Review of Carson’s The Intolerance of Tolerance

Review of The Intolerance of Tolerance by D. A. Carson (Eerdmans, 2012)

The Intolerance of Tolerance is Carson’s latest jeremiad about postmodernism. His earlier one was The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Zondervan, 2002). The basic thesis of The Intolerance of Tolerance (henceforth simply Intolerance) is that our culture is in the process of adopting an intolerant attitude toward real moral and intellectual pluralism in the name of tolerance. Carson’s thesis is expressed in many ways and illustrated by numerous anecdotes. Here is one statement of his thesis: “In the name of not offending anyone, we are in danger of appealing to the virtue of tolerance to become more intolerant.” (p. 28) An example (anecdote) from the “domain of education” is the case of one Scott McConnell whose term paper for a class at Le Moyne College advocated corporal punishment received an A minus. However, according to Carson, the student was dismissed from the college by the chair of the education department due to an alleged “mismatch between [his] personal beliefs…and the Le Moyne College program goals.” (p. 29)

Most of his anecdotes about intolerance in the name of tolerance have more to do with persecution of religious believers and especially Christians in education and the media.

Throughout the book Carson works with a distinction between two views of tolerance—one “old” and the other “new.” According to him, the old view combined tolerance with realism regarding truth. That is, truth is “out there,” real, objective in itself. In this older view of tolerance, it is a path toward social harmony and, at least in some cases, toward a greater grasp of truth through dialogue between competing visions of truth. According to Carson, “the new tolerance argues that there is no one view that is exclusively true.” (p. 11)

It seems to me that, throughout the book, Carson describes the “new view” in different and sometimes confusing ways. For example, “there is no one view that is exclusively true” isn’t incompatible with the old view. And it doesn’t equate with “all paths are equally right.” (also p. 11)

Let’s look at that again.

On a single page (11), Carson describes the “new view” in two very different ways. First, it is that “no one view…is exclusively true.” Second, it is that “all paths [to truth] are equally right.”

Then, on another page (13) Carson muddies the waters even more by describing the new view as that “all truth is relative”—a definition (or description) of the new view of tolerance he uses repeatedly throughout the book. This would seem to be a third definition/description of the “new tolerance.”

Are these three descriptions of the same thing? Not necessarily. A person might very well believe there is objective truth “out there” (realism) without believing that any one view of it is “exclusively true.” (Remember that “exclusively” means “to the exclusion of everything else.” A view that is “exclusively true” would imply that it has no mixture of error in it and that other views contain no truth.) A person might very well believe that truth is real, “out there,” so to speak, and at the same time deny that any view of truth is “exclusively true.”

Also, a person might believe that all paths (to truth) are equally right and believe in real truth “out there” (realism); it’s just that all the major paths toward it are equally fallible but also lead there in the end. (Nobody thinks literally all belief systems are “equally right.” Some are plainly delusional such as solipsism.)

What Carson seems to mean by the “new tolerance” is relativism; that’s the one he settles down with throughout most of the book. And the book’s argument is that 1) relativism is unstable and inconsistent, and 2) relativism should not allow intolerance—even with regard to absolutism, and 3) many movers and shakers of contemporary culture (especially British and North American as all the examples he cites come from them) act hypocritical because they claim to embrace the new tolerance (relativism) while at the same time acting against absolutisms such as traditional Christianity on the ground that they are intolerant.

A quote near the book’s beginning expresses well what Carson opposes. It is from Leslie Armour, professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Ottowa: “Our idea is that to be a virtuous citizen is to be one who tolerates everything except intolerance.” (p. 12) (Carson doesn’t cite a primary source for this quote; his sources are radio talk show host Bob Harvey and authors Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler. See footnote 14 on p. 12) One has to wonder about that quote. Could Armour really have meant that without qualifications? The quote also raises questions about context. In what contexts (government, corporate, education, home, church) ought a virtuous citizen tolerate everything except intolerance?

In any case, throughout the book Carson is attacking the gist of that quote and the practices to which it gives rise and especially the common idea among movers and shakers of culture that, since Christianity is intolerant because it makes exclusive and absolutistic truth claims, it ought not to be tolerated.

