Reply to James Alexander on Fundamentalism and Public Education

James Alexander has finally surfaced to reply to my two “blast from the past” posts (here and here) on the aftermath to Public Education: A Christian Perspective.

Before I plough into his response let me begin by making one opening statement.

If there’s one persistent bother I have with Evangelicals, it is that they are too deep into their own stuff.  They are so much the product of their own upbringing and development that they struggle to see the world from any other perspective other than their own.  For those of us who are not of such a background, it can be frustrating.  This seems to also apply to “recovering” types such as Alexander, who is making a career out of his “liberation” from his own “fundamentalist” background.  Frankly, that process hasn’t gone as far as Alexander would like us to believe, as will be shown.

So let’s get to what he has to say:

In an earlier posting, this site made reference to an article by Saul Adelman entitled “Antifundamentalist Rejoinder,” written in response to Warrington’s 1990 article dealing with Christian public education.  In the posting, Warrington notes that I cite Adelman in my recent book, Stories of a Recovering Fundamentalist:  Understanding and Responding to Christian Absolutism (Alexander, 2008).  Warrington takes issue with Adelman’s comments (in a 17 year-old article) and my citing of it.  He is especially concerned that he didn’t get credit for inspiring Adelman’s article in my book.

One would think that, given the enthusiasm he displays for attacking me in his response, he was highly remiss in passing up barbecuing me in the book.  He will find that he should have taken the chance when he had it.  Adelman took full advantage of the Forum’s print format and reticence in allowing me a response.  But Alexander is no Adelman.

I would like to respond to this on several fronts.  As freely admitted elsewhere on this site (quoted– approvingly, I might add), Adelman does not respond to Warrington’s appeal to add ‘a pinch’ of fundamentalism to the public school curriculum.  Adelman instead offers a rather ‘free ranging’ assessment and rejection of fundamentalism.  Indeed.  It is in that assessment and critique that I use Dr. Adelman as a source.  Why not?  Even this site recognizes the nature of Adelman’s assessment.

I’m not sure why the fact that “this site recognizes the nature of Adelman’s assessment” is such a big deal, other than perhaps to give me credit for knowing what I’m looking at, which is probably a major concession for Alexander.  What this site does recognise is that “Adelman showed a decided preference to attack an homme de paille of his own making rather than dealing with what I wrote.”

Part of the problem may be that Alexander, trapped in his own upbringing, doesn’t know what an homme de paille is.  It is a “straw man,” and straw men (or people, to be politically correct) are the bane of this whole discussion.  Adelman constructed one in his “Antifundamentalist Rejoinder,” and Alexander, while acknowledging that in a backhanded way, promptly turns around and does the same thing.  It seems that one thing that all “antifundamentalist” people have in common is an inability to deal with their opponents as they are, which makes one wonder what the real value of their “venting of the spleen” really is.

Currently. Warrington has posted the article he intended for publication in 1990– the one which elicited Adelman’s “Rejoinder”– in full.  It is available on this site.  However, Warrington states that the published version was greatly truncated and the one posted on his site is the real McCoy.  How are we to evaluate Adelman’s response relative to a version of Warrington’s article which was not available to him?  It seems to stretch the generally polemical character of Warrington’s site into the realm of the absurd.

If I hadn’t have mentioned this difference, Alexander would have never known it.  But the truth is, Alexander has already evaluated that response himself: “…offers a rather ‘free ranging’ assessment and rejection of fundamentalism.  Indeed.”  He knows that Adelman didn’t really respond to what I was saying, as did Thomas Schwengler (one of the contemporaneous respondents in the Forum.)  It’s hard to conceive what he would have changed, and in fact Adelman’s response to Schwengler indicates that he would have changed nothing.

I also note that Alexander ignored my other stipulation that Adelman didn’t know: “…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.”  That may be so because Alexander himself falls into the latter category.

