Ronald Hendel Protests Recognizing Fundamentalist Groups in the SBL

He writes:
“The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.” This famous line from Pascal’s Pensées draws a wise distinction between religious faith and intellectual inquiry. The two have different motivations and pertain to different domains of experience. They are like oil and water, things that do not mix and should not be confused...

My focus is the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), the main organization for Biblical scholarship in North America. In recent years it has changed its position on the relationship between faith and reason in the study of the Bible...and is falling into a confused domain of dissension and hypocrisy. The problem, as I understand it, has to do with money.

SBL used to share its annual meeting with the major American organizations for Near Eastern archaeology (the American Schools of Oriental Research, ASOR) and for the study of religion (the American Association of Religion, AAR). But due to petty disputes among the leaders of these groups, ASOR and AAR have dissolved their links with SBL. In order to keep up its numbers at its annual meeting, SBL has reached out to evangelical and fundamentalist groups, promising them a place within the SBL meeting. So instead of distinguished academic organizations like ASOR and AAR in the fold, we now have fundamentalist groups like the Society of Pentecostal Studies and the Adventist Society for Religious Studies as our intimate partners. These groups now hold SBL sessions at the annual meeting. The participation of these and other groups presumably boosts attendance—and SBL’s income—to previous levels.

What’s wrong with bringing in such groups? Well, some of them proselytize at the SBL meetings. One group invited some Jewish scholars to their session, asked them if they observed the Sabbath, and handed them materials intended to convert them. And recently the SBL online book review journal (Review of Biblical Literature) has featured explicit condemnations of the ordinary methods of critical scholarly inquiry, extolling instead the religious authority of orthodox Christian faith. Listen to this, from Bruce Waltke, widely regarded as the dean of evangelical Biblical studies:
By their faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, [evangelical scholars] … hear the voice of higher biblical criticism, which replaces faith in God’s revelation with faith in the sufficiency of human reason, as the grating of an old scratched record.
This is a quaintly stated position, which directly attacks the applicability of human reason to the study of the Bible. Instead of reason, “faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”—as interpreted by evangelical scholars—should be the rule in Biblical scholarship. Waltke dismisses critical inquiry as an annoying nuisance, like the scratchy sound of an old LP. This is in the midst of a review of a brilliant scholarly commentary on the Book of Proverbs, written by a Jewish scholar, in the Anchor Yale Bible series.

Why is this a problem? Certainly Waltke is entitled to his views. The problem is that the SBL has loosened its own definition of Biblical scholarship, such that partisan attacks of this type are now entirely valid. When I learned of the new move to include fundamentalist groups within the SBL, I wrote to the director and cited the mission statement in the SBL’s official history: “The object of the Society is to stimulate the critical investigation of the classical biblical literatures.” The director informed me that in 2004 the SBL revised its mission statement and removed the phrase “critical investigation” from its official standards. Now the mission statement is simply to “foster biblical scholarship.” So critical inquiry—that is to say, reason—has been deliberately deleted as a criterion for the SBL. The views of creationists, snake-handlers and faith-healers now count among the kinds of Biblical scholarship that the society seeks to foster.

The battle royal between faith and reason is now in the center ring at the SBL circus. While the cultured despisers of reason may rejoice—including some postmodernists, feminists and eco-theologians—I find it dispiriting. I don’t want to belong to a professional society where people want to convert me, and where they hint in their book reviews that I’m going to hell. As a scholar of the humanities—and I might add, as a Jew—I do not feel at home in such a place. What to do? Well, I’ve let my membership in SBL lapse. Maybe that’s a cowardly response, but sometimes, as Shakespeare wrote, “The better part of valor is discretion.” Sometimes it’s reasonable to avoid conflict. And like Pascal and Spinoza, I’m partial to reason in matters of scholarship. But my heart, for reasons of its own, gently grieves.
Read the full text here.

I am in complete agreement. Imagine giving flat-earthers a seat at the scientific table and you'll see the huge disconnect.

20 comments:

Chuck O'Connor said...

Those who post here and say we former Christians and now atheist, agnostics, secular humanists and skeptics who don't understand the sophisticated nature of today's Christianity need to read this and recognize a leading edge biblical study organization has Christian contributions that are ethnocentric and ignorant. That is the state of today's Christianity, not the imaginary sophisticated world of the Christian apologists who post their sophistry here.

DM said...
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Harry H. McCall, CET said...

Please DM, how about do us all a favor: Cruse God and DIE!!