Again, he attacks it on the basis that it is 1) inconsistent and therefore hypocritical (especially when put into practice to persecute people who make truth claims, and 2) dangerous to true pluralism. In the name of pluralism, the new tolerance excludes all views that claim to be true to the exclusion of other views even when they are not trying to persecute anyone. The new tolerance assumes that to claim access to truth is to persecute others even if only by hurting their feelings.

I agree with Carson that this extreme version of “new tolerance” is inconsistent and often intolerant. Most of the examples he cites, however, are of individuals or private organizations (not government) exercising bad judgment—sometimes out of ignorance of the law, sometimes out of desire that no one’s feelings be hurt, and sometimes out of antipathy toward absolutism of any kind and especially religious. Occasionally an agent of government or a court engages in “new tolerance” reasoning. Especially when that can be shown to be the case, Carson’s argument needs to be heard and heeded. (And, by the way, it is a case that has been made many times before by both secular and religious people on both the “right” and “left.”)

I think, however, that it would be helpful to distinguish more clearly between cases of the intolerance of new tolerance, relativism, anti-absolutism, in private and in public spheres. (By “public” here I mean government.) Most of it goes on in private organizations and institutions even if those are very “public” as in broadcast media. I wonder why that surprises or even dismays anyone? It seems to me that surprise and dismay at it reveal an expectation that Christianity (and clearly Carson is mainly concerned with persecution of Christians at the hands of adherents of the new tolerance) should be socially acceptable. I think a good case could be made that Jesus expected that his faithful followers would always be criticized and persecuted by “the world.” That is not to say it’s not worth pointing out that advocates of the new tolerance are being inconsistent; it’s just to express some bemusement at Carson’s apparent desire that culture tolerate Christians to the extent of accepting us “in the conversation,” so to speak, as equals with everyone else. I suspect that, to the extent we are really following Jesus Christ, we will not be seated at that table and given a fair hearing by the movers and shakers of culture.

In my opinion, it is worthwhile for Christians to expect a government such as ours, based on our Constitution, not to persecute Christians by marginalizing or excluding us, that is by singling us out for special negative treatment. On the other hand, it should not surprise us when efforts to do that are attempted even by government. But I have no objection to those legal organizations that come to the aid of Christians whose constitutional rights are being violated.

One type of intolerance Carson does not address is contemporary Christian intolerance of others. He decries past examples of it (e.g., the Inquisition, the Crusades, etc.), but says little about contemporary attempts by Christians to suppress minority voices WITHIN Christian organizations and networks (e.g., evangelicalism). As I have argued here many times before, there is a certain very vocal element within evangelicalism that uses pressures on publishers, colleges, seminaries and universities, etc., to suppress views other than their own. Carson might argue that such people have a right to do that. Of course they do, if we’re talking about constitutional rights, legal rights. But it seems hypocritical to me to tout true tolerance, “old tolerance,” and then engage in efforts to suppress or silence others’ views. (I’m thinking, for example, of evangelical authors who threatened not to publish with an evangelical publisher if it published books by open theists.)

A major point of Carson’s book with which I agree is that, to a very large extent, contemporary secularists pretend their world view is neutral and normal so that it ought to be privileged in the “public square” while all religious world views should be privatized. Carson is right to point out that there is no neutrality; every worldview, secular or religious, has at least a quasi-religious aspect to it. None should be privileged in the public square and that includes secular humanism or just plain secularism.

However, it also seems to me that neither should Christianity be privileged in the public square. I don’t know what Carson thinks about that. One could get the impression from this book that he agrees, but to me it’s not clear. Many conservative evangelicals do think that Christianity ought to be privileged by government and extensions of government (e.g., public schools). I think a great deal of the “new tolerance” arises from that phenomenon—the threat of conservative Christians grabbing power and marginalizing or even silencing other voices. The perception is that conservative Christianity is inherently anti-pluralistic. Conservative Christians don’t help with that perception when they, for example, support legislation of specifically Christian morality (i.e., criminalizing behavior deemed immoral only by Christians or some sect of Christians). As Christians, we could help the situation (if that’s what we want to do) by disowning and even publicly repenting for some of our past behaviors in which we have criminalized and persecuted people we considered “ungodly” because of their appearance, behavior that didn’t harm anyone, expressions of opinion, etc. We have a lot to live down—especially in parts of the country where conservative Christianity was tied in with intolerance toward minorities, ethnic and ideological.

