Tuesday, April 09, 2019

A Caution About Ben Shapiro's New PragerU Video And Book

You can view the video here. It centers around the Athens/Jerusalem distinction made by Tertullian. I haven't read Shapiro's book, though I did look up his citation of Tertullian there and read the surrounding context. I can't evaluate his book as a whole, but the video is misleading, as is the portion of the book I read. Shapiro does a lot of good work, and I suspect the book as a whole has a lot of good qualities. But the video is problematic, and what little I've seen of the book raises some concerns about it.

I wrote an article several years ago about misrepresentations of Tertullian's comments on Athens and Jerusalem and another passage in Tertullian that's often misrepresented. Go here to find an index of responses to many other misconceptions about the church fathers, including other ones about the supposed intellectual negligence of the early Christians. And here's an article I wrote about the intellectual nature of Christianity and the importance of apologetics.


  1. Jewish conservatives are valuable allies in the culture wars, but there are fundamental differences between the worldviews of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism.

  2. I honestly don't get the conservative fascination with either Shapiro or Jordan Peterson.

    1. They are articulate and we'll placed on social media. I don't watch either of them, but from what I have read or heard, they function as a kind of role model for younger males who are frustrated or directionless. I assume older conservatives like Shapiro because he owns the libs. Conservative intellectuals tolerate him because it's so rare to have an articulate conservative with a young following.

      Given that the dominant culture is indifferent or hostile to masculinity, I am not that surprised some personalities have gained popularity speaking in ways that appeal to men. (This is part of a larger trend on YouTube with some male stars trending right wing because they know their audience is center-right.)

      (At least that is my understanding. I welcome correction if this is wrong.)

    2. Some reasons why I like and watch Shapiro and Peterson:

      1. They sincerely stand up for their beliefs. They don't come across as calculated like say Ted Cruz does (though I don't think Cruz is actually insincere). They don't back down. They're unafraid. That's refreshing to see at a time when many other conservatives kowtow to liberals.

      2. They bring the fight to liberals. For example, in debate, conservatives often allege liberals are unreasonable, while liberals often allege conservatives are immoral. It's good to see Shapiro and Peterson calling out liberals for being immoral as well.

      3. They know their audience. They're articulate. Not that they say anything new, but they say the old things in new ways.

      4. They have prestigious credentials. Shapiro from UCLA and Harvard law. Peterson a tenured professor and academic at one of Canada's top universities. I don't say this because I care about prestige, but because liberals often care about prestige. Like liberals often act like their position is the more intelligent one, and that Ivy League credentials set them apart, while they snub conservatives and middle Americans for being uneducated hicks or the like. It's nice to see conservatives beating them on their own terms a d destroying them on their own turf.

      5. I realize the thrust of all this highlights, I guess, pugilistic factors. However, personally, I'd prefer someone more reasoned and reflective and measured. Someone with a quieter but deeper intelligence. Say like Ross Douthat or Rod Dreher. So this isn't to suggest I necessarily prefer Shapiro or Peterson to other conservatives, or that they don't have flaws, or that I don't think other conservatives deserve to be more popular than them, or even that there aren't other conservatives like them but without their popularity. These are just my own reasons why I like and watch them. And I realize my reasons could apply to other conservatives as well.

      6. That said, it might be better or just as well to judge them by their enemies. But of course that wasn't the question! :)

    3. I think Shapiro is a good conservative thinker who is brilliantly fast on his feet. A nightmare for liberals/leftists. Having said that, I'm constantly irritated by his show, which seems to be a bit of conversation inbetween endless insincere advertising of various products and services. Hey, it's his show. I just think it's done in a very crass and annoying way, and ruins the flow of his conversations.

      As for Peterson, I think he's a spent force who has no real ideas other than his tired/laboured talking points. He's a broken record. I've come to find him to be a phoney. He seems insincere, flakey, and he just waffles on endlessly. Perhaps it's just me, but I've come to see him as insincere and a phoney. Great when dealing with your Cathy Newmans, but that's about it for me.

    4. To be fair, Peterson has no true moral center, given his near nihilistic tendencies as well as reliance on Darwinian psychology and Darwinism in general (e.g. his whole we are lobsters thing).

    5. In a different timeline, Peterson mightve been a Canadian fuhrer. ;)

    6. Shapiro is intelligent and fast on his feet as you say, but he'll slow with age, as it seems he's already starting to. He'll need a deeper philosophy or worldview for the long haul. Maybe that's in part why he's been delving into religious topics, interviewing and debating both atheists and Christians, etc. Not entirely sure as I don't follow Shapiro super closely.

    7. Of course, Shapiro is an orthodox Jew, but I've heard him say he could've turned out an atheist as well. He seems to respect atheism to a degree. Anyway that suggests to me he's not as deeply convinced about his Judaism as he may seem to be (e.g. always wearing a kippa). Maybe I'm mistaken.

    8. I believe Shapiro is a practising and very devout Jew, and does not shy away from mentioning it. He often mentions his faith with respect to his beliefs ragarding marriage and abortion, though I find his belief about gay marriage to be inconsistent and unhelpful.

