Apostate: Preface

Apostate: Preface August 6, 2014

apostateby Lana Hope cross posted from her blog Wide Open Ground

(Editor’s note: Kevin Swanson is still promoting this book at least two or three times per broadcast nearly a year after publication. Wondering how the sales figures stack up against his other books. He’s running it at half off right now.)

I’m going to walk through the problems in several chapters in Kevin Swanson’s book Apostate. So I’ll start with the preface and an introduction to the author.

Kevin Swanson, who studied engineering in the university, is a homeschool dad who documents the breakdown of the Christian faith in the western world on his podcast Generation with Vision. On his podcast, he’s been mocking the bloggers and participants on Homeschoolers Anonymous in order to sale his latest book Apostate: The Men who Destroyed the Christian West . Hence Swanson named us Homeschool Apostates and has, several times, mentioned on his podcasts that homeschool graduates are slipping from the faith (that is, from fundamentalism), and that every homeschool parent should buy his latest book Apostate before their kids turn out like us.

A quick preview of the table of contents shows that each chapter of Apostate discusses a different philosopher (or other thinker) from the past 1500 years who has influenced the breakdown of the current culture. Swanson attempts to show how each different philosopher OMG KILLED the western world.

I am, first of all, skeptical of anyone who writes a critique of philosophy who has no scholarly training in philosophy. Sure I think most people could sit down and read about Descartes’ demon and understand it. But to get the overall “project” of philosophy, it’s important to understand what each individual philosopher responds to or critiques. Philosophy is a web of ideas, and reading one idea is simply not enough to grasp the entire web, much less write a book on the entire web.

 I am a graduate student in philosophy, and I would not attempt to write this book.

Swanson initially lets us know that “philosophies are difficult to understand for the layman.” Rather than admitting that we should try to understand the philosopher’s project (or keep our mouth out if we don’t want to learn), he advises the “average Christian” to apply the “useful test”  laid out in scripture. Ladies and gentleman, all you gotta do is look at the fruit of the philosophers because the Bible says you shall know them by their fruits.

In other words, Swanson says that if a philosopher’s “daughters committed suicide,” then we know the philosophy is a load of crap, and this saves the “average Christian” the hassle of wrestling with the ideas or even trying to understand it.

Tacky, tacky, not to mention totally insensitive to suicide.

Swanson also says that philosophers are purposely obscure and contradict themselves from paragraph-to-paragraph. Of course, sometimes the philosophers are self-defeating (Swanson also nearly falls into this trap in his epistemology; I’ll mention in a later review); sometimes they are self-defeating on purpose. But philosophers do not contradict themselves from paragraph-to-paragraph, and they are certainly not purposely obscure in order to hide a truth (<–what kind of CONSPIRACY is this? WTH). Most philosophers are brilliant but compact, and some are bad writers but brilliant. A few postmodernists (Derrida and Foucault) write “poorly” in order to decenter the reader.  But this is not a conspiracy.  As a philosophy student, I can assure people that the more a person reads philosophy, the easier it gets. (Even Foucault, who is notoriously difficult, gets much easier once one begins to understand his project.) The key to understanding philosophy is to keep wrestling, and keep reading, not to label it self-contradictory and obscure.

Swanson states that philosophers fall into “pseudo-intellectualism, convoluted argumentation, and academic hubris” and that “Aristotle as not great, and Thomas Aquinas was not great. Karl Marx and Mark Twain were not great thinkers or writiers” (itilics are his own). Name calling is no way to have an intellectual conversation. Of course, Swanson does not want a conversation as he repeats that we should “analyze a man’s philosophies, not by the ideas,” but “by the fruit of his life and his work.”

Ironically, Swanson next tells us that we need to go to battle and “fight in the war of ideas.” Um, yea, but in order to discuss the ideas shouldn’t we “understand” them, not just the fruit? Of course, the tricky part is that the ideas might convert us, and Swanson admits that he wouldn’t want his own children in battle.