Having said all that, it is my opinion that belief in God or a Higher Power is conducive to public morality because, without it, there is no ground or basis for belief in objective right and wrong. Without it there is no possibility of appeal to a “higher law” than “man’s law” (as Martin Luther King, Jr. rightly appealed to in his Letter from Birmingham Jail). That does not mean I think atheism or agnosticism should be criminalized; it just means I think theism should be privileged in the public square even as non-theistic voices are allowed to speak. There is no such thing as absolute, unfettered tolerance. We require public officials to take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. That could be interpreted as intolerant toward persons who wish to abolish the Constitution. Nobody thinks that is intolerant, or at least nobody thinks that’s bad intolerance.

One complaint I have about Carson’s book is its treatment of “postmodernism.” Throughout the book Carson treats postmodernism as inherently relativistic. Yet he displays no first hand acquaintance with postmodern philosophers such as Derrida, Foucault, Levinas, et al. My own study has convinced me that most of them were not relativists. The Christian secondary literature on this is, in my opinion, largely mistaken. Most of it simply quotes other conservative Christian anti-modernist literature. Few conservative Christian critics of postmodernism demonstrate any serious engagement with postmodern philosophy’s primary sources. I’ve talked about that here before and recommended a few evangelical sources that seem to me reliable because they have actually read postmodern philosophers themselves as opposed to relying on secondary sources. (An excellent example is Bruce Ellis Benson’s Graven Ideologies [IVP].)

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  • gingoro

    Don Carson’s father was the pastor of a Baptist church in the province of Quebec at the time my wife and I knew Don’s sister. We attended a church that was a part of the same denomination which had some churches on the fundamentalist right of evangelicalism at the time (1960s) and some churches which were separatist fundamentalists. I used to read Carson but have found that his thinking seems muddled at times and I often had a hard time following his train of thought.
    DaveW

  • John C. Gardner

    I think this post is insightful. But, here is a query: What about the issue(think of the HHS Manate affecting Roman Catholic institutions such as charities, dioceses, etc) of government intolerance of freedom of religion(beyond freedom of worship) institutionally which would seem to violate the first amendment? Wouldn’t that indicate intolerance with the federal government’s thumb on the scales with the actual power of the state behind a specific policy? What about prayers in public schools or at city council meetings which could reflect a Christian or other ethos in the public square?

    • rogereolson

      I doubt that government can always accommodate to every denomination’s particular beliefs and practices, but I do hope a workable solution is found. As for prayers in public contexts: I don’t like “non-sectarian” prayers to what theologian Robert Jenson called “unbaptized God.” Simple acknowledgement that “in God we trust” is enough for me (in terms of government acknowledgement of theism as normative). IF there are to be prayers at city council meetings, etc., I want them to be “in the name of Jesus” (if it’s a Christian praying), but many city councils now forbid those offering the prayers to pray sectarian prayers. They are supposed to be generic, which is why I stopped accepting such invitations to pray publicly.

  • Jon

    Roger,

    It’s amazing that you could be so critical of a good book. Then again, I bet it pains you to read a REAL scholar.

    • rogereolson

      I’m going to post this, even though it is insulting and mean to be insulting. Is this how you behave as a guest in someone’s home? If so, then you were not brought up with manners or you shed them somewhere along the way. I’ll let others decide whether I read “real” scholars.

    • David Rogers

      I’ve read both Carson and Olson. I’ve agreed at many points with both, and I, on occasion, conclude that both are flat-out wrong on particular points. When I disagree I try to formulate for myself the specifics of why I conclude they are wrong. But what is abundantly clear for “real” readers is that both are indeed scholars.

