I am reposting this, originally put up 7 December 2005, for two reasons.
The first is that the topic this article discusses is still very relevant.
The second is that Adelman’s response was quoted in James C. Alexander’s book Stories of a Recovering Fundamentalist, without, I might note, any reference to my original article.
My only comment in rereading this response is that I wasn’t hard hitting enough, but if either Adelman or Alexander want to discuss this further, this deficiency can be fixed.
Those of you who have perused this and related sites have found a lot of “old” material on these sites, especially photographs, reminiscences and historical information. In terms of articles and books, excluding the fiction such as Paludavia, my own oldest monograph on the site is Public Education: A Christian Perspective, which I wrote in 1988 and which was published in the Winter 1990 edition of the National Forum of the Phi Kappa Phi honour fraternity. In spite of the fact that it was a decade old when posted on this site, it remains an oft visited page.
With the Internet instant response is the norm to such things, but in those days we went through cycles of letters to the editor and what not. In a quarterly publication such as the Forum, this cycle was especially glacial. However, given the readership of the Forum, I was prepared for an angry response.
I wasn’t disappointed. Same didn’t come in a flurry of letters to the editor, but in one article in the Fall 1990 issue entitled “An Antifundamentalist Rejoinder” by one Dr. Saul J. Adelman, Professor of Physics at The Citadel in Charleston, SC. Having spent much time with “Luddite liberals,” I wasn’t expecting the response to come from a scientific secularist, let alone someone in a military institution. However, given my decidedly “European” theist/secularist dialectic, perhaps I should have.
In any case, Adelman didn’t pull any punches. He opened his barrage by characterising my article as “gross anti-intellectualism in the guise of reason.” Before I get into some of his points and my own response, let me make two allowances.
The first is that he didn’t get to read the whole article. The Forum seriously cut the article down for publication even after they had asked me to do so and I complied. Such is the way of editing.
Additionally, he spent a great deal of time concerning his own Jewish experience, how people were ignorant of Judaism, how he had his “civil rights abused,” etc.. Readers of this site know all too well what Adelman could not: that, having grown up in South Florida, I was well familiar with Jewish people and their religion. One of the main reasons why he has run into so much ignorance on the subject is that there are so few Jews in the South. Many Southerners go through life with little or no contact with Jewish people. It is also interesting to note that, then as now, many of these “fundamentalists” that Adelman pilloried are major supporters of the State of Israel, itself created to avoid a repeat of the Holocaust. But gratitude is a commodity in short supply these days, and in any case Adelman showed a decided preference to attack an homme de paille of his own making rather than dealing with what I wrote.
Now let us turn to his first major point:
While in principle fundamentalism does not have to be, in practice it often is intolerant towards other philosophies, militant in the need to proselytise, and totalitarian in its attempts to silence anyone expressing an opinion which evidences any shade of difference from the official line. Although it is best known in this country among Christians, there are counterparts to Christian fundamentalism in most religious groups. Muslim fundamentalism is no less dangerous, especially as it has been applied to the detriment of minorities—to say nothing of women. In Judaism the struggle over fundamentalism consumed much of the intellectual energies of the community in Eastern Europe for over a century.
9/11 should have put paid to the whole business of “all fundamentalism is basically alike” that this quotation evidences. It is our conviction, however, that had the left been in power when the planes struck the World Trade Centre, the government would have used the event to round up as many conservative Christians as necessary to intimidate the rest. It is also interesting to note that the term proselyte was first applied to Gentile converts to Judaism.
As far as the business of “ totalitarian in its attempts to silence anyone expressing an opinion which evidences any shade of difference from the official line” is concerned, if Pat Robertson can go on the 700 Club and state flatly that he could not sign Patrick Henry University’s faculty requirement of belief that the earth was created in seven literal days, something is amiss with Adelman’s concept of “fundamentalism” as a monolith.
From there he throws at me three rhetorical questions, which he seriously doubts that I would entertain a “nonfundamentalist” response. So let’s see:
Will we discuss the changes in Christianity imposed by the Romans when it became the state religion?
We certainly could. One could argue that the Reformation was an attempt to undo these, albeit not with uniform success. Evangelical Christianity has attempted to take this unravelling process further, although, as we noted in our discussion of the shofar, this effort has its own pitfalls.
