Posted on December 31, 2009 at 12:09 am by Dr. Jim
Since starting to grade essays and exams a few weeks ago, then doing the usual holiday visiting rounds, loafing, over eating, over drinking, and shovelling tons of snow, I’ve haven’t been blogging much, my Alexa rating has fallen dramatically, I’m no longer in the top bazzilion, and I haven’t even been reading blogs much of late.
BUT I’M BACK NOW!
(more or less)
It seems that a bit of kaffufle has broken out between John Loftus of Debunking Christianity fame and Jim West of Jim West fame about the basic character, intelligence, integrity, education, and biblioblogging credentials of each other. Loads of comments have been made and a few other bloggers have jumped in, and a lot of unpleasantness has hit the fan. In the process, my name has come up a few times so I thought I would offer some rather rambling comments on the whole sordid mess. I’m a bit amused by some of what has transpired, and bored by some other bits. But I’m actually mad as hell about some of it, too. Still, I will try to be diplomatic Canadian about it.
I don’t really know where it all started, but I think there is a long backstory. On the one hand, Loftus recently says that West hasn’t got a real degree (Dec. 29), he could well be idiot of the year (Dec. 29) and that West has been smacked down (Dec 29) by Loftus’ new-found high standing on the Alexa rankings. He claims that his ascent up Alexa’s rankings that put him ahead of almost every other Biblioblogger led to the demise of the monthly rankings posted at the Top 50 Bibliobloggers.
On the other hand, West has noted the likeness of John Loftus to Ronald Regan (Dec. 28), and has apparently found Loftus going into Walmart on the People of Walmart site. Now, this might all be fun and games if directed at someone West actually gets along with (despite disagreements on any particular scholarly or philosophical point). It is a little game lots of people in the what-ever-the-hell-the-biblioblogging-community-is plays (including yours truly). Its been directed at me with no insult taken, and its something I’ve dished out, with all kind intents. When directed at someone one does NOT get along with or respect, however, the humor just gets lost in the nasty. Anyway, that’s the way it strikes me. It really adds nothing to the conversation (such as it was) and it probably sends mixed messages to other people. When West plays the game with others, is he just provoking a good natured retaliation in fun or is he just being rude there to?
On the third hand, Joel Watts, the true Mind behind the Church of Jesus Christ, jumped into the fray on the 29th, declaring that Loftus is not a biblioblogger and really shouldn’t be attacking West.
Well, I think Loftus is a complete and utter, well, no, I’ll take the high road. I think that as a biblioblogger (Yes, I am), and the current and reigning number 2, and pretty humbly proud of those things, an attack on one biblioblogger by a, whatever Loftus is, is an attack on us all. Regardless if you like Dr. West or not, he is a biblioblogger and a believer, and frankly, well, what Loftus is doing, is just wrong, stupid, and childish (again, no offense to the children who act better than Loftus). This is not the ‘lesser of two evils’ trick, but an honest to goodness and sincere motivation to stand with fellow bibliobloggers.
Loftus responds with his conspiracy theory in a few other posts (here 29th, here and here, Dec. 30). I really don’t know where Loftus gets the idea that the abandonment of the monthly completely for fun rankings was a plot to disassociate him from the ranks of other folks who blog about the Bible. I don’t think it is really justified. There have been complaints about the ranking system since I started paying attention to it all this past summer with other complaining that the first bunch of complainers were just taking things too darn seriously.
There have been tons of comments on these posts by Loftus, West, McGrath, Watts, Avalos, and others, including Stephanie Fisher (who, as a cat lover, is simply beyond reproach). At some point, someone called someone else a poo-poo head, and it got ugly. Maybe we need a distraction.
My name came up in Polycarp’s (aka Joel Watt’s) post, so I thought I would chime in. First of all, I appreciate Joel’s point that I’m not really out to destroy the SBL, despite his posted claims to the contrary. Good fun is good fun, and I’ve sent a bit down his way, too. As to whether who is, or is not a “biblioblogger” I don’t really give a damn. In a post on Loftus’ blog, Hector Avalos has weighed in on the question and I agree with his conclusion:
Ultimately, the “guild” of self-described bibliobloggers will have to decide on the definition and qualifications of bibliobloggers. What I argue here is that the discussion so far seems based on applying unclear or inconsistent criteria for who counts as a “true” biblioblogger. It seems very much like a sectarian war or a war between heresy (secularism) and Christian/biblical “orthodoxy.”
Beyond that, not much more needs be said except that most of the time I blog about the Bible it is in the context of laughing at a creationist or posting pictures of barely dressed actresses from Bible movies, e.g.:
Susan Hayward in the 1950's "David and Bathsheba". She did not play David.
In the light of this, I don’t intend this to get at all personal but I find Watt’s description of me a bit “interesting”, to say the least. He writes: “but honestly, even as an atheist, he is a bible scholar and thus a biblioblogger”. “Even as an atheist”? How odd! In one of the first comments on Watt’s post, Bitsy Griffin asks why an atheist would want to be a biblical scholar. How very odd!