      • David Rogers

        And in order to be a “real” scholar one must read “real” scholars, which both Carson and Olson have abundantly demonstrated in all their works.

    • http://www.zionawaits.com Steven Ilchishin

      John,
      A good way to discredit oneself and make your subsequent comments unfit for debate is to begin with with ad hominem attacks.

  • http://shoesoffatthedoorplease.blogspot.com/ Matthew C

    Great review. I haven’t read this, but I read Gagging of God ten years ago.

    I don’t understand why evangelical writers need to spend so much time and effort writing endless books and articles on relativism.

    • rogereolson

      It plays well to the masses (of the conservative evangelicals). Much of the time, however, it’s a straw man that is being attacked. So easy.

      • http://www.zionawaits.com Steven Ilchishin

        Dr. Olson,
        In re to the post–very interesting, and I agree many books written by conservative evangelicals seem to be grasping at straws…no pun intended.

        However, my real reason for contacting you is this:
        I went to a very “calvinistic” college for my BA and struggled all four years with the doctrine of Calvinism (specifically with its doctrine of soteriology). I came to faith late in life and Calvinism v. Arminianism were foreign concepts to me. All throughout my time there Calvinism always made less sense than Arminianism (which was “discredited” by some professors at every turn). It was not until after graduation, stumbling upon your blog, and reading your book “Against Calvinism” that things started to make sense. So, in short, thank you for writing that book.

        I wanted to get your thoughts on the following article:
        http://frankviola.org/2012/05/24/calvinismarminianism/

        Thank you in advance for your time.

        Best,
        Steven

        • rogereolson

          I think most Calvinists pray like Arminians–as if their prayer might make a difference. The problem with talking about how Arminians pray is that there are very, very few real Arminians around. One would have to find some real Arminians and find out how they pray. I can only speak for myself. I don’t pray as if Calvinism were true. I pray with the understanding that God is omnipotent but cannot simply do whatever my mind can formulate to ask him to do. For example, I don’t pray that God will “save” my unsaved friend or loved one. I pray that God will bring circumstances into the person’s life that will turn his or her attention to need of God’s grace and mercy.

  • Rob

    You say that Carson is presenting three different definitions of what he calls the “new” view, but I think they are actually all the same. I think I can show you an example of a view that mostly fits right into what Carson is saying.

    “On a single page (11), Carson describes the ‘new view’ in two very different ways. First, it is that ‘no one view…is exclusively true.’ Second, it is that ‘all paths [to truth] are equally right.’”

    To me, this sounds just like two ways of saying the same thing: there is no criteria for truth above and beyond the methods or procedures of reasoning and there is no one way (due to different cultures or traditions or something like that.)

    This sounds exactly like John Hick’s version of religious pluralism. Hick does not claim that Christianity or Hinduism is false, he claims that they are socially-constructed ways of knowing what he calls the The Real. The Real as it is in itself cannot be conceptualized and so cannot serve as an objective touchstone by which to judge Christianity or Hinduism. Neither Christianity nor Hinduism is exclusively true because the truth of Christianity does not exclude the truth of Hinduism and vice versa. Despite being contrary, they are both equally right.

    You may be right that no one really believes that ALL belief systems are right, but Carson only needs for someone to hold that two or more contrary systems are equally right and we can find this in Hick. Hick claims to believe that Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism are equally right paths to truth. All lead us to The Real even though they cognize The Real in contrary ways. But this does not entail that any view is false or that any is exclusively true because The Real cannot be cognized as such and so there is no objective thing that can answer to our concepts of The Real to make such claims false.

    Then, on another page (13) Carson muddies the waters even more by describing the new view as that “all truth is relative”—a definition (or description) of the new view of tolerance he uses repeatedly throughout the book. This would seem to be a third definition/description of the “new tolerance.”

    • Rob

      Ignore the last part, I messed up when I tried to paste.

    • rogereolson

      I didn’t say a single person can’t hold all three views that Carson labels “the new tolerance.” I said the three views are distinct, not identical, so that three different people could hold one of them each and not be agreeing with each other.

