Loving the Common Enemy

Loving the Common Enemy January 8, 2016

Ben Corey Fundamentalism needs a common enemy 2

The quote comes from Ben Corey’s recent blog post “The Real Reason Wheaton College is Terminating Larycia Hawkins: Loving the Common ‘Enemy’.” I thought it deserved to be highlighted and shared. Do you agree that fundamentalism, far from being purely dogma-focused, has this strong sociological aspect to it?

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  • arcseconds

    How can it possibly be dogma?

    There is no way of understanding Wheaton college’s defense of the idea that Muslims and Christians don’t worship the same God without also radically departing from some important item of traditional theology.

    The most obvious casualty is that it seems that Christians are also not worshipping the same God as Jews. That seems like it should be radical, as Jesus cannot be fulfilling the Law of Moses, as it was given by a different god.

    The other thing they seem to be arguing for is that because Muslims have a different idea about God, they worship a different God. This seems to imply a kind of post-modern anti-realism about God, whereby God is not distinct from the ideas one holds about them. Again, this seems like it should be radical…

    (So with this radical abandonment of traditional Christian theology, Hawkins should be firing her accusers not the other way around!)

    Here’s Fred Clark on the matter:

    Their thoughts seem as poorly articulated as their arguments, so we can’t be sure exactly what variety of weird heterodoxy they’re embracing here. It could be some odd form of monolatrous polytheism. Or maybe old-school supercessionism — or even older-school Marcionism. Maybe it’s just another expression of the “Gentile forgetfulness” of white-Jesus American theology? Or maybe it’s just some garbled window-dressing for plain old anti-Semitism. Or maybe they’ve been reading too much Left Behind.

    Or maybe it’s some combination of all those things.

    Anyway, presumably they haven’t been tinkering with some kind of extremely radical theology, the likes of which have never before been seen by gods nor men, in their underground theology labs for years, striving for perfection to make it invulnerable to criticism, before releasing it on to an unsuspecting world, only to have their hand forced by this challenge.

    So one suspects that just maybe they’re ‘flexible’ in their theological utterances, so long as they support the desired outcome…

    • I think Wheaton’s claim makes sense. Allah is not Yahweh.

      • I sincerely doubt that Wheaton was saying “God is not Yahweh,” with or without a transliterated Arabic word thrown in.

        • [Sigh.] [Double facepalm].

          • Are you faceplaming because you didn’t know that Allah is simply the Arabic word for God, and thus used for Yahweh by Jews and Christians who speak Arabic?

          • No; at your obtuseness. Whatever he’s called, the god most Muslims worship clearly isn’t the same one as the one most Christians worship. And what do the Arabs call false gods?

            There are no Jews who speak only Arabic (except maybe in North Africa, and a lot of people there consider their languages separate from the form of Arabic spoken in Syria, Palestine, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia). And, of course I knew that, and anticipated that that’s how you’d respond.

          • You didn’t say “the god most Muslims worship.” You used the transliterated Arabic term for God. I never claimed that any Jews know only one language and so I have no idea what your point is there. Your use of “most” is intriguing and worth exploring further. And your suggestion that the God of Abraham is a different God from the God of Abraham is extremely problematic, even though it may seem self-evident to you.

          • [Sigh.]

          • arcseconds

            EH, I find your little stage-directions to yourself and your theatrical displays of frustration all very amusing.

            But you’re not making yourself very clear, and it seems that you actually haven’t thought this through closely enough.

            You think the point is obvious, but it is not.

            It is possible for an atheist to say the gods are different fictional characters, yes. (Although there are difficulties even here).

            But as I said at the beginning, there is no way out for Wheaton: any way they turn results in either absurdity or apostasy.

            Perhaps you should spare a thought for James and myself, dealing with someone who clearly hasn’t thought about the issue very much but is nevertheless convinced he’s right, makes unclear statements, doesn’t bother to explain himself, but does a lot of play-acting to demonstrate how stupid he thinks we are?

            Maybe dealing with someone like could also be a little frustrating… what do you think?

          • arcseconds

            How are they clearly not the same? What criteria are you using to distinguish gods from one another here?

          • Well, one told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, while the other has no sons.

          • arcseconds

            I’m not exactly sure what your point is here. It sounds like you think telling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac is incompatible with having a son?

