Alan Jacobs and Albert Mohler Hypocritically Lament Lack of Christian Intellectuals
(Because of the length of this Page, it’s divided in three sections: first my reaction to a podcast about an essay, then a few more detailed comments on the essay, then some of my thoughts on the real problem.)
As it’s an election year we are greeted with a never ending stream of politically-oriented gatherings, and an annual one of particular repugnance is the Value Voters Summit with its attendant ugliness (e.g. GOHMERT! Religious Conservatives Laugh as Louie Says Hillary Is “Mentally Impaired ). A gathering at which Donald Trump readily participated.
The rise of American political movements is of course not new and ugly politics is not new. Yet our society is changing and our social conflicts change with our society, and in the case of the movements that brought us Donald J. Trump a special notice has been given to the intra-faith conflict with respect to Christianity and Donald Trump. However, his followers appear to be immune to detailed discussions about Trump’s “values” and what they mean. And they certainly are not in the market to buy whatever an “intellectual” has to say about Trump:
Rick Santorum is now noting that only “the intellectuals” in the conservative movement don’t support Donald Trump
This state of dullness has not gone unnoticed in the book-i-fied corners of American academia and punditry, and in the September 2016 edition of Harper’s there appears an article that laments the lack of intellectuals in our public sphere. Not just any intellectuals, but “Christian intellectuals”, who could interpret our times is such a manner to address the inaneness that the likes of Trump and his supporters bring.
Baylor professor and author Alan Jacobs, who is also an editor at The New Atlantis and contributes articles to The American Conservative, wrote for Harper’s the essay The Watchmen - What became of the Christian intellectuals?
In response to this article, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler invited Jacobs onto his podcast to discuss the topic of the essay: What Became of the Christian Intellectuals? A Conversation with Professor Alan Jacobs
Listening to the interview and reading Jacob’s piece I’m struck about how un-self-aware both of them are.
To these people (like Mohler and Jacobs), having skill in language seems to be paramount. (I maintain that religions often get centered around the magick of words and Mohler and Jacobs are unwittingly providing another example - but that is a very long discussion for elsewhere.)
Both seem to believe that being able to write lengthy, articulate essays on topics is itself sufficient to given them value to the larger intellectual enterprise in which we humans are engaging. Though professing to define “intellectual” in the Mannheim sense, both misunderstand why today any such intellectual is or is not one, and that it is not based on whether she is “Christian”. That is, in contemporary society, while one can be thought of as an “intellectual” who is a Christian, said intellectual can also be Korean, or a surfer, or lactose-intolerant.
What Mohler and Jacobs would like to believe, and this is embedded in their discussion and Jacob’s writing, is that there is something inherently special in a “Christian intellectual”, as if Christian intellectualism is something special in the universe.
More striking though is the great irony here. That Alan Jacobs can go on Albert Mohler’s podcast and not sense the conflict is an indication that though he laments the loss of “Christian intellectuals” he himself is clueless or dishonest.
Mohler, when he took over the lead seminary of the largest Protestant denomination the US, purged from the faculty those who were not correct enough in his eyes. This was not some secret, it was very much in the news. (Also see here for another kerfluffle.)
Since this controversy around SBC and Mohler is so well known, how can Jacobs go on his podcast a lament the loss of Christian intellectuals without confronting Mohler? Can Jacobs not see that dogmatists like Mohler don’t want intellectuals - rather they just want yes-men (and yes, men, not women?)
And yet these people lament the loss of “intellectuals” in their midst.
The hypocrisy is great.
A few miscellaneous comments on some particulars in Jacob’s Harper’s essay:
Paragraphs 4 and 5 of pg 2 : Alan Jacobs keeps emphasizing the “West” Is Jacobs slipping into Buchananism? There is this distinct over-romanticization of “the West” in much of paleo-conservative writing, such as Dreher’s The American Conservative, for which Jacobs writes. Also, Jacobs essay is very American-centric. Are there not supposed to be intellectuals elsewhere?
On pg 3 Jacobs laments technocrats, sympathizing with Auden’s thought of Conant as the enemy.
Niebuhr’s place as reliable sage had given way to a very different authority: the scientist.
Jacobs is bothered by the rise of the scientist over the theologian. Thus I am not surprised that Jacobs would go on Mohler’s podcast.
On pg 5 Jacobs laments (he does that quite a bit) that Marilyn Robinson is not more like Cornel West. But that seems quite hollow coming from someone who seemed to be so willingly in concordance with Albert Mohler and who writes for The American Conservative.
Jacobs is acting like what he accuses of Robinson:
“Robinson, by contrast, seems to take pains to assure her liberal and secular readers that she is one of them.”
It strikes me that Jacobs, on Mohler’s podcast, is striving to be “one of them”, i.e., like Mohler and his listeners.
Jacobs cries some crocodile tears over Robinson not speaking truth to power, as he imagines Cornel West would do to Obama. Yet this same Jacobs goes on Mohler’s podcast and doesn’t confront Mohler about his own dictatorial control over the Southern Baptist Convention’s collegiate/seminary system.
On the final page (6) Jacobs pulls out the Christian victimization card.
Shorter Alan Jacobs: the reason there are no Christian intellectuals to take on the “illiberal and confrontational movements that often seem to be rooted in religious identity” [and given his deriding of Trump in his opening paragraph, we presume he means Trump and his followers] is because the non-Christian liberals have excluded Christians from the the intellectual table.
Overall, the essay strikes me as a faux lament over lack of intellectuals who are Christians (that is, who are explicitly Christian, and would self-label as such.)
And now, my brief take over the real issue:
This is a necessary part of an explanation for why America in 2016 is in political apoplexy: we are transitioning to a post-Christian society, and that “post” part is what a lot of our in-fighting is all about.
Jacobs is a good example of someone who isn’t willing to take the obvious intellectual step - that classical orthodox, Nicene [a term referenced by Jacobs to assure Mohler of his orthodoxy], Christianity is not enough anymore to explain the world.