Sunday, May 22, 2005

Tektonic faultlines-1

A friend of mine has drawn my attention to the fact that J. P. Holding began a new thread in reaction to my essay on Marvin Wilson’s theory of block logic.

Since Holding has chosen to interpose himself, I suppose that some sort of reply is in order. One is always of two minds about responding to his defamatory tirades. Holding has filthy mind and a filthy mouth, and it is judgment call whether one should give another public platform for his sin.

As a flavor of the level at which Holding’s mind operates, his latest thread is charmingly headed: “Steve Hays needs to stop passing gas at his betters.” This is a specimen of Holding’s recurrent obsessive-compulsive anal fixation.

In the same vein, he quotes a professor who describes my work as “crap.” Nothing like an inspirational appeal to lofty standards of secular academe to drive home your point.

Holding repeatedly accuses me of “poisoning the well” because I point out that we ought to take into account the fact that liberals and ecumenists have an ulterior agenda.

Actually, all I’m doing here is to obey the admonition of Scripture. Jesus, Peter, Paul, and John all warn Christians to be on guard against false teachers. What I’ve done is to heed their admonition and apply it to the present.

But by Holding’s standard, Jesus, Peter, Paul, and John are all guilty of “poisoning the well” by warning Christians to beware of false teachers who have an ulterior and anti-Christian agenda. And I’m happy to plead guilty for having taken their warnings to heart.

It is no big secret that an ecumenical agenda frequently leads the ecumenist to minimize or deny fundamental articles of the faith. Look at the National Council of Churches. Or the World Council of Churches. Or the Lutheran World Federation. Or Evangelicals & Catholics Together. Or the views of contemporary Catholicism on the salvation of Muslims, Jews, pagans, and infidels. Or, most recently, the finding of an Anglican Commission that the cult of Mary, Immaculate Conception, and Assumption are “authentic expressions of Christian belief, ” fully “consonant with the teaching of the Scriptures.”

Now, there is nothing wrong with interfaith dialogue, per se—especially with the Chosen People. But to simply quote the opinion of the non-Christian partner as the final authority on the meaning of Scripture is credulous and naïve. It is precisely this gullible open-mindedness which Scripture warns us to be wary of.

That’s relevant in any argument from authority, which is the use to which Wilson and Holding are putting Pinchas and Sandmel. We still need to listen to what they have to say, but not as an act of blind faith. Rather, their opinion is only as good as their evidence.

Holding then drags in the red herring of The Purpose Driven Church and the Left Behind series. Since these don’t figure in Wilson’s analysis, that’s a diversionary tactic on Holding’s part.

It is also perfectly legitimate for me to summarize my conclusions at the outset, and then proceed to lay out the process of reasoning by which I arrived at my conclusions. That’s a standard form of argumentation in philosophy and philosophical theology. Aquinas does it all the time. This is not a case of well-poisoning, but cuing the reader to where you are headed. No ulterior agenda with me. I lay my cards on the table, face up.

Holding then takes issue with my statement that “The Bible was written to be understood." Scripture is the revelation of man’s duty to God and to his fellow man. It is our duty to believe what is true and to disbelieve what is false.”

Well, if Holding doesn’t believe that Scripture was written to be understood, then that explains a lot about the quality of his theology and exegesis.

To my statement that “The Bible was written to be understood,” Holding replies that,

<< There is no such text, and never can be; and it is spoken directly against by the very text of the OT, which is full of mysteries not understood by those who read it first, and those who read it for centuries to come, and is even full at come points of paradox (try the books of Job and Ecclesiastes for a change). Hays' blind, mouth-foaming bibliolatry is without a shred of basis in any text. >>

This invites a number of comments:

1.“Bibliolatry” is, of course, the classic charge which liberals level against conservatives. When we affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, they accuse us of “bibliolatry.” When we affirm the necessity, sufficiency, authority, and perspicuity of Scripture, they accuse us of “bibliolatry.”

All I’ve done is to reaffirm my commitment to the classic Protestant doctrine of Scripture--shared alike by the Calvinist, confessional Lutheran, and fundamentalist. Holding, by contrast, prefers to take his stand alongside Brunner and Barr.

2.As to whether I have a prooftext to support my claim, by Holding’s criterion it would matter not--for if he denies that Scripture was written to be understood, then no prooftext will prove anything all, since a prooftext can only prove something if it was written to be understood in the first place.

3.Holding’s appeal to the OT is self-defeating, for he would only be in a position to know how it was fulfilled in the NT if it were written to be understood.

4.What was an OT Jew unable to grasp? Not what was in the text, but what was not. Because OT prophecy and typology did not spell out the precise who, when, or how of fulfillment, that is something an OT Jew was in no position to fully grasp. Yet his incomprehension was not owing to something God did say, but to something he kept to himself until the fullness of time.

