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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Sheffield and the Secular

Michael Bird has a post on secularism with some comments on Sheffield and asked for me to give an opinion. Ok then. Mike says with reference to a recent John Barton article:

First, Barton nominates the OT studies department in Sheffield, UK as a place that is decidedly secular and "not interested in theological issues" and such departments exist also in the USA. I wonder if secular is readily translatable into either anti-theology or only disinterested in theology which are not the same thing - which one is true of Sheffield?

You probably get a bit of everything at Sheffield. On the Hebrew Bible side of things there are people with no interest in theology as we might conventionally think of it and there have been people who don't like theology. But there are also Hebrew people who have been interested in theology and continue to be interested in theology and produce research on the Hebrew Bible and theology. There is also one Jewish scholar. On the NT side of things there are ordained people who teach in the department and obviously have theological interests and others who are definitely interested in theology to varing degrees. And there is one person who would self identify as a secularist. To answer Mike's question in terms of Sheffield: as a whole it cannot be categorised as secularist, anti-secularist, theological or the like as all are and have been represented. I could add to this the students: many, perhaps most, come from different religious backgrounds though there are atheists and agnostics - pretty much like all departments teaching biblical studies, religious studies and/or theology in the universities.

Now of course there are always going to be various perspectives under-represented but that seems like a healthy mix for an academic dept doesn't it?

In terms of secular, whether it is anti-theology, disinterested in theology or even interested in theology depends on the secularist you ask. And even speaking for myself, it might depend on my mood!

Now for some of Mike's other questions.

(1) At the end of the day biblical scholars are dealing with religious texts that by their very nature attract religious people. If one dislikes being around persons of religious disposition, either working with them, teaching them, sitting beside them at conferences, reading books written by them, then find a new job without religion.

Yes, that's fair enough. Mike adds:

I can understand the plight of secularists who may feel alarmed at the incursion of religious ideologies into their field and lament the fact that their job prospects are not as broad as those of scholars with religious leanings. But that is, to put it grimly, the nature of the beast.

In terms of theological colleges/seminaries/bible colleges ok, although that leaves a structural imbalance in terms of the ideological make up of the discipline. And should theological colleges be given any special privileges in academic settings and conferences? That would be an important issue to discuss I think. But in terms of universities religious leanings absolutely should not be an issue. It isn't legally and in my experience I have never felt that pressure in terms of job applications. But it remains an issue of course because (and correct me if I am wrong) there are Oxford-Cambridge posts which are tied in with the church.

On the rest of what Mike says, you've read my views on this before (and can read them again in detail with lots of nice examples in, ahem, Why Christianity Happened chapter 1). I agree with him in general but just add that we should not forget what the discipline missed out on in comparison with other humanities (e.g. history) because of a lack of secular perspectives.

Finally, I just want to add that there has been a bit of discussion about critical scholarship prompted by Ben Witherington. All I want to say is that the secular approach I envisage can step beyond the intra-faith debate of whether you must be very sceptical or not sceptical to be right and so on. For me a secular perspective means that the types of results, at least in terms of conventional historical study, can be fairly unpredictable (I leave aside the miraculous for the moment) and not strangely in sync with our own theological views (liberal, evangelical or otherwise). It also means that the biblical texts are open to a much more critical reading, critical in the sense of deconstructing their ideologies etc. and being ready to entertain the possibility that the texts are just irrelevant, at least in a historical context.

I wish I didn't have to say the following but as the same allegations frequently come up...: this secular approach does not equal neutrality. It has its own agenda such as that I've partially outlined.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Johnny Cash-a-thon

As a leaving present I will give you nothing but someone else's hard work. It's worth it. John Lyons has put together a mini-Johnny Cash extravaganza. It's biblical and musical so what more would you want, eh?

