I’m Much Worse than That

. . . from their point of view, that is.

This is a kind of “take-2” on my Conscience of a Christian Publisher post. Centuri0n had a brief spurt of posting comments, but seems to have been silent since accusing me of deleting them at the very time I was restoring them from backups following a server glitch. The only really annoying damage from that glitch was that I didn’t have a backup for one of my own posts.

Now his “sidekicks” have added a reference to me in another post, and I’ve got to say that if they really understood what I’m saying, they’d like me even less than they do. In a post More on Publishing–A Cautionary Tale, poster Gummby makes some rather odd statements.

Referring to the publication of a particular book by the PCUSA publishing house, they ask the following questions:

First: does the author, David Griffin, have a right to be heard? Well, the First Amendment says he does.

We’re rather reluctant about freedom of speech, are we not?

Second: does Presbyterian Publishing Corp. have an obligation to publish him? If you’re Henry, perhaps you think that it does. But unlike the Blogosphere, in the publishing world, just because you’ve written something doesn’t mean it is entitled to be printed.

You know, I try to credit my opponents with good intentions, but there are moments when that is very hard. I challenge anyone to point out what I have said that would imply that a publisher would be obligated to publish a particular manuscript. In fact, in my prior post, I indicated quite clearly the boundaries of the material that I would publish. And anyone involved in publishing knows that just because one has written something doesn’t mean it’s entitled to be published, although modern technology makes it fairly easy to manage if one is determined enough. I myself have rejected manuscripts, even in the short history of my own company, and will certainly reject more. Right now as a small and new publisher, I’m more in the process of soliciting than rejecting, but soliciting is also a very selective process.

Clearly the real problem for centuri0n and his sidekicks is not that I would accept anything, but rather that I would accept things that they would reject. Having read their blog, I admit their complaint is quite correct. It’s clear that we don’t see the same things as valuable, and we may not even see the same things as Christian.

Third: why would a publishing house knowingly publish something that, in the words of the moderator of their own general assembly, is “too over the top to be taken seriously”?

Well, I can’t speak for this particular publishing house, but if I was making the choice I would ask the following:

  • Is this within the subject and mission range of my company?
  • Are the questions raised worth considering?
  • Is the research properly done?
  • Is it well enough written?

I personally don’t have much sympathy with the position of the book referenced in Gummby’s post, but I would not reject it simply because I don’t find the position taken very probable on the face of it.

But those are just the questions I would consider if I were publishing the book myself. There are many books I would not print (would that I had a chance at such high quality manuscripts!) that nonetheless I would hope to see published, would read, and would recommend to others. A couple of examples are The Blind Watchmaker and Atlas Shrugged. Neither are Christian books, and they don’t fall into my range of materials, but both are, I think, excellent and challenging reading. Nonetheless I don’t agree with significant portions of either book. The key is that I don’t have to agree with something–and disagreeing means I don’t think it’s true, does it not?–to think something is worth reading.

Thus I found the following statement false, shall we say.

In other words, the ends justifies the means. The “end” of provoking a “discussion on substantive issues about faithful citizenship in this country,” justifies the “means,” which is publishing a book whether or not the claims will be convincing or are even true.

Well, actually, the end does justify the means, when the means is the best and most appropriate way to accomplish those ends. And the free interchange of ideas is the best way to provoke “discussion on substantive issues about faithful citizenship in this country.” Apparently Gummby would prefer that people only discuss ideas approved by him, an attitude normally taken by tyrants. Fortunately, he lacks that sort of power in this country.

A book might be convincing without being true, and it might be convincing to one person, but not convincing to another. That is the point of promoting the free interchange of ideas. Now there is nothing here that forces me or anyone else to publish anything. If Gummby submitted a manuscript to me, I could reject it based on the criteria listed above. If I rejected it on some other basis, that would be dishonest of me, because I have said I will publish things within that particular range.

If I have an obligation, as centuri0n suggested earlier, to publish those things that I present at the truth, then I cannot foster any dialogue or conversation at all. The only thing I can contribute is my ideas as owner and editor. That idea is silly.

I do not present things that I publish as the truth, but the author’s best effort to present the truth, and my best effort to choose things that will promote conversation.

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  1. I’ve seen Gummby unleash his venom on others besides yourself. It seems to be his default commenting mode. Consider the words of Proverbs 25:21 “As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire,
    so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.”

  2. I always think Proberbs 26:4-5, but the question is which verse? 🙂 Sometimes, I admit, I jump into quarrels with both feet, not to mention all 10 fingers on the keyboard!

  3. Yeah — I “went silent” after going on vacation, Henry. Very cowardly, I am sure.

    Anyway, I think you are much worse than I originally considered. Some people simply have never tought about the things they advocate – but some people don’t really want to think them over, and I think that’s who you are.

    For example, Gummby’s statement that Dave Griffin has a “right” to be heard under the first amendments is met by you as a “tentative” affirmation of Griffin’s right. What it is actually is a far overstatement of first amendment rights. The First amendment doesn’t guarantee anyone the “right to be heard”: it guarantees that the government cannot stop you from saying it. It does not demand that someone publish or broadcast what you might writer or say. If Gummby is at fault for anything, it is investing too much in the first amendment, not understating or provisionally stating it.

    And then, when Gummby interprets your manifesto on publishing philosophy (such as it is — maybe “manifesto” is itself an overstatement) — which includes the statement, “Publish material that is Christian, according to a readily available definition, but is otherwise open to generating new ideas” — you worry that he’s forcing you into an obligation you do not imply yourself. You know: if the way the Bible is translated is not a matter of essentials (thanks, btw, for linking to your brief list of those), how can you affirm that this book of 9/11 conspiracy theory is somehow fended off by your statemet of principles? Is investigating allegations of government conspiracy a violation of your principles? Which one(s)?

    That question is only amplified by your wobbly endorsement of Atlas Shrugged. I, too, admit that it is interesting reading, but you seem to overlook that Gummby’s point was that the 9/11 book was bring published by a Presbyterian press. Wandering around and saying “well, a secular press can publish secular books, can’t it?” is missing the point entirely.

    However, let me congratulate you on something: you have made the confession that you do not think you have an obligation to publish true texts. You should print that in the frontis of all your products. That way people can know what they are getting from you.

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