Last week, Salon blogger Alex Pareene rocked the media world with The Hack 30, a definitive list of the biggest hacks in political media. Pareene went, above all, after shamelessness: people who consistently write banal, outrageous or flat-out wrong things and somehow retain their seats at the elite media table. They may be smart, but they routinely phone it in; more often than not, they peddle conventional wisdom as insight and, in the most extreme cases, put their intellects to work for despicable agendas.
The fun and catharsis of reading the list immediately sparked a Patrol email loop and a growing list of the most hacky Christian pundits. They may overlap with the political media, but they present their unenlightening pontification from a decidedly religious perspective. We gathered names from every corner of Christian commentary we could think of, then narrowed it down to ten.
The following are the top 10 Christian commentators you’re most likely to waste your time reading. Chances are high, perusing any random piece of their work, that you’ll find worn-out political banalities, repetitive tropes, or a general absence of anything that might enrich a reader’s mind. In a couple of cases, they’re egoists and opportunists. You’ll immediately notice that many of them are conservatives and most of us at Patrol are not, but we made a serious effort not to go after ideology. It’s not so much that we disagree with these guys as that they’re dull and unchallenging, having either never had a talent for writing or having let religion and ideological groupthink dull their intellect.
10. Michael Gerson, The Washington Post
Michael Gerson spent his years as George W. Bush’s celebrated scribe using the media to build himself a reputation. Now, post-Bush, he’s ridden that reputation into a job a the Washington Post, surrounded on its op-ed page by warmongers, torture enthusiasts, and reams of Beltway conventional wisdom. Gerson leans toward the latter, and the fact that his nice-guy-conservatism feels like shtick only adds to the overblown emptiness of his prose. In general, he’s not wrong so much as a waste of time. Because no self-respecting reader needs another soul-sucking column about political optics, wrapped in the feathery rhetoric usually reserved for the presidential speeches no one watches. And though he takes pains to smother his views in pragmatism, Gerson’s evangelicalism does sometimes shine through, such as in this piece about Obama’s “abortion extremism” and this muddled rumination on modern sexual relationships.
Repeat offenses: Beltway myopia; obsession with meaningless political analysis; lack of coherent point of view.
“For some, this is merely a confirmation of their preexisting view of politics—that idealism is a fraud, that rhetorical inspiration is a con. It is true that many politicians do not improve upon closer acquaintance—that no man is a hero to his valet. But a nation of valets would lose its capacity for great purposes. So it should be a source of sadness that Obama, for many, has become a source of cynicism.”
9. Jim Wallis, Sojourners
Wallis’ heart may be in the right place, and his politics more on the right track than others on this list. But aside from the dull, stock progressivism of his political commentary, he’s just as bad about politicizing Christianity as the Christianists. We’re sorry, but sticking Bible verses onto Democratic talking points doesn’t make them holy. And stop lying about being funded by George Soros and pretending to be a non-partisan centrist. Everyone knows you’re a Democratic Party adviser, and besides, there’s nothing wrong with admitting you’re a liberal. Wear it proudly and keep calling out Wall Street, but stop writing boring blog posts about how every political issue is moral and why every problem the planet faces can be solved by Democratic policy proposals.
Repeat offenses: Predictable commentary; phony objectivity; political Scripture-twisting.
“There has been a lot of talk about deficits lately. This is for good reasons. Our personal and national relationship to debt is indeed a moral issue. Leaving our children to pay the bills for excessive spending cannot be justified. But, if a budget really is a moral document, how we reduce the deficit is also a moral issue. Our budget should not be balanced on the backs of the poor.”
8. Chuck Colson
You may recall that Patrol once defended Colson in an editorial about his admission that the religious right has been a political failure. We stand by that, but we can’t defend Colson’s boilerplate commentary on politics that, while rarely offering any insight, frequently fails to criticize Republican politics or apply Colson’s conservative Christian ideas across the political spectrum. He’s nicer than most theocons, but his politics tack cozily along with the GOP on most of the issues of the past decade, including on the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and advocating an Israel-centric Middle East policy. He continued the trend of Christians insistently refusing to even listen, much less participate, in the dialogue on Sharia’s relationship with Western society, and on the occasion of the Prop 8 ruling in California this summer, repeated the line that the judge had thrown out the will of the people. And he’s always got plenty to say on the classic Christian Right themes of God’s banishment from the public square and the assault on America’s founding values. But the worst problem of all is that he’s boring and hopelessly predictable—perhaps because so many columns he’s barely even touched go out under his name.
