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Another Excellent Reason to Mock John Piper

A friend sent this to me. One of the worst theodic positions I've ever heard. Ever. I would have left the faith years earlier if I'd heard this. Folks, people read this guy and take him seriously. Dear Pastors, please eliminate all John Piper books from your church libraries, or put them in the fiction section, or humor. Also, you may need to send your people to epistemology bootcamp to overcome their exposure to this sort of "thinking."

Reason, Faith, and Revolution. Sort of.

I had hoped my first entry about Terry Eagleton's book Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate would be about how delighted I am to read such a unique perspective on an issue that lends itself to caricaturing, hyperbole, and rhetoric. I am almost finished with the first section, and I will post about it soon, but before I get to Eagleton's bizarre rhetorical move contra Hitchens and Dawkins, I wanted to highlight something even more bizarre.

In the context of a discussion about the New Testament's perspective on human sexuality (29-30), Eagleton uses a Father-Daughter Purity Ball to illustrate his point about how evangelicals are too hung up on sex, hung up in a way that Jesus was not. The story ran in the New York Times, and after describing a few of the participants and reporting their comments, even insisting some words are ambiguous where their meaning in context is clear to better make his point (apparently the Brits aren't used to idiomatic or metaphorical use of language?), Eagleton writes the crassly disturbing, patently unfair, and deeply cynical line: "It is scandalous that a once-reputable newspaper like the New York Times should give space to this barely sublimated orgy of incestuous desire" (30).

It is possible that no one hates the laughably medieval idea of purity balls more than I. But only the most bizarre sort of cultural misunderstanding could lead an apparently intelligent man to misconstrue the intent of these events, and worse, to cause him to ascribe to the participants the most base sort of motives. Eagelton's contempt for evangelicals is plain, even if couched in British humor.

To be clear, evangelical fathers do not want to have sex with their daughters, nor do evangelical daughters want to have sex with their fathers. The problem with evangelical fathers is not that they are perverts who are conservative because of sublimated sexual desire for their daughters; rather, they are incapable of seeing their daughters, at any age short of marriage, as sexually independent beings capable of making decisions about their own sexual preferences. They are conservative because they are traditionalists, not because of theological commitments and not because of aberrant sexual desire. Their daughters are perpetual prepubescents until such time as they marry, irrespective of the age at which they marry. Or until they show up to tell dad they're pregnant, moving in with a boyfriend, or hate God.

Every semester I chastise females in my classes for using words like slut and whore. I patiently explain that these are control words, and then illustrate by asking for specific definitions of the words in the context of the sexual behavior of students in the class. This always leads to a discussion about the inability of young people raised in the Judeo-Xian-Muslim tradition to see women as sexually independent creatures. Eagleton reports the use of the phrase "covering their daughters" as if what is meant is King David's habit of having a young virgin lay upon him in his old age, when it's clear to anyone who has been around Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians that covering is an issue of authority and protection, not sexuality. It is their desire to control their daughters' sexuality that is at the root of the problem. Father's can't grapple with their daughters as sexual beings; daughters learn to sublimate desires or rebel in catastrophic fashion or pretend to take the faith seriously, leading to an inability to see themselves as sexually autonomous. This pattern is extended to the community of reference, and girls who are sexually atypical are labeled sluts or whores, even by fathers in evangelical churches. Eagleton's use of this illustration is bizarre and bigoted, and it does nothing to help his extended argument, which suffers a fatal flaw in the first ten pages. That is the danger of having a lit professor write a theological book, but that's a subject for part two.

Jesus, Interrupted

Finished Bart Ehrman's book Jesus, Interrupted last week. I'll skip the longest subtitle I've ever seen on something besides an article in a peer reviewed science journal and just tell you it has to do with contradictions in the Bible. That's a nitpicky criticism, but the title is my primary befuddlement about the book. I find it hard to believe the title wasn't developed in some sort of marketing meeting. The best possible title would have been something like Higher Criticism for Novices or Reading the Bible Without Worshiping the Bible. Something like that. This book has almost nothing to do with Jesus, except the development of doctrinal positions, so anyone coming to the book thinking it's about the historic Jesus or the non-historic Jesus or the cosmic Christ or the Aquarian Messiah or any other Jesusy nomenclature will be very disappointed. The title was designed to sell books, even at the risk of being misleading.

That's enough nitpicking. Ehrman is a fantastically lucid writer. He simplifies complex issues without oversimplifying. He chooses excellent examples of the "hidden contradictions" (and some aren't that hidden). He builds an excellent case, only making exaggerated or specious claims a couple times—those are to be expected in a book about hermeneutics. Some of his best work in the book is deconstructing C.S. Lewis's sad, silly trilemmic claim: Liar, Lunatic or Lord. His assessment of the development of doctrine, especially Nicene Christianity, is excellent. In short, this is a great refresher for those of us who already had this in grad school, and it's a shocking introduction for evangelicals and fundamentalists who have never heard this before.

