Thursday, August 17, 2006

Presbyterian Publishing’s Definition of “Progressive”

What passes for “progressive stances on theological and social issues” at the Presbyterian Publishing Corp. (PPC), the independent publishing unit of the Presbyterian Church (USA)? One might guess compassion for the poor and social tolerance. Actually, that’s how Jack Keller (quoted in Christianity Today 7/31), vice president of PPC imprint Westminster John Knox Press (WJK) characterizes conspiracies theories which accuse the Bush administration of orchestrating 9-11, and thereby murdering nearly 3,000 Americans. Real Progressives should sue Keller for defamation of character.

At a time when the editors of Popular Mechanics are basically staking the heart of 9-11 conspiracy theories, the quasi-independent WJK has cast its lot with the like of Loose Change conspiracy-mongers who regularly mock the families of 9-11 victims, publishing a book by 9-11 conpiracy theorist and extremist Bush critic David Ray Griffin titled Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11. Board Chair Kenneth Godshall gave the requisite pseudo-disclaimer in a WJK press release:

“The views expressed in the book are Griffin’s alone,” Godshall added. “PPC provides a variety of viewpoints in the books we publish. A few of them from time to time will be controversial. This particular book is the work of an independent author and in no way represents the views of the denomination or PPC itself.”

However, the clear implication is that the contention that President Bush deliberately murdered nearly 3,000 Americans is well within the bounds of mainstream discourse. It also begs the question, if WJK publishes such a wide array of viewpoints, how many of its titles endorse the conventional view that Islamic terrorists committed the 9-11 atrocities and advocate vigorously prosecuting the war on terror, and support the state of Israel? According to Professor Earl Tilford, also quoted in Christianity Today: "They are very anti-Israeli and very much inclined to anything that speaks ill of the administration."

It is also interesting to note how Publisher’s Weekly handles the story on-line. Their story conveniently provides a link to a major 9-11 conspiracy website, but if you want to read from the cited critics of WJK, you have to hunt for them on the web yourself.

Publishing books on both sides of the political spectrum is healthy, and often financial sound strategy. However, when you traffic in conspiracies theories, you endorse their validity. That’s why in the 90’s, St. Martin’s Press cancelled publication of David Irving’s Goebbels biography when they learned of his Holocaust denial past.

It’s not just the Presbyterians who peddling myths. The AP reports, Spike Lee is also stocking his forthcoming HBO Katrina documentary with similar tales, reporting:

“Lee said he included in the documentary theories of an intentional bombing of the levees, but he stopped short of saying if he believed them.”

Again, this begs the question, if Lee is agnostic with regards to such theories, did he seek to include any interviews with engineers which might refute them. On the positive side, according to the AP Lee also interviewed many musicians and recreated a New Orleans jazz funeral. Let’s hope he paid them well.

In reality, unhinged Bush critics are promoting two contradictory narratives. In one, the Bush administration is all powerful and deliberately killed scores of people for vague nefarious purposes. The second narrative argues the Bush administration was caught napping by each disaster and mismanaged the response. Clearly, both cannot be true.

Truth however, is not important to the so-called “9-11 Truth movement” and conspiracy theorists in general. No theory can ever be definitively disproved, because they simply create new corollaries, expanding the machinations of the conspiracies further and further outward. Conspiracy theorists try to shift the burden of proof, requiring others to disprove their claims. Faith in conspiracies theories becomes a pornographic substitute for productive political engagement. Spike Lee and the Presbyterians should consider the wisdom of lending their credibility to such conspiracy porn.