David Bentley Hart makes a fool of himself, and so does the New York Times

I don’t want to believe what is happening to the New York Times: its journalistic standards are declining, it fired its public editor for finding flaws in the paper’s coverage, and it’s becoming more and more Authoritarian Left. One would think from the outset that publishing an article by a theologian wouldn’t comport with Control-Leftism, but Saturday’s op-ed, by none other than David Bentley Hart, does.

We’ve met Hart before: he’s a humorless, Orthodox Christian Sophisticated Theologian™ and philosopher, most notable for his dreadful writing and obscurantist pronouncements about the nature of God. Combined with his lame philosophy and execrable prose is his overweening arrogance, which seeps through in virtually every sentence of his work. You can see it, for instance, in his book The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss,which I analyzed on this site.

So the New York Times published Hart’s long, confusing, and wearisome diatribe—on baseball. Click on the screenshot to read it, but, to quote Joni Mitchell, “be prepared to bleed”:

The point of the article, as far as I can discern what the sweating professor is trying to say, is that he’s a baseball fan of sorts, doesn’t like the New York Yankees, and sees them as unfairly advantaged because of their large endowment, which enables them to buy up the best players. This creates a wage gap between them and other teams, and this gap parallels the income inequality that pervades America today. To make this point, Hart uses over 1400 words, most of them unnecessary.

Now I think a lot of the article is Hart’s attempt to be humorous while making this serious point, which he does by using hyperbolic similes, fancy foreign phrases, and purple prose; but the result is not funny at all. I’ll spare you most of the prose, but have a gander at this:

Overwriting:

So, I confess it: There is some resentment. But it never degenerates into emulousness or envy. No one elsewhere wants to root for a team like the Yankees. The notion is appalling. Could any franchise be more devoid of romance? What has it ever represented but the brute power of money? One can admire the St. Louis Cardinals’ magnificent history, or cherish fond memories of the great Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds or Oakland A’s teams of the past. But no morally sane soul could delight in that graceless enormity in the Bronx, or its supremacy over smaller markets. It is an intrinsically depraved pleasure, like a taste for bearbaiting. And certainly none of us wants to be anything like Yankees fans — especially after seeing them at close quarters. Certainly, I have witnessed them often enough in Baltimore during weekend series against my beloved Orioles to know the horror in full.

Not that the horror is easy to recall clearly. The trauma is too violent. Memory cringes, whines, tries to slink away. One recollects only a kaleidoscopic flux of gruesomely fragmentary impressions, too outlandish to be perfectly accurate, too vivid to be entirely false: nightmarish revenants from the dim haunts of the collective unconscious … monstrous, abortive shapes emerging from the abysmal murk of evolutionary history … things pre-hominid, even pre-mammalian … forms never quite resolving into discrete organisms, spilling over and into one another, making it uncertain where one ends and another begins. … It really is awful: ghastly glistening flesh … tentacles coiling and uncoiling, stretching and contracting … lidless orbicular eyes eerily waving on slender stalks … squamous hides, barbed quills, the unguinous sheen of cutaneous toxins … serrated tails, craggy horns, sallow fangs, gleaming talons … fragrances fungal and poisonous … sickly iridescences undulating across pallid, gelatinous underbellies or shimmering along slick, filmy scales.

Jebus!

Fancy foreign phrases to show off:

I mean, be reasonable: How often, as Derek Jeter’s retirement approached in 2014, were we made to endure the squealing ecstasies of television announcers too bedazzled by the fastidious delicacy of his dainty coupé-chassé en tournant on grounders to his right to notice his minuscule range or flimsy arm? Why were we forced to see him awarded a preposterous two additional Gold Gloves in his dotage when his defense was scarcely better than mediocre in his prime?

Umm. . . how many of the Times’s readers, sophisticated as they might be, know what a “coupé-chassé en tournant” is? Could he not have used a more familiar phrase?

Hart’s labored and unconvincing conclusion:

The analogy is imperfect, but irresistible. America — with its decaying infrastructure, its third-world public transit, its shrinking labor market, its evaporating middle class, its expanding gulf between rich and poor, its heartless health insurance system, its mindless indifference to a dying ecology, its predatory credit agencies, its looming Social Security collapse, its interminable war, its metastasizing national debt and all the social pathologies that gave it a degenerate imbecile and child-abducting sadist as its president — remains the only developed economy in the world that believes it wrong to use civic wealth for civic goods. Its absurdly engorged military budget diverts hundreds of billions of dollars a year from the public weal to those who profit from the military-industrial complex. Its plutocratic policies and libertarian ethos are immune to all appeals of human solidarity. It towers over the world, but promises secure shelter only to the fortunate few.

