Academic integrity 3 – the Rollston saga continues

I learn today from Paleojudaica that Christopher Rollston, who works for Emmanuel Christian Seminary but published an article attacking biblical values, is now under investigation by the college.  The story is at the Chronicle of Higher Education here:

In an undated letter to Rollston, forwarded to Inside Higher Ed by a person who does not work at Emmanuel, Sweeney writes that the professor’s teaching style and the effect he has on his students “have demonstrably exacerbated our current financial problems. That, along with your recent blog, puts you at odds with the purpose and goals of the school… If you feel that you are unwilling or unable to change any of this, and, frankly, I am not even sure it is possible for you to do so at this stage, I strongly suggest you increase your efforts at finding a position in a university where people are not studying for the ministry.”

That seems entirely proper to me. 

What I find much more shocking, however, is the level of intolerance expressed by many commentators towards the college.   They do not share the values of Emmanuel, so they demand that Emmanuel should abandon its own, in order to continue giving Dr Rollston employment.  They would, of course, be the first to protest if they were the victims of a similar demand.

At the simplest level, this is bigotry.  I myself probably do agree with Emmanuel.  But whether I did or did not, I would certainly endorse their right to expect their staff to uphold the principles of the institution that pays them.  If they do not, I would expect them to be fired.  As I remarked earlier, there is no special principle at work here: it is simply a matter of honesty.

When I read, as I have seen in several places, this bigotry justified by claiming that attacking biblical values is just the “consensus of modern scholarship”, I learn that those making that claim are not scholars, and care nothing for scholarship.    For of course scholarship, as such, can have no view on a purely religious or political claim. 

It is the hallmark of the bigot that he refuses to acknowledge that those with whom he disagrees have a right to disagree.  And I see this all over the hostile commentary on this issue.

It’s disturbing to see such narrow-minded intolerance.  If this is, as some have written, what biblical studies is all about, then it is no scholarship at all.  Such pseudo-scholarship should not be funded by the tax-payer.

Academic integrity 2: Walter Bauer and the German Christian movement

He was said to be a typical academic: desperate for admiration and inclined to intrigue. — Based on the Stasi file on Walter Grundmann[1]

Today I have been reading Susannah Heschel’s book The Aryan Jesus, from which I quoted previously.  The book is rather discursive than precise, but nevertheless it contains much interesting material.  It is, in the main, about the German Nazi-era Institute for the Study of Jewish Influence on German Religious Life[2], and in particular about Walter Grundmann, its director, who became a Stasi agent in post-war East Germany.

The volume gives an overview, sometimes rather biased, of the rise of hostility to Jews and Jewishness during the 20th century, and how this was reflected in the attitudes expressed in German scholarship.  In particular it is very good on how the demands of the secular world were aped by the liberal protestant churchmen, and on the great power of the German Christian Movement in that period.  The story centres on Thuringia and Jena.

The book does not make enough allowances for the mixed motives that always prevail in every period, nor for the distorting effect of 20-20 hindsight on people who had no contemporary knowledge that this or that agenda was being pushed at secret meetings elsewhere.

I should add that the book contains far too few references for my comfort, and I frequently found myself asking, “How do I know this is so?  What is the evidence for this?”, which is never a good sign.  If I am going to express some statement as fact, I should like at least to know the data on which it is based.

Naturally I was interested to see what the book had to say about Walter Bauer, author of Orthodoxy and Heresy (1934), which I have been examining elsewhere, and which posits that real Christianity was no more authentic than Marcionism, the movement which was supposed in that period in Germany to deny the validity of the Jewish element in Christianity.

Bauer does indeed appear, but only once.  In 1927 he published an article Jesus der Galiläer[3] in which he identified Galilee as definitely non-Jewish.[4]  It is unfortunate that Heschel does not quote him directly, as one would naturally prefer to hear the man himself than someone’s representation of him.  But what was the social context of such a claim?

If you dislike Jews, and yet are a normal German in the 20’s, you have a problem.  Because you belong to the official state church, the Lutheran protestant, and indeed you pay a tax collected by the state for its upkeep.  This official church worships … a Jew.

So what do you do?  Well, you try to claim that he wasn’t a Jew.  And during this period, according to Heschel, this is precisely what German scholars were trying to do.