Chris said...

Hey, DM is linking to a Peter Kreeft article now. Why would an article by a sophisticated Christian philosopher attract a kook like that? ;)

Hendy said...

DM - post your address please ;)

DM said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
LadyAtheist said...

Liberal Christianity is cowed by the fundies, or perhaps they're extending them the same polite live-and-let-live attitude that they extend to each others' denominations. If they would do more to work against this nutty theology then maybe atheists would be less vocal. Instead, they fight atheists who criticize fundies and claim we're attacking a small and irrelevant minority. Well, if "We're all Christians" is the way they look at their biblical scholarship, then why should atheists not look at them the same way?

DM said...
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Harry H. McCall, CET said...

for you, DM

Atheists 100 - god 0
Put that in you damn faith pipe and smoke it!

GearHedEd said...

The "Boy Who Cried, "GOD!""....

DM said...
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Harry H. McCall, CET said...

I strongly feel that anyone who has read Hector Avalos’ The End of Biblical Studies will have to agree that these conjoined twins (Faith and the Bible) can not exist apart.

I left the Society of Biblical Literature in 1994 after 21 years of active membership (attending National, Regional and State meetings). Sadly, even when I was a member, the national meetings were more of a "family reunions" setting for scholars than real objective scholarship.

This future was set out in the book Planting and Reaping Albright: Politics, Ideology, and Interpreting the Bible by Burk O. Long was a historical (and now prophetic analogy) of just the type of thing now occurring at the SBL.

[By the way, a correction should be noted in Ronald Hendel’s article. AAR stands for the American Academy of Religion and not the American Association of Religion as he states in his third paragraph.]

Saint Brian the Godless said...

Repent and turn to God or be destroyed...

YOU HAVE NO CHOICE...
-----------
Oohhh, I'm so askairt. You're terrifying me into believing in your God! Oh my! I had no idea that sheer terror of the afterlife could feel so goooooooood! How smart you were to scare me like that, acting as if you were a total a-hole! Who knew that you had a real purpose in being asinine! Why, I had no idea that one could be saved by an insult like that! Wow! Gee, thanks!

I'm SAAAVVVEEED! WHEEEEEEEE!

Now I"m just like you!

Oh, wait a minute. I don't like the feeling of having all of my thoughts leak out my ear like this...

So.....

I'M UNSAVED! WHEEEEE!

Ahhh.... much better. I was starting to drool.

Harry H. McCall, CET said...

DM “do you actually BELIEVE the BS you preach!”

So DM, just how long do I have to wait for your “God” to destroy me? “Yawn, Yawn”

DM, you are so mad at your "God" because he can’t do shit that you take it out on us!

Look at your "God" then at yourself! You and your rant are products of faith in God!

Fact is, the only thing that will destroy anyone here at DC is reading your dumb-ass same old repeated rant posted over and over.

Yea, DM! now I understand our destruction. We will go brain dead reading your repeated and non-changeable dumb-ass empty rants.

We’ll go brain dead!

GearHedEd said...

Aaaargh! The Christianity! It burns!!!

Saint Brian the Godless said...

We’ll go brain dead!
----------------
Hey, wait a minute!

THAT'S WHAT DM WANTS!!!

It all makes sense now...

After we go brain dead, we'll be in the exact right place where we can accept their God!

It's their PLAN!!!!!


ARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!!!

DM said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
GearHedEd said...

DM said,

"you people actually BELIEVE the BS you preach!"

And this makes us different from you HOW???

Harry H. McCall, CET said...

DM, do you actually think Dante’s Divine Comedy is part of the Bible??? Give me a break you nut head!

You state:
"This is the deepest level of hell, where the fallen angel Satan himself resides. His wings flap eternally, producing chilling cold winds that freeze the thick ice found in Cocytus..."

So atheist need to fear a medieval Italian poem which is itself built on Classical Greek myths and this is why we need to run and repent?!! Yea, right!

DM, please give me just one (can you do that?), JUST one Biblical reference where “where the fallen angel Satan himself resides” in Hell or where Hell has levels?!!

Your problem is that you can’t tell (like most Christians) where Classical myths stop and Dante‘s Divine Comedy begins. (Well, most of the time "Biblical truths" are nothing more than reworked Classical myths.)

Atheist have nothing to fear form a nut case like you DM with your threats of medieval Italian theology built on Dante’s poem.

DM, your mental state is one hell of a joke!

Clare said...

Check Pharyngula's "Dungeon" for info on the troll.