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Religious Conservatives Can Remind the Rest of Us How to Argue

Academia seems increasingly incapable of fostering mature, sophisticated debate that respects dissonant voices. We’ve seen numerous conservative professors heckled off campuses and out of their (sometimes tenured!) positions. Anthony Esolen, a prolific English professor and writer, endured widespread protests at Providence College [1] following his criticism of student irresponsibility and immaturity. Catholic theology professor Paul J. Griffiths endured similar opprobrium at Duke Divinity School [2] after he complained about diversity training. Both left their respective employers. University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson in turn has been unfairly maligned and misrepresented [3] by students. Protests at Evergreen State College [4], Middlebury [5], and Reed College [6] have, often violently, targeted academics who have diverged from liberal orthodoxy. This is the intolerance of the tolerant.

If universities are really interested in open discourse, they should take a lesson from how conservative academics debate each other. The many controversies and debates surrounding associate professor of philosophy Edward Feser  [7]at Pasadena City College [7] provide ample example of this. For a number of reasons, Feser has acquired a knack for inciting controversy within religious conservatism—his sparring partners include many prominent thinkers and academics, including Griffiths (cited above), Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart, and popular Catholic writer Mark Shea, among others. Feser’s work has elicited contentious and emotionally charged reactions, sometimes deteriorating into ad hominems and name-calling (with some subsequent apologies). In spite of these mistakes, a level of professionalism, charity, and wit is visible that puts the dogmatic, intolerant discourse of contemporary academia to shame. Let’s consider a few examples.

Feser wrote two books in 2017, both published by Ignatius Press, which have received widespread attention. The first, By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment [8], co-authored with Joseph M. Bessette, has been the far more contentious. As the title suggests, Feser and Bessette seek to defend capital punishment on theological and philosophical grounds, reliant on Holy Scripture and the tradition of the Catholic Church. This comes at a time when many Catholics, including many devout ones, have come to believe that the death penalty is essentially immoral and unjustified. It’s an opinion that relies on the interpretations of the current and last two popes, underscored by a particular reading of the 1995 papal encyclical Evangelium Vitae, the 1992 Catechism (nos. 2258–2330), and the statements and literature of Pope Francis.

Griffiths offered a strong criticism of Feser and Bessette in First Things. Yet the most acerbic language he mustered was to label [9] some of the contents of their book “disingenuous,” urging the authors to “go to bed with a cold compress,” the idea being that they seemed a bit too excited about supporting the death penalty. Aggressive? Sure. But hardly the intolerance of American campuses. Feser and Bessette responded to the review [10], observing that Griffiths accused them of “flat-­footed” readings of Scripture and magisterial documents without providing a single example. Griffiths then replied, arguing substance while maintaining a palpable degree of condescension towards the authors. Yet condescension is still a far cry from being labeled a fascist, a racist, a homophobe, or Hitler.

Before Griffiths, popular Catholic writer and apologist Mark Shea set his sights on Feser’s support for the death penalty, accusing him of advocating [11] a “right wing culture of death,” and of holding a position commensurate [12] with wanting “to kill the maximum number of people I can get away with killing.” Ouch! Yet Shea later apologized [13] for many of his comments and praised Feser for his work in philosophy and apologetics. Feser accepted his apology. David Bentley Hart in turn claimed [14] that Feser’s book “exhibits a moral insensibility that is truly repellant” and that it “would exhaust the ruthlessness of Torquemada.” Hart also accused the authors of not even bothering to read many of the sources they cite. Again these are accusations of a peculiarly academic nature: they don’t create an unfair, vilifying caricature of their opponent, or seek to physically remove him from his place at the table.

Capital punishment is only the tip of the iceberg for Feser. Hart, for example, has been debating Feser for years (with a good mixture of amusing wit and stuffy scholarly disdain) on such topics as natural law theory [15] and whether or not animals will be in heaven [16]. On the latter, Hart mocked Feser as intellectually enchained to Thomistic thought (what he derisively labels “The System”). He further claimed Feser was uninterested in Scriptural evidence (Feser responded to Hart’s attacks in a number of articles, including at Public Discourse [17]). Can Hart be a bit biting in his rhetoric? Sure. Has he demanded Feser be run out conservative intellectual circles? Hardly.