The argument is not as daft as it seems at first.  The bible tells of the deportations from Israel, and the alien settlers around Samaria, and there were more settlements in the area in the Persian period.  Persians are Iranians, and Iranians are good Aryans.  Being a Galilean, Jesus might not have had a drop of Jewish blood in him.

Into this process, the article by Bauer fits precisely.  And scholars such as Grundmann and many others proceeded to refer to a gentile, indeed an Aryan Galilee, for just this purpose, in order to claim that Jesus was not racially Jewish.[5]

Likewise we learn from Heschel that a purged bible, which discarded the Old Testament, and edited the New, was actually issued by the Institute.  It is very remniscent of Harnack’s demand that the church should discard the Old Testament.

However I am not certain whether Heschel is representing events correctly in this.  From what she says, the publication seems to have consisted rather of selected extracts, all very much in conformance with Nazi ideology.  It is at this stage that the limited referencing leaves the reader in the dark.

Bauer’s work consists of rubbishing the history of the early church, in order to substitute for it another, designed to undermine the authority of the church by suggesting that ancient heresies are just as authentic as representative of Christianity.  In the light of current events when he published it, this takes on a somewhat sinister light.  These two publications by Bauer are very much in keeping with the Nazi trend of the times.  It would be good to know more certainly what Bauer thought he was doing.

Of course there is a terrific irony here.  For Bauer’s book owes its popularity to a translation in the 60’s, and the use of its narrative by post-hippie gnostic-kissing secular theologians, of much the same stamp but a rather different political outlook from the Nazis, and with the aim of promoting a rather different ideology.

God has his jokes with those who set out to oppose him, it seems:

Blow the trumpets, crown the sages,
Bring the age by reason fed.
He that sitteth in the heavens,
He doth laugh, the prophet said.

In between the free love, was there time for a quick “Sieg Heil” or two, to honour their intellectual mentor?

But of course I may be mistaken.  Bauer’s friends must fall back on the saying of the old atheist about the gospel: that it all happened a long time ago, and we must hope that it wasn’t true.

Let’s finish with the cover image from the book.  There are other interesting photos inside!

Altar of the Antoniterkirche, Cologne, in 1935
  1. [1]Susannah Heschel, The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany, Princeton, 2008, p.258; the quote is Heschel’s reporting of a report signed by “Ludwig”, Grundmann’s Stasi file, May 11, 1960.
  2. [2]The title originally referred to “study and eradication”, but I understand from Heschel that the reference to “eradication” was dropped in order to give the body a more independent and scholarly appearance.
  3. [3]Reprinted in Bauer, Aufsätze unde Kleine Schriften, p.100 f.
  4. [4]Heschel, p.60, referencing p.103 of the reprint.
  5. [5]Heschel p.153: “Thanks to the work of Walter Bauer situating Jesus in Galilee, Grundmann could easily present Galilee as standing in opposition to Judea; thanks to Assyriologists such as Paul Haupt (and ignoring Albrecht Alt), he could claim that Galilee had been populated by Aryans who had been forcibly converted to Judaism by the Hasmoneans, but who were not racially Jewish…”.

Academic integrity or the lack of it – a thought about the Rollston saga

I learn from Paleojudaica today that a US academic, a certain Christopher Rollston, is in trouble with his employer because of an article that he wrote on the leftist Huffington Post site, entitled The Marginalization of Women: A biblical value we don’t like to talk about.

The article makes clear that Prof. Rollston is a practising leftie.  Charmingly, he recites his faith in the current shibboleths of early 21st century liberal America almost in set terms:

Augusta National Golf Club finally accepts its first women members, and so a Leviathan of gender discrimination at long last makes a move in the right direction. Conversely, Todd Akin falsely states that a woman’s body has biological mechanisms to prevent pregnancy in cases of something he refers to as “legitimate rape.” One step forward, two steps back in our battle for women’s rights.

Emphasis mine.

Well, a man is entitled to hold political views, however daft or repellent they may be to sensible people.  In a free nation he is surely equally entitled to call for the expulsion of all blacks, all Jews, and all Mexicans from the USA, with the words “One step forward, two steps back in our battle for an Aryan America”.  Isn’t he?

Live and let live; the fact that he holds political views with which we disagree (or don’t) is no business of anyone else.  Isn’t it?