            Anyway, what I meant was what general criteria you are using, and it sounds like you are saying that if they have different properties being ascribed to them, they are different entities. Is that right?

          • Yeah; that’s right (for your second question).

          • arcseconds

            So if I say ‘the capital of New York is Buffalo’, I am talking about a different New York than someone who says ‘the capital of New York is Albany’?

            And more generally, it’s impossible for people to be talking about the same thing but disagree about its properties, because if they ascribe different properties, they’re talking about different things?

          • Ah, but New York is a real state. In the realm of mythology, anything is possible. If the properties are sufficiently different (as they are allowed to be by the lack of constraints of mythology), then the things really do become separate.

          • arcseconds

            Oh, so you’re saying they think God’s mythical now.

            Yes, we can make sense of that perspective, but again it seems like a wee bit of a departure from traditional Christian theology…

          • “Oh, so you’re saying they think God’s mythical now.”

            -No. Grr.

          • arcseconds

            Oh, so you don’t think the referent of the name is important at all?

            I’m sorry EH, you are not exactly explaining yourself very well here.

            If it really are just the aggregation of properties that someone has in their heads that defines what they’re talking about, that seems to suggest that, say, someone who says “the cosmos is a few thousand miles across, is a few thousand years old and has the earth at its centre” is talking about a different place than someone who says “the cosmos is billions of years old, at least billions of lightyears wide, and has no definable centre”.

            Because those two lists of properties are a lot more different than the list of properties of YHWH and Allah.

            It also suggests that lots of Christians worship different gods, too, because they do ascribe quite different properities to God. Think of a child versus a theologian, for example.

          • “Oh, so you don’t think the referent of the name is important at all?”

            -What do you mean, here exactly?

            No, they’re both clearly talking about the same cosmos. YHWH and Baal had lots of similar characteristics as well. Doesn’t mean they’re the same god.

            “Think of a child versus a theologian, for example.”

            -They may very well believe in different gods, only tenuously related by common name. Though they’d never admit it, as that would be heresy.

          • arcseconds

            Normally names (ones that successfully refer, at any rate) are thought to refer to an entity. The name picks out the entity, regardless of the properties ascribed to it.

            This is how 18th century scientists, 19th century scientists and 21st century scientists can successfully refer to the same things, atoms, despite the fact that they had very different ideas about their properties.

            But if the name does no work, it’s just the properties, then presumably they’re all talking about different things, and when Rutherford (in normal parlance) showed they had all their mass concentrated at a point, what he actually demonstrated is that the late 19th century atom didn’t exist.

            No, they’re both clearly talking about the same cosmos. YHWH and Baal had lots of similar characteristics as well. Doesn’t mean they’re the same god.

            How are they talking about the same cosmos when they think it has very different properties to one another?

            And the second sentence is another confusing thing for you to say, as it seems to be insisting that two entities can have properties in common, which is either irrelevant to the point you want to make or even speaks against it.

            They may very well believe in different gods, only tenuously related by common name. Though they’d never admit it, as that would be heresy.

            So if Wheaton is using the same theory of reference that you are, they get into even more trouble than before: many of their believers are believing in different gods, by this way of thinking. Yet more deviation from the view of traditional Christianity!

          • arcseconds

            To be fair, they do seem to be making a claim that’s a bit like this.

            But if they are, either they’re departing massively from how we normally think names refer and properties ascribed, and how an ascriptive statement can be wrong, or they do not think of God as a separate entity from ideas about God, in some way. One way that later case can be true is that if God is merely a fiction: then the debate becomes like ‘is Moffat’s Sherlock Holmes the same character as Doyles’s’.

            (Or they’re just making shit up to get the result they want, which I think is the most likely explanation)

      • arcseconds

        I see, so you think they are espousing two gods, Allah on the one hand, and Yahweh on the other?

        So, polytheism?

        That’s a… somewhat controversial claim for a conservative Christian college to be making, don’t you think?

        • No; they clearly think Allah is a fictional God, like Vishnu or Zeus. I am unimpressed by your lack of understanding.

          • arcseconds

            There are two competing claims here:

            1) the Muslim god and the Christian god are the same god
            2) the muslim god and the christian god are not the same god.

            You cannot refute (1) by saying “one’s real and one’s fictional”, because that assumes that they are distinct from one another, which is what you’re trying to prove in the first place.

