Maybe David Samuels really does read GetReligion

davidsamuels.jpgI think Doug and I now know what we want for Christmas. We want a blog software package that prevents people from making anonymous posts in the “comments” pages.

Actually, that isn’t quite right. At the moment we are trying to figure out what to think of a comment that was left in response to the recent post titled Creeping Fundamentalism V: The gospel of the New York Times. The problem with this post is not that it is anonymous. It isn’t. It is signed by “David Samuels.” The problem is that the writer did not attach an email or a URL that would allow us to confirm that this is THE David Samuels (pictured). And, in this case, that matters. Doug was able to confirm that this comment came from an IP address — 24.193.192.15 — that did not match the address used by both “Paul Tillich” and “James Pike.”

So we think this really is David Samuels. Here is the post:

I am writing because I’m sick and tired of seeing a paragraph plucked from my five year old story for the Times Magazine on James Kopp being passed around on message boards like this one as an example of insidious liberal rationalist bias in the media. Read in context, the paragraph in question was clearly meant to provoke and unsettle my liberal friends who believe that sincere sacrifice in the name of a higher good — like revolution, or equality, or saving lives — is ALWAYS right, against which I presented the counter-example of James Kopp, a man who was undoubtedly sincere, and was also undoubtedly a killer (he pled guilty), and — as far as I can tell — sincerely crazy. I honestly don’t what degree of relativism makes the moral universe of the liberal elites go ’round — I grew up in a religious family, and still consider myself a religious person. In the context of my portrait of Kopp, I was quite clearly mocking the “shared but unspoken premise” that you seem to take for some kind of in-group wink-wink among journalists. I don’t think anyone could reasonably read what I wrote without coming away with a pretty complex portrait of James Kopp as a tortured human being in the grip of an ideology that sanctioned murder as a response to what it portrayed as the murder of the unborn. I also don’t think you’ll find a more sympathetic portrait of the men and women of the anti-abortion movement in the history of the New York Times.

Now that may not be saying all that much, but it might be interesting to go back and read what I actually wrote instead of waving my ancient paragraph around as a token of how sinned-against religious believers are in the media.

Posted by: David Samuels | April 5, 2004 12:25 AM

This is in reaction to my use of a 1999 quotation from a New York Times magazine feature written by one David Samuels in which he unfolded the story of an anti-abortion activist who had veered far outside the mainstream pro-life movement and into deadly violence. The quote in question came near the end:

It is a shared if unspoken premise of the world that most of us inhabit that absolutes do not exist and that people who claim to have found them are crazy. … Perhaps sacrifice in the name of a higher good — God, Marx, freedom or whatever the good of the moment happens to be — is admirable only as long as you support the cause. Or perhaps, in the absence of absolutes, we must judge beliefs not by their inherent righteousness but by their visible consequences.

Actually, I would join Samuels in encouraging everyone to go read this story for themselves — even if that means spending some money to do so.

It is ironic that my view of the article is similar to that of the writer. I agree that he is taking a jab at all kinds of people who embrace moral absolutes, including those on the left. That is why I always use the second half of his quotation, instead of quoting him as saying, “It is a shared if unspoken premise of the world that most of us inhabit that absolutes do not exist and that people who claim to have found them are crazy,” and leaving it at that.

It is also true that his article dug deep into the mind of this conflicted, crazed anti-abortion activist, in a manner that can be called sympathetic. Then again, many would question whether it was fair to say that James Kopp in any way represented the mindset of the pro-life movement. Was this another case of guilt by association?

Finally, I can see that Samuels is gently mocking the views of his “liberal friends” in elite zip codes. Of course, it is hard to mock an attitide without saying that it exists. And it helps if one states it plainly. Which he did. And we thank him for doing so.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://ChristianityToday.com Mike Herman

    I believe your comment are very fair. It’s good to have David in the GetReligion.org fold.

    Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I believe David’s writing career simply affords him the finances to fund his national tour of xylophone aptitude:

    http://www.dsamuels.com/

    It’s just a theory.

  • Wooderson

    “Dave Samuels, with his distinct musical personality, has established himself as the top mallet player of his generation. ”

    Now compare:

    “It is a shared if unspoken premise of the world that most of us inhabit that absolutes do not exist and that people who claim to have found them are crazy.”

    Call ME crazy, but I’d say that ‘top mallet player of his generation’ is awfully close to a statement about an absolute.

  • will

    I’m pretty sure that these are two different Dave Samuels. The Xylophinst Samuels was a regular contibutor to (and in ’83 a full member of) the jazz group Spyro Gyra, which comprised a hefty percentage of the soundtrack to my teenage years.

  • Simon Sarmiento

    Maybe what you want for Christmas is here: http://www.typekey.com/

  • David Samuels

    Yup. It’s me. The writer – not the xylophone player. Thanks so much for responding to my post.

    David Samuels

  • Jon Baker

    Cute, but I think he’d have to play xylophone in a Mrs-Doubtfire-ish getup – the xylophone player seems to have about 20 years on the Ramaz- and Harvard-educated journalist.


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