But what he really wants to talk about is the bible:

From Mesopotamia to Egypt, women in the ancient world were considered property — valuable property, but property nonetheless. And it’s true of the Bible’s view as well. Yes, there were biblical women who flourished in spite of the patriarchy, women like Ruth, Esther, Lydia and Priscilla. But women in the Bible were normally viewed as second class, if even that.

Emphasis again mine.  Well, this was true in biblical times, certainly.  All sorts of views are reflected in the scriptures.  The patriarchs engage in polygamy, for instance, but … the bible does not teach polygamy. And here we reach the problem with Dr Rollston’s article.

The hostility of the political left to the bible is well known.  What, then, does Dr Rollston have to say?  I’ve taken the first sentence of every paragraph:

The Decalogue is a case in point. … Because the Ten Commandments are so well known, it’s quite easy to miss the assumptions in them about gender. But the marginalization of women is clear.

Women are marginalized in the book of Proverbs as well.

The New Testament contains texts that marginalize women as well.

Of course, there are even more difficult texts, with men said to be willing to surrender women to horrendous violence.

Thankfully, some biblical authors who pushed back against the marginalization of women.

People today often wish to turn to sacred literature for timeless trues about social norms. … After all, to embrace the dominant biblical view of women would be to embrace the marginalization of women. And sacralizing patriarchy is just wrong. Gender equality may not have been the norm two or three millennia ago, but it is essential. So, the next time someone refers to “biblical values,” it’s worth mentioning to them that the Bible often marginalized women and that’s not something anyone should value.

He isn’t talking about attitudes reflected in the bible.  He’s talking about the bible.  He’s talking explicitly about biblical values.  He’s attacking them, and stating that biblical values are … “not something anyone should value”.  He is, in essence, accusing the bible of heresy, heresy against the One True Teaching, that of the political left in the early 21st century USA.

Doubtless he does not value biblical teaching.  And why should he?  An unbeliever is under no obligation to listen to the scriptures.  Let him genuflect humbly to a set of values made up by the babyboomers, if he so wishes, and is so uncritical in his politics.  Just because we may laugh at his credulity in political and theological matters — for of course we are much better informed, and our own political and religious views are above reproach — does not mean we should nail him head down to a lump of wood.  Live and let live.

All in all, so far, so tedious.

But I gather from Paleojudaica that his article has had consequences.  For, it seems, Dr Rollston holds a post at Emmanuel Christian Seminary.  His colleague, Paul M. Blowers, wrote a quick criticism of the article on Facebook, which was seen and roundly abused by a certain Tom Stark who wrote an article at great length in which he quotes the remarks of Dr Blowers here, and attacks him for objecting to them.  He also describes another article by a group of objectors as:

…a bloviating, self-important, contemptuous, slanderous, malignant, condescending, pretentious, cynically dishonest, and ironically oblivious piece of garbage.

The language of political hate is rather in evidence here, which again indicates that we are not dealing with any academic issue.

Even so, Mr Stark accepts:

Yes, as a faculty member at a faith-based educational institution, Dr. Rollston should not publish something in the public square that, say, contradicts anything he would teach in class or say to a Christian community. For instance, Dr. Rollston should not write a Huffington Post article in which he rejects Christianity or rejects the Bible.

And yet, as we have seen, Dr Rollston has done exactly that.  I fear that the problem is much simpler; Mr Stark shares the political and theological views espoused by Dr Rollston.

Various other bibliobloggers have written similarly. Tom Verenna wrote a response along the same lines.  Dr Blowers wrote an article here, rebutting the criticism, for which he too received the lynch-mob treatment.

The responses that I have seen all deploy the tired old “academic freedom” argument:  If you don’t allow our religious views to be expressed at your private college, if you don’t give us a platform, then you aren’t academics at all. I hope we all laughed to see this dreary old attempt at manipulation trotted out again.

The joke about this, of course, is that there is any amount of comment on the web on the policies of American universities, which state that several have developed a hideous political conformity, to the extent that expressing any non-left views at some of them risks harassment by the authorities!  Yet I do not hear similar complaints from the same people.

It’s all deeply tedious, all this special pleading.  Anyone is allowed to hold any views they like, in a free country (although I believe quite a number of US Republican bloggers believe that, if you hold views of the political right, this does not apply to you).  But no-one is entitled to demand, as of right, that other people pay for him to advance those views.

