by 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.
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.