No. 30

Ross Douthat thanks alliteration specialist Sean Penn for helping him come up with the title.

Ross Douthat thanks alliteration specialist Sean Penn for helping him come up with the title.

Recreate God in your own image.


A week or so before his new book, To Change the Church, came out, Ross Douthat, a conservative New York Times columnist who also pretends to be Catholic, published a column, adapted from his then-forthcoming book, called "Pope Francis is Beloved. His Papacy Might Be a Disaster." The column is a mess, but, as the saying goes, all publicity is good publicity, especially when you get to sub generating a new column with blurbing your own book and getting paid to do it all in The New York Times

Douthat writes frequently about his purported Catholicism, but his religious faith always seems to be trumped by his political faith. He bends his Catholicism to make it conform with his conservatism, and at times he bends his conservatism to conform to his political fealty, as when he wrote his indefensible defense of torture. Not willing to attack the leader of his party, yet troubled by that leader’s actions and decisions in regard to torture, he did what any spineless team player would do: he prevaricated. In 2008, he published an essay in The Atlantic called "Thinking About Torture." Like so many essays and articles published in this century, the piece suffered from poor editing: "I haven't written anything substantial, ever, about America's treatment of detainees in the War on Terror," and for some inexplicable reason his editor didn't cross out the words after "ever." If you read his essay and feel I'm being unfair, consider his argument from a different angle: he talks about the muddiness of his position on the Bush administration's embrace of interrogation methods "that we would almost certainly describe as torture if they were carried out by a lawless or dictatorial regime."* Douthat's feelings would have been completely un-muddy if the torturer-in-chief had been a Democrat instead of a Republican. Torture is black and white. It's wrong, regardless of political affiliation or religious or national identity. If you have muddy feelings about your guy torturing people, it's not because Jane Mayer's book is too tendentious and partisan (words Douthat used in the essay to dismiss a book that he read and was troubled by), it's because you're a party hack.

I don't want to spend any more time on this. Ross Douthat can go to Hell. I'm sorry, will go to Hell. Let's end on a fun note: in 2009, Douthat gave his take, in a column titled "The Unfunny Truth," on Funny People, a Judd Apatow film starring Adam Sandler. I could summarize Douthat's argument, although calling it an argument is a bit generous, but it's easier if I just convert it into a syllogism: 

P1: Ross Douthat likes the film Funny People.

P2: Ross Douthat only likes things that are conservative.

Conclusion: Funny People is a conservative film.

Douthat's claim that a liberal filmmaker is really making conservative films (or that the decisions to have a baby instead of aborting it or staying married instead of getting divorced are inherently conservative: I'm married and have two children; I've always thought I was a liberal but if Douthat's logic holds I'm a fucking reactionary Republican) is too ridiculous for me to try to refute. The same goes for his Pope Francis piece; I have not gone to any trouble trying to point out the absurdity or wrongness of his argument about Pope Francis. You should be able to spot the flaws if you read the column, but here's a syllogism to make it even easier for you:

P1: Ross Douthat is Catholic.

P2: Ross Douthat doesn't really like Pope Francis (thinks he's too liberal).

Conclusion: Pope Francis is harming the Catholic Church.

Author's note: Please don't bug me about the flaws in these syllogisms. They represent Douthat's logic, not mine. You definitely should not buy Douthat's new book, but you definitely should buy Jane Mayers's book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals.

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*Um, they were carried out by a lawless or dictatorial regime, dumbass.

©Alan Good 2018