I spent most of my lunch hour listening to Hugh Hewitt’s interview of Andrew Sullivan, and I immediately thought that Andrew had missed his calling. He should be teaching at a university. He can still blog and write, but the university is his true home. As I listened to Hugh and Andrew, I was struck by Andrew’s style of argument. For those who don’t know, Andrew has a new book arguing that conservatism is betrayed by religious conservatives like me. True conservatism, to Sullivan, is a conservatism of doubt. It is my (perceived) moral certainty that makes me suspect, while Sullivan believes that truth is so very difficult to discern.
But not with respect to same-sex marriage. Or torture. Or habeas corpus. Or about the Bush administration’s conduct of a hard-fought war. Now, I don’t think it is out of bounds for Sullivan to have strong opinions about those things, but to turn around and attack folks like me as “Christianist” when we disagree is a bit, well, academic. Throughout the interview, I was having flashbacks to the odd form of argument that dominated so many exchanges at law school and again when I taught. On the one hand, professors and students would speak with absolute certainty and complete conviction about issues of race, gender, war, peace, sexuality, and economics, and then condescendingly sneer at my “moralistic and “simplistic” “black and white” responses. When I would contrast this embrace of relativism with the certainty of their previously expressed convictions, the response was something like, “but how could anyone of good will deny [fill in the blank]?” And so it would go, round and round, with one side enjoying both the benefits of certainty and the condescension that comes from their imaginary dedication to complexity and moral doubt.