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The Atonement And The New York Times

UNITED KINGDOM

Critical thinking is the mantra of a modern humanist education. For the chattering classes, to use Matthew Arnold’s phrase, there is no higher intellectual virtue than empathy, of understanding diverse points of view, and thinking critically about one’s own beliefs.

When this ideal is met, education truly takes place. The mind -- the soul -- is broadened. But as any observer of what passes for intellectual life knows, critical thinking, as practiced by the media and academic elites, goes one way.

Recognition of cultural difference is always good, in this world view, while stereotypes are always bad. Yet few seem to be able to make the connection that stereotypes, whether good or bad, are in fact descriptions of cultural difference. The moment a writer generalizes about a culture’s or people’s distinctive qualities they are constructing a stereotype.

If pushed to explain this contradiction, the response of the modern mind is that the problem is not all stereotypes but negative stereotypes -- which means stereotypes of anyone other than white men, Evangelicals, Catholics or Americans.

In an otherwise commendable article on an abuse story from England, the New York Times offers stereotypical stock characters. While the facts are there in the story, the call to empathy, understanding diverse points of view and thinking critically about one’s own beliefs is noticeably absent.

Here’s a news flash for the New York Times: evil exists and can be found in all times, places, peoples and cultures (not just in white, upper middle class men educated at private schools and professing an evangelical Christian faith.)

Evangelicals are sadomasochists. Catholic priests are pedophiles. Muslims are wife beaters. Jews are money grubbers. Hindus are smelly, and Mormons are Republicans. This article falls to this level of offensive stereotyping in seeking to explain the John Smyth saga.

The New York Times, March 4, 2017, article entitled “Dozens say Christian leader made British boys ‘bleed for Jesus,” recounts a story first reported in England by Channel 4 News on February 2, 2017, that subsequently received extensive coverage in the British press.

Channel 4 reported that during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, John Smyth, QC, a prominent barrister and onetime leader of director of summer camps run by the evangelical Christian Iwerne Trust that catered to boys attending Britain’s top public schools, was a sadomasochist.

Smyth befriended teenaged boys he met at the camps run by the Iwerne Trust and boys affiliated with a Christian forum at Winchester College -- an elite British public school located near his home in Hampshire. He would invite the boys to his home on weekends and developed close relationships with many, encouraging them to pursue careers in the church or military, while also propounding conservative evangelical Christian teachings.

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