EABS 2006 Budapest

Well I'm off to Hungary in a day or so for the European Association of Bibilical Studies. Here are the programme and abstracts. I'll be presenting at the Study of the Historical Jesus seminar along with little Michael Bird. My title (like I hear you ask!)? 'From Jesus Observing Food and Purity Laws to Some Christians Not Bothering: A Causally Based Approach'. I'm not sure what I was thinking when I put that title forward. More and more I think it is not the greatest title ever. Anyway, content. It's a socio-economic explanation for the rise of Jesus' specific take on food and purity laws, the emergence of gentiles in subsequent Christianity, and differing levels of observance in the early church.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

How not to realise what you are arguing

Joe Cathey has responded to the previous post...well sort of. Not to what I said but to what I might have said and what I might be thinking. Some of it is aimed at Jim West and (presumably) US 'liberals' so I'll stick to stuff aimed at me.

James Crossley has taken the time to post such a long entry on my thoughts on the current war.

Well, sort of. Actually more Joe's favourable reference to someone else's post advocating nuclear attacks in the Middle East, telling us 'it's time to burn their fucking village down', and stressing absolutely zero tolerance for the deaths of innocent Lebanese (just after the killing of a load of children).


Now it should not strike any of my faithful readers queer that James is Jim West’s twin (ask Jim about this). I have never met James but follow his blog from time to time. I would not be in a position to judge whether James is of the same political persuasion as Jim or not.

Not sure about the relevance of this. Jim jokes about being my brother because once someone said he looked like me, poor man. I don't know the range of Jim's views. Maybe we agree on lots of things, maybe we don't. I certainly don't go for the the US Democratic/Republican division which seems to happen in the debates between Jim and Joe. It's a bit alien to many in the UK anyway but in the issues that have come up on this blog I've been as critical of both sides on foreign policy. So I've got to hold my hands say I remain confused as to the relevance of this point.


James thinks my quote from Aliens is a bit over the top – I will grant him that. However, I utter that quote out of the extreme frustration of liberals crying and hand holding over the war that is going on in Israel.

Frustration??? If I recall (and please check the post below) the reference talked about 'absolutely zero sympathy for the Lebanese', using nuclear attacks in the Middle East, including wiping out a capital city, and burning their fucking villages down. To be honest that's more than a bit over the top and it is an unfortunate way for someone who studies the history of that part of the world to be venting frustration at 'liberals'.


If I remember correctly James resides in England – (correct me if I am wrong here James). Being as the anniversary of the London bombings is just over, I would like to hear James or Jim give some type of coherent policy for dealing with Islamo-Fascists (read here Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and Palestinian Brotherhood). We do remember that the London bombings were carried out not by the U.S. but by Islamo-Fascists correct?

Well that is a massive problem, even if it has nothing to do with my criticisms of Joe's referencing so I'm not sure why Joe wants to hear my views on it. And where do you begin? Well perhaps it would be helpful if the west stopped placing in, propping up, supporting, and selling arms to a variety of its favourite dictators (example might be, I don't know, Saddam perhaps) before deciding they are enemies and then illegally bombing people, military or civilians. Or perhaps placing economic sanctions which killed hundreds of thousands of children in Iraq (UNICEF's figures, accepted by the US). God knows how many times I have to write this, but maybe, just maybe, that caused some grief and some hostility (it's certainly used by opponents of the west and few better recruiting methods that perceived oppression). And in case anyone says so, NO, this does not in any way justify acts of cruelty like London bombings, Madrid, or Sept. 11 as virtually everyone agrees. But if western actions in the Middle East were not as they were and are I suspect this might be one significant contribution to draining the pool of hostility. Also, why would Palestinians vote in Hamas? Are the Palestinians just a bit odd compared to other human beings? Or might it be a reaction to some problem in that part of the world?

And I know the London bombings weren't carried out by the US, so I'm not sure about Joe's point here. Who said they were? Who are you arguing with? Interestingly the majority of both Brits in general and British Muslims in particular thought the Iraq war was the primary motivation behind the attacks in London and my guess is that they were not asked whether the US were really behind the bombings for the simple reason that the question is an absurdity.

While James may have indeed lived amongst a gentle Muslim society (and for the record I am not saying that such places do not exist) I dare say that he would not last long in Iraq right now. I daresay that James nor Jim would last long in Syria or Iran presently. How long my friends do you think your liberalism would last in a place where they saw off the heads of westerners (here, here, here, and here)? Do the names Nick Berg, Daniel Pearl, Paul Johnson, and Eugene Armstrong ring a bell to anyone but me?