      Peterson's fluffy agnosticism only exacerbates his flakiness. Again, he never really takes a solid position but rather prattles on in the pretense that he is some great unifier bringing religion and objective, noramitive principles together with evolutionary theory (in the strong sense), as if they can complement one another. Yet he doesn't say a thing of note. He's a waffler. He simply parrots the evolutionary account of 'morality' while utterly ignoring the arbitrariness problem. He thinks he's a guru, teaching us all some new, 'third way,' but I believe he's simply winging it.

    9. Let me add that it has been about a month since I checked in on Peterson. If his approach has changed and he has found some solid ground and beliefs, and has ventured beyond his laboured talking points, then I'm all ears.

    10. Shapiro and Peterson provide a needed push back to the liberal / leftist / marxist / LGBTQ political agenda, because the left cannot do a "gotcha" by bringing up Christian theology or creationism, (since they are not Evangelical Christians), etc.

      They give us a voice (in the areas that we would agree with them on, in politics and culture, social and ethical principles) without the typical comebacks and dismissals.

  3. Jason,
    I enjoyed reading your 2011 article on Tertullian, as I had not read it before. I take it, correct me if I am wrong, that your main point (through Eric Osborn) is that the Revelation (Jerusalem, both OT and NT) incorporates reason and logic also, and it true revelation (OT & NT) does not go against reason/logic.

    "Christians claimed that their rule and gospel had come from heaven and that the incarnate logos included rather than precluded the discipline of reason. There was no excuse which might justify the evasion of persistent thought. Jerusalem does not need Athens because it has included and gone beyond it...." Eric Osborn

    Ok, so, are you saying that Shapiro is giving too much credit to the Greek /Athens/reason side and implying that Revelation side would not be balanced out, if we only went by that. (Results would be fanaticism, harsh laws - he seems to imply things like Sharia law Islamic rule or like Medieval Roman Catholicism, Crusades, Inquisitions, or as many point out in a negative way, "Calvin's Geneva", etc.

    Can Christians (proper application of Revelation and Reason, given that Reason is within Revelation, Biblically speaking) ever be the dominant social and political force for good, without also succumbing to hypocrisy in secret or tyranny or oppression or injustice?

    (proves the Biblical principle of the sinfulness of mankind, even Christians and OT believers. (Noah, David, Solomon, etc.)

    Because even good people, when gaining power, can succumb to hypocrisy and injustice. Isn't the good part of the "Reason" / Athens side, the balance of power of freedom of the press, thought, religion (even for non-Christians) and the 3 branches of government to keep those in power accountable?

    One of the great difficulties of apologetics is defending traditional western values, but the associations of the mistakes of the past are there also in the good parts of the past, and they are stuck in young adults minds and also part of the pain of the experience of people who come from groups that were previously mistreated. (slavery, witch-hunts, Jim Crow laws, bullying, unjust treatment of native Americans - the Cherokee trail of tears, etc.) Yes, I get tired of hearing all that all the time also (by the liberal media, hollywood, etc.), but if you have children in college and in their 20s now a-days; one has to concede these problems also.

    The LGBTQ political agenda is constantly pointing out unjust treatment of homosexuals during the days when traditional morality was upheld. (like the way Alan Turing (greatly affected development of computers, and helped the Allies decode Nazi messages and helped the Allies win WW2) was treated for his homosexuality.)

    1. Ken,

      Thanks for the encouragement!

      Biblical Judaism and Christianity don't contradict reason, and they not only incorporate reason, but also give it a better foundation than Athens does, command the use of reason, and utilize it to advocate their revelation. I don't know to what extent Shapiro's work in the context we're discussing here is inconsistent with what I just said in the previous sentence, but his video and the comments I read in his book are at least misleading. In a cultural context like ours, making comments like Shapiro's is an unwise approach to take, given how important the issues are and how much Judaism and Christianity have been misrepresented on these issues. I suspect the remainder of Shapiro's book, like some of the work he's done in other contexts, is helpful in overturning some of those misrepresentations. But I have the impression that Shapiro accepts some of the misrepresentations, and I think some of his comments are counterproductive even if they're counterproductive in ways he didn't intend.

      I agree with him that Athens has had an important influence on Western culture. But he seems to be underestimating the Jerusalem side.

    2. Thanks Jason!

      Without having read his book, but from what I gather by some of what I have heard him talk about in clips and interviews, and his interview with John MacArthur, it seems to me that Ben Shapiro's understanding of the Greek / Athens / Enlightenment side is about the result of European and American / Western culture in the separation of church and state (applications of the first amendment, to stop Christians from persecuting one another (RC vs. Protestantism, religious wars in Europe, etc.) and to get Christians from no longer persecuting Jews, as was a problem in European history and culture.

      That is probably why he says that the pillar of revelation, without the pillar of "reason" (Athens, Enlightenment, separation of church and state, etc.), without trying to say that Revelation has no reason or logic in it at all. His emphasis seems to be on freedom of religion and the first amendment of the USA constitution principles.