Bart Ehrman on being perceived as inflamatory

I was digging through the archives of Bart Ehrman’s blog (most of which is behind a paywall, sadly) and I came across this gem:

Now that in my popular books I have “come out” as an agnostic, and since people read my books (wrongly, in my opinion) as an attack on Christianity (I may be attacking fundamentalism, but I’m not at all attacking Christianity), they now tend to read anything I write as being confrontational, in-your-face, deal-with-*that* kind of prose, when in fact I don’t mean it that way at all.

The first eight chapters of my book (the part on the Hebrew Bible) were sent to about fifteen readers to evaluate (three of them are ones I chose – experts on Hebrew Bible who could correct my mistakes and point out my howlers; the others were chosen by the Press because they teach the Bible Intro course).   Most of my readers like the book.  But some are incensed and think that it’s intentionally inflammatory.  I really don’t think it is.  My sense is that these professors (who are not necessarily religious themselves; they are just looking out for their students) find what I say inflammatory simply because it is me who is saying it, and they expect me to be inflammatory…

But it reminds me of another situation from my past.  Even when I was at Moody Bible Institute as a hard-core evangelical Christian, we had good senses of humor and loved to kid around and joke   It is interesting that if today, as a non-believer, I tell a joke or an anecdote that we all thought was really funny when I was an evangelical, the evangelicals find it not funny at all but down-right insulting.  If I were an evangelical telling it in an evangelical context, it would be more than fine.  But since I’m not, not.   It seems to be similar with this book.  If I were someone else, I could probably make it harder hitting that I have.

ETA: While I still don’t think the paywall is a great business decision, I definitely don’t regret the $25 I spend on my membership to the blog.

  • eric

    I haven’t read his latest book (I heard it was not up to his earlier standards), but I read 2-3 of the earlier ones. I thought he bent over backwards not to be confrontational in those. For example, when discussing some way in which the bible is wrong, he’ll regularly point out that (1) the errors were not what led him to agnosticism, and (2) many other scholars know and acknowledge these errors while maintaning their faith. It gets downright repetitive for readers who don’t care about that, but he keeps doing it, I presume to reassure Christian readers that his point in discussing these errors and problem is not to try to deconvert them.

  • andyman409

    Now how all Evangelical Christian reviews of Ehrman’s book follow a similar pattern:

    -first, they claim Ehrman is the opposite of a Christian Fundamentalist- an ATHEIST fundamentalist!
    -than, they evaluate one of his arguments
    -than, they concede that the argument is technically true
    -than, they state that he’s exaggerating it’s significence, and that it doesn’t disprove christianity
    -lastly, they remind the reader that Ehrman is an “atheist fundamentalist”, and claim his prior fundamentalism taints the way he does history

    and than they repeat the cycle.

    • andyman409

      i mean *notice how*

    • Chris Hallquist


  • J. Quinton

    What Ehrman is describing is simply the fact that if a non-believer criticizes religion — no matter how politely they say it — it will be tone-trolled as “inflammatory”.

  • Quine

    Thanks, Chris, for fishing that out for us. Ehrman is an atheist re the fundamentalist’s deity or deities. I think he is also a atheist re the Evangelical’s deity or deities, but does not want the political problems that would fall upon him if he says so. We should let him know that we are happy to do that for him.

  • Hans baer

    I have to say that it was a very liberating experience to read Bart ehrmann

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