Why shouldn’t an atheist be a biblical scholar, and why should there be language like “even as an atheist…” as if that makes the attaining of academic credentials, positions or publication deals seem somehow irregular?
Atheists can study the Vedas in depth, Confucianism, the formation of the Talmud, LDS history, the Waco fiasco, scientology, the meso-American human sacrifice cults, Babylonian and Norse religions, “Cargo” cults, and a bazzilion other religious traditions, ideas, events and productions. Why is it so weird that we would want an explanation for the Bible that does not depend upon according it some kind of special status as divine, or even particularly insightful book? To understand humanity requires understanding religion. Why should an atheist try to understand the Bible, Christianity, and related things as human productions? Simply because they are there.
- THADGUY COMICS ROCK!
I would enthusiastically agree with Loftus (and Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett et. al.) that the privileged social position of the religion should be challenged. With Avalos and a number of others, I’m sure that the academic study of the Bible should be directed away from its theological nursery and be firmly located within the secular study of every other cultural product. I also think that this is a goal worth doing something about, even if it means a major shakeup in scholarly organizations like the Society of Biblical Literature. The privileged social position of religion (and especially Christianity) in the SBL is such that even though for the most part the society is secular, one does not often openly speak about being secular, or criticize academic work that seems compromised by theological or confessional biases. It seems embarrassed by its own nature. This needs addressing as does the idea that it is odd or exceptional that fully secularlized folk might want to study the Bible.
Still, I don’t think the SBL’s scholarly auspices are the right place for fighting the fight against religion in general. That being said, the SBL should not be “neutral ground” on which any discourse about the Bible is championed, but “secular ground” which admits no deity as influencing human affairs and products. That is rather different territory than that which hosts atheist rallies, though. I think this is the position shared with the majority of the two dozen or so SBL members who have signed up with the movement to redirect the SBL to a more fully secular point of view (But I don’t think it is shared by all).
(I’ve been meaning to post these kitties for ages…)
Let me say something I’ve said often times before. Despite my rather strong atheism, I don’t think that people who do subscribe to religious ideas are necessarily stupid or can have nothing to offer the secular study of the Bible or religion in general. On the contrary, I would defend the integrity of many religious folks in the SBL as competent scholars. I would like to have the favour returned.
I hardly agree with Loftus that West deserves idiot of the year accolades (my vote goes for a certain vice presidential candidate). But besides his rather not-funny photo-pun of Loftus as Reagan and a Walmart customer, Jim West has also made a few rather insulting posts about atheists in general. Besides quoting some famous non-atheists, West adds his own commentary:
Calvin on the insanity of atheism (Dec. 29)
Well said, John. Atheism is insanity. Hence, there’s no more point in arguing with (or even discussing things with) an atheist than there is in walking into an insane asylum and attempting to carry on a lucid conversation with persons utterly devoid of the gift of lucidity.
I can do this forever. It’s actually kind of fun. Christian literature is packed with denunciations of the foolishness of atheism. It’s only the simpering postmodern afraid of her own shadow who is fearful of calling a spade a spade and entering the fray; who practices a sort of ‘Chamberlain-ian appeasement’ towards radical atheists that’s both unbecoming and unnecessary.
Joseph Addison on Atheists (Dec 30):
Poking fun at atheists: free! Making atheists mad: easy! Conducting discourse or conversation with atheists: pointless. Depicting atheists as animals wandering in a pasture… priceless!
Well, whoopdee fucking doo! I wonder what would happen to my status as a “Biblioblogger” or even as and academic if I posted similar things about religious people? But really, are ALL religious people incompetent idiots or outright lunatics with whom intelligent conversation is impossible? No. Does West really think that no atheist can be worth talking too? He sure seems to. Is Jim West worth talking to?
A few months ago, when the Secular Criticism of the Bible group was in its very early “lets talk about it” stage on this blog, I commented on the absurd blither from an SBL member Rick Wadholm, who couldn’t see how anyone could be non-religious about anything. If West really thinks that no atheist is worth talking to than he is as bad as Wadholm. And since I enjoyed a rather nice chat over coffee with him at SBL, I’m now wondering just where he stands on a whole lot of things.
Maybe in Atlanta in 2010 I will try to glean a few edible bunches of academic fodder from wandering in the book display pasture and he can mock me from a distance, but why shouldn’t I put him on my Don’t Talk to These People at the Next SBL Meeting Even If They Say “Hello” list? No point having him get some cheap giggles out of pretending to take me seriously. Hiding behind the rhetoric and bombast of a bunch of dead theists or even the Bible might be fun, but it is a stupid cheap shot.
Claims that non-belivers have no understanding is just part of the self-serving veil of mystique religions weave for themselves. It is part of the construction of religion that is quite fittingly an important, and hardly impossible, topic of scholarly investigation. Is it scholarly to gloat at those who believe in the now-exposed man behind the curtain? No, I don’t think so. But it is hardly scholarly to insult to rule out any contribution by those who call attention to the curtain in the first place.