Friday, August 25, 2017

The Square and Stationary Internet

Where everybody has something to be outraged about, and wants to let you know it.

I almost thought about reading this book on fundamentalism.  Then I got to the last paragraph:

My working title [for his next book]  is Liberal Fundamentalism: Why Popular “Progressive Christianity” Is neither Progressive nor Christian. It will be a critique of the Jesus Seminar crowd: Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, John Shelby Spong, etc. They have the same binary thinking found among Christian Right leaders. They took dated ideas from earlier generations of liberal theologians and marketed them (through false advertising) as new and fresh. While they love colored beads, they apparently have little interest in people of color—their project is steeped in white, middle-class privilege, just like their target audience. When this book comes out, I will have two completely different groups of people pissed off at me. Woohoo!

First, I'd rather read Martin Marty's book on fundamentalism, because I suspect the scholarship is better.  Not because I feel called to defend Crossan and Borg (certainly not Spong), but because:  seriously?  It's 2017 (and will be 2018, at least, before that projected book comes out).  Is anybody reading Spong, Borg, or Crossan anymore?  I mean, maybe you have some groundbreaking theology to interpose against their "dated ideas from earlier generations of liberal theologians," but it doesn't sound like it from that.   If you do, why not get on with it?  We could use some new ideas.  But it sounds more like you want to bitch, and they're a soft target (in some ways, they are.)  As for "steeped in white middle class privilege," um, who do you think is going to be reading your new book, or your proposed one?  Not the people Dorothy Day served.  Pointing fingers and blaming others is no way to go through life.

I dunno; just seemed like a glib and gratuitous throwing of stones to me; cursing the darkness rather than lighting a candle.  I mean, what did the Jesus Seminar ever do to him?


  1. The last time I looked at Crossan what he had to say about the cultural and historical background was what I found most striking. Though I will always be grateful to him because reading The Historical Jesus was an important step in my real conversion which is incomplete and ongoing and, for which, I find other authors with other points of view more important. I also have to credit his book about Paul for getting me to look harder at the epistles, both those deemed genuinely Pauline and those not and seeing that most of the things that had scandalized me about them were his responses to problems of the gentile communities he'd founded and couldn't be understood outside of the pagan contexts they were always in danger from. Both unwelcomed violence and seductive back sliding.

    I've read little of Marcus Borg.

    Spong is someone I have never had any interest in, he's a publicity hound. I used to think of him as the successor of Bishop James Pike, though James Pike was a far more substantial figure so I don't think of him that way, anymore.

    I doubt I'll read the book. Religion Dispatches lost me.

    Anthony Alumkal's other book, Asian American Evangelical Churches: Race, Ethnicity, and Assimilation in the Second Generation, has an interesting title. I've been tempted to go check out the tiny Indonesian Christian church the next town over, I don't even know what denomination it is. They took over from a real eccentric former Congregationalist who didn't take to the formation of the UCC and started his own church. I knew him slightly and think he'd probably be kind of stunned to find out who is worshiping in his chapel now. Though not because he was a racist, as far as I know, he wasn't. It would not have been expected.

  2. I take some good from the Jesus Seminar, but I don't take everything they did without a grain of salt. Crossan is a serious scholar, Borg and especially Spong less so.

    But nobody gets everything right; and that swipe at their theology makes the whole project sound like professional jealousy. If you've got something to say, stake your claim. Kicking somebody else to prove your bona fides is a poor way to establish anything except bitterness and not having much to say on your own.

    I go to RD occasionally, mostly to see what new outrage they're a-feared of, or what new distortion they can put on matters that really require nuanced thinking. After your post today, I'm gonna quit reading on-line crap and start reading Marilynne Robinson. About time I got around to that.

  3. In my later and possibly declining years I have taken a more critical view of historical criticism and its implications, but the idea that it's discredited because it's steeped in "white, middle class privilege" seems a little goofy to me. You could say the same, probably, about most literature, and history, and science, and philosophy, and just about any field based on a rigorous academic background.

    I've been reading some Bultmann lately, and though I am critical of his starting point, and some of his historical assertions have been challenged (as happens normally with history), I am still challenged by his vision. If the appreciation of the rather brilliant working out of an approach to Christianity that I consider not ultimately fruitful is only the indulgence of middle class privilege, I will plead guilty.

    Philosophy, in its many forms, is something I've never made a dime from, but it has enriched my life, and I truly wish there were a way that it could be more widely appreciated. Unhappily, these days we have to count ourselves lucky if we can moderate our popular raging xenophobia.

  4. I think, in general, Biblical scholars make poor theologians. Bultmann's work on the gospel of John is magisterial; his more "popular" works, meant for a general audience, on his idea of "demythologizing," seem to me a failure.

    But the JS was set up precisely to counter Biblical inerrancy and fundamentalist exegesis. I suppose you can say that's aimed at middle-class white people, but it made no claim to be liberation theology or womanist or black theology, so i don't get the criticism from this guy.

    As you say, all we seem capable of now is moderating our popular raging xenophobia. Which is probably a middle-class white word, too; come to think of it.