There is no special moral principle here.  If I join a university founded by atheists, I can hardly take their money and use it to attack atheism.  To do so would be dishonest.    If I wish to abuse them, I must stop taking their money.  Likewise, if I take money from scientology (which God forbid), I cannot honestly write an article in a major publication holding up L. Ron Hubbard to ridicule.  To do so is dishonest.  If I gain employment from the National Union of Perverts and Paedophiles (will become a privileged minority in California by around 2020, if history is any judge), I cannot take their money and write against them in the national press.

This elementary moral point has always been ignored by those who call themselves liberals, since these can rarely find anyone willing to voluntarily fund them.  Instead they assert a right to loot the funds of others.

In a state university a diversity of views should certainly be permitted, which reflects the fact that the taxpayers who pay for the staff are entitled to expect that academics who share their political or religious views are not prevented from holding a post there.   Whether this is indeed the case in a liberal theological college, or a liberal controlled university in the modern US, we need not enquire curiously.  But this is not because the university is “neutral”; nor does it imply that Catholic universities are not universities, or any of the other hysterical claims being advanced.  It is simply because there is no agreed basis for belief.

Tom Stark has written, I gather, that Christopher Rollston may now be under investigation at his employers.  Considering the nature of the article that Dr Rollston has published, I would hope that this is so.  For that article makes pretty clear that, to him (at least as edited by the Huffington Post), the bible is not the final authority of faith and morals.  That exalted role is reserved for the edicts of those who control the media agenda in the time and place in which he happens to live.  And a person holding those views can hardly continue to take the money of those who believe differently.  But of course Dr Rollston may not hold the views that the article pushes at every person who can read; for we must never forget the power of the editor of a site.

There is indeed a question of academic integrity here, and of integrity among “bibliobloggers”.  There is nothing very fine about campaigning for other people to endorse your views at their own expense.  On the contrary, it is a selfish, greedy, intolerant game.  I’ve read quite enough paragraphs asserting that the article states “uncontroversial views” — yes, of course, any views you agree with are “uncontroversial”, if you are self-centred enough.

I would ask all those who have written “in support” of Dr Rollston — really of the sentiments of the article in the Huffington Post, for I know nothing against the man himself — to ask themselves if they would feel the same if he had written in support of an Aryan America.  If they would not, then I suggest they withdraw their comments and search their souls.

For the measure we give is the measure we will undoubtedly get.  It was the legislation of the liberal Weimar Republic that made the Nazi state possible.  Those who establish the principle that academics who conform to societal values, and reject the values of their employers, may not be expelled for so doing, may not enjoy it, when those societal values change.  And if history teaches us anything, it teaches us that societal values change, and often violently.

For the right to create a private university, where the evil of the times does not seep in, where the commissar may not meddle, is of inestimable value in an oppressive state.  In communist Poland it was the Catholics who kept things alive.  To continue to exist, such universities must expel those who would wreck their purpose, or cease to exist.  There is, after all, nothing very praiseworthy about the man who, supported by every engine of the state, demands that a minority “tolerate” him.  On the contrary, we should treasure these islands of rebellion and different thinking against the certainties of “society”.

Live and let live.

UPDATE: Within 12 hours of my writing the above, mentioning the lack of openness to different views alleged against some US universities, comes the news that “Gaullaudet University has put Dr. Angela McCaskill, its chief diversity officer, on paid leave because she signed a petition to put gay marriage before the voters of Maryland…”.  That is, she signed a petition which suggested that this particular policy should be voted on rather than just enacted.  Apparently that is grounds for disciplinary action.  I don’t believe this (deaf, black) woman is an academic; but it shows how little respect for dissent there is in US universities.

When the political establishment wants to edit the bible

A piece at Dyspepsia Generation, “If only we could edit the bible” drew my attention this morning.  It quotes a Huffington Post article.

I have often wondered–quietly and usually to myself–what would happen if we could edit the Bible.

After all, textbooks get edited and publishers bring out new and improved versions that are more in tune with how things are, instead of how things were.

Wouldn’t it be good if some ecumenical committee could go through the Old Testament and take out all the language about stoning people to death for breaking various rules?

In fact the author would like to see wholesale revision of the bible, to make it “more in tune with how things are”.

