finds little or nothing of substance to criticize about an author's work, then he hysterically assails the author himself with vituperative rhetoric, and even misquotes him whenever it serves his unstated purposes to do so.
I trust that you now realize the reason for the subtitle of my book. "A politically incorrect analysis" it most certainly is. There is a price to be paid today for writing in this mode, yet there is a much larger price to be paid by a country for indulging in the form of brain-lock known as "political correctness," as the above cartoon suggests.
Again, may I emphasize that I appreciate candid, fact-based criticism. My hope is that I will receive it. But the fare this reviewer is dishing up demonstrates that he is nothing more than a left-wing zealot who is intellectually challenged and capable of spewing only venom. I am grateful that he and his bigotry reside other than in the United States. It makes me feel a little better about my own country.
July 18, 2008