Thursday, August 2, 2007

A bush league reaction

Someone asked me a couple of weeks ago what I made of a review of Christopher Hitchens's book that had recently appeared in a periodical that bills itself as "a review of religion, politics, and culture." I hadn't yet finished reading the book, but as soon as I did I turned accommodatingly to the review. While its thirty-five hundred words told me little that is true about the book (other than the name of its author and its title: God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything), reading it was an interesting experience and a sort of revelation, which actually only came to me later, during the night, as I reflected on the provenance of the journal (its web site describes it as a "journal of opinion edited and managed by lay Catholics") and on the reviewer's being a teacher at Villanova University ("a Roman Catholic, Augustinian university"): the review seems to be a sort of Bush-Doctrinaire preemptive strike. Try to blow up all of Hitchens's aircraft while they're sitting on the ground (that is, before many people have read his book).

The title of the review ("This Book Is Not Good") of course tips you off that it was written to put the book down and put readers off it. The Villanova teacher seems to have approximately zero respect for the book he is purportedly reviewing. Though he makes a show at first of admiring Hitchens, whose "columns in the Nation during the first stage of the Iraq War (1990-91) are masterpieces of political analysis and moral commentary," who "with effortless versatility...pronounced on literature and art as well as politics," and whose "judgments provided an invaluable education in sensibility," he quickly reveals what he thinks of him in the context of trying to undermine potential readers' opinion of Hitchens and his book: "Hitchens proves to be an amateur in philosophy, an illiterate in theology,and a dishonest student of history." The teacher seems to regard himself, of course, a first-rate philosopher, theologian, and historian.

This Catholic hatchet job masquerading as a book review concludes with the suggestion that "if you doubt me, read this book." Since the only response to the piece is to doubt it, I will (as I would anyway) second the writer's recommendation that you do indeed read God Is Not Great. The teacher obviously didn't read the same book I did. And, of course, reading being what it is, the book you read won't be the same either. What it is for you will depend on how you read it, which may or may not be the same way the "reviewer" seems to have read it: determined not to accept a word of it but intent on explaining away or putting down everything that makes you uncomfortable.
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bush league

The Dutch bosch, "woods or forest," gave us our word early on for bush, "wilderness." By 1909 American baseball fans were calling the minor leagues the bush leagues, because they were out in the wilderness, away from the cities where professional teams played. Bush league and then bush soon came to mean anything amateur.    –QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, by Robert Hendrickson

Of course, the term stands to be updated with reference to the amateurish managing partner of the Major League baseball team the Texas Rangers, 1989-1994.

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