      • Rob

        I looked at it again and I think you misinterpret him when he says that no one view is exclusively true. You say that is compatible with the old view which is realist about truth. I do not see how this is possible.

        Realism about truth holds that for any proposition, that proposition has only one truth value: true or false. I think Carson is saying that the “new view” denies this. One and the same proposition may be assigned different truth values depending upon who is evaluating it. So no one evaluation of a specific proposition that assigns a value of true or false is “exclusively true” because it cannot exclude the possibility of the assignment of a different truth value by a different evaluator. This is a real view that some in academia hold and it is clearly incompatible with realism. It is more sophisticated than my presentation if it here, but that is what I mean to show with my Hick example.

        Above, I substituted “assignment of truth value” for “view” to avoid ambiguity. I think it is pretty clear that you interpreted “view” as “worldview”. If we are talking about worldviews, then certainly you are right that realism about truth is compatible with no particular worldview being exclusively true—understood as containing only true propositions while other views contain none. Surely every worldview contains at least one false proposition.

        But I can’t see why Carson would be talking about that. I think he is probably just a sloppy writer.

        • rogereolson

          I had the impression that Carson (at least in this book) was overlooking critical realism as a live option–adopted by some modernists and some postmodernists. Truth is “out there” but no one worldview or metanarrative or belief system can claim to have a perfect, comprehensive grasp of it (i.e., be “exclusively true).

          • Rob

            I worry that talk about critical realism conflates realism, which is really a metaphysical claim, with epistemology. It seems like people want to qualify realism (critical, modified, scientific, etc) because they are aware that human knowledge is fallible. But the two are unconnected. Nothing about being a fallibilist requires one to take any position about realism.

            If critical realism affirms that truth is “out there” then it is just realism about truth plain and simple. Nothing about that would contradict Carson when he claims that truth is objective. All that is required for realism about truth is that we accept bivalence: for every proposition, either it or its negation is true. (We might add in some constraints to avoid liar paradoxes and such.)

            The claim that “no one has a perfect or comprehensive grasp on it” does not seem to be about truth or realism, but about the limits of knowledge and understanding. It certainly does not preclude or limit a robust realism about truth. Suppose Christians are right that God exists. Their belief is as true as a realist thinks true can be but that does not mean that Christians fully understand what it means to say that God exists or that they know all of its implications or that they even “know” that God exists–one can have a true belief that fails to be knowledge.

            I think a lot of people misunderstand what direct realists (like me) mean when we identify ourselves as direct realists. For one thing, DR is a distinct claim from mere realism about truth. It is also a stronger claim because one can be just as much a realist about truth yet reject DR. DR just holds that the objects that we perceive actually have the properties that we perceive them to have. This is just the claim that there is a correspondence between the properties that objects retain when unperceived and those that we perceive them to have. It is not a claim about infallibility or the extent of human knowledge–we all accept that sense perception is fallible and capable of error.

            Post-moderns certainly deny DR and usually it can be shown that they deny realism about truth too. That is why we criticize them.

          • rogereolson

            I take it “critical realism” is meant to distinguish a view about reality and knowledge from common sense realism. The ontological claim is the same as common sense realism’s–that objective truth is out there and it is possible to know it. The epistemological claim makes the difference. According to critical realism, in contrast to common sense realism, only God knows it objectively without any distortion of finite perspective. Critical realism, as I understand it, is perspectival realism.

          • Rob

            I should add that my familiarity with critical realism is limited to the explanation that N. T. Wright gives in New Testament and the People of God. It is clear to me that in that discussion, Wright is confused because he is not talking about realism at all but about the fallibility of human knowledge.

  • Dwight Gingrich

    Mr. Olson,
    I want to thank you for your scholarship and your books. I have your book on the history of theology, and, like you, have some concerns about some strong Calvinist theological positions. (That said, coming from a Mennonite background I have also benefited greatly by considering the important truths of the sovereignty of God as presented in ways I seldom hear them in my own denomination.)