Why would I want to live in Iraq? Joe talks about history a lot and maybe mine's wrong but if I remember rightly the present situation in Iraq - and I don't think I'm being controversial here - was due in no small part by a recent war there and the handling of the country by certain western countries. Or maybe I am just wrong, Iraq is as it is simply because many Muslims are weird. But if that is so then I just can't get this question out of my head: why are Muslims ok in places I've lived but not in (say) Iraq? Is it the heat?

It's an interesting question from another perspective. Why would the US and UK have supported such regimes in the past? Why on earth would they have supported the rise of Saddam in Iraq and contributed to the change in that society? Interesting one.

And where did I mention I was a 'liberal' or that I was trying to live out a life of 'liberalism'? This may or may not reflect Jim's views but I said nothing on the matter. I wonder if this 'liberalism' would work as well in Iraq as the present attempt at importing a certain ideology?

If James is right and my reactions were over the top then I submit a challenge to Dr. Crossley – Formulate for us if you will the following items.

1. How does Israel fight this war without harming innocents while Hezbollah fires rockets from the homes of civilians?

2. What should be done when a cease fire is in order and both Syria and Iran are seen rearming Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon?


Erm, what? What's that got to do with my challenging Joe on his referencing of a post which advocated serious nuclear attacks in the Middle East, talked of blowing up their fucking villages, and felt absolutely zero sympathy for the Lebanese, just after a load of Lebanese children died. So what's the relevance of the above to my argument? There is a counter argument to this and that is that significant nuclear attacks are warranted in the Middle East, that their fucking villages should be blown up, and that we should have absolutely zero sympathy for the Lebanese (just days after the killing of innocent children). If that is the argument being made then it is only fair that I respond and say why it is wrong. If so (I don't really believe this is what Joe thinks ultimately but this is where his logic is taking him) I'll stick my neck out, I think I'm being fair in saying that is an over-the-top point of view. In fact Joe admitted it was a 'bit' over-the-top (how much? the extreme nuking perhaps?).

Ok, I'm going to give one negative: how about NOT using nuclear attacks and not blowing up their fucking villages. I just don't know what to say about bizarre naivety of extremists in thinking nukes and village burning will lead to peace and the end of terrorism.

Interesting questions, not relevant to the specifics of my post, but interesting. This is of course another massive issue and deep rooted. I suspect issues like the Palestinian situation, occupied lands, crossing borders, keeping prisoners and exchanging prisoners, western Middle East interests, US ability to bring about a ceasefire if required, asking the questions from the opposite perspective etc. etc. may have something to do with it. But that's for another post perhaps not this one.
It seems a bit strange to twist this one in order to establish my opinions on the conflict. The point of the post was based on a worry that opinions of nuking, burning their fucking villages, and zero sympathy for innocent lives were being endorsed in biblical studies. Many people (Joe included) in biblical studies are actually studying that part of the world and so I think it is worth making some noise about it.

Jim and others have seemed to suggest that I am not sympathetic to the innocents in Lebanon. This simply isn’t true. As a follower of Christ I never want any persons to suffer. Yet, at the same time I must fight evil where it see it. I categorically state that in my opinion Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorists groups are evil. This war is not a one sided war. Jim and James are decrying the loss of innocent life and they should be applauded for their outspokenness. I decry the acts of terrorists that lead to such loss of life and people want to castigate me.

I'll stick to the points relevant to me. Might using nuclear attacks, burning their fucking villages and having absolutely zero sympathy for innocent deaths be classed as a touch evil? I know Joe didn't actually say it and I don't think Joe actually believes any of that (or at least I seriously hope not) so what's it better to do: generally endorse it or fight it?