Also, Swanson disccusses the “humanist ideas of the philosophers and the liberal arts masters” who have made their way into the high schools through Twain and Hawthorne and Shakespeare. Oh yes, the preface gives us a fair warning that government education “will destroy the faith within a generation or two.”

I’ll close with a story.

Once upon a time, I was a conservative evangelical who took a course on Marx criticism at the university. We had to read 60 pages of Marx theory twice a week. It was intense for a young undergrad student, and I was very frustrated that I had to read it in order to graduate. But my professor told me to just keep reading, and that some day I would understand. I might not agree, but I would understand. She was right. My worldview was not changed that semester, but my heart was changed. I began to see the heart of the Marxists (who, btw, do not always agree with each other), and I began to understand that most people who claim to be anti-Marx do not even know what Marx taught, let alone what the late 20th century Marxists theorists discuss.

And that, my friends, was the beginning of my open-minded journey. When I read a new philosophical idea, I read it, and read it, and read it. Sure I’m skeptical when I approach a text very different than my own philosophy. But skeptical and closed-minded are different.  I am not a rationalist, but Descrates teaches me something anyway. I am not a Marxist, but Marx teaches me something anyway.

In summary, Kevin Swanson cut the conversation off before it even began.  I hope to open the conversation back up. Ideas are not just worth going to battle with; they are aslo worth wrestling with because ideas don’t just destroy us. Ideas also have the ability to transform us.

For further reading, see  Christopher Hutton’s review.

Read everything by Lana Hope!

Lana Hope was homeschooled 1st-12th grade in a small town and rural culture. Involved in ATI, her life growing up was gendered, sheltered, and with a lot of shame and rules in disguise of Biblical principles and character qualities. After college Lana moved to SE Asia and began working with the abused, and upon discovering that the large world is not at all like she had been taught, she finally questioned it all, from Calvinism to the homeschool movement to the foundation of her Christian faith. Today Lana is a Christian Universalist, holds a B.A. in English, and is currently working on a M.A. in philosophy.  She blogs about the struggles she has faced leaving fundamentalism and homeschooling behind and how travel and missions has wrecked her life for good and bad at her blog www.wideopenground.com.

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  • Mel

    Irony #1: Why does a conservative Protestant writer have a cover that depicts a falling down cathedral as a visual aid for “Apostate?” Since he’s tipped his hand already, shouldn’t that be a triumphant image of the forces of logical, rational Protestants triumphing over the corrupted Catholic Church?

    Irony #2: ““Aristotle as not great, and Thomas Aquinas was not great. Karl Marx and Mark Twain were not great thinkers or writiers”, but Kevin Swanson implies that HE is better than all four of them. Hubris much? (Also, NO. All four of them are better writers and thinkers than Swanson.)

  • SAO

    Whether or not those thinkers were “great” by whatever metric you want to apply, their ideas shaped Western culture. To claim that they destroyed it is to claim that there was some other trajectory of history that Swanson knows.

    Both Aquinas and Aristotle said that men have to study to know what is right, so that they could practice virtue. This focus on learning is a cultural value that encouraged the advancement of society. Without it, would Western Culture be an ignorant society that focuses more on deciding how many angels can fit on the head of a pin (a conundrum dating from the 15th century or earlier) than on understanding physics, which both Aquinas and Aristotle studied?

    Further, if the ideas of Aristotle and Aquinas could destroy the faith, they’d have done it long ago. Equally true of Twain and Marx.

    Frankly, the experience of Europe, where religion is often in the schools (it’s part of the British national curriculum) does not suggest that religion in schools leads to more people having any faith in God. One of the issues is theodicy, which people like Swanson tend to deal with by saying if you think that, you’re going straight to hell, which doesn’t answer the question.

  • Also, if we applied the same principle to Christianity…
    Wars, persecutions, tyrants endorsed, social inequality unchallenged, blind comdemnation of scientific advance, women, not-Caucasian and LGBTQ people tortured/killed, freethinkers burn at stake, forced conversions, other civilizations vilified/destroyed, people haunted by trauma and groundless sense of guilt…
    How should we deal with it?

  • SAO

    Oops, I edited my post. To recap the original, to which you have responded, the fruit of ending slavery was war, war is bad, therefore ending slavery was bad.