    I do not really have the background knowledge of D. A. Carson to assess the following conundrum, but I have been listening to a lot of his lectures recently and noted something that appears on first blush not to jive well with your final paragraph. In one (part three of a series dealing with the emerging church), Carson levels against popular emerging church authors (McClaren, etc.) the same charge you level against him in your final paragraph: a poor awareness of the scholarly literature about postmodernism. So Carson feels such authors are working with a confused mix of p0pular assumptions about what consititutes postmodernism, and you feel that Carson is working with a “no first hand acquaintance with postmodern philosophers.” Is the difference between you and Carson, then, one of the level of acquaintance with postmodern philosophers (primary source reading versus secondary source reading), or a difference of understanding– of interpretation and level of agreement with such philosophers?

    It would be interesting to see you and Carson interact directly on this subject. Would that be more fruitful, perhaps, than to have two dedicated followers of Christ talk about each other from afar?

    Blessings,
    Dwight

    • rogereolson

      Some time ago I wrote to Carson twice about some concerns I have. I kept my letters very civil and respectful, simply inviting his reply so we could begin talking. He didn’t answer either letter. Before he passed away, my friend Stan Grenz told me he tried to do the same with Carson and was rebuffed. Both of us felt he misunderstood and misrepresented some of our views. It would have been good to clear the air, but that was apparently not his desire. I was looking for and expecting some documentation from primary sources supporting his claims about postmodernism in The Intolerance of Tolerance. I didn’t find what I sought. I haven’t reviewed any of McClaren’s books here or elsewhere (that I recall). You may be right about the comparison.

      • Dwight Gingrich

        Thank you for that clarification. It must be hard for those of you who have so many important irons in the fire and who live in the public eye to manage all the expectations for communication and explanation that come your way (such as my question to you and yours to Carson). I had a similar experience to yours when I twice wrote a letter baring my heart and mind to a leader in my own denomination and received no reply. And I have failed to communicate at times with those who wrote me. “For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (James 3:2 ESV).
        I was also reminded this morning of Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths [or be typed by your fingers], but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” God give us grace to always give grace with our words. Blessings!

      • Timothy

        James KA Smith, puportedly a Calvinist, has written on postmodernism and includes there some stinging criticisms of Carson’s understanding. On postmodernism, I think it covers such a range of positions that almost any understanding could be justified from the fawningly approving to the rabidly disapproving. I think that Carson’s problem is that he can see the problems of some expressions postmodernism and tends to apply them to all expressions. With the result that he simply cannot see any positive elements nor the critique of his own modernism.

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  • Rob

    It’s kind of sad, kind of amusing to see how out-of-touch a lot of older conservative evangelicals are that we are still seeing these “postmodernism as bogeyman” diatribes. Sad that Carson appears to have made little effort to actually familiarize himself w/ postmodern thought and so is content to construct and then dismantle a straw man. High five!

    I’m currently reading through Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views, which shows how postmodern thought can actually liberate us from some of our captivity to enlightenment rationalism, scientism, and foundationalism. Of course, William Placher was talking about this about 25 years ago.

  • Rob

    Also, like how long have we been hearing these almost bumper-sticker-esque anti-postmodern / “woe-are-we-marginalized-American-Christian” / culture war talking points:
    -too much tolerance is really just another form of intolerance
    -atheism is like a religion of its own
    -to say that all truth is relative is self-contradictory. ha!

    Personally, I value the secularization of our government. I am able to exercise my conscience and faith with substantial freedom, as is my Muslim neighbor, etc. This side of the eschaton, I’m deeply worried about any person with strongly theocratic/religious right sensibilities.

    It’s a very sad case of lost-the-plot-ness when we think the greatest evils w/ which we contend are postmodernism, the democratic party, and limits on school prayer…when we have racism, sex slavery, malaria, unsustainable ecology, totalitarian dictatorships, obesity, addiction to television and technology, hyper-consumerism, and a widespread perception that evangelical Christians are defined by the people and ideas we oppose.

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  • Kenneth Bent

    Perhaps it has already been mentioned, but Carson does interact somewhat with the ideas of Foucault, Derrida, and Lyotard in Christ and Culture Revisited. at least via Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?

