CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Hector Avalos' The Ideology of the Society of Biblical Literature and the Demise of an Academic Profession Published on the Society of Biblical Literature forum has set off a firestorm of controversy in the Blioblogsphere.It seems that Avalos believes that Biblical scholarship is a waste of time funded by those who give their money to things they don't understand, and pursued by a privileged elite. Avalos seems to think that Biblical scholars are playing the Glass Bead Game. While his arguments are sound and his criticisms acute in many respects, the author is trendy and chic in his post-leftist identity political self loathing of the intellect and properly postmodern in his denunciation of thought. He declares the greatest writer in the English Languate to be of no intrisic value, but Shakespeare is still worth reading because he enables one to get on with the ruling class and to make connections.


Shakespeare's works, for example, have no intrinsic value, but they function as cultural capital insofar as "knowing Shakespeare" helps provide entry into elite educated society. The academic study of literature, in general, functions to maintain class distinctions rather than to help humanity in any practical manner.


I certainly wouldn't want to impune his expertise in this area. I'm sure he knows a great deal about getting on with and sucking up to powerful people. He seems to be pretty aware of the fact that people in his position are useless and elitist and privileged. I would like to congratulate him on being the first academic to voluntarily quite his job. I think we can follow with interest as brother Avalos joins the peace corps so he can do something useful. There is just one problem with his proposal that Biblical studies be abandoned; he's not really part of the faith. I think he would admit that. He teaches at a secular program and most people in religious studies are dead set on destroying religion. The problem is, we aren't ready to give it up. Those of us who know God exists, who value the Bible, think it's our book and we want to study it. I think most of us want our churches to fund those who do. It's actually none of his business and as he is not a believer and is an enemy of faith it not his place to make such a proposal to begin with.


I say that not as a raving right winger who thinks scholars should be believers and has never heard of objectivity. I say it as a graduate of a major liberal seminary, the student of some of the most liberal theologians in the United States. I am not not shocked by anything he says, but I am mortified by his anti-intellectual attitude. Contempt is not objectivity. Avalos is not objective, he is subjective because hate is subjective. He hates religion, he is passionate about hating Christianity. Passion is not scholarly caution.


I would accuse him of benig anti-intellectual except that all postmodern academics pretend to hate the world of letters and to find no value in what they do. I have yet to meet one that has given up his/her job voluntarily. Just jobs are extremely hard to come by and he should be thanking God for his. But Those of us who actually have faith are going to keep studying the Bible because we like it. We find that it has a lot of value, as does Shakespeare.

Avelos puts it this way:

Similarly, the Bible has no intrinsic value or merit. Its value is a social construct, and the SBL is the agent of an elite class that wishes to retain its own value and employment by fostering the idea that biblical studies should matter.

The idea that the Bible should be studied because of its influence or because "it does matter" overlooks repeated statements, by scholars themselves, that the Bible's influence and relevance might cease if it were not for the intervention of biblical scholars and translators. Since the intervention, successful or not, is selectively applied to the Bible (rather than to thousands of other non-biblical texts of ancient cultures), such an intervention becomes an ethnocentric and religiocentric mechanism by which biblical scholars preserve their own relevance.


Of course he's taking those quotes out of context (note he doesn't actually provide any). Many great scholars have said this sort of thing, I don't know of any who meant it they way Avalos takes it. It's more likely they mean it n the sense that the average person can't go study Greek for several years and go to monasteries and find the ms to argue about the synoptic problem and so on. He tries to have it it both ways in slipping in his identity politcal credentials as well as his Biblical Scholarship credentials:


n the interest of self-disclosure, I should say that I am a secular humanist and a Mexican immigrant. So, in some ways I am on the margins of the marginalized in the Society of Biblical Literature. Despite growing up in a relatively poor background, I cannot deny that I am now part of a privileged and elite educated class. I have experienced real poverty, and this is not it. I get paid to do what I love, though my conscience is increasingly telling me to do something more beneficial for humanity.


