...of course not. But sometimes I scratch my head and wonder what he's thinking.
I hesitate to dive into blog politics like this, especially after Brad of Resident Theology was so recently kind enough to say that I'm a levelheaded guy. But taking a stab at this is, I think, worthwhile.
In his recent post "Why Novak is Completely Worthless in Every Way Imaginable", Halden follows Daniel Larison in criticizing a piece from First Things, where Michael Novak seeks to open up dialogue about sanctions and the possibility of eventual war against Iran. Novak appeals to Niebuhr and some vaguely Zionist ideas in making his point, and Halden is concerned about this as contrary to Christian teaching, to the Sermon on the Mount in particular, etc. etc.
I'm not interested in arguing with Halden on the merits of Novak's case. On the one hand, my initial sense from reading the First Things piece was that it was a bit overly paranoid and probably not adequate as a Christian ethical proposal, either concerning Israel or war with any other country. On the other hand, I haven't really read any of Novak's work, so any very substantial response to it should probably be left to someone else.
Setting that aside, then, let me explain my personal perspective on the man.
Michael Novak is now retired (or semi-retired) on the coast of Delaware just between the ocean and the bay, and next-door to my grandparents. I've never met him, but my grandparents will have dinner with him every once in a while. They've actually given copies of my articles to him, and Novak apparently thought well of my Augustine paper and sent it to some friends at Ave Maria University (after which I had quite a time explaining to my sweet yet oblivious grandmother why, "No, in fact I don't think the Ave Maria folks would be very interested in having me as a doctoral student."). Two years ago my grandparents gave me a signed copy of Novak's No One Sees God for Christmas. I think it's still sitting on a shelf in Virginia at this point, although it will probably get read sooner or later.
During a Thanksgiving visit this past autumn that included a stop in Delaware, Novak again came up in conversation. Apparently he had a lot to do these days, putting things in order. Was it for an upcoming neo-conservative conference? For a warmongering book? If he did have any such plans, he was now more busy attending to family affairs following the August death of Karen, his wife of 46 years. I knew that she had been struggling with cancer for a while, and from what I understand this wasn't a complete surprise. He still writes poems to her, and publishes them at First Things. Those don't usually make it to Inhabitatio Dei.
We can be thankful, I suppose, that on the day of her passing Halden happened to be criticizing Mark Driscoll and John Piper rather than Michael Novak. It would have been a little tacky in retrospect if the new widower had been the one to raise his ire on August 12th.
I don't say this as a cheap and sentimental shot against Halden's criticisms. Michael Novak (and Mark Driscoll, and John Piper, and everyone else who receives similar treatment from Halden) put themselves out there, and express quite bold views without so much as a blush. They're obviously thereby exposing themselves to criticism, and I'm happy for them to take it... and they can, just fine. John Milbank receives the same treatment from certain bloggers (and certain bloggers receive similar treatment from him in return). Amidst all of this is a good deal of worthwhile critique, and an even larger amount of stupidity. But the point is that it's public argument, and far be it from me to dismiss the value of such interaction.
What strikes me as unwise is to so readily talk about someone as a "sub-Christian joke". I take it that the intended genre of such accusations is somehow prophetic, and there are clearly reasons offered for coming to such a conclusion. But I simply don't understand what the rhetorical need is for going about things this way. Further (and more importantly), I can plausibly imagine some real harm that might be done by it.
I was within one hundred feet of the man this past autumn in Delaware. Should I have knocked on his door and offered a witness to him that he was worthless in every way imaginable (citing the Sermon on the Mount as my prooftext, of course)? Or should I have kept such truth-telling within the community of the non-worthless, and perhaps simply warned my grandparents that their neighbor was a sub-Christian joke? Or should I have followed Halden, concluding that the best course of action is to speak this way about people within one's role as a blogger, where subscribers to one's posted thoughts can discuss these important issues more comfortably from their desk or wherever they happen to be using their laptop?
As I said, I don't claim to know much about Michael Novak, and I'm not interested in arguing with Halden about the merits of his First Things piece. I hope that this string of anecdotes makes it clear exactly why I tend to be concerned by these sorts of blog posts (as opposed to critiques more generally), and why I don't usually think it's worth taking part in the comment section. My advice to folks who are interested in blogging about theology would be, frankly, to not blog like Halden often does. I think it's a mistake to do so, and that it can foster a stunted ability to interact with other people.