My chief complaint about the book is twofold: Ehrman misunderstands who will read his book, and he apparently has never been a pastor. Point one first. Liberals, agnostics, and atheists will read this book. They will get something out of it. Moderates will get less out of it, assuming they read it, and I hope they do. Conservatives will do what they have always done: bury their heads in hermeneutical double speak—and lest you think I'm being unfair, this is the group who constructed and embraced the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. "Um, of course the original autographs are inerrant, but we just don't have them to show you that so you'll need to take it on faith." Ehrman says he wants conservatives to read his book and learn something about the Bible. If they do, they simply won't believe what he writes. If they do believe, they won't be conservative for long, and I've yet to meet someone who stops being a conservative evangelical because of proof. Proofs are proofs based on a prior intellectual commitment or assumption; proofs do not create intellectual commitments. I would think Ehrman understands that, but he is a classic liberal in the rationalist sense, so it's possible he still has that oddly misplaced optimism about rationality.

Point two. Any pastor who has attempted to preach the Bible the way Ehrman presents it will tell you one of two things. If she is a liberal, she will say her people are bored with the critical approach. If he is a conservative, he will say his job depends on keeping his mouth shut about such things, assuming he believes what Ehrman writes. No pastor survives who undermines the faith of his congregation. Yes, they have a responsibility to tell their people the truth, but don't believe for a second that there aren't enough other truths to talk about that won't raise the spectre of a disciplinary hearing. For those who do believe what Ehrman writes, they will choose to preach the devotional meaning of Scripture because it ensures the evangelical zealot who really believes the Chicago Statement won't make a fuss with his small group, the deacons, or the denominational headquarters. No pastor who needs to pay his bills needs an ignorant crusader who knows nothing about the Bible (although he may know every word in it) making his job more difficult.

Read the book. It's excellent. I enjoyed the refresher, and Ehrman's style is very readable. I even learned a few things I didn't know before, despite my two degrees in Bible and Theology. There is much to love about this book, but I'm afraid it won't do nearly what Ehrman hoped it would. That is a tragedy, but he can't seriously believe evangelicals will read this with an open mind. They aren't practiced at that skill and have very little experience with critical thinking, let alone critical method.

Christianity Today Goes All in on the 2008 Election, a Wee Bit Late

Christianity Today, that flagship magazine of the religiously right (take it however you choose), has published a web-only interview with Joe the Plumber. I'm not making this up. Samuel Wurzelbacher has published a book and is on a speaking tour to support it. CT met with him at a Chicago event to get an interview. Before I say anything else, just read the first paragraph of Joe's response to CT's question about why conservatism appeals to him.
Conservatism is about the basic rights of individuals. God created us. As far as the government goes, the Founding Fathers based the Constitution off of Christian values. It goes hand-in-hand. As far as the Republican Party? I felt connected to it because individual freedom should not be legislated by the federal government.

That second sentence might as well say "I like pancakes." It's a complete non sequitur in terms of the sentences that precede and follow it. The third sentence is nonsense, as is the fourth. What goes hand in hand, Joe? And the last one...dear gods...individual freedom should not be legislated by the federal government? Joe, you just referenced the Constitution, a document in which the federal government of the United States legislates individual freedoms. The man is daft. As a comp professor I'd be forced to have him rewrite the whole paragraph after he told me what the hell he's really trying to say. Gosh, can't wait to read the book, wherein, according to the title, Joe will fight for the American dream, which apparently involves non sequiturs about a mythical Christian America.

More to the point though is Christianity Today's utter lunacy in publishing this piece of shit interview. Joe the Plumber is not news. He is manufactured news. McCain uses him, incorrectly of course, as Joe's challenge to Obama's tax plan was predicated on its potential harm to Joe's business. Turns out Obama's tax plan that Joe challenged actually would have helped Joe's business. Never one to miss out on fake news though, FoxNews makes Joe an icon of the Right. Perfect. And they still can't figure out how McCain if two iconic idiots had nothing to do with it.

Dear CT, there is a story out there about evangelical and fundamentalist Christians and their unwavering, inexplicable support for the Republican party. I assure you though that there are far more articulate voices than Samuel Wurzelbacher's. Maybe you should dig up some smart evangelicals. I know a few. I don't agree with them, but they could compose a better first paragraph than Joe's while exegeting Revelation, praying in tongues, and getting slain in the Spirit. As my friend Leighton (who passed this link on to me) said, "Shouldn't they have changed their name to Republicanity Today by now?" Indeed. You should, because publishing an interview with Joe the Plumber indicates that your news compass is as broken as FoxNews's. That or your real political ideology is starting to show...

Oklahoma: Where Brits Scratch Their Heads and I Hide My Face

Check out the BBC audio piece in Oklahoma City recently with our local AM talk station KTOK. He also does a brief interview outside of Oklahoma City, and you'll love how the Christian lady talks about "the blacks." For those friends who believe I'm still a secret Christian angry at church, listen to this woman and tell me why you'd bother to associate with an organization that tells her she's saved.

Coming soon: Christianity Today stops pretending they're not a mouthpiece for the Christian Right.