This is not to say that one side or the other hasn’t sometimes failed to play by the rules. As Feser noted in a response to Hart and Griffiths [18]:

But the ad hominem attack is the first refuge of those unable to marshal facts and logic in their defense, and character assassination is one form of killing Griffiths and Hart seem to approve of. Hart is especially egregious in this regard, and in three places in his review one is tempted to charge him with deliberate misrepresentation.


Feser is himself no saint in this regard, and a perusal of his blog [19] shows that he has little problem poking fun at his critics (including memes with superimposed images of his opponents’ faces on various things). If one were to put Feser in a room with his detractors, there would surely be fireworks. Yet it’s hard to imagine anyone organizing a student protest aimed at banning him from campus or calling for his head on a pike. Indeed, as noted above, the arguments between Feser and others keep going—some of these debates are now years in the making. These men may dislike one another, but their appreciation for the rules of debate and their demand for respect and charity set the terms for proper and improper etiquette.

Those who exhibit an exceptionally acute level of logic are dangerous—and frustrating. Dangerous because they expose the fact that many of us believe and promote all kinds of flawed ideas that need to be either adjusted or jettisoned entirely. Frustrating because they often prove us wrong without the kind of carefully worded sensitivities and kid-gloves we seem to require to avoid hurting our over-inflated sense of self. Nobody likes to be told they’re wrong. When a person does it without bothering to sandwich it between effusive praise and kindness, adding “but you’re a good chap” at the end for good measure, we get irked. This, I suspect, has something to do with the treatment of conservative academics across North America. Like Jordan Peterson, Feser serves as an important counterbalance to the trends of irrationality.

As Feser has recounted [20], he grew up in a Catholic family, but rejected faith for atheism. It took a number of years for him to return to the Church, a journey based fundamentally on rationality and philosophical study. Feser is a man thoroughly steeped in precise logical argumentation, who carefully evaluates and dissects premises and sub-premises. This probably explains why he has been at the forefront of engaging the New Atheist movement, led by religious skeptics Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and the deceased Christopher Hitchens. A 2010 book by Feser, The Last Superstition [21], systematically addresses and refutes the best arguments offered by popular contemporary atheists. Last year, he published another book on a similar topic, Five Proofs of the Existence of God [22], which is not actually a recounting of St. Thomas’s famous “five proofs,” but a defense of arguments from Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas, and Leibniz, some of which overlap with the famous classical arguments.

There’s simply no room here to do justice to even one of Feser’s arguments. Yet anyone seeking to present himself as a rational atheist needs to be familiar with Feser’s work, especially his books on atheism, arguments for the existence of God, and Thomistic thought [23]. For those who would rather hear than read Feser, he has offered numerous interviews [24] explicating various arguments for God’s existence and analyzing the positions [25] of prominent atheist thinkers. Moreover, with his recent books, increasingly innumerable public debates [26], and compelling interviews, it’s clear he’s currently on his A-game. His arguments with the New Atheists, in particular, demand a response. Quite surprisingly, his work has elicited surprisingly little reaction from prominent atheists [27], apart from Jerry Coyne [28].

We live in a time largely devoid of sophisticated, mature argumentation (as I’ve noted in a number of previous articles for [29]The Federalist [29]). Ad hominem, red herrings, and question-begging run rampant in Internet discourse. University campuses, the very places where we send our children to be exposed to different challenging ideas, have become stale swamps of intellectual laziness and conformity. If we seek a way out of this, the often heated debates among religious conservatives provide some helpful guidance. It is there that we see strong rhetoric mixed with charity, respect, and, most importantly, a willingness to keep talking. And for those taken with the mission of firebrands like Jordan Peterson, Ed Feser would be a good supplement.

Casey Chalk is a student at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Theology at Christendom College.

37 Comments (Open | Close)

37 Comments To "Religious Conservatives Can Remind the Rest of Us How to Argue"

#1 Comment By M. Orban On April 5, 2018 @ 1:12 am

I too wish we lived in different times, when serious thinkers would lay out complex thoughtful arguments and the discussion would center around verifiable facts…
But. We just had an election where someone who taunted opponents besmirched their relatives, smeared ethnic and religious groups just won convincingly.
The losing side, the left knows that they have the numbers to win, but (historically) they having difficulty staying motivated. They learned however that anger is a great motivator. If they keep their base angry long enough, they just may show up at the voting booths. Jordan Peterson… and the two Catholic dudes you mentioned, they are just collateral damage.