  • 😉

  • lh

    I just love how “philosophy” is almost a swear word on the ears of evangelical and fundamentalist parents everywhere. I could hear the panic in my mother’s voice when I told her how much I was loving my honors philosophy class my freshman year of college. She didn’t know that I had abandoned my “faith” (as in, the faith that looked just like hers…I still have my own faith, thank you very much) years before I even went to college.

  • Trollface McGee

    The Western World is dead? Crap. Missed that. I mean, yeah, technically the world is round/oval so there will always be something “west…” Ohhh, he means the WASP world where Evangelical Protestants were in charge and ran things and suppressed all dissent, murdered and tortured anyone who threatened the status quo, enslaved and colonised countries and suppressed science and innovation, which meant even more needless deaths.
    That world was mostly Catholic, which a lot of Evangelicals treat as a fake religion, and it was a pretty bad system, if he’s complaining that’s dead, good riddance.

  • gimpi1

    I can remember, years ago, having an evangelical Christian co-worker become spitting angry when I referred to the beliefs she had been expounding on as, “an interesting philosophy.”

    She literally shouted, “This isn’t a philosophy, it’s the truth of God!” She then went on at length about the ‘evils’ of philosophy, as opposed to her ‘truth.’ The small group she was involved with, called the Chapel, imploded a few months later. Sex-scandals, as usual. (Anyone surprised?)

    Her reaction surprised the heck out of me. I had no idea that ‘philosophy’ was an insult. Apparently, anything other than total acceptance qualifies as fighting words. Who knew?

  • lh

    In the evangelical culture of my upbringing, you can almost *hear* the scare quotes around the word philosophy, and the eye-rolling while it’s being spoken adds even more disdain. It’s sort of on par with the words “evolution” and “liberal”.

  • gimpi1

    I’m actually lucky I got out of the conversation unscathed. The same lady actually struck another co-worker for dropping the F-Bomb in her presence. The company was in the process of firing her when her cult imploded, and she quit and left the area, no doubt to follow another cult-leader. Some people will submit to almost anything in order to have someone else think for them.

  • Allison the Great

    Whenever I encounter someone who is 1000% Evangelical Christian (and I’ve seen plenty get angry like just like your co-worker) I’m always reminded of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Don’t think. Let IT do the thinking for you. If you make a suggesting to them it literally hurts their brain.

  • Allison the Great

    It would have taken everything I have not to hit that woman back.

  • gimpi1

    It was obvious to everyone but her that she was caught up in a cult. She was so touchy, I have to think she knew subconsciously, but was too scared or ashamed to face it. No one reacts the way she did to normal office banter without having something seriously wrong. Sadly, we were all relieved when it fell apart and she took off for parts unknown.

    I’m not a fan of firing people, but management really had no choice with her. She just couldn’t work or play well with others.

  • texcee

    A perfect description came to mind about men like Kevin Swanson, one from the original Star Trek series in which a Klingon refers to Captain Kirk as a “swaggering, overbearing, tin-plated dictator with delusions of godhood.” I think that applies to all of the whining patriarchal little god-wannabes that are quoted here so often.

  • Astrin Ymris

    Western Civilization is ticking along just fine; it’s True Christianity™ which is imploding.

    Partly it’s because people are recognizing the scare tactics involved in the whole “Eternal damnation unless you join our religion!” scam, and asking themselves, “Why should I believe this, since there’s no verifiable proof, and any God who’d set things up like this would be sadistic and immoral?”

    But a bigger factor is the immoral, hate-filled, self-serving, and hypocritical behavior of True Christian leaders THEMSELVES, not ancient philosophers whom most non-philosophers never heard of. I read somewhere that the big bump in the number of the “Unaffiliated” tracks pretty closely to the rise of the Religious Right. IOW, it’s not centuries-dead philosophers who are causing today’s increased rate of “apostasy”– it’s True Christian’s public statements and actions that are “tainting the brand”!

