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This Sunday, The New York Times Magazine ran a 3,000-plus-word piece on one Doug Wilson, a Moscow, Idaho, pastor described as trying to “reinvent conservative Protestant education” with his New Saint Andrews College. The story, a major feature in the magazine’s annual “college issue,” suggests that Saint Andrews is home to “a band of cultured missionaries,” a place that “tries to unite faith and reason.”
Well, sort of. “Onward, Christian Scholars,” by Molly Worthen, does describe Wilson’s religious empire as “radically conservative” and notes that Wilson (pictured, right) would like to see Jefferson Davis, late president of the Confederacy, as president. But Worthen, a student of American religious history, omits a few critical points (here and here and here).
In fact, Doug Wilson is co-author of a piece of sorry scholarship, entitled Southern Slavery, As It Was, that argues that “[s]lavery as it existed in the South … was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence.” “There has never been a multiracial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world,” the book continues. And then: “Slave life was to them [slaves] a life of plenty, of simple pleasures, of food, clothes, and good medical care.” No serious scholar of slavery or the Civil War accepts these ludicrous assertions.
Incredibly, Worthen completely missed this fact — hard to understand, given that the book produced a raging 2003-2004 controversy, including demonstrations by hundreds of University of Idaho students against Wilson, anti-racist statements by two local university presidents, and a damning anti-Wilson essay by two academic historians, that convulsed the entire community around Moscow for months. Instead, Worthen concentrates on the “Latin textbooks” and “Greek vocabulary” that the hardworking Saint Andrews students pore over as part of their “classical Christian education.”
That’s not all. Saint Andrews treats as a foundational Western thinker, right up there with Plato and Aristotle, a 19th-century theologian named Robert L. Dabney — a Confederate Civil War chaplain who described blacks as “a morally inferior race,” a “sordid, alien taint” marked by “lying, theft, drunkenness, laziness, waste.” Wilson also argues that cursing one’s parents is punishable by death; that children of parents who don’t believe in Jesus Christ are “foul” and “unclean”; that women were created to be submissive to men; and that if a woman is raped, the rapist should pay her father a bride price and then, if the father approves, marry his victim.
None of this makes it into Worthen’s article. In fact, when she does give a three-word quote to a Wilson critic, she uses the occasion to sarcastically describe how the woman took “two hours to detail Wilson’s crimes” — almost none of which are mentioned. Instead, Worthen refers lightly to Saint Andrews’ “chronic spats with liberals in town.”
One last thing you might have expected to see mentioned in a magazine that purports to explore the pros and cons of various colleges and approaches to education: In 2004, a retired philosophy professor at the University of Idaho exposed the fact that at least 22 passages from Wilson’s tendentious book on slavery were plagiarized from a 1974 book. Wilson scornfully derided his critics, saying he and his co-author were guilty only of a “citation problem” that he would fix up in later editions. His upbeat take on “biblical slavery,” however, would not change.