#2 Comment By bkh On April 5, 2018 @ 8:42 am

The Left may be angry and motivated, but they do not have any better ideas beyond revenge to govern. Both sides have diverged into territory making governing not workable. What will the Left do? Tax the wealthy to the point employment suffers? Make pot legal? Increase the welfare state? Open borders in the name of humanity? None of that will work long term. The Republicans have had open borders and nothing good came of it. The welfare state increased under Obama and nothing good has come of it. Sticking it to Corp America will just drive more unemployment faster. Gender identity, Sexual orientation, and diversity issues are not governing. The old cliche about not being able to legislate morality applies to the Left as well as the Right. I have started to believe the Right is by no means correct in the way they are governing, but it will be the Left that will push to the point significant violence will occur.

#3 Comment By SteveM On April 5, 2018 @ 8:55 am

Re: “If universities are really interested in open discourse…”

That universities are really interested in open discourse is a fundamental fallacy.

This essay could have ended there.

P.S. I’ve mentioned several times that the critical flaw in challenging the Stalinist PC orthodoxy is the abrogation of authority and influence by the college/university Boards of Trustees and the alumni associations.

The BoTs should be holding senior leadership accountable for applying the axioms of academic freedom and the guidelines specified in the university charter. And fire the ones who do not comply.

And the alumni should withhold their big checks when the values of their legacy institutions don’t align with their own. Make no mistake, it’s all about the money for the administrators. They have to be hit over the head with a 2×4 of tanked alumni donations.

When and until those stakeholders provide substantive resistance to the devolution, it’s all over but the crying.

Given that reality, when there are no alternatives, there is no problem. People with integrity unhappy with the current state of affairs should just walk away and do something else, somewhere else.

#4 Comment By Forester On April 5, 2018 @ 9:12 am

“We live in a time largely devoid of sophisticated, mature argumentation…Ad hominem, red herrings, and question-begging run rampant in Internet discourse.”

Yes, we do, and throwing red meat to the base is the lowest form of argument, but the most prevalent online. It’s so much easier to use the language of your tribe to slay your opponents with sarcasm and snark than to marshal defensible arguments in a serious effort to advance understanding.

Thank you for this article. I was surprised to see at the end that you’re a grad student. I hope you can influence others in your generation to follow your lead because too many of them, even well-educated ones, have learned to argue from Laura Ingraham or Lawrence O’Donnell. People of good will can’t wade through the contempt to get to the reasoning.

#5 Comment By cacambo On April 5, 2018 @ 10:09 am

Nice bait and switch! You list a number of incidents in which STUDENTS shout down professors and then compare that to a debate between two PROFESSORS. There is certainly room to debate the climate on campus vis a vis viewpoint diversity, but lets avoid the apples to oranges comparisons.

#6 Comment By Argon On April 5, 2018 @ 10:39 am

bkh: “The Left may be angry and motivated, but they do not have any better ideas beyond revenge to govern.”

That’s a bit of a subjective assessment.

Fiscal responsibility? Neither party is particularly great but historically, the Democrats are less likely to drive the economy off the cliff.

Not drop tax rates on the wealthiest individuals while we’re running big deficits? One can balance tax rates and not tank the economy.

Reduce the proportion that finance comprises of the nation’s economy? This substantially reduces risk to the economy.

Work to reduce abuses to consumers and work to level the playing field between large corporations and consumers that have been hurt by corporate maleficence. Hold CEOs and CFOs monetarily and criminally accountable? Not let BofA off with a slap on the wrist for defrauding customers by creating bogus accounts in their name?

Restore net neutrality. Hold service providers accountable for not delivering on promised connectivity after having been granted near monopolies by local communities.

Take a more skeptical approach when considering permits that allow market consolidation to only a few players?

Work out health care to bring the US in line with the rest of the developed world with regard to cost and efficacy? The proportion of un- and under-insured individuals dropped greatly under the ACA, despite being hamstrung legislatively. And certainly few really want to go back to the pre-2010 era of health care where volunteer medical professionals had to provide MASH-style clinics.

