Saturday, August 18, 2007

Pseudo Scholars & Other Impersonators

I have noticed that some among us love to compile massive documents defending some position or another with endless references to Biblical passages, generally accepted reference books (including page numbers and paragraphs) and copious quotes from Times & Seasons, various church history books, up to and including the multi-volume The History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and other non scriptural tomes. Normally this melange is thrown to us without any guide for the reader for direction to a reasoned end point. It is rarely accompanied by a closely formulated argument leading logically to a conclusion. But, it is long on “pseudo” scholarship. It is left to the reader to plow through the references, unassisted, to draw the proper inference. If nothing else, however, the writer has demonstrated such magnificent research that to disagree with conclusions offered would identify us as uneducated fools who should never challenge the intelligentsia.

I do not occupy a lofty perch in the higher reaches of the priesthood so one may assert (properly?) that I fail to realize all of the nuance which is required to state the simple truths of the word of God. I may also fail to understand the endless complexity of some issues which occupy the minds of some Saints as they promote their Savior. Let’s try a couple of these on for size. We need to seek a Zionic condition, now! Do we really need a dozen scriptural citations and quotes from church history to believe that? I’m sorry, but supplying one more Hebrew (or Greek) word for God will not make His will any easier to understand or obey. In his own way He has led me to belief. Personal testimony is far stronger than any argument or debating point that is supported by endless pages of references. I do not need a Philadelphia lawyer to have a conversation with God.

Is Jesus Christ my only avenue to salvation? Like all Christians who have taken on the name of Christ, one more scriptural reference is not necessary to make my belief in that statement any more rock solid. It seems to me if you are going to adopt the name you should be prepared to assume the entire package. That includes the resurrection. I never could figure out what the point of the Savior dying as a sacrifice to atone for our sins was if there was no resurrection to provide us with a destination. Please don’t send me forty nebulous scripture references to prove that point. Neither am I interested in quotes from other sources which satisfy you. Remember, I am stupid and lazy and probably couldn't understand them anyway.

What I do understand, and clearly, is that God will and does respond to me if I seek Him out. I refuse to cite the scripture to support that assertion because as Saints, you were weaned on it.

While I am on the subject of inflated language, I have a question. How come all these pseudo scholars insist on abusing Hebrew and Greek dictionaries when some of the principal writers in the Bible (Paul for example and yes, I know he had a scribe) were actually citizens of Rome? Would that not require a Latin knowledge as well? Wow! You mean they speak and read and conversationally understand Greek, Hebrew and Latin too? I probably shouldn’t even mention ancient Egyptian because that would start an argument on whether you spell faith with one goat or two.

I have brushed against several languages other than English in my life. In order of current proficiency, I have studied German, Latin, Spanish and French. That effort has left me with a profound respect for persons who are truly multi-lingual. I cannot claim that. Yes, I have led many a bus tour with German nationals and have a rudimentary knowledge with a travel oriented vocabulary—but fluency, heavens no. I recall one conversation with a passenger from Bamberg, Germany where Martin Luther had a considerable history. I found I had a very limited vocabulary to discuss matters of faith. I could discuss food and geography but not the cathedral or Luther’s separation from the existing church. On a one to four scale about the best I could manage would be 1.5—and I had actually lived in Germany for two years. One final point. To make a language understandable, one normally has to master the idiom of the period. For the first century AD, that seems especially difficult.

One of my favorites in this regard was a reference I once heard to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, which we happen to have in our personal library. I raised the question of whether it was suitable to use in pursuit of scripture references. To my knowledge, it is not based on the Inspired Version. The answer included these exact words: “Oh yes, it’s authorized.” By whom? Our little body of Saints can’t even keep track of who the various pastors are in our congregations. The hierarchy appoints endless committees and denies their existence and activity. On what date did the proposition come before a conference, receive authority and endorsement through common consent of the delegates? If this actually happened, I would appreciate some knowledge of it and will forward an appropriate “mea culpa.”

Strong's is a valuable tool for anyone seriously searching the scriptures. In no way do I intend to diminish the service it performs. But the fact remains that it is about the Bible; it is not the Bible. We have three books which are well known among the Saints, which represent the Word of God. Personally I consider absolutely every thing else to be of man and therefore, subject to human frailty. Do I take comfort from some of those early writings? Yes. Do they often help in understanding the history of the church? Yes. Are they scripture? No.

If you are offended by this essay it means you may be guilty of presenting offerings to validate some pet position which you have unnecessarily enhanced with meaningless definitions and quotations. If that is the case, please state your position, back it with a scriptural reference, give us all credit for God given intelligence and please, speak English. I believe we can agree that we are willing to extend the hand of Christian love to those who offer differing opinions. Maybe I should take my own advice and keep it simple.