But what do we mean by “how things are” in modern America?  Isn’t that an appeal to the climate of the times?  To the values espoused by those who control the media agenda?  Is it not, in fact, the product of a sustained campaign of social manipulation unparalleled in human history?  Indeed it is.

Such a suggestion is a call for the bible to be edited to reflect the wishes of the winners of that civil war, what is sometimes called the “culture wars”.  The winners are the people who wanted fornication in place of chastity, for instance.  It is hard to see that these are people who have any respect for the bible; rather these are people who would seek to use it to impose their own wishes.

All this stirred a memory of William Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and his description of the Nazification of the state Lutheran church.  If my memory serves me correctly, a Nazi demanded the abandonment of the Old Testament, with its tales of goat-thieves and cattle herders, and the revision of the New Testament “in accordance with the principles of National Socialism”.  The latter phrase meant that the New Testament should be edited to restore some pretended “original version” in which Jesus was not a Jew, and the church did not have Jewish roots.

Trying to find that quote, I stumbled across the Google Books preview of Susannah Heschel, The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany.  I have read a few pages, and I think that I had better get hold of the book.  It illustrates brilliantly how a state controlled church can be corrupted by a political establishment that holds it in contempt, and the sort of antics that the establishment’s fellow travellers get up to.  If we look past the fact that this is Nazis who want to bash Jews, and replace them with the kind of person who seeks to normalise unnatural vice, we find so many similarities.

And of course the specific cause is unimportant.  It could be any cause.  But the objective is always the same:

Christianity was not to be banned nor the churches outlawed; rather, as the historian Ernst Piper writes, Nazi strategy was to control the churches and lead to “a steadily advancing process of delegitimization and disassociation, of undermining and repression” that would undercut the church’s moral authority and position of respect.[1]

We may look at the demands made today upon churches, with the backing of the state.  At the moment there is the demand to appoint women priests and bishops, to appoint gays to similar positions, to endorse vice of every sort.  In this, do we not see the same process?

Those who make these demands of the church hold the church in contempt.  They laugh as churchmen solemnly attempt to square the circle between the bible and demands made only because they are opposed to the bible.  The fellow-travellers cause chaos as they force their demands through by a mixture of incessant dirty politics, backed by allies controlling the power of appointment, and a constant media atmosphere in their favour; and the establishment enjoys the chaos in an organisation that would otherwise opposite their policies.

Nor should we omit the constant drip-drip of “dirty vicar” stories, and the “church endorses child abuse” stories which somehow never apply the same rules to schools or Boy Scout groups.  The urge to damn the whole organisation by association gives the game away.

You can serve God or the world.  Ultimately all of us must decide which we intend to do.

It is easy, perhaps, to condemn the fellow traveller, if we are not in any way tempted to do the same.  Let us not become proud.  The devil has other temptations lined up for us!

The history of the church is made up of such struggles.  The devil, the author of all this, does not care if any particular struggle is won or lost, so long as Christians are prevented from preaching the gospel.  The worldly and contaminated archbishop is a constant figure in church history.

But he can only matter to us, if we let him.  We must not focus on such things.  Where two or three are gathered together, there is Christ.  He is who we must focus on.

UPDATE: I have found in a snippet part of the quote from Shirer that I recall.

…the Old Testament “with its tales of cattle merchants and pimps” and the revision of the New Testament, with the teaching of Jesus made “to conform entirely with the demands of National Socialism …

The same quote, in a somewhat different form, is referenced to p.237 in a web page, although in what edition is not indicated.  But clearly the author has read the same material that I did:

On November 13, 1933, the day after the German people had overwhelmingly backed Hitler in a national plebiscite, the ‘German Christians’ staged a massive rally in the Sportspalast in Berlin. A Dr. Reinhard Krause, the Berlin district leader of the sect, proposed the abandonment of the Old Testament, ‘with its tales of cattle merchants and pimps’ and the revision of the New Testament with the teaching of Jesus ‘corresponding entirely with the demands of National Socialism.’ Resolutions were drawn up demanding ‘One People, One Reich, One Faith,’ requiring all pastors to take an oath of allegiance to Hitler and insisting that all churches institute the Aryan paragraph and exclude converted Jews…

This latter form is repeated around the web in various places.

  1. [1]Heschel, p.9