I did read Warrington’s full article.  I was non plussed.  It sets up the favorite fundamentalist straw man, “secular humanism,” and attempts to set the record straight when it comes to public schools.  Supposedly, the article responds a quote by Franklin and Parker, and states the quote is nonsensical (see this site).  Point well taken, it is.  But what is the context?  After pulling the “here’s my full article” trick in attacking Adelman, I take Warrington’s quote with a grain of salt.

I’m glad that Alexander takes my point well; it was a rather strange point that Franklin and Parker tried to make.  Now he comes up with this “straw man” business about secular humanists, and that deserves some discussion.

I hate to break the news to Alexander, but there are people out there who don’t believe in God.   I also should remind him of my “decidedly “European” theist/secularist dialectic.”  I actually spent some time in the original article elucidating that viewpoint. Most Europeans who object to any kind of Christian view (excluding, of course, the Muslims that now live there) are secularists.  Since 9/11 they have become quite vocal, because they realise they face being overrun by same Muslims whom they don’t have the stomach to fight.  So they attack the Christians once again, because they know the Christians won’t resort to force of arms to resist them.  They now have a growing following on this side of the Atlantic.  Bringing up secularists was and is a legitimate point.

But for people like Alexander who are still agonising from their own background, people such as this might as well live on (or come from) the moon.  Evocations of the French or Russian Revolutions (not to mention things like déconfessionnalisation in places like Québec) mean nothing to an individual whose worst demons come from his staggering through the “Jesus Movement” without resolution or satisfaction (a result that was not shared by everyone.)  It’s hard to communicate with people whose view of history is that narrow.

He says he desires to see a “Christian viewpoint represented.”  By this, I think he means a Christian fundamentalist viewpoint, for he surely does not speak for all Christians.

Neither, mercifully, does Alexander.  But I’ll issue a challenge to Alexander and anyone else: what kind of fundamentalist viewpoint is represented in blog posts such as the following examples:

  • Society and the State are Different: “The State is, and probably has to be Secular. It has a position of neutrality as regards religion.  But the State is in the service of Society – and does not replace it. Society cannot be secular because so many of its members are not secular – and their religious conviction manifests itself publicly just as people go to Football matches, the Last Night of the Proms or what have you. The only way to try and make Society secular would be to get rid of religion and its manifestation. This would “neutralise” it, “privatise” it and prevent it from occupying any public space in society. Such was the reaction against The Church at the French Revolution, later on the Communists tried the same thing and in our own day various ideological relativists like Richard Dawkins are persuaded that this is the vision that must be applied. But in so doing, the State ends up taking over all of the Public space that is normally occupied by Society.  And this is called Totalitarianism.”
  • Pope Benedict XVI and Ferdinand Lot On the Christian and the State: “It seems obvious to me today that laïcité (the French policy of exclusion of any religious content in the life of the state) in itself is not in contradiction with the faith. I would even say that it is a fruit of the faith because the Christian faith was, from the start, a universal religion, therefore not identifiable with a State and present in all States. For Christians, it has always been clear that religion and faith were not political, but another sphere of the human life…politics, the State, were not a religion but a secular reality with a specific mission… and both must be open one with regard to the other. In this direction, I would say today, for the French, and not only for the French but for the rest of us, Christians of today in this secularized world, it is important to live with joy the freedom of our faith, living the beauty of the faith and making it visible in the world of today. It is beautiful to be a believer, it is beautiful to know God, God with an human face as Jesus Christ… to show the possibility of belief today. Beyond that, it is necessary for today’s society that there are men who know God and can thus live according to the great values that he has given us and to contribute to the presence of values which are fundamental for the building and survival of our States and our societies.”
  • Book Review: Velvet Elvis: “Before I get into the book itself, I’m going to make a statement that will probably make some people mad.  (Having written some edgy stuff myself, I know that’s not difficult.)   I’ve just about come to the conclusion that the phrase “Protestant theology” is an oxymoron.  Protestants don’t have theology; they have doctrine.  They teach it, they make it a litmus test for acceptance and, if they’re really on their game, they live it.  But the word “theology” implies that one has to think out the “why”–the mechanics, to use an engineering term–behind something, and Protestants in general and Evangelicals in particular seem to be afraid of that.   Too many people have the idea that such a quest will end up with an unBiblical result.  That’s why I say that Roman Catholic theology, for all of its problems (the biggest of which is the institution of the Roman Catholic Church itself,) is the premier intellectual tradition in Christianity.  It also makes me glad that I spent my undergraduate years as an engineering student while ploughing through St. Thomas Aquinas on the side rather than sit in a seminary listening to “doctrine” be pompously exposited.”
  • Rowan Williams: Old Earth Creationists Still Hung Out to Dry: “For me, however, as a Christian, an old earth creationist, an adjunct and someone who deals with geological issues in Soil Mechanics, this was a perilous situation. If the evolutionists win, I get the boot over the origin of the universe and being a theist (the evolutionsts are for the most part rabid secular humanists.) If the new earth creationists win, I get the boot over the age of the earth. Real academic freedom these days consists of forcing the administration to find really creative ways to give people the boot!”