  • Astrin Ymris

    I was looking for the source of the “Millennials/laterborn Generation Xers have lower religious affiliation” claim when I found this:

    http://www.pewforum.org/2009/04/27/faith-in-flux/

    Apparently, fine points of theology and doctrine have a surprisingly small role in “change in religious affiliation”. Most people who switch from one denomination to another cite “spiritual needs not being met” or “found another religion they liked more” as the reason for the switch. Those raised WITHOUT a religion cite these factors as their main reason for taking up a religion to begin with.

  • Nea

    On his podcast, he’s been mocking the bloggers and participants on Homeschoolers Anonymous

    Nothing says class and ethics like mocking – not debating, *mocking* – those that you have contributed to hurting. (Dude… nobody’s impressed by the Michael Pearl “I laugh at my critics and thereby laugh at dead kids” post either.)

    Swanson says that if a philosopher’s “daughters committed suicide,” then we know the philosophy is a load of crap

    Okay. Rick Warren’s son committed suicide. Therefore, evangelical Christianity is a load of crap.

    government education “will destroy the faith within a generation or two.

    I continue to be gobsmacked at the evangelical inability to take simply observable reality into consideration. A generation is roughly 20 years. School prayer was outlawed in 1963. Therefore, it has been 2.5 generations since government education stopped supporting Christianity.

    The faith as a concept seems to be doing just fine. If anything is destroying it, it’s the felonious behavior of its ministers, not public schooling.

  • Nea

    Ask A Manager once had a letter from someone trying to figure out how to deal with an employee who didn’t accomplish his job tasks, but had come up with a complex system of punishments and warnings for infringing that employee’s religious beliefs that he wanted the manager to implement.

  • Nea

    The Duggar girls’ book spends a fair amount of time discussing the brainwashing/thought stopping techniques they’ve been raised with. They don’t realize that’s what they’re talking about, but it amounts to the same thing.

  • Independent Thinker

    The Catholic religion dominates the private school system in the United States. It is unlikely that they would embrace homeschooling as the only way to receive a quality Christian education. I can’t help but think Swanson’s attacks on the Catholic faith are somewhat motivated by his own pocketbook.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    I seem to remember that phrase being uttered in a bar or space station/shore leave situation? It does remind one of K Swizzle

  • texcee

    The episode was “The Trouble With Tribbles”, one of the really classic episodes.

  • Astrin Ymris

    Do you remember what ‘Ask A Manager’s response was?

    It’s amazing how True Christians refuse to give even a smidgeon of respect to other people’s beliefs, but they demand that everyone tiptoe around their own.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    I thought it might be “Tribbles” but wasn’t sure.. I loved ST and would watch every afternoon as a teenager.

  • Nightshade

    Wasn’t that when Kirk was trying to find out what the fight was all about, practically forced Scotty to quote the Klingon, then found out that his chief engineer didn’t throw the first punch when the captain was insulted, but when they called the Enterprise garbage or something like that? Kirk’s expression at that moment…priceless!

  • texcee

    The quote comes from the scene in the bar when the Klingon officer was talking to Scotty and insulting both Kirk and the Enterprise. It was only when he called the Enterprise a garbage scow that the fight started!

  • Nightshade

    That was it. My recollection was slightly off, you’ve refreshed my memory!

  • Astrin Ymris

    Actually, right after saying that, the Klingon “rephrases” to say that he didn’t mean to say that the Enterprise should be hauling garbage, but that it should be hauled away AS garbage.

    That was the final insult which pushed Scotty over the line.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMrzdKzQTf8

    Edit: What can I say? I’m the Continuity Geek from Hezmana: This is what I do! ;-D

  • Nea

    I went looking for the post but couldn’t find it. Off the top of my head it was “well, isn’t THAT special? But legally it doesn’t matter why he’s underperforming, you can can him for lack of performance.”

  • Astrin Ymris

    Re: “…legally it doesn’t matter why he’s underperforming, you can can him for lack of performance…”

    That’s what I was thinking! But I wasn’t sure there wasn’t some conscience clause the True Christian™ employee could invoke– or at least threaten to sue his employer, claiming that he was being fired for his religious beliefs.