It’s become clear that James McGrath, who wrote an ill-advised endorsement of John’s book The Christian Delusion, has a wee little problem with the practice of truth-telling. What we mainly have here is someone who doesn’t tell the whole story and then behaves like the child who has been caught pocketing Skittles at the five and dime. I’ll comment on a few other things as well.
McGrath: I was astonished at the level of ire from someone with whom I had never exchanged e-mails or otherwise communicated at any previous point. Is it just a sign of my old age that I think people would normally be properly introduced before attacking one another?
I don’t know about “old age” but it is definitely a problem of narrow perspective. This idea that you have to be “properly introduced” before you can go critique people’s work is a peculiar fancy, one that seems designed to shut down deserved criticisms by hedging them in with a host of contrived rules and regulations.
McGrath is a person with a public record (as am I). I attacked/addressed nothing but the contents of that public record: His book, his endorsement of Loftus’ book. The contents of these things are hardly of insufficient depth for a criticism to be unwarranted.
For years I have been “attacked” by atheists who have never “properly introduced” themselves (whatever that might be defined as this week). I never complained of it on those terms once. Nor have countless other apologists, whether Christian, Mormon, etc. I can’t imagine Daniel Peterson of FARMS, for example, making such a transparently contrived excuse. He and I have had our moments both ways, but neither of us has complained that the other had not been “properly introduced” to us.
If McGrath can’t stand the scrutiny of being a public figure who issues comments on matters of public interest, he should stick with Twittering and stop writing books and book endorsements.
Throughout history, criticism has been leveled by perfect strangers against one another. Jesus and the Pharisees did not hoist beers together before Jesus let them have it. Paul didn’t sit down for hot dogs with the pro-circumcision party before he blasted them. From the other side of the fence, Robert Ingersoll certainly didn’t sit down with the authors of the Bible before he wrote all of his works taking them to task.
McGrath needs to stop making up rules that are obviously designed to stop him having to endure the rigors of criticism.
I found it particularly ironic because this individual's main complain (sic) was that, by suggesting that Christians could learn from reading a certain book by multiple authors that presents atheists' viewpoints, I had associated with a person (the editor of the volume) who is, in this apologist's words, ‘of such disreputable character.’ Since when did writing something like this (just click through and search for my name) constitute an endorsement of the behavior of a volume's editor?
McGrath here is hiding much of the truth. I did far more than simply point out the disreputable character of Loftus with a mere vague phrase. I gave some rather concrete examples – this is exactly what I said in the email:
Your endorsement of John Loftus' latest book, The Christian Delusion, is something I found exceptionally disturbing. Apart from the fact that the quality of the arguments he and his crew produce is exceptionally poor, he is an unusually despicable character who has an extended track record of dishonesty. He is willing to do anything to promote or justify himself; in particular, he debated a friend of mine on an online forum, whom he afterwards derided as a
‘handicapped Wal-mart clerk’ after the consensus emerged that he had lost the debate. He gave his own earlier book a glowing 5-star review on Amazon, which he later erased, and later denied having written. That is just the tip of the iceberg and not the worst of it.
I can forgive McGrath for not realizing that TCD is composed of poor arguments, since it is clear that he isn’t much of a critical thinker himself. But he has continued to refuse to acknowledge the specific serious moral lapses of Loftus that have been presented to him, both in this message and in subsequent postings by others on his blog. This is not honest.
If McGrath would simply have replied to my email by saying:
“I was not aware of these things. Thank you for bringing them to my attention.”
..it would have been enough. But no: He has chosen the route of disingenuous self-justification instead.
As for the last bit, I have never directly said that what McGrath wrote was an endorsement of Loftus’ behavior. However, it may as well be in practice.
Generally, it is recognized that when a person is of a certain level of moral degeneracy, they are supposed to be isolated and cut off from normal human interaction. To use an extreme example for illustrative purposes, no one with any moral sense would write an endorsement of a book written by Pol Pot, even if it were on the subject of tomato gardening. The excuse would not do (as McGrath tried) that the purpose was to encourage others to listen to others’ viewpoints. As I also pointed out to him, but to which he has never replied:
Good point about listening to a range of atheist viewpoints. How about you next write one for say, Kenneth Humphreys, so that we can have a ‘useful opportunity’ to ‘listen to a range of viewpoints’ about how Jesus didn't exist? Better yet, there's a UFO cult I know of that would love to have others get a "useful opportunity" to "listen to a range of viewpoints" about how we can all get a UFO ride to Paradise. Can I put you in touch? And if you're really bold, maybe Prometheus can get you to write one for one of their X-rated videotape guides. A lot of people find those ‘viewpoints’ to be ‘useful’.
In a nutshell, McGrath here puts utilitarianism above moral consideration. The only real question is whether Loftus has done enough to be placed in the category of a moral offender serious enough to be shunned.
He is no Pol Pot of course, but major figures have been shunned for far less serious offenses than denigrating the disabled publicly, or creating fake blogs. (Funny too: McGrath is on about those who conduct “anonymous” criticism on the Internet – that’s exactly what Loftus did with his fake blog about me.)
McGrath: Or do we live in an era in which, before writing a blurb for a book, one is expected to first spend time searching the internet for evidence of inappropriate behavior?
To put it in a nutshell, yes. The Internet has made it possible to do this, and it takes no more than five minutes – McGrath spends more time than that on Twitter each month. He also has a huge blogroll listed, and a huge list of “interesting sites,” as well as offering listings of interesting blog posts he is reading. He can’t take a few minutes from this busy, important list of tasks to check out the background of someone for whom he is writing a book endorsement – one that will appear in a book that will be purchased by, say, at least a dozen people? (wink)
Perhaps all of this chatter on McGrath’s blog is a sign that McGrath has become one of Foreman’s “pancake people” – “spread wide and thin, as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.” In that case it is quite understandable that he is not up to the task of being a responsible information broker.
In this day we have even fast-food employers scouring online looking for prospective employees’ Facebook pages. When it comes to responsibly brokering information, we should expect no less from a reputedly serious scholar like McGrath.
If we're supposed to search online and get to know those we interact with, then there is still further irony, since it was clear that this apologist had never read my blog (since he sarcastically asked whether I would endorse someone who says Jesus does not exist.)
How would this make any difference? McGrath wrote the endorsement for a book of atheists, which implies that he didn't have any objection to writing endorsements for books he had such wide disagreements with. His lack of epistemic consistency means that I have no reason to think he would never endorse a Christ-myth book. Even a direct profession that he would not wouldn't prove he would not at this point.
I’ll leave McGrath’s further comments about alleged hostility aside; I have some comments on those on TheologyWeb, save to point out that McGrath isn’t really succeeding in obscuring his own passive-aggressive hostilities. His own posting is an act of “war” by his own definition. Just because he decorates his gun with perfumed flowers doesn’t mean he isn’t shooting to kill.
Bottom line though – it’s not hard to see why he wrote an endorsement for Loftus. He has the same problems telling the whole truth.