I looking over these, it occurs to me that most of them assume that same European theist/secuarlist dialectic that stumps Alexander so badly.

In fact, he suggests we should consult the folks at Regents University to give us history and philosophy lessons.  Does he refer to Regents University founded by Pat Robertson, the guys who begs daily for money, heals folks and offers prophecies over the TV airways, and promised to “pray back” a hurricane when he was running for president?  Yeah.  Sure.  That’s a good place to learn about logic, reason, history, philosophy, etc.

The accreditation page for Regent University is here.  My suggestion to Alexander is for him to contact all of these accreditation agencies (starting, of course, with SACS) and convince them to pull their accreditation.  Perhaps that will absorb his time in a way that he finds satisfying (the accreditation agencies may have another opinion of that, however.)

Warrington makes a case for the role the Founding Fathers recognized for “Christianity in our society at all levels.”  Sorry, Don, try though you may, you cannot make the Founding Fathers into a bunch of fundamentalist.  The Creator they spoke of is decided not the fundamentalist God you represent.

Alexander is nothing if unoriginal: Adelman brought up the same point, and my response to both (if they bother to read it) is as follows: “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.”

I don’t know if Alexander knows anything about Freemasonry, but Masons in this country generally posit that their God is the “Great Architect of the Universe.”  Same Masons posited in the Declaration of Independence that God was active enough in his creation to endow his creatures with inalienable rights.  Which leads to the question I posed in the original article: “What kind of inalienable rights do evolved creatures have?”

You seem to imply that the assessment that most Americans don’t want a religious state is wrong (see quote in article by Ralph Martin).  In a September 11 Pew Poll, less than 40% found abortion a very important issue in the current elections and less than 30% thought gay marriage to be a deciding issue.  But these are THE big evangelical/fundamentalist issues– and that is exactly the group that seems concerned about them.

If I imply such as thing, I am unaware of it.  As far as the two issues Alexander mentions are concerned, regular readers of this blog know that a) I seldom mention abortion and b) I believe that civil marriage should be abolished altogether.  (Some fundamentalist position that is!)  BTW, the term “gay marriage” is a misnomer, because it leaves out lesbians and does not properly delineate the nature of what is being demanded.  The LGBT community’s campaign is for “same-sex civil marriage,” and it should be termed that way.

All in all, I find a basic problem with all parts of your web site.  The overall idea is that you are right and everybody else is wrong.  Of course, as an evangelical/fundamentalist you are compelled to make sure the rest of us are as well.

Considering the problems Alexander is having just getting around this site, it’s hard to understand how he can make such an illogical sweeping generalisation!  But how many single-author blogs aren’t this way?  One thing for sure: if you want to see a one sided view of things, just visit Alexander’s own.  As he says, it’s impossible to get away from a fundamentalist background.  The best one can attain, based on that, is that one can only swap one form of fundamentalism for another, and Alexander does a stellar job in that regard.

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