The Corner

Religious Wars

Derb’s quite right in his column today to suggest that there’s no necessary connection between evangelicalism or Catholicism and limited-government conservatism. I wouldn’t think it necessary to go back to the Inquisition to prove the point. But I think it’s odd to say that “[e]vangelicanism is, in fact, too intellectually flimsy to sustain any coherent political position outside a narrow subset of ’social issues.’” Is it really a test of a religion’s intellectual strength that it can sustain a “coherent political position”? I think you could make a decent argument that the more it sustained such a position, the less well it would speak of its intellectual strength.

And I’m afraid that Professor Hart, in the evaluation of evangelical Christianity to which you link, displays too little familiarity with contemporary evangelicalism to inspire trust in his judgment. The popularity of the LaHaye books does not speak well of evangelicals, sure; but there are plenty of bestsellers that don’t speak well of other groups, either. (The DaVinci Code, anyone?) Mark Noll’s book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind was a smart appraisal of evangelical weaknesses from the inside. My impression is that its thesis, arguments, and implications have been vigorously debated among evangelicals, at evangelical colleges, among other places. That the debate is occurring is evidence both that there are problems here, and that Hart’s picture of an evangelical world that is all about emotion and not at all about intellect is a caricature.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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