“Patterns of Evidence” and patterns of culture-war rhetoric: (2)

“Patterns of Evidence” and patterns of culture-war rhetoric: (2) February 17, 2015

patterns of evidenceToday’s post is the second of three on the recently released documentary “Patterns of Evidence: Exodus.”

As I said in my first post, the concern I have is with the culture-war rhetoric the documentary seems to promote concerning the historical reliability of the exodus story.

Below is the rationale for making this documentary taken from the film’s website. Stated are: The Problem, The Source of the Problem, The Attack on the Bible, and the Approach taken in the film.

I’ve inserted some comments in red at points that I think demonstrate the culture-war rhetoric.

**********

THE PROBLEM

  • Stats show that over 50% of self-identified born-again Christians who enter college walk away from the church by the time they finish school. Trends show that is rate is growing rapidly.  One study shows that church attendance could be cut in half within 10 years.
  • The assumption made is that “walking away from the church” is rooted in a failure of the church to defend robustly the Bible’s historical veracity, and that a better apologetic is needed to defend the Bible and stop the bleeding. 
  • The real problem, however, is expecting college-aged young adults to “hold on” to views that are simply untenable outside of their evangelical bubble. 
  • Young people leave the faith not because they haven’t been immunized well enough to the academic world, but because they have not been taught well how to engage it, without fear that they are losing their faith if they older ways of thinking to lack explanatory force.
  • The viewpoints of those inside the church, on many issues, match the general views held by the culture. The morality of the culture is heading downhill at an alarming rate.
  • These statements are manipulative and result only in clouding reason by injecting fear. 
  • The reason viewpoints inside the church match those outside is that once young people leave the church, they see alternate views that make more sense than the views they were raised to hold. And they don’t want to make believe otherwise.
  • If the concern is losing young people, the church would do well to create a welcoming environment where ideas can be discussed openly, honestly, and without fear of retribution. When that does not happen, people sense inauthenticity and leave to seek alternate spiritual communities–which can include atheism.
  • Also, just what “church” are we talking about, anyway? The presumption is that the conservative evangelical iteration of “church” is the norm. It isn’t. I am also surprised it only took 4 sentences to raise the slippery slope argument, that doubting the exodus and moral decline are part of the same package.
  • At this point I am not confident I will hear a truly fair rendering of evidence.

The Source of the Problem – The Perception of the Bible

  • A basic shift has occurred – where “God” was once the authority, “man” is now the authority. The world is being taught that the Bible is not credible. People are being persuaded to think that they can’t believe the Bible. To do so would be complete surrender of their intellect.
  • The perception of the Bible is not the source of the problem. The source of the problem is biblicistic literalism, which requires untenable ideas about the Bible to be held to with a tight fist. That is what people are being “persuaded” to leave behind.
  • And, as above, we see the implicit assumption that views being left behind are “normal” for Christians to hold, and any deviation is met with the full force of unfortunate apologetic rhetoric (like posing the problem as God’s authority vs. man’s.)

THE ATTACK ON THE BIBLE

  • For more than 50 years the vast majority of the world’s most prominent archaeologists and historians have proclaimed that there is no hard evidence to support the Exodus story found in the Bible.
  • If it is a”vast majority of the world’s most prominent archaeologists,” then there are likely some very good reasons for it. And it’s also been much longer than 50 years. Suggesting “50” makes this seem like a recent trend, a blip that can and should be put to rest. Serious archaeological work in Jericho–i.e., concerning the conquest of Canaan–is now 100 years old.
  • The attack centers on the early historical record found in the Bible (from Abraham, the Exodus and Conquest, through Solomon). 
  • That word “attack.” Not helpful. These are scholars, not culture warriors. They’re not perfect, but give them a little credit, too. For bright people who read their books or sit in their classes and this rhetoric will evaporate within a week. And then young people will wonder about what else they were lied to.
  • Not coming from a fringe group of scholars. Rather, the vast majority of mainstream archaeologists promote a very skeptical view of the Bible.
  • Again, correct. Series, seasoned scholars who are in the vast majority have drawn conclusions on the basis of public presentation of evidence and the interpretation of that evidence. They are not keeping evidence from anyone. And to call them not “skeptical” of the Bible is another scare word; it suggests simply an unfounded philosophical bias. 
  • The attack is most intense on university campuses.
  • Again with the attack language. Some college professors can be real insensitive jerks about the spiritual background of their students. But, again, presenting the state of knowledge is classrooms is not an attack. A better word is “education.”
  • If you can’t trust the Exodus, why would you trust the rest of the Bible?
  • A slippery slope scare tactic: if you can’t trust the Bible here, how can we trust it anywhere?
  • The issue is whether there is evidence for a “public” historical events of a mass scale, like the exodus and conquest as reported in the Bible. These sorts of mass, public, events leave historical footprints. Jesus walking on water, feeding the the multitudes, or rising from the dead do NOT leave historical footprints.
  • It’s also not a matter of “trusting” the exodus story, which already presumes the proper reading of the story, but of understanding it–why it was written and what it meant to those who wrote it.

OUR APPROACH

  • NOT a frontal attack that preaches to a world resistant to the truth of God’s Word.
  • Are you sure? I hope so, but from reading this I’d need great odds before placing my bet.
  • Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus seeks to open a dialog with the world, not to be overly declarative, and to be in the center of the argument. We seek to do this respectfully, in a fair-minded way and allow the audience to choose which views to favor. But, we show the evidence that the scholars don’t want the world to see – because it could cause them to shift their long-held positions.
  • I have no doubt whatsoever that the sentiment here is sincere. Truly. 
  • But, if I may raise a bit of skepticism, it may be that such openness to dialogue is heralded because (producer/director) Tim Mahoney thinks he has a good chance of winning. How open would he be, however, if he is shown that his “evidence” is discredited? Would he then change his mind and counsel others to do likewise? With so much at stake, as we read throughout, I am doubtful.
  • We also see here a staple of evangelical apologetic rhetoric: “We only seek to be fair-minded, open to where the evidence leads, and reasonable. It’s those others out there who have evidence they are keeping from you, to keep you in the dark and protect their egos.”
  • This rhetoric is also manipulative in that (1) it gives the imprssion that discussions to this point haven’t been fair-minded but biased, and others have now arrived on the scene to set the record straight;
  • (2) dismissing their own view, no matter how idiosyncratic or barely plausible in the minds of these other benighted academics, is therefore to be close-minded, and so to have lost this debate, at least to the satisfaction of those supporting the film’s agenda. (This is a variation on the “teach the controversy” rhetoric among creationists.)

The diagnosis and proposed approach presented here indicate a rather clear agenda that is not driven by fair-minded scholarship, but evangelical culture wars.

If we truly want to keep our young people in church and keep them from falling apart spiritually their first half-semester in college, we need to do better than that.

In my next post, I will comment on two reviews of the film by conservative evangelicals, which confirm how this film can and is being used in popular venues.

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