Repeat offenses: Stock cultural sentimentalism; over-reliance on lackluster ghostwriters.
“But over the last few decades, legions of skeptics have mounted a massive assault on these ‘self-evident truths.’ In prestigious law schools, in the halls of government, and especially in the Supreme Court, God is often banished from public conversation. If a public school teacher were to introduce Jefferson’s ideas and language into the classroom today, she would likely be called on the carpet.”
7. Michael Novak, American Enterprise Institute
Michael Novak is an institution of his own, with a library of books on things like Catholic ethics and the morality of capitalism. A regular detractor from National Review and First Things, he’s unfortunately devoted a lot of energy to pernicious intellectual causes: His 2004 book, The Universal Hunger for Liberty, argued that the Muslim world really longs for American-style democracy. His latest, On Two Wings, is another attempt to Christianize the American founding. These don’t seem overtly hackish until Novak’s more pedestrian punditry shows us where he’s coming from. Like in this deeply silly paean to the Tea Party, where he wrote that President Obama is not only “thoroughly discredited,” but the only president to be so discredited in only two years. Obama “wants to make the U.S. like European welfare states,” Novak writes, and then launches into the familiar blather about whether God will keep America as his Chosen Nation now that we are godless heathens. His books may take up heady topics, but underneath is the same warmongering theoconservatism one might expect in a Sarah Palin tweet. Even if he’s right in some tangential way about the decline of America, the Tea Party is reason to hope?
Repeat offenses: Christianism; Obama Derangement Syndrome.
“In recent years, I have wondered how much longer God would continue to bless America, that country so favored by Providence for so long. The mass-media culture of America, its movies, its glitzy magazines, and its public speech (even in churches) are becoming more and more decadent, less and less under the sway of personal moral responsibility, more relativist, less under the self-control of reason. That ‘superculture’ of the media hangs over the nation like a miasma of moral smog. Below it, thank God, there are still tens of millions willing to resist it.”
6. Albert Mohler, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
The constantly blogging, tweeting president of the SBTS tries his best to make Baptists cool, and he does a decent job of it. He seems like a nice enough guy. It’s sort of backwardly admirable the way he defends really odious views while managing to barely sound like a fundamentalist. He’s even taken some nuanced stances on his signature issues, like writing that gay marriage isn’t nearly as big a threat to Christian marriage as divorce. But ultimately, Mohler’s use of his formidable brain power defending fundamentalist Christianity is too egregious to let slide. He was almost singlehandedly responsible for turning the Southern Baptist Convention into a reactionary conservative institution. And what is wrong with a world where the man Time calls “the leading intellectual of the evangelical movement” is defending young-earth creationism, calling gay marriage “a direct threat [to the] central institution of human civilization,” warning Christian parents against university education, opposing yoga on spiritual grounds, and defending complementarian gender roles? Mohler will fight for his Biblical inerrancy if it kills him, and he holds to it consistently in every issue it touches. But consistently doesn’t absolve him—a seminary president, a man capable of quality scholarly work—of devoting his intellect to the service of the anti-intellectual.
Repeat offenses: Anti-intellectualism; fundamentalism; Christianism.
“For too long, those who hold to traditional understandings of manhood and womanhood, deeply rooted in both Scripture and tradition, have allowed themselves to be pushed into a defensive posture. Given the prevailing spirit of the age and the enormous cultural pressure toward conformity, traditionalists are now accused of being woefully out of step and hopelessly out of date. Now is a good time to reconsider the issues basic to this debate and to reassert the arguments for biblical manhood and womanhood.”
Click here to continue reading the list.
David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol. He covers religion for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and is a graduate student in the Draper Program for Humanities and Social Thought at New York University. He can be reached at hdavidsessions at gmail dot com.
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