            And for all their confusion, they do at least seem to recognise this, because they haven’t tried to espouse this particular confusion.

            Have I gone up in your estimation now? 🙂

          • “You cannot refute (1) by saying “one’s real and one’s fictional”,”

            -But I can refute the idea “they are espousing two gods, Allah on the one hand, and Yahweh on the other” by saying that.

          • arcseconds

            No, you can’t, because that’s not the argument they’re making.

            Or at least, I have not seen any clear statement to this effect.

            And maybe that’s because they realise that the argument is a circular one.

            If you think differently, then please provide a citation.

          • Dude; that was a quote from you. Do you remember what you type?

          • arcseconds

            That quote was something I was attributing to you, as a way of making sense of the claim that you and Wheaton appear to agree on: that Allah is not YHWH.

            You told me that they think Allah is fictional. That could certainly be the case, but I have not seen anything that indicates this, so please back it up.

            But even if they do think Allah is fictional, it’s a circular argument if they just assert that. They need an argument that both shows Allah is distinct and that Allah is fictional. If they fail to show Allah is distinct, the argument may well show that YHWH is also fictional.

            Which I presume is something they’re not really keen on…

          • “Have I gone up in your estimation now? :-)”

            -That’s a “no”.

          • arcseconds

            Well, do keep me informed. You know how invested I am of you having a high opinion of me 🙂

          • No, I don’t.

          • But Christians in the Middle East don’t think that Allah is a fictional Allah, or that God is a fictional God to translate rather than transliterate. Can we at least agree on that, even if Wheaton staff (who may not know Arabic and thus may mistake Allah for a name) might be confused?

          • arcseconds

            What’s in a name? An omnipotent world-creating entity by any other name would smell as sweet.

  • Phil Ledgerwood

    It’s a Gordian Knot of dysfunctionality, really.

    I think one thing that is clear is that, in fundamentalism, the specific doctrines are not important, nor is how you arrive at them. What -is- important is that you seal the fortress against people who don’t hold to them.

    But as you dig deeper, one finds that these doctrines and the desire to defend them are much less about thoughtful exegesis and searching for consistent narratives and much more about preserving a society – a particular way of life practiced by a particular sort of person. The doctrines are little more than a mechanism for defining who is inside and outside of this life.

    As a Christian, I also believe in a particular way of life practiced by a particular sort of person. This particular way of life involves the creation of peace and the upholding of justice motivated by sacrificial love. This way of life can be engaged in both by those who confess Jesus as their lord and those who do not.

    A fundamentalist believes in a way of life that looks more like a collision between Oliver Cromwell and Leave it to Beaver. Jesus is only convenient as a producer of the doctrines they can use to set themselves against the Other. It provides them a way to not only exclude you in this life, but carry an authoritative belief that you will be excluded from them in the next and eternally tormented for not being them.

    Needless to say, this has profound sociological ramifications that just pick a different target with each generation. Black people. Socialists. Homosexuals. Catholics. Liberals. Whoever is a threat to the Way Of Life.

  • aar9n

    I can confirm this. Long before I started questioning the ineranncy of the bible, I began questioning whether we should treat people we disagree with the way we do. The highlight was when I was volunteering for samartians purse, and during gossip hour (prayer time) we “prayed” for one of the families houses we were helping, who where Presbyterian, “and therefore probably not saved”. When I confronted the chaplain of the group about how Presbyterians are, in fact, Christians and that that was pretty rude, he told me to stop complaining because we need to be more concerned about the ” threat of the homosexuals”. That was the day I left Evangelicalism.

  • Sounds about right.

    • sally ann

      of course we know how to treat people we don’t agree with, we blog about them in hateful ways and have a superior attitude about how self righteous we are. God, thank you that I am not a fundamentalist or a woman. I am only one of those two, but I am never impressed with this blog’s hateful attitude toward anyone who isn’t…well, the writer.

      • arcseconds

        Wheaton has just perverted logic and theology in order to cast out a member of their faculty for daring to show some solidarity with Muslims.

        McGrath has called this out.

        Which one of these strikes you as hateful behaviour, again?

        Also, why are you responding to EH here? He agrees with Wheaton! Largely because he also has a hateful attitude towards Muslims.