Preserve natural resources, especially with regard to clean air and water?

Get into stupid wars less often? Kill bad military weapon acquisition programs more frequently and quickly?

#7 Comment By KD On April 5, 2018 @ 10:58 am

His arguments with the New Atheists, in particular, demand a response. Quite surprisingly, his work has elicited surprisingly little reaction from prominent atheists, apart from Jerry Coyne.

Unfortunately, the brains of the New Atheists, formed as a result of a ruthless process of natural selection over generations and generations, are completely determined by their environment and their genetics in such a way as to be incapable of understanding rational arguments or philosophy.

Their cline repeats slogans adapted from Russell and Hume, and pounds the table, without even perhaps understanding their own slogans. However, they pledge total and absolute obedience to Science, so they make useful cannon fodder in the war of ideas.

It is no fault of their own, it is simply the inevitable churning of the natural order on a train track from the Big Bang, combined with childhood deprivation and religious oppression.

#8 Comment By Emil Bogdan On April 5, 2018 @ 11:30 am

bkh, the Left is on welfare, unemployed, smoking pot and hanging out with Mexicans at the burrito joint, and next up? Some ultra-violence. Just read their prophet of uncompromising and virulent identity politics, Ben Franklin:

“Why should the Palatine Boors be suffered to swarm into our Settlements and, by herding together, establish their Language and Manners, to the Exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs any more than they can acquire our Complexion?

Which leads me to add one Remark, that the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny; Asia chiefly tawny; America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians, and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who, with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased. And while we are, as I may call it, Scouring our Planet, by clearing America of Woods, and so making this Side of our Globe reflect a brighter Light to the Eyes of Inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we, in the Sight of Superior Beings, darken its People? Why increase the Sons of Africa, by planting them in America, where we have so fair an Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys, of increasing the lovely White and Red? But perhaps I am partial to the Complexion of my Country, for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind.”

#9 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 5, 2018 @ 1:10 pm

I fully support and embrace discourse that engages intellectual combat. I am not sure why our colleges and HS are abandoning the practice born out of the Chataquas, forums, parliamentary, mock senate, congress, mock trials, etc., open setting discussions and what we now call Lincoln Douglas debates have been verbally rowdy from time to time but generally out and violence was prohibited if not by rule then by common practice, expectation and or training.

In western tradition, the trial of Socratese comes to mind. A trial in which the accused defends his innocence to the full even insulting his accusers, jury and the general public — classic. I can see the ironic smile on Christ’s face, in response to Jewish leaders press for his authority to say such things as

“Before Abraham was I am.”

causing a near riot. His reply to the leadership must have been delightfully funny. One one such occasion Christ says,

“I will tell you by what authority, if, you can tell me by what authority John the baptist baptize?”Their wrangling is funny as it must have been at the time.

Luke 20.

Our communication in the oral traditions of tick for tack that embodied all of the tools of communicating meaning in making one’s case, including the observer response in heckling either or both sides. It might be of of interest to the author and his references that on the west coast, the debate communities are removing the observer participation of such discourse in the name of safe spacing the offended. It’s a tragic turn, given that they are introducing a less framed format among speakers in which any argument can be at play for any reason one can reason —

I am delighted to have had my experiences with the dialectic debate formats, both among secular and faith based organizations in academia. I think the issue really is why these men and women so engaged have allowed the present course in question in which violence and shouting down and denial of discussion flourishes.

After all, they are not responding to abusive use of force by the police.

#10 Comment By Will Harrington On April 5, 2018 @ 1:25 pm


You have missed the point. The point was not to compare students and professors, but to establish the atmosphere of discourse now common on campus and then hold up an example of a better way. We can, convincingly extrapolate that, if the students do not know how to argue graciously, it is because they have not been taught how to do so by many of their professors.

#11 Comment By Luke On April 5, 2018 @ 3:46 pm

If naturalism is true, so that your brain is just working on the laws of physics, then you have no *reason* to believe naturalism is true. It’s just the laws of physics requiring you to say that. You’re forced to say that just like I’m forced by the laws of physics to say the opposite.

#12 Comment By David Bentley Hart On April 5, 2018 @ 3:50 pm

Excuse me for dropping in. I shall drop out again in a moment.

