The excellent Tony Chartrand-Burke of Apocryphicity, is doing some very useful work on obscure apocrypha in Old Slavonic. Indeed I look in from time to time, in the hope that he’s posted more! I learn that he has written an article Heresy hunting in the New Millennium, attacking Christians who criticise the gnostics and their modern propagandists. I’m sorry to see this; it’s not constructive to get involved in modern religious controversy like this, surely?
I’ve read the article, but it reads a bit as if Tony is repeating stuff from somewhere, by someone rather accustomed to religious polemic. There’s a paragraph that pretends that Christians are being unreasonable for seeing themselves attacked by the Jesus Seminar and its roadshows in the bible belt, Bart Ehrman’s numerous books attacking the bible, and the Da Vinci Code’s misrepresentation of early history. No sensible person could take that view; and Tony is certainly a sensible and honest person. But isn’t pretending the other person is the aggressor a very old trick for disarming a foe before you stick it to him? After all, we all know that WW2 was started by the Poles invading Germany… if we believe German news sources of the time! Likewise we’re told that Elaine Pagels is misrepresented; but we’re not told why or how, only that we mustn’t criticise her.
Another old trick used in these sorts of debates is to claim that your opponents aren’t up-to-date with the latest scholarship. But of course the same irrelevant claim could be said in any religious debate. Whether the gnostic gospels are from the apostolic circle or not does not depend on some paper published in some journal 20 minutes ago! But the intention is the same; to stifle criticism by any means, to position your foe as ignorant, while continuing to advance claims which are contradicted by the historical record in order to knife contemporary religious foes.
I enjoyed particularly the complaints that the *Christians* are demonising the gnostics, while demonising all the rest of us as “heresy hunters.” Hey, Tony, I haven’t burned anyone at the stake, honestly I haven’t! (Perhaps someone asked him out for “steak” or something, and misunderstanding occurred). But I do belong to a group that has been demonised and banned from a university campus, tho, by people chanting similar-sounding slogans, with the connivance of the university authorities. Christians have no power; it’s all we can do to keep off people determined to hijack us. Again, we have the victim being accused of being the aggressor.
Can anyone really believe that Christians are not entitled to self-definition, of who is or is not a believer, which beliefs do and do not form part of the apostolic teaching? If not, then all this use of terms like “heresy hunting” — which smells of the inquisition — is merely demonisation.
These sorts of arguments all smell of the faggot, of the sort of debate where the object is to prevent your opponent being heard. This is why I presume they have been borrowed. It’s nasty stuff, tho.
Please, please, let’s stop this. Study of the apocrypha does not benefit from alienating the Christians. On the contrary, it is suicide for those interested in it. Already we see that the public misuse of these texts, the pretence that they are somehow equivalent to the canonical gospels — by people like Elaine Pagels –, is causing a reaction, is causing Christians to consider that academics are being dishonest and peddling hate under cover of scholarship. No doubt the Christian haters love that. But the rest of us must be appalled. Which is most important to us — studying the apocrypha or knifing the Christians?
If I were to lecture on textual criticism to a bunch of Moslems, I would not start by telling them that TC proves Islam is untrue and that the Koran is like any other text. I believe both of those propositions; but nevertheless, I would be there to teach them textual criticism, not to insult their religion. If I was so foolish, I would lead them to reject both TC and me. If I care about learning, the last thing I am going to do is to poison the well, to cause people to reject it. Still less would I teach some fabricated set of lies about Koranic origins as fact!
Let’s stop baiting the Christians. Let’s stop pretending that scholarship teaches us that Christianity is untrue. Let’s stop trying to present scholarship as the enemy of faith, and start presenting it as interesting for itself.