  • Kenneth Bent

    I might also add that Carson does interact directly with Foucault et al in:
    Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns
    Zondervan, 2009

    • rogereolson

      What does “interact directly” mean? Does he quote Foucault? Also, I think there is a significant difference between Foucault and Derrida; they can’t be lumped together fairly, especially on the issue of relativism.

      • Kenneth Bent

        My mistake…I need to be more specific, Carson is the General Editor of “Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns.”
        In that book is a chapter entitled:
        Epistemology at the Core of Postmodernism: Rorty, Foucault and the Gospel by Jon Hinkson and Greg Ganssle which includes a number of quotes from Foucault.

        • rogereolson

          My objections is to sweeping all postmodern thinkers together and dumping them into a single pejorative category labeled “relativism.” Some may be relativists; others most definitely are not. “Postmodern” cannot be linked to Foucault as if he is the be-all and end-all of it. My impression from reading Carson and many other conservative evangelicals is that this is what they do and often without any profound engagement with postmodern writers themselves. Exceptions exist such as Middleton and Walsh, Benson, Smith and Raschke. My friend Stan Grenz was an exception and just for engaging critically but not entirely negatively with postmodern thought he was vilified by conservative evangelicals. I recall how he sadly told me, not long before he died, how he had reached out to some of those critics to try to have dialogue with them, to clarify his own views and try to understand their critiques (which, in his view, did not reflect correct reading of his books) and they rebuffed his overtures to dialogue. One boasted that he, in a review of a book by Stan, had “taken Grenz to the woodshed.” Another one refused to meet with my friend Greg Boyd to discuss open theism after he had publicly misrepresented it using Greg by name. This has been our experience repeatedly–neo-fundamentalists (who prefer to be called conservative evangelicals) refusing to engage in open and respectful dialogue when approached in a respectful way.

  • cramsak

    So what’s a public school teacher to do when we attend mandatory Diversity Training and learn that we are to celebrate, validate, embrace, and affirm sinful lifestyles? According to our Strategic Plan Action Point 2.5, we will “develop a common vocabulary for issues of diversity, prejudice, and discrimination.” We were trained by ADL, and their definitions purposefully don’t include the word tolerance. Southern Poverty Law Center and Facing History and Ourselves are two other groups that our school admin is using as resources.
    Points to note:
    • Our Strategic Plan says “Family is the most formative influence in the development of a child,” and “Embracing diversity builds community.” We are to embrace diversity but only recognize the influence family has on a child (note that it’s the more inclusive term “family” rather than “parents”)? ADL also recognizes the influence parents and religious organizations have on children, and they seek to help children “unlearn” their biases as young as possible.
    • The Diversity Program is integrated into the core curriculum, so there is no opportunity for parents to opt their children out of it as they are able to do with Family Life Education.
    • Although the SPLC calls its program Teaching Tolerance, it is not very tolerant toward divergent perspectives. Since they identify groups such as American Family Association, Family Research Council and Liberty Counsel among the 18 religious right hate groups, we cannot expect them to provide a curriculum that affirms students who have beliefs contrary to those of SPLC.
    • The ADL gave its First Amendment Freedoms Award to Hugh Hefner because “The empire he founded has had a far-reaching impact, not only on the publishing industry, but on the mores of American society as well.”
    • “Platte County School District No. 1 banned anti-hate banners because the signs were co-sponsored by the Gay and Lesbian Fund for Colorado.” This was reported in the Denver Post when the Trustees voted to take down banners the ADL gave them because the anti-bullying banners contained the words “gay” and “lesbian.” How did the anti-bias, pro-tolerance ADL respond? Their web-site explains that the removal of the banners at the Wheatland schools prompted ADL to stop the program there. In its letter to the board regarding the No Place for Hate Curriculum, ADL stated, “to continue our program in light of your decision would be the height of hypocrisy, turning a blind eye to intolerance and repudiating the principle of inclusivity and respect that our program teaches.”
    I haven’t studied the post-modern thinkers that are referred to in these posts nor have I studied Carson, but his book has been a readable, practical resource to help me understand the issues as our school system implements its Strategic Plan. You who have posted here understand the issues much better than I, and I would appreciate your instruction and ideas for action where the rubber meets the road. Thank you.
    Resources:
    Scroll to Page 54 for Strategic Plan Action Item 2.5 http://www.fcps1.org/education/page/download.php?fileinfo=U3RyYXRlZ2ljX1BsYW5fOF85XzIwMTAucGRmOjo6L3d3dy9zY2hvb2xzL3NjL3JlbW90ZS9pbWFnZXMvZG9jbWdyLzM3NTBfZmlsZV8yNDY2OV9tb2RfMTI4MTM4MjE2MC5wZGY=
    Strategic Plan document including Beliefs http://www.fcps1.org/education/page/download.php?fileinfo=V2ViX1NpdGVfU3RyYXRlZ2ljX1BsYW5uaW5nX0RyYWZ0XzQucGRmOjo6L3d3dy9zY2hvb2xzL3NjL3JlbW90ZS9pbWFnZXMvZG9jbWdyLzM3NTBfZmlsZV8yMzg3OF9tb2RfMTI3MjMxMTE3My5wZGY=
    ADL “common language” on page 8 of 101 Ways to Combat Prejudice http://www.adl.org/prejudice/closethebook.pdf
    SPLC Hate Groups http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2010/winter/the-hard-liners

