Theologically motivated hyper-partisanship as intellectual vice – Damon Linker on Richard John Neuhaus

I don’t know all the ins and outs of Richard John Neuhaus’ life and work, but I found a gem in this book review of a biography about Neuhaus. Damon Linker, a public critic of Neuhaus, viewed Neuhaus as an ideologue who valued party loyalty over intellectual honesty. In describing Neuhaus in that manner, he said something that describes my current disposition toward politics and intellectual honesty. The money:

I have a genuine respect for politics, recognize its importance and dignity, and think that it reveals certain aspects of human nature more vividly than any other activity or pursuit. But I also believe very strongly that its loyalties and commitments, its partisanship and partiality, stand in permanent, irresolvable tension, even fundamental contradiction, with the pursuit of truth, whether through reason or revelation. When philosophical, theological, or historical ideas are blended with political passions and convictions, the result is very often a species of propaganda.
Reliability may well be a political virtue. It’s also a pretty serious intellectual vice.

Although the casualty Linker describes is intellectual vice, C.S. Lewis believed such loyalties could set the stage for another ruin:

Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the “cause”, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here.

Your affectionate uncle, SCREWTAPE

As I look at my posts, I find myself writing a lot about various “species of propaganda” that believers in Jesus have received in trade for their ability to think for themselves.