Not too hot and not too cold

A little of this, a little of that; split the difference; a plague on both your houses; between two extremes the correct answer is always in the middle; nothing too much; there are two sides to every question; cut the kid in half. Funny how often that cashes out to some caring woolly sentimentalist discovering that everyone to that side is wrong in that way and everyone to the other side is wrong in the other way and Caring Woolly Sentimentalist turns out (what a coincidence!) to be the one person who has it Just Right. Yeah sure – that’s how that always works, as sure as sediment sinks to the bottom. Ideas sort themselves into two sets of opposing wrong extreme versions and a tiny spot right in the middle that is Perfection Itself.

Waldman wins his centrist peace by dismissing Christian conservatives’ majoritarian bullying and secularists’ insistence on separation of church and state as “extremes” that can be reconciled by the former acknowledging pluralism and the latter accepting that separation is neither strict nor meant to be universal.

But why carve it just there? And why narrow the discussion to two groups each of which has one idea? Because that makes it easier to declare oneself the winner. Yeah but besides that.

Waldman’s centrism may appear to support a mildly liberal resolution; his book is, in the end, a defense of separation of church and state, very narrowly defined. But by slighting the enduring strength of religious conservatism, suggesting that the right’s partisans and the left’s separationists are evenly matched and assuming that his relatively liberal views are the happy mean, Waldman undermines the case for real religious freedom and liberty of conscience. Founding Faith is one of those books that find friends and enemies on both the left and the right and thus declare themselves balanced, as if freedom and equality were sandwich meats to be weighed on a scale.

It’s always a bad idea to assume that one’s own views are the happy mean. It’s kind of like assuming the center of the universe is the spot where you happen to be sitting.

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