    • rogereolson

      After such bad experiences in public schools steeped in such surreptitious social engineering we sent our daughter to a Catholic high school. She had a wonderful experience there. When I dared to question some of the stuff being rammed down kids’ throats in her public school (junior high school) I was labeled a trouble making parent and even called as bad as a racist by a frequent “special speaker” who talked to her eighth grade class about homosexuality, promoting gay and lesbian lifestyles as normal and healthy. One of her teachers gave a “talk” (in place of what would have been a devotion many years before) at a parent-student awards assembly. It was a passionate rendition of the poem “Invictus.” If that isn’t a quasi-religious, humanistic (in the negative sense) “devotion,” I don’t know what it is. Her eighth grade world history and geography textbook totally ignored the role of religion in Western culture (Europe and America) while talking much about religion in other world cultures. In its lengthy description of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s it didn’t even mention religion or that MLK, Jr. was a minister. I detected a conscious bias against Christianity in the book and filled out a protest form. I never heard back about it. (I didn’t ask that the book be banned; I only suggested the publisher be asked by the school district to revise the book to include more about Christianity and its role in European and American history.) My daughter’s third grade teacher forbade students from calling the little green trees she had them cut out of construction paper in December “Christmas trees.” The word “Christmas” was banned from the school. Etc., etc., etc. Thank God for Catholic schools (and other sensible and reasonable public and private schools!).

  • Andrew

    I have yet to read the entirety of Carson’s text in full, but I think it would be slightly more charitable to provide some context to some of these quotations. From what I have read, Carson appears to me to be talking about certain mindsets, and could well be citing the above examples of the “new view” as characteristic perspectives held by adherents to this new view, who hold to that mindset. I also think some of your criticisms, and implied criticisms are slightly uncharitable. An example is the, what I took to be, slightly snide references to his exclusively citing examples from American and British culture when constructing his critique. Of course a man based within Western culture, writing a book that will be targeted at Western readers is going to cite predominantly Western examples in his argument. They constitute the source material from which he is working. Writing a scholarly critique of the Islamic concept of tolerance, for example, would be an entirely different exercise. I also think there’s are some patent inconsistencies, or at least points that require further explanation, in your argument regarding legislating for exclusively “Christian morality”. What is exclusively Christian morality? How can that be differentiated from secular morality? What normative framework can secular morality offer from which to derive normative classifications by which Christianity may be sub-divided? How can a nebulous belief in a “Higher Power”, taken alone, aid us at all in giving shape to a moral framework within the public sphere? Those few sentences throw up far more questions than they answer. I agree that there are certain types of moral prohibition found within the Bible that we should not, as Christians, seek to legislate for, and such exemptions have to be very carefully considered and warranted, but I don’t see any sort of neat subdivision of the sort you seem to envisage.


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