Yes, there may be some truth in this penultimate paragraph, but really, hasn’t this been said a gazillion times before? And how much of it has to do with baseball? Child abduction? Yes, the Trump administration treats immigrant children poorly, but why does that have to do with the Yankees?

And does Hart have to preface this paragraph with 1200 words of bloviation about the horrible Satanic New York team? Yes, the analogy is imperfect, because the U.S. government is not a private organization like the New York Yankees, nor subject to the same market forces, but the analogy should have been irresistible. 

Only a pompous ass of a theologian, trying at once to be humorous and profound, could produce such a horror of an article. More important: Why did the New York Times publish this? What editor looked at this submission and thought, “Hey, this is pretty good. Let’s run it?” And didn’t that editor have an editor to approve the publication?

I urge you to read it yourself and tell me if there’s any merit in it.

38 Comments

  1. CAS
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    I always respected Jefferson for banning the teaching of nothing (theology) at U. Va! Hopefully university departments teaching theology will continue to evaporate!

  2. busterggi
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    He used French – Gomez Addams would kiss him.

  3. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Wow. Perhaps no subject has spawned more good (and bad) American writing than baseball. The dean of good baseball writing is The New Yorkers‘ graceful prose stylist Roger Angell, but some of our finest novelists have given it a go too, like John Updike and Philip Roth.

    But there’s nothing worse than bad baseball writing — except for maybe pretentiously bad baseball writing. And David Bentley Hart’s NYT piece is the chef-d’œuvre (to cop a francophone term he might fancy) of pretentiously bad baseball writing.

    I could upchuck a case of him (seeing as how we’re goin’ with Joni here).

    • GBJames
      Posted July 17, 2018 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      I think theology is worse than bad baseball writing.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted July 17, 2018 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        Baseball sure gets bragging rights over theology when it comes to good writing — though Scripture itself, or at least the KJV, ain’t half bad (if you don’t mind skipping around some to avoid its recurrent longueurs).

    • nicky
      Posted July 17, 2018 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      I kinda like purple prose, but in limited quantities. He’s really overdoing it, and hence it becomes leaden and morose.

    • Posted July 17, 2018 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      “Perhaps no subject has spawned more good (and bad) American writing than baseball.”

      Right on, Ken, though as a Red Sox fan I consider any form of dissing the Yankees to be “good” by definition. Re Updike, his farewell to Ted Williams (link below) is at the top of my all-time list, most memorable perhaps for the great line, “Gods do not answer letters.”

      https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1960/10/22/hub-fans-bid-kid-adieu

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted July 17, 2018 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, that’s one of my favorites (and one that I’ve linked to in the comments here myself).

        I also like Richard Ben Cramer’s classic work of New Journalism, “What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?”

        • Posted July 17, 2018 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

          “I also like Richard Ben Cramer’s classic work. . . .”

          Yes. Without editorializing one way or the other, Cramer brilliantly raises the question of whether what it cost Williams to become outstanding in a single area—hitting—was worth neglecting almost all other areas of his personality and life. It’s a question that applies to anyone who has the potential to be the very best at anything, and there’s no easy answer. Happily, it’s not one that most of us mere mortals ever have to deal with.

        • Posted July 17, 2018 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

          BTW, PBS will be airing a new American Masters episode “Ted Williams: ‘The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived'” on July 23rd. Trailer here: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/ted-williams-greatest-hitter-ever-lived-film/10293/

  4. Silvia Planchett
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    A legend in his own mind..

  5. Michael Fisher
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    A pompous git

  6. Posted July 17, 2018 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I think the cartoon shows mind derangement.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 17, 2018 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      It’s the Damn Yankees; go figure.