Yes in the interest of self disclosure. Nothing is more chic and gives more cultural capital than being marginalized. Of course he's still in the elite after all. But he's a marginalized elitist, a true postmodern dream. Now in the interest of self discourse let me say a bit about myself. I am a middle class gringo. But I was a communist. I worked for years in the Central America movement, went to Nicaragua and was spied upon by the FBI as part of Dallas CISPES. I'm still pretty much of th left. So nothing I say should be understood as right wing or fundamentalist. That being said, I do not wish to get into a "lefter than thou" discussion with Dr. Avalos. Let me move back in to the essay.

But now that he's primed the pump properly by waving his credentials about before he speaks, he gets down to business:

The alien and irrelevant nature of biblical worldviews is admitted by many academic scholars. James Barr notes, for example, that "the main impact of historical criticism, as felt by the earlier twentieth century, has been to emphasize the strangeness of the biblical world, its distance from the world of modern rationality."[1] Likewise, the literary critic Lynn M. Poland, in evaluating the work of Rudolf Bultmann, observed, "Bultmann astutely perceived the central issues with which a specifically modern program for biblical interpretation must wrestle: the alien character of the world views represented in the biblical writings for twentieth-century readers."[2]


Now somehow this alien nature of the ancient world view worries Dr. Avalos; and it seems odd to me. All the professors I had in graduate school seemed to enjoy learning though they understood that the average person didn't understand 90% of what they had to say. It was still worth learning even though it was "strange." I don't understand, except that I do understand, why is this scholar is afraid of learning? To fear strange ideas is to fear learning, I think. The Philosophy of Dr. Avalos the scholar seems oddly anti-intellectual. Except that this is what the fashionable postmodern identity politics quasi liberal is into now days. Of course since he quotes Barr one would expect Barr would also be anti-intellectual. Of course the quote Avalos uses doesn't say the Bible is rubbish let's forget it. It says it is strange to modern people. But then why is he studying it? Rather than writings books about the Bible because he wants to forget it, I rather think it's because he wants to teach it. Thus one mist assume this statement is actually saying, "yes the Biblical world view is strange to us, but its worth learning and thus that's why we need professors like me to teach it." This is very typical of identity politics, if the masses can't understand it in the fields and factories without having to actually learn something, it can't be depicted in a mural, then destroy it and and lead a strike instead. Of course most actual labor action is beyond these post new left types. This is just climate of opinion in what is left of post modernism after Derrida. So Derridian to see no value in Shakespeare. No better proof Post modernists don't know anything about literature.

Now comes the bit about how terrible the Bible is. Notice the postmodern politically correct identity politics buzzers and buttons:

And one need not go far to see how different biblical world views are from modern ones. Biblical authors, usually elite male scribes, believed that the world was formed and ruled by a god who is otherwise barely recognized in contemporary texts outside of ancient Israel. Genocide was sometimes endorsed, commanded, or tolerated. Slavery was often endorsed or tolerated. Patriarchalism was pervasive. At least some same-sex activity was persecuted. Illness was often attributed to supernatural causation, and illness could be used to devalue human beings. The idea that the Bible bears "higher" ethical or religious lessons to teach us, as compared to those found in the texts of other ancient cultures, is part of an ethnocentric and religiocentric mythos. Given such admitted irrelevance and "otherness" of the Bible, the main sub-disciplines (e.g., archaeology, literary criticism, textual criticism, translation) and hermeneutic approaches (e.g., "reappropriation," "recontextualization") of biblical studies are simply mechanisms by which the relevance and value of the Bible and biblical scholars are maintained.


A lot goes on here in this paragraph. Let's try to capture it all.

(1) He's laid out a manifesto of his values and demonstrated that the Bible violates them.

So the Bible doesn't reflect his values, therefore its' worthless. But why would anyone think that a modern person seeking social justice, or even a decent set of moral values, would not want to understand where humanity has been? How can the fact that the Bible is an incredible record of the history of ancient near east, the struggles of people, the drama of human tragedy, how can this escape the son of the soil, the marginalized elitist scholar of the people?

(2) The Bible is elitist and patriarchal and it's opposed to gayness.

in other words its opposed to all of his political ideologies, and right or wrong, better or worse, Avalos would not have the credentials he has if he did not also benefit form some of these things. Then why does he not call for the banning of Universities? If we should walk away and forget the Bible because it's from a by gone era, then why not do away with all earning, books themselves. Books are filled outmoded ideas, and someday all books available now will be part of a strange and outmoded way of thinking. why don't we forget the whole education thing and become illiterate? It would be a lot easier than actually to teach people about the ancient world. Avalos is contributing to Marcue's one-dimenstional man, by helping to close the realm of discourse to prevent any unsactioned ideas from beyond the realm of neo-facism disguised as political correctness.


(3) typical game of the postmoderns. The played it at Perkins all the time. You are discussing something and you mention a work the other person hasn't read. Instead of assuming "O I am not as well read because I didn't know about that" they say "you are excluding me by saying things I don't know about." So if you have knowledge they don't have you are wrong, you are violating a rule, you are to be shunned and you are putting them ill at ease. Thus one is penalized for knowledge and taught not to learn and not to excel. Unless of course a feminist does it. they mention texts no one has heard of of and that makes them bright girls who are on top of everything because they are so superior to males. This is the same game. Denude the church of what little knowledge it has. "hey you don't' wont learn all that boring stuff. wouldn't you really father work in a factory and go dancing?" So this way the postmoderns take control of the sources of knowledge and any other sort of knowledge is anathema. this is what Avalos is trying to do with biblical scholarship. It's bad it's evil it's ancient it has all kinds of outmoded values. But aren't there some other texts with those same values from those same milieu that he wants read? Let's look further.

At this point he begins to move into some actual criticisms of biblical scholarship:

(e.g., archaeology, literary criticism, textual criticism, translation) and hermeneutic approaches (e.g., "reappropriation," "recontextualization") of biblical studies are simply mechanisms by which the relevance and value of the Bible and biblical scholars are maintained.


Scholarship is just a means for the elite to promote their world view. But wait, he just got through promoting his values by decrying the values the disvalues in the Bible. He's a scholar so he's doing the thing he criticizes scholars for, and he's also using those same scholars to decry the outmoded nature of the Biblical world view.

Most findings, few of which are truly novel, remain locked up in journals and books most people will never read or understand. Most findings, few of which are truly novel, remain locked up in journals and books



Lack of a God forbid that people should ever have learn about anything they don't know about. that's not what education is for is it? Universities are there to destroy learning right? Most people will never understand brain surgery should we do away with rain surgery? Most people will never understand higher math,should we just forget higher math. I'm sure that Avalos will defend these reductionist hobbies on the grounds that they are useful. Only useful things can be allowed. Despite their useful nature, such esoteric pursuits will always be beyond the realm of the average peasant in the third world. We don't really need a space race if we the corps don't' fail. Why bother with learning at all? Of course those who actually enjoy learning know that there's more to it than just the intimidate utility of a text. this is what is strange to me, a professor who cant' understand the values of learning about the past.

Whatever new knowledge is applied (e.g., new readings from the Dead Sea Scrolls), it is usually for the benefit of faith communities who read the Bible. The fact is that biblical studies is still functioning as a handmaiden to theology and faith communities rather than as a discipline relevant to those outside of faith communities (something unlike law, medicine, or even philosophy, which is also being marginalized). Let us not forget he's actually begging the question to assert that the Bible endorses slavery an genocide. We might also bring up the fact that he has not discussed the canon. He asserts that Scholars make the canon. ON this point I think the professor needs to do some reading because it bishops who made the Christian canon. He has not actually discussed this. We cannot discuss the attitudes of God in the OT until we talk about the nature of OT authority and the nature of the canon. But Avalos chooses not to get into anything specific in this essay.

In archaeology, new inscriptions, even the most fragmentary and the barely comprehensible, are announced with great fanfare when there is a remote connection to the Bible. Meanwhile, thousands of more complete texts of other cultures still lie untranslated. Euroamerican perceptions of what is important still dominate the entire Society, as witnessed by repeated full attendance at sessions on archaeological "artifacts" versus sparser attendance in sessions on more "humane" aspects of biblical studies, such as disability studies or non-Euroamerican understandings of scriptures.


Here he has a splendid point. but there's one problem. It's opposed to the values he just stated. To study these forgotten, strange, unknown texts, which the average West Texas farmer or the average peasant int he third world would know noting about, is a complete back peddle on everything he just said. Is the Bible the only ancient world document with a strange view? He has a good point about neglected aspect of the field and they will certainly stay neglected if we follow his way of thinking. He has a strange way of getting people to care more about neglected "marginalized" aspects of the Bible, by forgetting about it and not studying it.

He drags gender inclusion translations through the mud as hidden mechanisms of patriarchy. He identifies the existence of such translations as proof of the Bible's backward nature. This is something that really confused me at Perkins. All these Feminist theologians such as Joette Basler and Danna Fellwell who were opposed to Egalitarian scholarship. They didn't even know about the major figures in the egal movement (such as Bushnell and Gilbert Bilezikian) but they pooh poohed every egalitarian translation I brought up. Why? Because they have a vested interest in showing that the Bible is backward and evil. They hate the bible they hate religion they don't want to give it a break. They have no interest in really translating the work. Of course I'm sure Dr. Avalos would not stop to this kind of manipulation after accusing his opponents in the other camp of being that way. That's why he's lobbying against the Bible since it speaks against this value system. Apparently that's how he knows so well the scholarly games of manipulation, because he plays them so much.

Now we don't see that kind of manipulation on Avalos' part in his appraoch to Robert Alter's attempts to make the Bible relevant:



Robert Alter, as he attempts to reconcile his personal enjoyment of biblical artistry with some serious purpose: "but the paradoxical truth of the matter may well be that by learning to enjoy biblical stories more fully as stories, we shall also come to see more clearly what they mean to tell us about God, man and the perilously momentous realm of history."[5]



This is no this is not the kind of manipulation he speaks of above, this is a different kind.


Alter's judgment is a subjective one, and we can just as easily argue that the Bible is no more beautiful nor has any better lessons to teach than many other texts. One could just as easily make the subjective judgment that at least some biblical texts are ugly, not to mention horrifically unethical, but we don't have many books touting that. That would be bad for business. Here he is castigating this believer for enjoying the text, as though this some sort of anathema. No other ancient world text was barbaric. The Greeks never oppressed anyone or valued slavery did they? Only the Jews. The enjoyment is subjective that's his argument. It's only subjective. One might think that enjoyment would be a valid reason to read a text, but not in the Spartan world of Dr. Avalos. Now of course he plugs the reading of other ancient world books, which I am willing to bet my pay are not accepted by the masses, not known to the public and just as "strange" and ancient in their view point but somehow we are supposed to accept hem as valid candidates to survive and be studied but not the Bible. I'm sure those other guys had slaves, killed people, did all the things Don Avalos hates in the Bible, but somehow its ok in the other books. I would hate a world in which only science and engineering books were allowed. But even that would at least be consistent.

Then he rounds out his essay by accusing the early SBL founders of being religious. What a shame that the major organization in America that deals with Bible study is flavored with a large element of religion! While I agree that Bible scholars are often too ideologically motivated, that many of the major reference works ar shamelessly doctrinally biased, and that there is not enough objectivity, Avalos in this article offers us nothing in the way of objectivity. His arguments have been extremely ideolgoical and subjective. What would have been helpful would have been if he had dealt with the progress made. Had he talked about things that actually benchmark our current understanding of the ancient world view, that would have actually contributed something to learning. But he did not and perhaps its just as well. I'm sure that he will be getting out of the field soon, since it is such a waste of time. We will all miss this keen analytical mind and all those insights he's giving us.

23 comments:

For the record Joe, Avalos wrote this in his book The End of Biblical Studies:

From my perspective, there are really only three alternatives for what is now called biblical studies.

1) Eliminate biblical studies completely from the modern world.

2) Retain biblical studies as is, but admit that it is a religious enterprise.

3) Retain biblical studies, but redefine its purpose so that it is tasked with eliminating completely the influence of the Bible in the modern world.

I prefer the third option. The sole purpose of biblical studies, under this option, would be to help people move toward a postscriptural society....The third option is also the most logical position, given the discovery of the Bible's alien character.
Page 341.

Hello, Mr. Hinman,
Thanks for your post on ChristianCadre, but it reflects a very simplistic reading of my SBL essay, which is now updated by my book.

First, most people do not know that it was the SBL itself that asked me to post that essay on their website. That is a credit to them. And it must mean that they thought my critique was worth publishing and perhaps even healthy for the profession.

I also have dealt at length with this expected
and repeated type of criticism: “I would like to congratulate him on being the first academic to voluntarily quite his job.”

You fail to see that I call for the End of Biblical
Studies as WE KNOW IT. That is to say, as a religionist apologetic enterprise. I lay out three options for the future of biblical studies on p. 341 of EOBS, none of which you discuss. Those options will explain why it is not as simple as just quitting biblical studies today and joining the Peace Corps.

I also address the charge of anti-intellectualism
on pp.24-25, which you do not discuss either.

In any case, you can see why it would
be difficult for me to accept an invitation
to debate if you have not thoroughly digested
the views of an opponent, especially since
they have received so much more elaboration
at this point.

BTW: My book is a critique of postmodernism,
and not an endorsement of it. Otherwise, you
will have to define what postmodernism is for you.
I advocate a return to more traditional positivist
epistemologies (or presuppositional positivism),
and not postmodernism.

So, once you have read EOBS, I MAY respond to some of your crticisms. Otherwise, I will be selective in my response due to the lack of abundant time.

Well John why do you guys seem to think that if you have book everyone has to read it? I don't see you running out to get copies and Negations, the acadeic journal that I once published.

He put through this article on SBL so that's what I responded to, I am working on part 2 of an article that will deal with the specifics of Biblical criticism. I promise i will be a gentleman and a scholar, no a Holding.

I'm not Holding a grudge! ahahah a pun worthy of J.P. himself!

as for your three choices:

1) Eliminate biblical studies completely from the modern world.

I label that proposal fascist, irrational, irresponsible and reactionary (and whatever other things I can say to raz it in general). We are not finished with them. So why do that? that's the thought police thing.

2) Retain biblical studies as is, but admit that it is a religious enterprise.

Ok, it's a religious book. That doesn't mean people do objective scholarship. That's what Dr. Avalos should be trying to encourage.

3) Retain biblical studies, but redefine its purpose so that it is tasked with eliminating completely the influence of the Bible in the modern world.

eleminate its influence comletely? so you want objective shcolarship that takes a passonate poiitical stand and tries dictate to people what's what? I dont' call that objective. I call it thought police.

btw why would you want too el inmate "love your enemies," "turn the other cheek" that sort of thing?

if we did eliminate the influence of the Bible what sources would you use, (not that I'm saying there aren't any) to promote peace, good will, brohterly love, that sort of thing?

this is a point I meant to make in the article and If forgot. what I get for writing at 3am. But Avalos is willing to allow for Shakespeare because he helps us get on in the cultural capital department. But he completely ignores the fact that the Bible also has that kind of capital.

I think you are misreading what I said
about Shakespeare. I am speaking
how Shakespeare is often used in the academy
to create class distinctions, not how it should be used. That is to say, I am not saying Shakespeare
SHOULD be used to create class distinctions.

You are also working with a lot of misconceptions
about the origin of morality. Do you think we
cannot have good morals without the Bible?

After all, do you need an ancient text to tell you to love your children more, etc? Why do you feel
you need an ancient text to guide your morality?

Again, I wrote a whole book on this subject
called: Fighting Words: The Origins of
Religious Violence (2005).

I point out how relying on ancient texts
to authorize modern behavior causes
more problems than it solves.

You asked to debate me, not the other way
around. That is why I have not read everything
you have written.

If you wish to debate me, then I would
expect that you read as much as possible
about your desired opponent to flesh out concepts that were given in summary form in the SBL essay.

Joe said...btw why would you want too el inmate "love your enemies," "turn the other cheek" that sort of thing?

Name me one moral principle that we find in the Bible that we can't affirm without it. Most of them, maybe all of them, were affirmed prior to being written in the Bible anyway.

And why should we accept the moral principles in the Bible just because they're stated in the Bible? I can find a host of morals in the Bible that we should reject.

Name me one moral principle that we find in the Bible that we can't affirm without it. Most of them, maybe all of them, were affirmed prior to being written in the Bible anyway.


that's not the point John. Not that we cant' find them elsewhere. But they don't have the authority of holy writ. You give that authority to another text, the next group of skeptics will come along and trash it. where do you draw the line and say "this is an authority?"

I'm not saying we can't have other authorities. But this is one more source, and a major source.


And why should we accept the moral principles in the Bible just because they're stated in the Bible? I can find a host of morals in the Bible that we should reject.


why do we need a host of them? All the other sources that say "love your enemies" are ancient world. Do modern writers say that? not much. I can't think of one. that's an axis age sentiment.

I think it's still important. Its' why the country folk are the salt of the earth and all that. but you wont find it in modern sentiments. Other ancient world books would be just as dense, wired, removed and legalistic and oppressive as teh Bible.

so we have this ancient cultural capital that serves as a moral source of authority and has some good stuff we don't find elsewhere, why remove it?

I want to hop in and respond to the following:

Do you think we cannot have good morals without the Bible?

That really is a very tricky question. I will certainly agree that people can (and have) adopted moral codes that they call "good" without the Bible. These various moral codes do come to some agreement on many issues (hence, your follow-up question, "do you need an ancient text to tell you to love your children more, etc?" is really just an appeal to that broad consensus that underlies may of the moral codes of the world). Looking just at today's world, they also differ on many other issues such as gay rights, abortion, physician assisted suicide and cheating on your taxes. As near as I can see from my reading, the ancient world differed on such ideas that most of our world (which has been heavily influenced by Chrsitian thought) holds as obvious, such as the need to care for the poor, care for the environment, and child sacrifice.

So, on what basis do you decide what is a "good" moral system? And if you do decide that a particular moral system is better than another, what do you use as a guide to decide such a thing? If you only appeal to those things that we all seem to agree on, you will find you have a very small list for determining morality. No one believes that the list wouldn't exist at all -- at least, no Christian thinker I have ever met would take that position.

C.S. Lewis noted years ago that there seems to be a single underlying morality in certain areas of life (such as bravery being praised over cowardice), but unlike you he saw that as a reason to believe in God. He reasoned (I think appropriately) that this common thread of morality must have a source.

Personally, I don't see the need for an ancient text to guide my morality. But I do see the need for God to guide morality if we are not to have a hodge-podge of moral systems each starting with the agreed-upon moral principals but then branching off into other areas with much less agreement.

And I think it is important to note that if you are going to analyze morality in this way, you shouldn't just look at the world culture of the early 21st Century to see where agreement lies since, as I have already noted) today's views have been heavily influenced by a Christian world view. You need to look at the moral systems of the ancients and see where they also agree with us on issues. I think that you should agree that there is not nearly the concensus that you seem to suggest in your comment (even about such things as loving your children).

BK, I know you were addressing Dr. Avalos and I also know you don't appreciate my linking to things on my site, but there's a pretty good debate on these sorts of issues to be found here.

Cheers.

I like this thread...

A self-confessed atheist hater J.L. Hinman teaches moral code "love your enemies" to non-believers.

and

BK, who a month ago wrote that he dispises Avalos and deleted my post for quoting Dr. Hector Avalos, now wants to interact with Dr. Avalos regarding "good" moral.

and a promise of a sequal to this episode...

Peter,

I deleted your post because it was off point. You (or someone) tried to bring up Avalos which led to me commenting that I think he's foolish, and then you responded defending Avalos and it was only going to avalanche from there. You know that, so please don't try to make it sound like it was some other reason.

And yes, I do think that Dr. Avalos has said some foolish things. I welcome him to show me he's not as foolish than I think.

John,

I will leave it up this time. But, again, I don't invite anyone to follow the link (I certainly don't intend to). If you have something worthwhile to say, say it here.

I like this thread...

A self-confessed atheist hater J.L. Hinman teaches moral code "love your enemies" to non-believers.

and

BK, who a month ago wrote that he dispises Avalos and deleted my post for quoting Dr. Hector Avalos, now wants to interact with Dr. Avalos regarding "good" moral.

and a promise of a sequal to this episode...


I say atheism is a hate group. you prove its not by laying about what I said, putting words in my mouth, and refusing to deal with the issue I bought up. so that's what not being a hate group is about right? lying, cheating. slander.

yea big hearted liars who love everygody and slander them too.

You are a nazi and Avalos does not believe in Academic freedom. He is is one of the control freaks of the postmoderns.

J.L. Hinman said...
you prove its not by laying about what I said, putting words in my mouth
I'm not laying nor putting words in your mouth. I’m just quoting your words.
Go to the Wednesday, December 12, 2007 "An atheist hymn" blog entry comments.
Scroll down the comments entry 12/13/2007 09:16:00 AM
I wrote about your blog:
"The Atheist Watch" blog seems to be full of generalizations, sensationalism and hate towards atheists.

Your answer was:
of course it does...
You and everyone else can read that you openly admitted you hate atheists...

I even challenged you about these issues on my comment on 12/17/2007 03:00:00 PM of the blog entry "A Note To Our Atheist Friends about "Atheist Watch" Saturday, December 15, 2007", but you did not want to address the issues...

Now, you stated that "I promise i will be a gentleman and a scholar" addressing Dr. Avalos' comments and now you start name calling him. You are not a gentleman nor a scholar and you are not behaving how a real Christian should. A true apologist would craft a well thought out intellectual argument, not an ad hominem. I recommend that you consult with Jason Pratt or JD Walters how make a professional argument before posting anything from now on.

So, why don't you try to grow up and apologise to Dr. Avalos what you stated and address his comments in a professional manner. He deserves it.

Mr. Avalos,

You claim that you didn't endorse the post-modernist view you referred to according to which Shakespeare has no intrinsic value. But you seem to think that this does apply to the Bible:

"My position is better understood in light of the work of, among others, John Guillory...Similarly, the Bible has no intrinsic value or merit. Its value is a social construct, and the SBL is the agent of an elite class that wishes to retain its own value and employment by fostering the idea that biblical studies should matter."

Is this again merely a statement of what IS the case, or do you think it SHOULD be the case? If the latter, how do you justify applying this view to the Bible and not to Shakespeare? Do you believe that Shakespeare has intrinsic value as literature and should be studied because it is part of our historical heritage and because it can still illuminate the human condition today?

You insist that you are not being anti-intellectual, but here's another statement from your article:

"Instead of helping channel more students to theological education, it is better to encourage students to enter a profession more practical for humanity (e.g., food economists or lawyers for the poor)."

So you think that only theological studies don't deserve the attention of new students, but that other fields should remain intact? But then again you also think that literary studies will (and should?) "be exposed as yet another faculty self-indulgence subsidized by less socio-economically privileged people."

That sounds dangerously like anti-intellectualism to me, despite the very real danger associated with academic irrelevance which I also share.

By the way, if your article is all that you have made freely available, don't hold people to task for not having read the book too. The article should be able to stand on its own and be clearly representative of your views if that is all many people will have access to (not everyone can afford to buy your book on a whim, especially us socio-economically underpriviledged ones:)

Hello, Mr. Walters,
I do stand by my SBL essay, but there is a difference between a summary and a full exposition of a view. It is the difference between an abstract and a full book.

In EOBS, I address some of the objections that
I anticipated would be directed at me because of that SBL essay (some of which you mention).

Reading EOBS would save you and me time in answering questions I think I have addressed in that book (and in what I would deem to be a companion book, Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence [2005]).

Where we differ, is in our definitions of “intrinsic value,” “anti-intellectualism” and “postmodernism.” Saying a piece of literature has no intrinsic value is not a postmodernist position, as the difference between statements of fact and expressions of value has been noted since Greek philosophy, and by David Hume, among others, since the Enlightenment.

I have read Shakespeare, and I enjoy Shakespeare. But that is different from saying it has intrinsic value.

I am reacting particularly against the notion of
“intrinsic value” if that means some value independent of a social context that bestows that value. As such, I don’t think that either Shakespeare of the Bible possesss intrinsic value, but they may possess other types of value that makes them worthy of study. Again, I explain that a bit more in the book.

As I argue in EOBS, the Bible presents us with a different set of problems that Shakespeare does not. I don’t see many people being killed because of a different interpretation of Hamlet, but I see millions have been killed because of a particular
interpretation of a biblical text. That is an empirical difference.

You are also not quoting this complete sentence: "All this, of course, assumes that literary studies will survive in academia rather than be exposed as yet another faculty self-indulgence subsidized by less socio-economically privileged people."


That does not mean a case for literary studies cannot possibly be made, but rather that I don’t think it is being made very well.

As it is, millions of people seem to function very well without ever having read Shakespeare. The same can apply to the Bible, and I give statistics showing how little of the Bible is actually being utilized even by those who claim to be following it.

Mr. Walters,
I also think you have previously characterized my some of my arguments "bizarre," but the fact is that even many Christian scholars do not, as is evidenced by this response by Dr. Richard Hays of Duke University in Response: The Seattle Pacific University Magazine: http://www.spu.edu/depts/uc/response/spring2k7/features/eyes-of-faith1.asp
A relevant portion is below:

"The inevitable result of Meeks’ position is correctly described by Professor Hector Avalos of Iowa State University. Biblical scholarship, he says, becomes a doomed enterprise since “the Bible has no intrinsic value or merit” for those outside of faith communities. Once one starts down the fork in the road to which Räisänen and Meeks beckon scholars, one ultimately and inevitably will arrive at the dead end portrayed in Avalos’ gloomy assessment. As Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson has incisively remarked, 'Outside the church, no such entity as the Christian Bible has any reason to exist.'"

You also overlook the fact that the past president of the SBL, Dr. Robert Kraft, makes a specific point that "biblical" no longer means what it once did because SBL scholars have been concentrating increasingly on non-biblical materials or have expanded what the word "biblical" means. See his presidential address now published
as "Para-mania: Beside, Before, and Beyond Bible Studies," JBL 126 no. 1 (Spring 2007):5-27. He mentions my SBL forum essay on p. 6, n. 6.

OK, I just picked up EOBS from the library and will be responding to it chapter-by-chapter as I get the chance. Having read the introduction already, you are right that it clarifies some things that the article does not. I have a better sense now of exactly where you are coming from and what exactly you are advocating. Which is not to say that I agree in the slightest! But at least I'll be working from the book and not trying to extrapolate your views from the article and our little exchange in the comments.

Mr. Walters, et al,
Fair enough. Please feel free to respond when
you have read EOBS. I may not always respond promptly because of my teaching duties, but I will
respond at some point (and probably selectively).

>> But Those of us who actually have faith are going to keep studying the Bible because we like it. We find that it has a lot of value...

I find this interesting because when I first started doing biblical studies--when I first began admiring the value of the biblical texts--I was not a believer and I had no faith. I also found value (and still do!) in the Qur'an and the Bhagavad Gita and a great many other texts.

So I don't think someone has to be a believer to see value in biblical studies.

I also find it somewhat strange that you think "most people in religious studies are dead set on destroying religion." I am a student at a graduate level liberal theology school and just don't see it. In fact, I would think we have a high degree of dignity and respect for texts and religions. Are you speaking more of undergraduate institutions?

Peter. I asked BK to remove my comment to you because I went over the top. I apologize. But your comment is extremely unfair because:

(1) I never said I hate atheists.I have said repreatedly that I am not critciizing all atheists.

(2) I said only a segment of atheists are a hate group.

(3)I still can' figure out why saying someone is hateful makes you hateful? Is Avalos hateful because he says the OT is hateful?

(4) I asked the atheist community to use their peer group status to down play the hateful types and restrain them. I don't see why that's such a major problem, but somehow it causes major atheist freak out to ask that.

also find it somewhat strange that you think "most people in religious studies are dead set on destroying religion." I am a student at a graduate level liberal theology school and just don't see it. In fact, I would think we have a high degree of dignity and respect for texts and religions. Are you speaking more of undergraduate institutions?


I don't know what you are calling "liberal." To Adaline Christian University, Peperdine is Liberal, but they are both Church of Christ and extremely conservative relative to Illif.which is UMC.

To me "religious studies" is not theology. theology schools are a separate thing. Religious studies programs are at places like Brown University (which has a major one) or at State Universities and are objective and non religious.

I agree with slaveofone. I took a course on "The Bible as Literature" here at Princeton and even though the professor was not a believer she was enthralled by the literary beauty of the texts and conveyed that admiration to us as well. She also had enormous respect for the various religious traditions with which believers consolidate their identities and find their place in the world.

Slightly off-topic: Joe phoned me yesterday just after church to say a new virulent trojan horse has infected his computer; so he will be offline until he can get a libaray account set up and/or until his antivirus updates sufficiently to nuke the trojan. He thought this might be a couple of weeks.

I think this is the only thread on the Cadre he was currently active in, but he asked me to post up alerts where he was active. So don't be surprised if he's out of pocket for a few weeks.

JRP

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