NRO’s Mary Eberstadt Pouts in the General Direction of Atheism

Thanks to Ed Brayton, I’ve recently been made aware of a rather sad spectacle. Apparently National Review scribe Mary Eberstadt has been laboring away in obscurity for the last month or so, penning what her editors seem to think is a clever take on C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters (in which a demon instructs his nephew in the business of inspiring human sin).

I’m not a fan of Lewis’ quaint, preening writing style to begin with, but at least the man gave off the air of erudition (even if he did indulge in embarrassing apologia like the “Lunatic, Liar, or Lord” gambit). Eberstadt, on the other hand, very literally (perhaps even intentionally) writes like a gossipy teenage girl from the 80s gushing about Corey Haim. Except of course, that she employs hip-to-be-square terms like “BFF” and “Oh snap!”

Lewis’ Letters worked because he employed the creative conceit of professional demon tempters to expose and explore universal human failings… and, by amusing proxy, revealed how human beings could actually avoid the demonic designs on their souls. Screwtape, the narrative voice of the tale, was a master manipulator. It was a satire, to be sure, but Screwtape himself was not played as a fool: he was meant to illustrate precisely how dangerous sin and temptation could be.

Eberhardt, on the other hand, has no higher purpose than to first pretend to be an atheist then act as mindbogglingly stupid as possible. It’s the literary equivalent of a schoolyard “you’re all like this: duhhhhhh.”

Like Brayton, I feel compelled by my profession to dissect the sorry affair point by point, but I can’t quite bring myself to actually read more than a shuddering gasp at a time. What few coherent points she does appear to be making are either trivial straw men, endless harping on substance-free matters like “Brights,” or bringing up classic controversies to which she adds nothing new. So if anyone can please extract a coherent argument from this right-wing bestseller-to-be so that I can address it directly, I’d much appreciate the service.

And while I won’t have much credibility in saying so, I honestly don’t see any comic wit or incisive satire at work here. Maybe someone a little more patient than I can point some out. Because here’s an example of the sort of stuff you have to endlessly wade through in search of a point…

I’m not even sure why I still feel them myself, so long after my own Turn to atheism. It’s true that when my ex-boyfriend, Lobo, got stoned, there was nothing he liked better than opening all his Dad’s coffee-table books on Renaissance art and eyeballing the paintings and sculptures. And it’s true that this was one of the few things Lobo did that I enjoyed doing with him when I wasn’t stoned myself. That was before his Dad kicked him out and we moved to Portland, You know. I’m not saying Lobo was all bad, by the way. Just mostly. That’s what happens when You pick up Your boyfriend in rehab I guess!

Whooooaaa! Girlfriend went there!

And it just goes on and on like that: in this case, pages of that sort of stuff all essentially to make the single, exceedingly bland non-point that believers have made a lot of great art and that Sam Harris (a non-artist) hasn’t. Great. Thanks for the five minutes worth of literary agony.

I’m honestly embarrassed for her. If this is really a “serious work of Christian apologetics” then atheists have quite little to fear.

Christians often complain that atheist critiques of religion are simplistic and carelessly dismissive. But as Eberstadt aptly illustrates, atheists are a model of polite, interested commentary compared to how they are often treated in return.

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8 Responses to NRO’s Mary Eberstadt Pouts in the General Direction of Atheism

  1. Samuel Skinner says:

    No- save yourself!

    Seriously, if you big to feel that it is a chore, you are slogging through or the other person wouldn’t get you point if you wrote in on the moon and hit it with them, than you should take a break.

    If you are feeling lazy, just take here statement and link to a page on logic fallacies, identifying then under where they occur.

  2. vitaminbook says:

    Is it bad that I really, really want to read this now? You know, just to make fun of it?

  3. Grendel The Martyr says:

    Perhaps cross-eyed Mary endured too much special, um, attention from her childhood parish priests. I read and reread and it just doesn’t work at any level. God must not pay much.

    On the other hand, Expelled now looks comparatively like Ben Hur or Unforgiven, that is, every single piece of Christian apologetics and propanganda just got moved up one spot.

  4. […] though, someone takes it upon themselves to raise the bar. Thanks to one Mr. Bad, I was recently exposed to the output of Mary Eberstadt of National Review Online, who has […]

  5. Bad says:

    The problem is, I don’t know how you would make fun of it. It’s like making fun of a circus clown: redundant.

  6. Grendel The Martyr says:

    Well, except the typical circus clown realizes, has insight, into his or her own clownness. I don’t believe Mary does.

  7. Samuel Skinner says:

    It is true- clowns expect you to laugh. They take special training- with emphasis on training. She… is more emphasis on special.

  8. Greg H says:

    I’m an NRO reader and atheist. These articles are painful to read. It is like shoving a toothpick in your eye. MadTV pulls off more trenchent satire, I need say no more.

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