In His abiding love,

Cecil Moon


Equally Coy said...

I am in no way offended by your post. Indeed I lifted a rather hearty Amen! at much of it.

For the sake of accuracy, however,
Greek not Latin, was the every day language of the Roman Empire, even in Rome, until well into the first millenium.
There was not even an official Latin translation of the Bible until the 5th century AD. (By official, I mean a Latin version of the scriptures that was authorized and used and promulgated by the church)

That of course does not change anything about the point of your post, but just to comment on a weakness in your argument about seeking to understand the original languages of the written record of the faithful community.

I would offer that you seem to take offense at the very nature of scholarship, however, in your first paragraph. I am not denying that people may have the appearance of scholarly effort just for blustery show, and would agree that it is offensive. I would also add that it becomes transparent rather quickly, especially if there is real interaction between people.
But I would point out that any educational process of lasting value involves a leading, a provocation, and a hypothesis (maybe even a thesis). A process that dictates a conclusion that is accepted without examination, regardless of documentation, reputation, or credential is often not lasting; and it often leads to serious issues of indoctrination that can be literally fatal. There is nothing more dangerous than a well-documented and substantiated thesis, accepted without examination and contemplation. So I would challenge your point that a well-reasoned, and formulated argument relieves one of the educational process of "plowing through" references and thinking. This challenge comes with a hearty agreement that drive-by soundbites of documentation do not make for any real persuasive evidence of any point, and to accept them simply because they are sourced from a "repected" archive is indeed troublesome.

In reading your post I am a little confused, I guess. I sense in your writing a well-shielded desire to break away from some of the trappings of tradition that seem so apparent to an outside observer; but a vague guiltiness for feeling like you might want to do that.
Maybe I am wrong in my perception...I am willing to return mea culpa in kind.
I also was not sure whether you are truly opposed to "education", or if you are just oppposed to the appearance of education.
From your writings, I would be hard to persuade that you are not a quite intelligent man, whether formally educated or not; so I would not be easily persuaded that you are opposed to education and even bolstering your Christian discipleship by it.
It is not difficult, therefore, to see, and much more, agree that the pretention of education and the tactics thereof would be offensive to you. I quite agree, nothing offends me more or turns me off more quickly, than for someone to come out of the cannon with blustery quotations from scripture that have obviously been "called up from memory" by the ever-present search engines that are so prevalent today. This appearance of education and familiarity with scripture is both offensive and ingenuous in many cases. I won't name names because the tactic is obvious, but I will say that you should perhaps look beyond your "hierarchy" for offense in this regard. Perhaps even beyond your own comfort zone and circle of admiration.

I am struck by the apparent necessity to defend your use of Strong's Concordance in scripture study. Of course it is not based on the Inspired Version of the Bible...nothing outside of your own tradition's writings is based on the IV. You can't even buy an IV in a Christian bookstore for example, and no writings outside of your tradition will even follow versification of the IV in cases where there are differences. I am not sure if that surprises you or if it is merely an element of your "guilt" for owning it and perhaps using it.
I find it sad and illustrative of your tradition's apparent hold on you, however, that you feel the need to defend your use of it, or seek permission or authorization to use it in study.

Your restrictive view of scripture leaves little room for comment or perhaps even conversation. This may be why you and your few participants here, excepting me of course, find yourselves "exiled".

{parenthetical comment: I searched and thought for sometime before I typed "exiled" because I didn't want to offend but I did want to capture the sense I have of your status (if you will) based on the writings and comments (not just yours but also Jan's and others here). Again I will gladly offer mea culpa if necessary.}

So back to my point on nature of scripture. Any debate on this point would surely be fruitless, but I think you know that many do not hold your restricvtive view. And objectively, your view does not stand the test of examination. Of course, by tradition and beliefs, it stands stalwart. There is a certain admirability to that, but the fruits of such restriction are, shall we say, captive; and I would imagine, based on your own writing and the remarks of others, that the admiration wanes rather quickly when any alternate view is offered in discussion.

It would seem that it makes for a rather lonely voice crying in the wilderness (not to wax too scriptural); and this should not be taken as compliment no matter how noble an effort and example the Baptist may have been.

That's as close to a scripture reference as you will get from me for these comments. Not every human discourse needs, nor should have, chapter and verse accompanying it for support.
If people have the ability to read your post and this comment they have all the intelligence and education necessary to understand them. I wouldn't insult your or anyone's intelligence by thinking otherwise.
And finally, except for the occasional Latin, I have spoken in plain English. If it is plainly read, it should be plainly understandable.

I do like this blog!

Brother Ev said...

I think brother Earl Curry appropriately referred to it as "arid intellectualism" -- and nailed it!

brother Ev