No, no Joe

I try to avoid dealing with the following kinds of opinions as they tend to remind me of schoolkids looking for attention and one part of me really wants to think such people are just a great prank (I mean there can't really be such nutcases as those below?) but given that such views are echoing in biblical studies and as these right wing extremists could easily be feeding in to making certain extremist powers look positively moderate then I thought I might as well for what it is worth. This is also in the context of some of the inhumane (not to say utterly impractical) attitudes shown by bloggers (in the wider sense) on the deaths of innocent Lebanese civilians. I still to this day cannot quite believe the variety of political attitudes I have discovered since entering the weird world of biblical studies.

Anyway Joe Cathey provides a link to someone called Doc Russia, packed full of illogic. But Joe says:

Doc Russia has a very good post here – and to top it off he has a great quote from one of my all time favorite movies – Aliens. You may not agree with him – but you can’t beat his logic!

Here's a little commentary on Doc Russia:

Every terrorist they kill now...
...is one less we will have to face later.

That kind of sums up my feelings on the Israeli actions in Lebanon.


Yes, this won't lead to a reaction and couldn't possibly lead to extremist reactions. Any terrorist might even just give up now, as in Iraq. And on a side issue, there will be no one wanting to resort to extremist actions after the deaths of innocent Lebanese.

The simple fact of the matter is that muslims are out to destroy western civilization. I intentionally didn't say "extremist muslims are out to destroy western civilization" because that is a mythical group. Extremist muslims are like extremist Christians, only with reversed ratios. What I mean by that is that while there is the rare Jim Jones out there for the christians, the most of them are pretty decent, honest, and simple folk who abhor violence...you have the rare, tolerant muslim, but the most of them are extremists, and when the extremists become the norm, there are no more extremists.

I've lived in several places with a high Muslim population and lived in areas that are predominantly Muslim. I walked the streets, went to their shops, said hello to my neighbours. Little did I know they were only seconds away from rising up and destroying western civilisation. How come I never saw masses of extremists? Were they just too crafty for poor old me? Were they all lying when speaking to me? Without any social survey Doc Russia KNOWS this as fact so I stand corrected by a collective mind reader. But wait, more conventional proof:

Want proof? Well, despite what Mel gibson may say, the fact of the matter is that almost all of the religiously rooted violence in the world is taking place between muslims, and fill-in-th-blanks. Muslims and Christians fighting in Bosnia. Muslims and Jews fighting in and around Israel. Muslims and Hindus fighting in the Cashmere. There is also muslim-spawned violence going on in Africa, Malaysia, France, the Netherlands, and other areas. Additionally, I cannot think of a single area where Christians and Jews are fighting, Or Hindus and Christians are fighting, or Seikhs and Jews are fighting, or where anybody else is fighting for religious reasons that does not have muslims as part of the mix.

Ah, that old one. The history of human kind has of course had its acts violence and war. I mean I don't want to sound patronizing (make your own mind up if you believe me on that one) but haven't there been wars involving non-Muslims? And atheists? And God knows what. My history may be pretty patchy here, but wasn't there bloodshed before the rise of Islam? I can't remember so someone help me out here. I mean, if there were periods when Islam wasn't violent and Christianity (or any other religion) was, doesn't this mean that suddenly in the modern period Islam has become bad or something? Devil or magic or something? I don't know how else this could be the case but it must be, right?

Ok, enough of the sarcasm (for a moment). The blindingly obvious point is that there are a whole range of underlying reasons for religious violence. Strangely such people who blame Islam don't (conveniently) bother to see what the causes of this might be. No looking to, oh I don't know, the Palestinian situation, or Western support for this or that favourite Middle Eastern dictator.

...not to mention a complete ignorance of certain violent Christians running certain countries. No, best forget about that one, eh?

Furthermore the world at large has come to accept terrorism as a legitimate form of fighting. Nobody shrieks about the systematic deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorists all the time. No, we only hear about civilian casualties when they are due to shooting at bastards who target civilians, and some civilian gets caught in the blast radius...

That's either a) a lie or b) utter ignorance. My guess is that recent news on terrorism is near impossible to avoid so I go for a)

And wait for the 'I'm not racist but...' argument...