I simply want to note that I do not know what the term “religious conservative” means–whether it means conservative in religion or a conservative who is religious–but in neither case does it apply to me. I take traditional religious belief and theology quite seriously, and write from within theological tradition when addressing theological matters; but I am not religiously conservative, or politically conservative, or socially conservative in any of the common acceptations of the term, and would prefer not to be described in such language. If I have given people the wrong impression, I apologize. But believe me, “conservative” is definitely something I am not.

That said, I appreciate the thrust of this article. Even the most vigorous and aggressive debate is still a rational and charitable activity, while seeking instead to silence one’s opponents is cowardly and vicious (and incredibly boring). Even though Feser and I disagree and have taken shots at one another with glee and abandon, we also have found it possible to continue talking to one another civilly by email, and speaking well of one another’s work where we agree, and I wish him a long and productive life.

#13 Comment By EarlyBird On April 5, 2018 @ 4:25 pm

Cacambo, where do you think professors start out? Unfortunately, it’s hard to find even professors who are willing to openly and respectfully debate much any more.

#14 Comment By Sykes Five On April 5, 2018 @ 4:43 pm

I am glad that the author decided to write about the debate in Catholic circles concerning the death penalty, but I’m afraid the framing mechanism–this is a model for intellectual debate–makes no sense. As the author points out, besides writing serious books and articles, Feser does some wacky stuff on his blog, and a direct confrontation with opponents would lead to fireworks. Well, campus protestors can also work in a variety of registers, though most of them don’t have access to publications. So this is really an odd comparison. It is rather like saying that since lawyers can argue in a restrained and formalistic fashion in court, two people discussing sports in a bar shouldn’t raise their voices.

#15 Comment By MrsDK On April 5, 2018 @ 6:05 pm

DBH, thanks for dropping by — wishing you a blessed Pascha!

#16 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 5, 2018 @ 8:14 pm

“But believe me, “conservative” is definitely something I am not.”

Ha . . .

There’s a remedy for that.


#17 Comment By Edward Feser On April 5, 2018 @ 9:22 pm

I wish him a long and productive life.

And I wish you the same, David!

#18 Comment By Emil Bogdan On April 5, 2018 @ 9:53 pm

per EliteC: “I think the issue really is why these men and women so engaged have allowed the present course in question in which violence and shouting down and denial of discussion flourishes.”

I wouldn’t say that violence “flourishes” nor that “shouting down and denial of discussion” flourishes as broadly as some people claim. It’s not hard to recognize something as simple as violence or even the shouting down of others. Let’s just say when you see your own personal standards and expectations violated right in front of you, but you’re only a spectator, not a participant, quickly the question becomes: OK, now what do YOU do? Step forward and participate in ways that maybe you hadn’t anticipated? Neither cowards nor whores should be judged too harshly. Sometimes the lack of response is from fear, which isn’t glorious, but sometimes people just don’t know what to do, the picture isn’t clear enough yet, and people do see the picture differently. For example: I don’t see the violence you mention. How many cities burned fifty years ago? But when I recognized the rise of “liberal intolerance” as real, I changed my actions and risked some friendships defending Trump, defending police. These are small things, but people do act. In academia they’re used to getting stuck in the ivory tower. A little challenge from the students won’t do lasting harm, to the contrary, the professors now get to enjoy the fruits of their labors. These are “our” kids, after all.

#19 Comment By Youknowho On April 6, 2018 @ 12:28 am

So religious conservatives on campus are civil to each other when they disagree.

How about religious conservatives not on campus confronting liberals, or people who reject Christianity? Are they equally civil?

When you can point out to that kind of civility then you will have a real article.

#20 Comment By R.C. On April 6, 2018 @ 10:50 am

Sykes Five:

Respectfully, I don’t believe your analogy is accurate.

You state that the framing mechanism (“this is a model for intellectual debate”) doesn’t “make sense.” Since the sentence does, in fact, make sense, I suppose you mean that it ISN’T “a model” (read: a superior model).

Well? Why not? The alternative (against which the DBH/Feser debates are compared) is the silencing of conservative/classical-liberal speech by often violent or vandalous SJW’s trained in Alinskyite tactics.

Call me crazy, but DBH vs. Feser “fireworks” really are, in my opinion, a superior model to THAT. For of course the fireworks are verbal, and focused mostly on the argument.

