Author Damon Linker has announced in a piece melodramatically entitled The Unbearable Ugliness of the Catholic Church that he is leaving the Church over the abuse crisis. Go here to read the rest. It would take a heart of stone not to laugh at this, to steal from Oscar Wilde, at least for anyone familiar with the career of Mr. Linker.
He was a convert to Catholicism and became employed by First Things by the late Father Richard Neuhaus. He repaid Father Neuhaus thusly:
A few weeks later, [Damon] told me he was thinking of writing a book about First Things and its editor in chief. He explained that the book would be a critical appreciation of the achievements of the magazine. I said I would be happy to cooperate with such a project but I didn’t think there would be enough interest in the subject to elicit a large advance from a publisher. Moreover, this would be a first book by a relatively unknown writer. In early December, he told me that several publishers had indicated intense interest in the book he was proposing and that Doubleday had offered an advance of $160,000. He wanted to leave at the beginning of 2005 to start writing. Surprised but pleased by his good fortune, I congratulated him and renewed my offer to be of assistance wtih the book. I then said it might be helpful in that connection if I could see the proposal he had submitted to publishers. At this he blanched and, with obvious embarrassment, said that would not be possible. This was the first indication that he had agreed to write what in the publishing business is knowns as an “attack book,” which, unfortunately, is the genre to which “The Theocons” belongs.
That omission has now been remedied by Damon Linker’s The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege. Linker argues that critics who worry about the threat posed by Protestant evangelicals are worrying about the infantry when they should be paying attention to Central Command. In case you haven’t been following important developments to which the author is privy, Central Command consists of a coterie of (mostly) Catholic intellectuals who are associated with First Thingsmagazine and its founding publisher, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. Welcome to the inner sanctum of the “theoconservatives,” where wily theologians and political philosophers labor night and day to tear down Thomas Jefferson’s wall of separation. Their goal, writes Linker, is “to sanctify and spiritualize the nation’s public life, while also eliding fundamental distinctions between church and state, the sacred and the secular.”
Such efforts, if successful, would not be fatal to the nation, but they would cripple it, effectively transforming the country into what would be recognized around the world as a Catholic-Christian republic. I hope that prospect is disquieting enough to inspire thoughtful American citizens to educate themselves about the theocons, their ideology, and the very real threat that they pose to the United States.
More about this presently. Consider first, however, the book jacket. The top of the front cover features a drawing of the White House with a prominent cross upon its roof. In case that bit of subtlety eludes you, the cover goes on to proclaim: “for the past three decades, a few determined men have worked to inject their radical religious ideas into the nation’s politics. This is the story of how they succeeded.”
If your paranoia remains unaroused, check out the back cover, where large boldface letters at the top ask, “WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ABOUT AMERICA?” This is followed by a series of sub-questions, in somewhat smaller type, beginning with “Do you believe the Catholic Church should be actively intervening in American politics on the side of the Republican Party?” and ending with “Do you believe the United States should be a Christian nation?” Then, in larger boldface font again, “The theocons answer yes to all of these questions. DO YOU?”
The back cover’s concluding paragraph warns that if theocons have their way, “the political and cultural landscape of our country [will be transformed] to such an extent that the separation of church and state as we have known it will cease to exist.” To put it gently, the cover material is crude, heavy-duty propaganda of a sort traditionally associated with unsavory pamphleteers of malign inclination. What it’s doing in a work that wishes to be understood as a serious analysis of an important intellectual phenomenon is a question best answered by Mr. Linker and his agent.
Since then Mr. Linker has been a reliable siren wailing against conservatives and the religious right. When National Catholic Reporter stalwart Michael Sean Winters, of all people, calls you an anti-Catholic bigot, as he did here in 2009 in regard to Mr. Linker, you know there may be a wee bit of a problem with the fellow’s professed Catholicism.
The news that Mr. Linker has left the Catholic Church surprises me on the same level as would the news that Bill Clinton is not a virgin.