  7. Historian
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    For Hart the Yankees are a metaphor for cold, heartless capitalism that crushes those that oppose it. I think he is correct, but there is nothing new here. The Yankees have been viewed this way going back to the 1920s, the era of Ruth and Gehrig, when they began their domination of the baseball world. One can argue about the quality of Hart’s writing and the wisdom of his analogizing the Yankees to American society, but his conclusion is spot on. American society is in crisis for many of the reasons that he lists. Trump represents the culmination of the crisis, not its cause. His analysis may not be new, but so what? Very few people on only a few occasions say something novel. It is only through incessant repetition that a message may get through to most people. Conservatives learned this decades ago and is one of the reasons for their success. I do not like Hart’s theology and his writing style for this article may quickly lose the attention of a lot of readers, but his sentiments here align with my own. I am saying this as a person who grew up in the Bronx in the 1950s and lived and died with the fortunes of the New York Yankees. The only god I ever really worshipped was Mickey Mantle.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 17, 2018 at 10:28 am | Permalink

      Yeah, the salad days of my youth were the summers of ’65 through ’69 when the Yankees totally sucked.

      Those years were wall-to-wall schadenfreude, from April through October. 🙂

  8. Randall Schenck
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    For crap-sake. Has this clown never seen Money Ball. The NYT must really be suffering for lack of writers to fill the shrinking space. Yes, as baseball goes, so goes the country. That is an example of someone who is in tune with no one.

    I have an opposite suggestion if you have the time. Today, Obama gave maybe his first major speech since leaving office. It was in South Africa I believe where they were having an event about Nelson Mandela. I think it would still be available if you google USA TODAY.com regarding Obama July 17, 2017. I would estimate it ran at least an hour but was a great speech.

  9. Posted July 17, 2018 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    I always get his name confused with Thomas Hart Benton, a painter I really like.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 17, 2018 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      Long as you don’t confuse him with Mandy and Sandy Bentley, the identical twins who were the Hef’s polyamorous live-ins for a while. 🙂

      • Posted July 17, 2018 at 10:44 am | Permalink

        Now that’s very confusing.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted July 17, 2018 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

          Mandy and Sandy? Probably confused the heck out of Hef, too. 😉

  10. AC Harper
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    I remember reading an article (in a newspaper!) more than 10 years ago that pointed out that with so many broadcast channels to fill broadcasters were going to turn to cheap and low quality content.

    I guess that newspapers and magazines have already launched themselves down the slope to cheap and low quality content. There are still column inches to fill but there now an almost un-exhaustible range of column pixels too.

    I guess the mass-circulation model is dying. Perhaps newspapers will find a niche that they can survive in. Weekly newspapers with top-notch writing, printed on demand?

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 17, 2018 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      All true, except I bet Bentley Hart didn’t come cheap. He would have received the top payment rate. And since they pay by the word, all the extra ones he included added to the bill.

  11. Posted July 17, 2018 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Pompous but correct in a few places. I guess that’s about par (maybe better) for a theologian.

  12. Jon Gallant
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    According to Wiki, David Bentley Hart is currently a Templeton Fellow at the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study which “supports research that is directed toward, or extends inquiry to include, ultimate questions and questions of value.” We can assume, therefore, that his baseball preference for the Baltimore Orioles over the New York Yankees represents an ultimate question—the sort of profundity that scholars at the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study deliberate at great length. In any case, I pay no attention to baseball writing, except that which mentions my childhood hero, Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers.

  13. PORKUT
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Calm down, calm down. As a Yankee reviler of some years, I thought the piece was a terrific laugh and sent it to all my Yankee- fan friends. Most responded as expected with high dudgeon and even cries of “fake news.”
    Lighten up a bit and, again, calm down.

    • Posted July 17, 2018 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      Please do not tell me what to say.

      • PORKUT
        Posted July 21, 2018 at 9:32 am | Permalink

        What in hell does that mean?

        (Please note that my note tells no one “what to say.” — particularly JAC if he happens to be the author of the request).

        I’ll just chalk the odd question up to some kind of typo or impersonator, particularly given the fact that JAC (and his WEIT) happens to be my very favorite and most highly recommended evolutionary biologist, most prolific writer and duck-tender with a polished sense of humor.)

        • Posted July 21, 2018 at 9:37 am | Permalink

          It tells us how to behave, mainly by shutting up about this. While your words are flattering, remember that “what the hell does this mean”? isn’t exactly polite. Most important, I am baffled that ANYONE would find Hart’s turgid and purple prose even slightly funny.