Will we discuss how the decisions of the Church fathers to accept the views of the Ancient Greek philosophers led to the downfall of the authority of the Church via the confrontation with modern Science?
Most “fundamentalists” are institutionally and intellectually divorced both from the Church Fathers and those who attempted to impose Aristotelian dogma on nascent Renaissance science. It is important to note that one of the major influences on the doctors of the church with regard to Aristotelian thought was none other than the Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides. It would be interesting to hear Dr. Adelman bloviate on the subject of Maimonides’ insistence on the creation of the universe at one point in time by a Creator.
Will we emphasise that many of the Founding American Fathers were deists whose version of Christianity is almost as remote from fundamentalism as is possible in the Protestant tradition?
The idea that the Founding Fathers were uniformly deists does no more justification to their thought than any other sweeping generalisation. On the one hand many of them asked for the aid of Divine Providence too often to justify the characterisation of true deists. On the other hand their acceptance of deism was tied to their acceptance of Freemasonry, not Protestant Christianity. This puts them in contrast with their fellow Masons in Europe, who were taught atheism in the Lodge, as was all too evident in the French Revolution.
It is interesting to note that liberals don’t discuss deism much these days. This is because they have progressed to the “living document” theory of the Constitution, that it is too hard to know the Founders’ original intent to attempt to discover it. This is their way using the non-ecclesiastical nature of the American state to facilitate state-imposed atheism as they are trying to do today.
From here we “progress” to the following:
Christianity has its roots in the Jewish, in the Ancient Greek, and in the Roman worlds…People who view themselves chosen by God as opposed to having chosen to find God—the nominative Jewish viewpoint—are dangerous individuals.
Someone who has done as much research as Adelman claims to have done on history should be aware that, even before its contact with the Gentile world, Christianity was very much involved in the various disputes and differences within Judaism itself. The Qumran Essenes—all Jews—were very strong on the idea of predestination and being chosen by God, but they were opposed by Pharisaical Judaism. There is no doubt that there was considerable interchange and influence between the Essenes and the early Christians. But the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD facilitated the triumph of Pharisaical (better now characterised as rabbinical rather than Adelman’s triumphalistic “nominative” Judaism,) which led the Jewish community through two millennia of wandering until their return to Jerusalem in 1967.
Many Christian fundamentalists assume that the Bible in English is the literal Word of God. This is absurd as the Christian testament is a translation of a translation whose original is lost.
Adelman is obviously unaware that the generally accepted definition of inerrant inspiration is that the Scriptures—Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek—are inspired and inerrant in their original manuscripts. He ignores the fact that most seminaries—including “fundamentalist bastions”—require their ministry students to take Greek and Hebrew so that they can understand the original scriptures. And his statement about the “Christian testament” is another sweeping generalisation; how much of the New Testament is a “translation” of Hebrew or Aramaic is evidenced by the text, and this varies from book to book.
I find it peculiar that a fundamentalist has complained about children not knowing the Christian point of view. Several years ago I went to a local sixth grade class to explain my religion. It was quite easy to identify the children from a fundamentalist background. They knew how to quote scripture although I doubt they understood what it meant. If they had paid equal attention to other intellectual activities, I would not worry about the future of the United States. Unfortunately, for the most part they had never encountered someone who espoused a completely different point of view and lacked even the remotest idea that there was such a thing as critical thinking. They had been brainwashed into believing that their parents’ point of view was the only view possible. These children cannot experience or learn form the diversity of this world as long as they believe their way of life is good and all others are evil. These attitudes produced intellectual cripples who cannot be intellectually productive members of our society.
When I was a freshman in prep school, they invited a rabbi in to blow the shofar for Yom Kippur and explain the holiday. After he left, the only complaint I heard was that his fee was so high! Dr. Adelman would be better off sticking with schools such as this; he would have a more receptive audience and would be paid a better honorarium to boot!
As I noted before, many Southerners have very little contact with Jews; this should not be held against them. It would be interesting to see what kind of reaction an Orthodox rabbi would get, but our schools are so rigidly secularised that it would be very difficult to have one come in. And that leads to the core of the problem. People such as Dr. Adelman are so enraged by “fundamentalists” that don’t agree with them that they cannot see their own rigid dogmatism in the opposite direction. But we will leave this discussion for tomorrow, when we continue following the aftermath of “Public Education: A Christian Perspective.”