Race to the bottom at the New York Times

by fp on March 9, 2010

in Democracy,Religion

The weekly race to the bottom in the OpEd section of the New York Times ended in a dead heat today. Ross Douthat shares the prize with that perennial favorite, the odious Stanley Fish. Among the reasons I find Mr. Fish detestable are observations like this: I’ve now learned two things about New York Times readers. They don’t believe in God, but they do believe in, and in fact, worship, democracy. Also repugnant is Fish’s favorite narrative device, an analysis of the comments he received on a prior post. The device is vaguely reminiscent of the kind of Germanistik literary criticism given to counting adjectives and matching them to nouns. And nouns to verbs. And, best of all, drawing a conclusion about a literary work based on that data. Did you know that “the first record of the word boredom is in the novel Bleak House by Charles Dickens, written in 1852, in which it appears six times.” It’s true. I read it in the Wikipedia. You can look it up.

Yesterday, Stanley Fish wrote about politics to add weight to the idea that people remember the George W. Bush administration fondly and miss the ringleader. It must be true. There’s a billboard on a freeway in Minnesota that makes it implicit.

This weekend, Ross Douthat wrote that true religion is dying under the weight of bourgeois mystical practices:

By making mysticism more democratic, we’ve also made it more bourgeois, more comfortable, and more dilettantish. It’s become something we pursue as a complement to an upwardly mobile existence, rather than a radical alternative to the ladder of success. Going to yoga classes isn’t the same thing as becoming a yogi; spending a week in a retreat center doesn’t make me Thomas Merton or Thérèse of Lisieux. Our kind of mysticism is more likely to be a pleasant hobby than a transformative vocation.

This kind of rhetoric goes over well with the bishop. It provides grist for the diocesan fundraiser PR mill. I wanted to point Douthat toward Mystic Bourgeoisie, a four and a half year study that pulled together chapter and verse regarding the spiritual bankruptcy of the American middle class flirtation with matters numinous and self-help. Douthat suggests that the cost of this dilution of the currency of faith is paid by a wandering away from the one true faith, that old time religion that somehow should bind our faith and practice. Nonsense, of course, but sadly, I would have had to log-in to leave a comment and the ennui around here is pretty thick today.

Have I mentioned that Dickens coined “boredom” as a neologism in the mid-nineteenth century. Fascinating…

(cross posted at listics.com)

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