Aug 10, 2012
R. Jay Magill’s book Sincerity (W.W. Norton: 2012) was reviewed in the Wall Street Journal and that tricked me into thinking that it was a serious book. It is an extraordinary exercise in pseudo-intellectual hyperbolism. What is shocking is that it would be published by a “legitimate” publishing house and presumably read as a philosophic essay.
I should have known from the subtitle that something was seriously wrong with the book. How a moral idea born five hundred years ago inspired religious wars/ modern art/ hipster chic/ and the curious notion that we ALL have something to say (no matter how dull). The subtitle is certainly worthy of the book. The sentence is a mine field of pretentious sophistry and bizarre “information” (everyone knows, for instance, that “the devil has a moustache”) and is unfortunately a very accurate summary of the book’s thesis.
“Sincerity” invented by the Protestant Reformers? As a historian of ideas, Magill is beneath all considerations of shame. The English Protestants persecuted by Henry VIII in his Catholic period were the first standard-bearers of sincerity in Western Civilization. Luther and Calvin are other stars in the firmament of this “moral idea.” They were reacting to “the Papacy’s long history of making a mockery of basic Church tenets.”
This long history is considered proven when Magill mentions Alexander VI, the second Borgia pope. As all serious students of history and HBO subscribers (including the insufferable governor of New York, apparently) know, Alexander VI and his family had a problem with the Ten Commandments, especially those from 5-10. Andrew Cuomo, with a self-righteous hubris worthy of his pater, and not shy about historical analogies, said that the U.S. bishops objections to the HHS mandate were ridiculous given that the Supreme Pontiffs of the Roman Church are famous for assassinating the lovers of their mistresses. This last was reported by the Madame de Stael of chic anti-Catholicism in American Culture, Maureen Dowd.