As such, I have absolutely zero sympathy for the Lebanese. Don't get me wrong, I have some Lebanese friends, but the Lebanese as a whole have simply either been unable or unwilling to get rid of such villians in their midst. As such, they have given tacit approval for the actions of Hezbollah. For an analogy; if your neighbor refuses to discipline his problem child for setting fire to your garden again and again, he has effectively condoned his childs activities, and has not even the right to act suprised, shocked, or insulted when you decide that enough is enough, and you bill him for damages. Since Hezbollah is part of the lebanon government, then Lebanon is responsible for everything they do or fail to do, including disarming. If the minutemen were to start conducting cross border raids into Mexico to get the Mexicans to secure their border (which they subsequently do), it would be entirely within Mexico's rights as a sovereign nation to attack the US military if the minutemen kept raiding Mexico, and the US government did nothing to stop the minutemen.

Well, there's an in-depth knowledge of Lebanese society! As if there was no objection to Hizbullah in Lebanon?! I wonder what this person thinks of the recent history of Lebanon too, how this fits in with the schoolkid model? I'm re-reading that logic too, and I'm sure I've heard it before ('terrorist' is one word coming to mind...)

So no one has ever gone on to Lebanese lands and provoked them, eh? Hang on, what are we saying here - if someone goes over your border you can retaliate? I wonder if there are any examples of that which spring to mind...?

Recently we all heard of a load of innocent children dying in Lebanon. But zero sympathy, zero sympathy...very good post, very good post...can't beat the logic, can't beat the logic...zero sympathy, zero sympathy...

In the end, the killing of civilians either by accident or design is viewed quite differently depending upon who is the actor. As such, we are not winnning the hearts and minds by sparing civilians. We are in the impossible situation of being expected to avoid civilian casualties while still being chastised as morally inferior to the terrorists because they are fighting for "root causes." There is no way that a society so terminally entrenched will ever change their mind. So, as CPL Keeney used to say, "since they won't let us win their hearts and minds, it's time to burn their fucking village down."

Very good post, Joe? Can't beat his logic, Joe?

But if you thought that was 'very good' and if you thought you couldn't beat that logic, then you'll love this:

So, my dear readers, I am advocating the implementation of what I call the 'Ripley Strategy.' The 'Ripley Strategy' is named for the "Ripley" character played by Sigourney Weaver in the movie 'Aliens.' Ripley is iinterrogated, given her prior experience with the Aliens, as to what she thinks the best course of action is. Her reponse is the most pure of American simplicity..

"Nuke it from orbit; it's the only way to be sure"


Not enough?

NUKE IRAN.

No UN security council, No mulit-bi-uni-lateral talks. No threats, no negotiating. Iran is the prime mover behind muslim terrorists, and muslim terrorists are the prime causes of violence on this planet in our day, so I say that , we Nuke Iran first, and then instead of our usual policy of asking permission, we instead ask for forgiveness for making Lake Tehran with it's radioactive glass shores.

Once that happens, we will have to just deal with gas prices going up. OTOH, Hezbollah will have had a lot of it's resources cut off, and that will bring them rascals under control quick, fast, and in a hurry. North Korea will also have to come to grips with the idea that if we were willing to nuke an oil-rich country, we will definitely nuke one that has none. We should cap it off by saying that any further missile tests will be viewed as an act of war, and let North korea figure another way out of it's mess. Syria will also suddenly go belly up for us. If not.... well, damascus steel was overrated, anyway.

We are past the time for half-measures.

Nuke 'em from orbit; it's the only way to be sure.


Well there's more but you get the picture. Firstly a minor point: Joe obviously sees this as something useful and worth reading and we've all read his posts on Islam. This makes me wonder how on earth he approaches history (he is a historian of ancient Israel) because all methodology goes out of the window when it comes to recent history. But much more seriously, is it not alarming that someone who studies religion thinks such posts are 'very good' and logical?

I don't know if the Doc is a Christian but am I alone in seeing the irony in "nukin'" masses of human beings while accusing others of being violent??? Joe has been quoting the famous British socialist author George Orwell and I reckon we're due of few more on the basis of this logic.

Like I said I try to avoid these types but being endorsed in biblical studies is disturbing.

Oh, and a metaphorical pat on the back for anyone who gets the musical reference in the title, 'No, no Joe'.