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Linker Embraces His Apostasy

To be a critic is to embrace apostasy as a way of life. It is to upset settled opinions and challenge unquestioned beliefs. It is to set out on one’s own, to think without limits, accepting truth, in all of its complexity, as one’s only measure. A critic need not be an atheist, but he cannot be an traditionalist or orthodox believer. In anything. ~Damon Linker [1]

Actually, to be a critic is to embrace the possibility of having to be a dissident and going into opposition against those in positions of power, authority and influence.  It is not a mentality that necessarily must reject all authorities or all orthodoxies–the best critics may be the most faithful, most orthodox and most traditional, because they have some ground on which to stand besides their own tiny personal experience.  There is no possibility of criticism without some standard by which to judge, and the accumulated wisdom of traditions and the boundaries of orthodoxy provide a wealth of understanding against which one can judge the merits and flaws of ideas.  But in the end being a critic, while worthy in certain respects, has only limited value.  To define yourself even by your dissidence, much less your apostasy, is to live a life that is not fully human, as man truly becomes who he is only in koinonia and not in separation and autonomy.  Someone who celebrates his apostasy is rather like a madman who enjoys his insanity.   

It is nonsense to talk about thinking “without limits”–there is no such thing, for starters.  There are limits to human comprehension and human thought–thinking “without limits” is to pretend to be able to think as God can.  Taking “truth” as your only measure must contradict this kind of thinking “without limits” in any case, since truth is itself a limit and a restriction on what an honest man can and should think and imposes limitations on everything you do and say.  There is no real virtue in upsetting settled opinions unless those opinions have absolutely no merit, which is rarely the case–this is merely to be a bomb-thrower and a crank, which is neither ultimately very interesting nor does it make any contribution to anything.  Sometimes beliefs are unquestioned for very good reasons (i.e., because they are true, and certainly because they are deeply meaningful to people) and questioning them sometimes violence to the truth.  When I see someone celebrating his own apostasy and making it into some kind of virtue, I feel sorry for him and wonder what it is that Neuhaus et al. could have done to drive him screaming into the outer darkness.  People like this make an idol out of doubt, and they relish uncertainty.  But the Lord did not say that doubt–which is, in any case, a mark of the Fall–would set us free, but the Truth.  What is so attractive about the chains of doubt that Linker would embrace them so tightly?

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3 Comments To "Linker Embraces His Apostasy"

#1 Comment By jlbarnard On September 26, 2006 @ 8:13 pm

I’m sure I have many ideas about this, but little time in which to frame them, so I will just mention the central thing that occurs to me: Linker here is basically paraphrasing Emerson. In doing so, I imagine this notion of “unsettling” is not as nihilistic, or doubt-loving, as you take it to be. To unsettle, for Emerson anyway, is not to annihilate or efface, but to reorder, redistribute, and, above all, re-evaluate. He only advocates rejection when, at the end of a process of creative unsettling, we find the proposition to be at odds with our intuition of the truth. This truth is not simply a product of “our tiny experience,” but is something arrived at by a thorough acquaintance and internalizion of as much of the world as we have acquired to that point — which includes a familiarization with and analysis of orthodoxies, and ideas and “texts” of all kinds. We arrive at justice by a process of constant scrutiny, constant comparison of the situation as we perceive it to be and the ideal to which we strive to make it. To add an observation that is still rather controversial to some, I will say that this sort of process is also at the heart of the ethics of deconstruction, which likewise unsettles, not in the interests of effacing differences and relativizing truth, but rather in the interests of approaching closer to the truth through a more active process of discernment and self-investigation. In both cases, what we examine is at once “personal,” insofar as we are examining why we hold the beliefs we do, and universal, insofar as such examination is designed to release the fetters of orthodoxies that are skewed, either arbitrarily or by design, to the advantage of some, at the expense of others.

If that makes any sense at all.

#2 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On September 27, 2006 @ 7:46 am

I read Linker’s self-justifying rumination. It seems a bit narcissitic.

If he changed his mind, he shoud tell us why. If he was acting as a mole and lying to his employers, he should explain that. If he was never convinced, was open about it, but had the job anyway, he should tell us so.

His endless musings, however, are quite uninteresting.

#3 Comment By scriblerus On September 27, 2006 @ 12:41 pm

I’d been meaning to read his book but I don’t think I could take too much along these lines.

Linker might well be paraphrasing Emerson, though I think he is getting this stuff from Leo Strauss (Linker studied with the Straussian, Mark Lilla). Strauss didn’t necessarily call it apostasy but his understanding of philosophy was essentially calling all pieties, etc. into question. Basically, it’s the usual Straussian insistence that faith and reason can never agree and a refusal to take Christianity seriously.

No, this isn’t one more conspiracy of the Straussians rant but it does make me wonder, what in the world was Linker doing at FT?