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Good writing is often very, very brief.

For instance, here’s a letter to the New York Times in response to a column urging secular Americans to try turning or returning to religious faith, because “religious ideas … provide an explanation for the most important features of reality… [T]he progress of science and the experience of modernity have strengthened the reasons to entertain the idea of God… [Our world] presents considerable evidence of an originating intelligence presiding over a law-bound world well made for our minds to understand, and at the same time a panoply of spiritual forces that seem to intervene unpredictably in our existence.”

In response, one reader, David Bonowitz, writes:

On a weekend when fundamentalist Muslims were winning a war against the United States, and as fundamentalist Christians demand the right to cause their fellow Americans to suffer and die from a preventable disease, Ross Douthat had the gall to tell me that I ought to accept the same primitive explanations that led directly to their fundamentalism. Hard pass.

Now, you can make the obvious point that Douthat wasn’t talking about fundamentalism, but on the contrary about a very tentative effort to move closer to religious faith generally; but put that aside. In response to Douthat’s rather long-winded and rather vague account of the possibility of faith, Bonowitz hits hard with a “hard pass,” pointing out in one beautifully structured sentence that the actual world – not the world of yearning, souls, and NDEs Douthat evokes, but the world of the present, the world of human history – suffers inordinately from the implications of quite a few forms of religious faith. Grounded and rational, Bonowitz’s brief brief against Douthat derives its power from the packed concision of his argument, coupled with his refusal to hide the anger (“has the gall”) that underlies his position.

Margaret Soltan, August 19, 2021 8:26PM
Posted in: good writing

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2 Responses to “Good writing is often very, very brief.”

  1. superdestroyer Says:

    A corollary to the brief writing is the short question. If one attends any think tank event in DC, one gets to experience the 2 minute opinion given in the form of a question. I always compared the long questions of most people to Tony Soprano asking succinctly “Where’s my money?”

    Short always works better and is much better communication.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    superdestroyer: Agreed.

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