(I admit: Only mostly. DBH does in fact sometimes move past the argument and accuse Feser personally of sociopathic unconcern with human life (which, even if true, would tell us nothing about whether Feser’s opinions were correct); and Feser does respond by coining adjectives like “Harty,” which he defines as, “Gratuitously vituperative, especially toward straw men.” Still, DBH shows up here and says, “…though Feser and I disagree and have taken shots at one another with glee and abandon, we also have found it possible to continue talking to one another civilly by email, and speaking well of one another’s work where we agree, and I wish him a long and productive life.” Not too shabby.)

By contrast, a person (scholar, political commentator, provocateur, comedian) who shows up on a college campus to publicly deny even the most irrational dogmas of leftism can expect (a.) to be shouted down such that their audience can’t hear them, (b.) to be chased by a rioting mob and physically assaulted along with anyone else nearby, (c.) to have the building they’re in set on fire or vandalized, (d.) to receive death threats, (e.) to have their livelihood attacked with the goal of impoverishing them, (f.) to be “deplatformed” or shadowbanned on social media, (g.) to be subjected to “SWAT-ing” or other potentially-dangerous hoaxes, and (h.) to find career advancement or employment in broad categories of jobs entirely closed to them. (This list was frighteningly easy to write; there are multiple examples of all of the above just in the last three years.)

Your analogy for this comparison is: “It is rather like saying that since lawyers can argue in a restrained and formalistic fashion in court, two people discussing sports in a bar shouldn’t raise their voices.”

No, I think it’s “…rather like saying that since lawyers can argue in a restrained and formalistic fashion in court, the more-politically-leftmost of the two shouldn’t key the other’s car in the parking lot, slash his tires, punch him in the face, leave flaming dog-poo on his porch, try to break up his marriage or get him fired.”

And saying THAT is perfectly reasonable.

#21 Comment By R.C. On April 6, 2018 @ 11:13 am


You say, “So religious conservatives on campus are civil to each other when they disagree.

“How about religious conservatives not on campus confronting liberals, or people who reject Christianity? Are they equally civil?”

Why, yes, actually.

Well, in the main. 95% of the time? Yes.

The remaining 5%? No, and those 5% get criticized by the other 95% with various levels of disapproval. (Hadn’t you noticed? Take Fred Phelps and the notorious Westboro “Baptist” Church crowd. He is not merely frowned-at by 99% of the Christians out there; he is actually considered a heretic.)

So, yes: For the most part, they are quite civil; and in the rare cases where they aren’t, there is some non-violent but serious “policing” going on. (No Christian is going to murder Fred Phelps or firebomb the Westboro crowd for what he says; but calling them heretics and cultists is not a small thing.)

There are, however, two exceptions to this norm of civility which spring to mind: Family members and teenagers.

The dynamic within families is so fraught with emotion that I do see both sides of political debates coming away feeling betrayed: “You’re supposed to be a member of my family; how come you’re wearing the war-paint of the opposite tribe?” Such quarrels often have the nastiness of a bad divorce. (And in such quarrels there is no imbalance of nastiness; the leftward-leaning person is just-as-often the worse aggressor as the rightward-person is.)

The other exception is teenagers. About this, the first thing I would note is: They’re teenagers. Teenagers, of all kinds, are often nasty irrational twerps.

The second thing is: The leftward and rightward sides are more-or-less balanced in their willingness to abandon polite discourse.

The third thing is an odd-but-true facet to teenaged tribal behavior: I find that the more sincerely conservative or religious teenagers are the least-likely to offend: They are the heart-level converts and while they might be obnoxiously happy and peaceful, they’re almost cloyingly loving and forgiving to all comers. They make their peers roll their eyes; and certainly their lack of sexual experience, their virginity-until-marriage pledges, etc., are subjected to withering scorn. But they don’t often respond.

It is, in fact, the *marginal* Christians and the who harass gays, who say hateful things to atheists, and so on. It is the kids who don’t much know what conservatism is, but latch on to it as a tribal marker, who badmouth persons of the other tribe.

So I think it is possible, “Youknowho,” that you’ve mistaken these nasty loudmouths for serious conservatives or Christians, precisely because they’re loud, and not because they can dispassionately tell you what conservatism or Christianity actually is or means.

But these are generalities. Your own experience may differ, of course. But if it does, then I think it differs by being a statistical outlier, not commonplace.

#22 Comment By Craig Payne On April 6, 2018 @ 11:57 am

“Quite surprisingly, his work has elicited surprisingly little reaction from prominent atheists.”

Not really surprising. In the famous question of W.F. Buckley, Jr., “Why does baloney avoid the grinder?”

#23 Comment By MM On April 6, 2018 @ 7:15 pm

YKW: “When you can point out to that kind of civility then you will have a real article.”

How about you point out where progressives are civil, anywhere in society, with those they disagree with?

Then you’ll have a real comment…

#24 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 6, 2018 @ 8:52 pm

“How about religious conservatives not on campus confronting liberals, or people who reject Christianity? Are they equally civil.”

I think this is mostly the case. My experiences with project rescue were more than civil. We protested very polite and upon being informed we were under arrest, submitted without question —

the only resistance was passive. I think this is generally the case, there may be exceptions, but I will stick my neck out and say in my time — seems to be the norm.

#25 Comment By Emil Bogdan On April 6, 2018 @ 9:01 pm

Can I just add some color to my previous comments: one of my acquaintances is a hard-left global warming Cassandra who considers AL Gore insufficiently liberal, insufficiently sensible, insufficiently alarmed. He’s fifty years old and RAGES against the illiberal developments in liberalism, has contempt for Islam since he considers it illiberal, is somehow magically but sincerely STRONGLY pro-Trump and pro-Putin, anti-deep state, anti-empire, anti-mass-immigration, anti-militarist, utterly contemptuous of Obama from the start, as well as the Clintons and the whole neoliberal edifice–ideally, he thinks Bernie Sanders should be our President in a decent, just and humane world, but Trump is way way better than Clinton–that kind of liberal. These people exist, maybe in small numbers, but they’re around, and some of them are very committed, and very pissed off.

Some of them are also very able. My sister did her PhD work in critical theory, studying the likes of Derrida, Foucault, Heidegger, Lacan, and of course, Judith Butler, totally immersed in this anti-conservative and anti-common sense landscape of thought-craters and high-minded gibberish, critiquing “power” ruthlessly and identifying–as well as creating–performative contradictions and blah blah blah. I’m being a bit sarcastic, because her writing is beautiful, drawing parallels between the tragedies of Antigone and Zoe Ceausescu, the dictator’s daughter, and using all the tools of her deconstructionist trade to analyze the hijacking of the Romanian revolution.
Behold, this supposedly fundamentally compromised ultra-leftist person, immersed in the very mud that has created these illiberal phenomena on campuses and elsewhere, this Judith Butler devotee and committed foe of “Western old white men” is somehow, miraculously yet sincerely, another anti-Clinton Sanders supporter who considers Trump’s victory a triumph of democracy. Seeing a broader picture, there’s little that Trump can do to truly upset this neo-Marxist intellectual, except make needless war on innocents abroad in a capitalist quest of resource acquisition and empire.

Weird, huh? This kind of stuff happens when you’re dealing with people.

#26 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 6, 2018 @ 9:09 pm

“I wouldn’t say that violence “flourishes” nor that “shouting down and denial of discussion” flourishes as broadly as some people claim.”

excuse me, I missed this. Laugh. I don’t have any answers about what one should do at the moment. I can say from personal experience, people stepped in on behalf and that was risky. But that was the supposed authority behaving badly and violently.

My thoughts were not all in thinking they should actively intervene. but rather, why they have not gotten together and created events for said discussions as in debates formally. Not merely single speakers, but two participants so engaged in conjunction with formal rules of play and even audience participation.

I grant, no guarantees, but I would expect these men and women to set that level of academic standard and practice. Let’s face it, there’s not much shouting down about a non-existent being – that;s all intellectual fair and onimpactful said with caution.

But to engage in an open debate on issues of color and IQ, and gender and metoo and rape, and harassment and drinking and accountability — in which two sides engage in changes the dynamic in my view. It’s not a single speaker coming to preach a brand of thought it’s two brands engaging one another.

I was not even considering that professor x step into a street fight. As such all your comments are deeply to be considered. What happens when the good samaritan happens on a event instead of after —

Sounds like a dialectic on “good Samaritan laws”, though I don’t think there’s any expectation of putting oneself at risk. what’s the accountability at not intervening in a rape, a theft, a beating, a possible murder all sound like valid issues. I love Angelina Jolie, but I am not convinced we should be sending men to war on the cause of rape.

Laughing. I hope I understood you correctly.

#27 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 7, 2018 @ 7:39 am

” (This list was frighteningly easy to write; there are multiple examples of all of the above just in the last three years.)”

Three years, you are being exceedingly generous.

#28 Comment By Youknowho On April 7, 2018 @ 11:56 am

I will be quite willing to denounce students shouting down those whose views they oppose when I see conservatives denounce those who called the Parkland shooting survivors “crisis actors” and defamed their characters. As it is, conservatives praising civilized discourse sound as convincing as those Southerners praising Southern womandhood (white) while thinking black women were there to be raped (such as Recy Taylor).

Preach with your example.

#29 Comment By Youknowho On April 9, 2018 @ 1:02 pm

I applaud those conservatives who engage in civil discourse.

But what about the ones who don’t?

Like Jamie Allman who send a truly disgusting tweet as to what he wanted to do to one of Parkland students.


I have not heard any prominent conservative denounce him for it. Just advertisers.

Now when the students arrive at the campus, they have been exposed to conservative commentators such a these, with no conservative voices to say how disgusting those comments are. These are the only conservatives they know.

So they make the judgement that conservatives are, a Rex Stout put it, merely dogs baring their teeth, who forfeit the privileges of civilized discourse. So they deny those forfeited privileges.

#30 Comment By MM On April 9, 2018 @ 1:08 pm


Still waiting for that example of progressive tolerance…

#31 Comment By Youknowho On April 9, 2018 @ 4:07 pm


I am here, discussing politely, am I not?

#32 Comment By MM On April 9, 2018 @ 5:05 pm

YKW: “I am here, discussing politely, am I not?”

Since you personally have expressed contempt for the civil rights of Americans who don’t look like you or think like you, here at TAC on the record, which I can quote again if need be, I’d say you really don’t count…

#33 Comment By Youknowho On April 9, 2018 @ 7:06 pm


About progressive tolerance.

It got burned out of progressives who had to listen to the slanders of talk radio and other “conservative” voices who had the tacit approval of more “respectable” conservatives.

In order to get respect, you must give it. And conservatives gave too much verbal abuse to progressives in the past twenty years for progressives to feel warmly about them.

#34 Comment By MM On April 9, 2018 @ 11:38 pm

YKW: “In order to get respect, you must give it.”

I’ll take that as a NO, you’d don’t have any real world examples. Or you didn’t care to try and find any.

Surprise, surprise…

#35 Comment By Youknowho On April 10, 2018 @ 12:58 pm


I tell you that after twenty years of talk radio attacking them, demonizing them, and slandering them in the name of Conservatims, you are not going to have any. Progressives are human after all, and after years of verbal abuse all they feel is comptempt. It should not have been this way, but it is. Conservative did NOT extend respect for a long time. And now they expect it? Do they really think that progressives are saints, willing to bless those who wound them? And if they think they are saint, why are they not on their knees before them?

#36 Comment By MM On April 10, 2018 @ 10:22 pm

YKW: “Do they really think that progressives are saints…”

You and your progressive friends ought to stop claiming to have a monopoly on peace, love, and tolerance, then.

I first experienced progressive intolerance more than 20 years ago, by the way, on some very inoccuous subjects.

What’s bizarre about your ranting is, you acknowledge that religious conservatives at certain colleges are tolerant, lambast all other conservatives for not being as tolerant, and then brag that no progressives are or will ever be tolerant again.

Are you feeling all right? You don’t sound well.

I’m waiting for you to blame conservative intolerance for what James Hodgkinson did last year.

You guys never were very big on personal responsibility…

#37 Comment By Mark from CO On April 13, 2018 @ 4:48 pm

Just a quick comment regarding Profs. Feser and Hart. The debate between the two is generally professional. In fact, Prof. Hart provided a favorable review of The Five Poofs and reflects that despite their differences, they both listen to the other. A characteristic we all need to practice more.