          • PORKUT
            Posted July 21, 2018 at 10:08 am | Permalink

            I’ll confess to occasionally being “impolite,” sort-of, but, in the same fashion, perhaps you might have been a bit more expansive and a bit less school-marmish. In my view, your “request” seemed to seriously misinterpret my comment and caused you to be a degree impolite and overly sensitive.
            Furthermore, I do not see how anyone could have taken the Hart op-ed piece seriously, fool that he is. By the way, my girlfriend does not share my sense of humor, either. So it goes.
            Go Red Sox, boo Yankees.

  14. Heather Hastie
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    His comment on US society is accurate, but the writing is both pretentious and just plain dreadful. All I can assume is that the NYT is hoping a few conservatives will read it on the strength of who wrote it.

    I’ve got to say that all that slimy, gelatinous, etc stuff that apparently populates Bentley Hart’s dreams says a lot about him, and it’s disturbing.

  15. Steve Pollard
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    I know nothing about baseball; but that article is absurd. Either Hart is trying to be funny, in which case he’s failed, or he means (at least some of) it, in which case he’s galumphingly OTT.

    But hey, this is sport, and sport attracts money. Look at what’s happened to most of the English Premier League: owned by foreigners, managed by foreigners, and largely featuring foreign players; and all driven by the cold-eyed bottom line. (Yes, Man City, I’m talking about you). It’s a miracle that we managed to put a decent team together at all, let alone get to the World Cup semis.

    This train of thought reminds me of the old joke:

    – Tell me, do you enjoy watching football?
    – No, not really, I’m an Arsenal supporter.

    I’m sure US sports fans have similar sentiments.

  16. Posted July 17, 2018 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Maybe the editors at the grey lady just wanted to add another token Christian to their stable. Obviously Joel Osteen or Kenneth Copeland wouldn’t fit in very well. DBH, on the other hand, appears to be politically housebroken by NYT standards, and his god is neither animal, vegetable, nor mineral, so he shouldn’t offend too many readers. It will be interesting to see if he turns up again any time in the near future.

  17. JJ
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    A Yankees fan, I presume. You are really overreacting. Yes, it was a bit pretentious and not very original but I found the article sincere and compared to theology very clear and straight forward. I’m pretty sure there are more important things to pay attention to. I have no idea who this author is and would perhaps be more critical if I knew more about his past writings. Nonetheless, your response seem more like an emotional rant than rational commentary.

    • Posted July 17, 2018 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

      DBH isn’t just another NYT sports writer chewing the fat about baseball. He wrote a book entitled “The Experience of God,” attacking the “New Atheists” for their supposed ignorance of the “sophisticated” version of God he claimed religious believers of all faiths really worshipped. It was written in the same supercilious and precious style as the article in question. According to DBH God is incredibly ephemeral, neither object, subject, thing, or anything in between, and presumably only accessible to those who meditate for 10 or 20 years under his direction. In other words, he put his “sophisticated” God on a high shelf where he imagined the atheists couldn’t touch him.

      Of course, his version of God isn’t the one that most of the faithful believe in at all. The New Atheists quite reasonably concentrated on debunking the version of God they do believe in. That doesn’t mean that his “sophisticated” God isn’t ludicrous in its own right. For one thing, Moslems insist in several places in the Quran that Christians will burn in hell forever for believing in the Trinity and/or associating the word “begotten” with God in any way. It follows that they can hardly be worshipping the same God. DBH hand waved this objection aside in his book by remarking that he was “bored” with the question of the Trinity. So much for his “sophistication.”

      In short, as far as this website is concerned, DBH’s opinion of the Yankees is neither here nor there. I think the real question is whether the NYT is grooming him to be another spokesman for the accommodationist line they’ve been pursuing of late. Time will tell.

  18. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    Well, I could agree with his last paragraph, which is quite a succinct Case for the Prosecution. There is a case for the defence to be made. Probably.

    All except the baseball analogy, I know nothing of baseball.

    Another writer who used to make baseball analogies incessantly was Steven Gould, and I always found them annoyingly distracting since only a baseball fan would have been able to understand what he was getting at.

    cr

  19. Posted July 20, 2018 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    His communication style is even more agitating when trying to listen to him

  20. Zetopan
    Posted July 21, 2018 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    “Why did the New York Times publish this?”
    Because some people imagine that “Equal Time For Ignorance” is being “fair”.


Post a Comment

Required fields are marked *
*
*

%d bloggers like this: