Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Friendly Exchange Concerning Cherry-Picking

I recently wrote a blog entry called "Cherry-Picking Sacred Texts: An Obvious Double Standard" (For those who have not read it check it out here ) Among those who read it I got one response from a friend of a friend whose name is Nate Sauve. We had a long exchange on Facebook over the course of a week that began with his response to my blog but then veered into various other topics. It was clear both of us spent time on our responses to one another. Nate was gracious and thoughtful and the exchanges never turned into angry diatribes or needless name calling. I found the exchange valuable and informative and so wanted to share it.

Nate Sauve
I've often thought about this myself, as I have come to learn the misogynistic aspects of Muslim teaching come from similar logical positions as the Christian idea that there are distinct roles for men and women. I've also wanted Muslims to acknowledge where their philosophical system breaks down, but been at ease with the paradox's of the Christian faith. Other than some of the largely misleading historical broad strokes and obviously the overall conclusion, I think the post raises good questions that more believers need to deal with more honestly.

Zach Dills
I want to thank you for taking the time to look at my piece and sharing your thoughts. I just had one question. You say there are "largely misleading historical broad strokes" used and I just wanted to ask you where you see that? I don't believe I spoke of any historical situations (specific or general) and in fact I intentionally sought not to, to avoid getting away from my main point so I was just curious what you saw that led you to say that? I ask because I'm always trying to be aware of my own generalizations and not make too many over blown proclamations in particular when it comes to history.

The only spot I can see is perhaps you are referring to Mark Twain's writing? In which case I agree he uses a few very broad stokes, particularly in the beginning of the piece when he speaks of what the Church taught for 1800 years, which I do not agree with though I think he was intentionally using a bit of hyperbole to make a point. Either way I love his writing and believe his specific examples concerning slavery and witchcraft are right on and even his broad strokes are not that misleading.

anyway thanks again for reading and providing feedback it's very helpful as I seek to be aware of my own biases and since I know that my own search for truth is not done.

Nate Sauve
Yeah, my beef is only with Twain, heh. Whereas the Catholic church position was that slavery was wrong in that it denied the humanity of Africans (officially in 1839)It was actually the broader Church that was at the forefront of the emancipation movement. (To be fair, there were denominational splits North v. South in every major denomination as there were many "establishment" churches that cowed to the economic interests of their parishioners.) I guess being a Southern boy he only saw the dark side. Interestingly, the Catholic Church came out against slavery long before Twain did.

With regard to Witches. There are today an estimated 700-800,000 self proclaimed witches (wiccans). Based on some pretty sketchy numbers at wikipedia and

Christian teaching is different from Muslim teaching in this regard (ie: we shouldn't kill them accordnig to some ancient code) whereas Islamic teaching seeks to implement sharia law wherever it can, Christians are expected to uphold the laws of the government that they live under. Romans 13. This distinction helps us understand which aspects of the OT were civil laws (for ancient Israel, not to be implemented today) and which provide timeless guidance. Helps, but doesn't make things perfectly clear as we then disagree on which laws fall into which category.

Thanks for making me think and reminding me of this lesson. Its some good reading.

Zach Dills
Thanks for the response Nate. This of course could turn into a whole other paper but I disagree with you about the church being at the forefront of the emancipation movement. Most of the headliners in the emancipation movement, while they believe in some form of the Christian God, get pushed out of their churches as a threat to clerical and biblical authority both in the North and the South and the emancipation movement becomes one that is heavily filled with those who become (somewhat out of necessity ) anti-authoritarian towards conservative Christian churches. Many important emancipation leaders get labeled as atheists or infidels (not in the current sense but just its literal meaning 'unfaithful') Plus at the end of the day the fact that it took over 1800 years for any Christians to stand up against slavery says more against the Church then it does for it. I agree with what Twain notes, the Church (Protestant and Catholic) only changes when it has too.

As far as Romans 13 goes after the 4th century and the fall of Rome the Church was the government. It made and enforced all the laws it wanted which included killing or punishing any seen threat to the Church (witch, Jew, homosexual, Sabbath breakers and many others) The idea that the Old Testament is an ancient code applicable only to Israel and not to today is again a fairly new development in history and only occurs after power is taken away from the Church by secular governments. The Church had it's own Sharia law but was forced to give it up so the terrible laws of the Old and New Testament stopped being used (not all of them) because they had to not because it wanted to or believe God no longer willed it.

Again this could go on for a long time but it is fun.

Oh one more thing. I was a Jewish Studies major for my undergrad and one thing that has always stuck with me and cut at me as a Christian and was an important part of leading me to ultimately reject the Church is the clear anti-Semitic tradition of the Christianity and the New Testament. I can say easily that Islam has always been better then Christianity when it came how they treated Jews and tolerated Judaism and generally speaking Muslims have been better about tolerating Christians than the other way around. Obviously a lot has changed in the past 100 to 200 years but I again I wouldn't give the Church a ton of credit for the positive changes.

thanks again

Nate Sauve
Zach, Can you provide more support for that first paragraph? As I look around it seems to me that the primary movers in the emancipation movement were deeply entrenched in mainline Northern Christianity, as well as those in the British movement. Harriot Beecher Stowe was from a long line of Prominent New England pastors including Lyman Beecher. Frederick Douglass taught Sunday School, The Second Great Awakening had a profound impact on the abolitionist movement. It was the evangelical church pushing this agenda forward in the North even as in the South the same denominations were fighting for the status quo. Which led to the denominational splits as I said before. Again I think it's financial motivation at the expense of the truth, which is (interestingly enough) the same thing that made the church so corrupt once it came to power in Constantine's day. I don't think the evil performed by the Catholic church of the Middle ages was application of Biblical teaching, but rather abuse of biblical teaching to retain and manipulate the poor for the sake of the powerful elite. I don't think the church has a unique claim to that human abuse of power. They just happened to be in power for a long time and got quite good at throwing their weight around.

Historically, slavery was weeded out of the Midieval church as a social institution, replaced by not too much better models of feudalism, which in turn is replaced by not much better models of today...especially internationally for the sake of cheap products in the US.

Anyway, the church in line with Paul's teaching went to feudalism with the belief that slavery of a fellow Christian was wrong, seeing as all questions that were considered were in the realm of Christendom at the time. It wasn't really until the colonialism of the European nations that the question of, "Is slavery justifiable?" was broached again. One way the Biblical mandates were worked around was by devaluing the ones to be enslaved, the "savages" were deemed less then human and the issue was effectively worked around. Primarily by those with financial incentives...

Again, this is my rendition of the history, of course it is through my rose colored glasses hoping to see the church for what it should have been, rather than what it always was. As I said, more support for that first paragraph would help me see that the establishment church pushed them out, or that the ones leading the charge were primarily of a more deistic bent than not.

one more thing. I did a paper on Luther and the Jews once. Basically, his early writings hit the note of "no wonder the Jews aren't converting, look at how the Catholics treat them.' Then when they didn't accept his understanding of the Gospel he began to rail against them and practice a form of anti semitism himself. It's sad how Germany had such a large population of Jews do to their overall tolerance (compared to European nations which performed inquisitions). This same tolerance provided Jews an opportunity to work and trade and flourish in Germany only to be violently reacted against by the humanistic world-view of the Nazi's, supported by Luther's angry and evil words and the Catholic church's silence. Thankfully there was the Bonhoeffer confessing church, true believers among the only ones standing against the atrocities of the powerful.

Zach Dills
Concerning the abolitionist movement it is important to see that it isn’t a unified movement and become divided into various groups. The two biggest dividing factors were first, the issue of gradual verses immediate emancipation and second, the role of women in the movement and women’s rights as a whole. The connection between abolitionism and early feminism is very important. Now concerning the two issues the greater number of orthodox evangelicals supported both gradual emancipation and a rejection of women’s individual rights while those that supported immediate emancipation along with women’s individual rights were considered radicals and often labeled as atheists or infedals, though very few of them were.

William Lloyd Garrison is one of the best and clearest examples of fighting for equality as we now think about it. He called not just for the emancipation of slaves but also equal social rights for the slaves and women, which was not supported by any of the orthodox evangelical abolitionists. Garrison was the founder and editor of the Liberator which he started in 1831. He was raised in an evangelical Baptist setting which rejected his views. More than most Garrison was in the Enlightenment tradition of Jefferson and Paine believing the bible should be judged by reason and science and not seen as literally true. He said, “Truth is older then any parchment.” He also rejected belief in miracles and the idea of ecclesiastical hierarchies. All these ideas (immediate emancipation, equal rights for women, and unorthodox religious views) led to him being rejected by evangelical churches as a whole.

Some other good examples are Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Angelina and Sarah Grimke (usually referred to just as the Grimke sisters). The Grimke sisters began speaking in public against slavery in 1830. They were from South Carolina and spoke openly in both the North and South about the harsh treatment of slaves including rape. Soon they were drawing an audience that included both men and women, which was a huge deal at the time. And the more men came to listen to them the more of a threat they were seen to orthodox churches. In 1837 the Congregationalist churches of Massachusetts publicly condemned the sisters and circulated a letter instructing all the Congregationalist ministers in Massachusetts that the topic of slavery was not to be discussed in their churches and that it was against the Church to allow outside speakers into their churches.

Some clear ways the importance of the women’s rights issue displays itself can be seen in 1840 at the annual American Anti-Slavery Society meeting in New York (Garrison was a founding member) were Garrison appointed a woman, Abby Kelley, to the committee and several hundred members of the group called it a violation of scripture and walked out and stated their plans to form a different antislavery organization. Another example is at what was called the first “world” (really just the US and England) antislavery convention held in England where after listening to various male speakers it was voted that there was not to be any women delegates. Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton had made the long journey from America to be there but were then denied any role in the convention. That turned out to be a key event that would later lead to the Seneca Falls Convention. So while Stanton, Mott and the Grimke sisters were all Christians (of different denominations) they all became very antiauthoritarian and attacked many of the orthodox Christian doctrines held in both the North and the South. Mott always believe in, “Truth for authority, not authority for truth.”

There is also the work of Robert Dale Owen, Frances Wright and Ernestine L. Rose. These activists actually labeled themselves as freethinkers and atheists. All of them fought for the immediate emancipation of slaves, women’s rights and even social equality. Rose believed all religious belief was a product of indoctrination rather then a natural impulse and was constantly berated for her views. Rose was Jewish so that alone led to her being attacked by all orthodox churches.

Now it is important to realize that this split between radical and conservative abolitionists only covers some Christians whereas the majority of them both in North and South did not support either type of abolitionism. There is a reason something is called the status quo, it’s because the majority of people support and accept it.

You brought up Lyman Beecher who, I believe, is the perfect example of how so many orthodox, evangelical churches were a detriment to the abolitionist movement. In the 1830s Beecher said openly that the most important moral issue facing America was not slavery or women’s rights but rather it was America’s general disregard for the Sabbath. He said the Sabbath was, “the great sun of the moral world”. In 1828 Beecher founded the General Union for the Promotion of the Christian Sabbath (GUPCS). His main goal was to end postal services on Sundays. He had further hopes of adding more restrictions on the Sabbath and I would point out all these ideas came from the “Old” Testament laws that they believed should still be applied in many areas. Further in many of his speeches he attacked antislavery, women’s rights and labor reform advocates saying that their disregard of the Sabbath would lead to the downfall of America. He labeled many who disagreed with him as atheists and infidels. He is an important example because he was and still is considered one of the most important ministers of the 19th century.

Please know I am not pretending to know everything about this topic, people write whole books about this stuff and things can never be obvious or clear once historians are trying to examine people’s personal beliefs or motives still I have written papers supporting the churches involvement in the abolitionist and women’s movements but I have since changed my mind based on my continued studies. A book I really enjoy and actually am currently finishing is called “Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism” by Susan Jacoby. Most of the examples I used came from this book since it was the freshest in my head.

Now the more important thing I would want to say is that it doesn’t really matter if we end up agreeing about the abolitionist movement or any other historical issue we’ve touched on because what our discussion has shown is how any attempt to “disprove” Christianity using individual historical examples or certain bible verses will be met by a strong, often well-thought out argument by most Christians defending their faith through the use of certain kinds of biblical interpretation, theological ideas and historical points of view. But I would then point out that based on the way you are defending both Christianity’s scriptures and history that a Muslim could do exactly the same thing. A Muslim could explain to us how we do not understand the true meaning of the Quran, how certain verses are more important then others and that various events in history cannot disprove Islam because many self proclaimed Muslims simply did not understand what it meant to be a true Muslim.

The problem I see in both cases is the methodology. The believer begins with the conclusion (my beliefs are true) and then finds the evidence it needs to support it. Like in our discussion you used the Catholic Church as a positive example for Christianity when it rejected slavery in 1839 but then when the Catholic Church’s obvious moral failings in the middle ages were discussed the Church had to be described as a corrupted version of Christianity that misused the bible and therefore rejected as evidence that can be used against Christianity. Another example would be viewing the Christian abolitionists as fighting for God’s true will as opposed to those Christians who supported slavery. Basically when the evidence is good for proving the already determined conclusion it its accepted while any evidence that argues against the already determined conclusion it is rejected or explained away. But often once a believer (Christian, Muslim, etc) moves from defending their position to examining and attacking another system they change their methodology trying to use the evidence to lead to the conclusion. They then accuse the believers of the system they are arguing against of being blind to obvious contradictions in their scriptures, theologies and versions of history. Anyone who calls themselves a Muslim and does something bad becomes evidence for a Christian who then scoffs at any attempt to explain away or reinterpret this person’s actions but then once the tables are turned and people who call themselves Christians do evil things they are judged, usually by those later in history, as not being true Christians or misunderstanding what the bible really means.

Basically this all goes back to my critique against those who cherry pick from another religion’s sacred texts, philosophies or histories to try and disprove them. Now while I hate cherry picking I do believe one should allow the evidence to lead to the conclusions and so I support the scientific method over what I see as the self-affirming methods of each religion.

Okay I’ve been going on way to long so I’ll stop. I really meant for this to be shorter but I really do love history so once I get going I tend to be long winded.

Nate Sauve
Hey Zach, I was away for the weekend, so return apologies for the delay.

With regard to the second post, that's exactly what I said I appreciated about your post. And I guess it was only twain that I disagreed with so thank you and no thanks to Mr Twain. I spent a year reading the Qu'ran, attending Surah Studies and talking with some very devout Muslims and saw how they and we tend to do the same thing, take the good explain away the bad. (I don't think this is only a problem for religious communities). I still talk with a few muslim friends but not in the same probing, challenging way as those people have moved on from Chicago. In that year I was challenged in my thinking and changed. I think we all need to have those interactions to keep us honest and truly seeking rather than just blindly defending ideology.

With regard to the abolitionist movements ties to the women's rights movement they are also very closely tied to the temperance movement...

Regardless, I think you are making some distinctions that are hard to condemn people for. The thing about gradual and immediate emancipation being distinct movements doesn't recognize that philosophically they believed slavery was wrong, blacks were people and they deserved equal rights. They said there is a problem and we need to do something about it. The disagreement was on tactics and what the remedy should be. That might piss you off. and I think looking back it definitely pisses people off. Now here is where that part about slave's rights and women's rights issues come into play. In the women's rights movement there was a split in the movement as well. The AWSA and NWSA, the reason for the split was that some felt that they should insist upon adding the right for women to vote to the 15th amendment and other felt it would jeopardize the chance of the newly freed slaves to win the right to vote, so they decided to take a more gradual approach. Same endgame, different tactics. Will people years from now decry our lack of involvement in freeing the 27 million slaves worldwide? (only 13 million at the height of the African Slave trade) Will they condemn our ability to avoid demanding the end to human rights abuses in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Sub Saharan Africa, in this new global economy? Probably.

Or if not a different critique will be heard, ones coming from the emergent cultures of India and China, as Europe and the USA fade into the sunset. The claims of a new western imperialism raised by non-western voices already condemns the secularizing and humanistic ideology stemming from Europe and America, but we don't hear. Daniel Jeyaraj in his Article "Can Edinburgh 1910 speak? A voice from the silent majority" says this: A vast majority of Euro-American people remain indifferent and therefore ignorant of multi-cultural and multi-religious realities of there neighborhoods, some of them do not even know the difference between Buddhism and Hinduism....They naively believe that religions are the sole causes of brutal wars....Therefore they seek to promote a-religious societies and realize they don't make any remarkable headway. Their anti-religious or a-religious persuasions do not commend them among people for whom religion cements the very fabric of their existence."

His main point is America and Europe are still playing the same game, always imposing what is right and good on the rest of the world, and take advantage of countries that can't stand up to us.

Zach Dills
Nate thanks again. I really liked hearing about some of your background with Quranic and Surah studies and of course just talking to Muslims. I love listening to people who have done things like that. Please know even as we have been exchanging ideas I've appreciated your honesty but also kindness with which you speak. These are obviously emotional issues for many of us and can lead to a lot of sharpness but I appreciate that it hasn't with you.

As far as the US history stuff goes I will continue to stand opposite of you on that. I believe the distinctions I made (the historians I have read made) could in fact be taken further. If we look at the wonderful Mr. Beecher again he said that if everyone would stop arousing public passions on the slavery question, white Christian benevolence would ensure that the system would disappear of its own accord--in another two centuries. How benevolent of him. Clearly that is towards one extreme but that's a distinction worth making to me. And again there is a huge difference between blacks are people and so slavery should end and blacks are people and so deserve equal rights. There is a reason the civil right movement happened in the 1960s and not the 1860s it's because clearly most people did not believe blacks deserved equal rights. And with the women's rights movement I am aware of the split over the 15 Amendment and I would say that your are right that they had different tactics but again disagree that they had the same endgame. One's endgame was for both women and men , black and white to vote the others was to ensure that black men got a vote. The 15th amendment was ratified in 1870 and it wasn't until 1920 when the 19th comes along and gives women the right to vote. Again the gradualists are well behind those calling for immediate rights. But again I don't expect us to agree on that and that's okay. To me more often then not conservative religion serves to maintain and even strengthen the social evil of its day (slavery, women's oppression, labor oppression, segregation and racism, etc) because they are the status quo and in general religion is not a big fan of change.

I definitely do not believe America will last forever and I do hope that people in the future will have made social progress and be able to look back at us and laugh at our small mindedness the way we do to so many who came before us. I just hope they don't continue to whitewash religions involvement in creating that small mindedness in the first place.

And at least in America, definitely not Europe, I see more hostility towards those who are anti-religious or a-religious then the other way around. We are God's country and so of course we like to tell other people what to do.

anyway thanks again. I'll probably call this quits for me but please share any more thoughts you have.

Nate Sauve
Zach, it's probably good that we are writing so that my tone can be free of the emotion that does come along in some of these conversations. For some people it's easier to spew hate online. For me, writing is a chance to think before I speak.

I remember one conversation with some of the Muslim brothers. Someone who was listening in asked why all of these guys were so mad and kept yelling at me. I was able to say, that I'm fine with it, I've done the same and that we are all passionate about what we believe and that passion is going to come out, but at the end of the day we care about each other more than simply being "right" and winning an argument.

Yeah, Beecher's gradual tactic put into an actual timeframe is a problem for me.

one thing about the women's rights split. Both were in favor of the right to vote being made available to men and women, one group just saw the right for black men to vote as a winnable victory at the time and didn't want to risk that victory by adding another obstacle. I don't see it as a bad choice, but rather as one that was self sacrificial to see one injustice overturned "now" rather than both being addressed at some unknown point in the future. Had they not acted at that time, would it have taken until 1920? 1960? Who knows...

And I agree that the church (or any organization with substantial power) fights against helpful social change. See gov't. The church should be an agent of change, but here in the states and throughout this history of "Christendom" it's interests have gotten too tied into politics and power.

No comments:

Post a Comment