5.Why do Jesus and the NT writers appeal to the OT to prove the fulfillment of OT promise? Because the OT was written to be understood. And the writers of the NT canon also wrote to be understood, which is why they wrote the OT in the first place—and which is why they reason with the reader from the Scriptures.

6.As to Job and Ecclesiastes, this is no part of Wilson’s case. And,in any event, I’ve already addressed that question in my essay on “Vanity of vanities.” In answer to Holding’s repeated objection, I’ve repeatedly pointed the reader to my answer, contained therein.

When a disputant like Holding repeatedly raises an objection which has been repeatedly answered, without offering any acknowledgement of the answer, much less a reasoned rebuttal, it is the disputant who has no answer.

Holding’s personal antagonism towards me is so extreme that he will pounce on anything I say simply because I was the one who said it. And by being so utterly reactionary, he backs himself into the most indefensible corners imaginable. How else can you explain his denial that the Bible was written to be understood?

I said:
<< For all his talk of paradox, Wilson seems not to know what a paradox is. In particular, he fails to draw an elementary distinction between a literary paradox and a conceptual paradox. A literary paradox is a rhetorical device designed to express the truth in a provocative fashion. >>

Holding said:
<< Having read Wilson's material -- indeed, having copied the very pages on block logic for someone today -- I know this to be a patent deception. Hays is burning a straw man; Wilson did not draw any such distinction. >>

Due to Holding’s constitutional incapacity for critical detachment, he can’t see the obvious staring him in the face. He accuses me of “patent deception” and straw man argumentation because “Wilson did not draw any such distinction.”

But, of course, that’s exactly what I said all along. Wilson “fails to draw an elementary distinction between a literary paradox and a conceptual paradox.” That’s precisely my point. And this is a failure on his part, not merely because he didn’t do it, but because such an omission is fatal flaw in his overall argument.

I said he didn’t do it. Holding says he didn’t do it. So Holding agrees with me that he didn’t do it. But if I say it, that’s a “patent deception” and a “straw man” argument. This is a classic example of someone so blinded by animus that he can’t hear his own words.

<< Wilson did not draw any such distinction (though he did draw others, between types of expression of block logic -- and that, we will see, will come back to bite Hays on the behind). >>

This is not the first time that Holding has taken a personal interest in my backside. Holding would be well advised to resist his unsavory attraction so many homoerotic illustrations.

<< Hays next strives for more bigotry and well-poisoning, muttering on about "Jewish liberals like Lapide and Sandmel." >>

Ah, yes, by all means accuse your opponent of “bigotry.” When a pastor preaches against sodomy, he’s accused of “homophobia.” When a theologian teaches against radical feminism, he’s accused of “sexism” and “misogyny.” When a Republican speaks out against quotas and reparations and amnesty, he’s accused of “racism.” These epithets are the last resort of the scoundrel who can’t mount an honest argument for his own position.

I’d add that if anyone is guilty of “bigotry,” it is Holding, with his highly reductive analysis of “Hebrew” psychology.

I said:
<< On the face of it, Wilson’s description of historical theology is ill-informed at the very point where it needs to be well-informed regarding the long history of Jewish philosophical theology and its impact on Scholastic theology and beyond (e.g., Philo, Saadia, Gabirol, Costa ben Luca, Halevi, Isaac Israeli Maimonides, Gersonides, Crescas, Spinoza). >>

Holding said:
<< Given the patent miseducation Hays showed with respect to other philosophers in his prior effort, we doubt he knows Halvei from Havati, and suspect that all of this name-dropping came after a few hours of slumming some years ago through some title like The Story of Jewish Philosophy, which he picked up only because he needed to write a paper at 11 PM that was due at 8 the next morning and knew he needed to work hard for a C. >>

As usual, Holding offers a lot of huffy-puffy invective as a substitute for a reasoned reply.

Holding is staking his whole case on three pages of a popular-level paperback. He has obviously not bothered to read any of the standard scholarly literature on the historical interplay between Greek, Jewish, Islamic, and Christian philosophical theology.

But before we get to that, let’s once again quote Wilson’s antithesis between “Hebrew thought” and Greek philosophical reasoning:

<< The use of what may be termed block logic is another important contour of Hebrew thought. Greek logic, which has to a large extent influenced the Western world, was different. The Greeks often used a tightly contained step logic whereby one would argued from premise to a conclusion, each step linked tightly to the next in coherent, rational, logical fashion. The conclusion, however, was usually limited to one point of view—the human being’s perception of reality.

Our Father Abraham, 150. >>

Before proceeding further, we’d like to know what this description is based on. It is more Scholastic (e.g., Scotism, Thomism) than Aristotelian, and more Aristotelian than Platonic. Is this the form of a Platonic dialogue? No.

<< By contrast, the Hebrews often made use of block logic. That is, concepts were expressed in self-contained units or blocks of thought. These blocks did not necessarily fit together in any obviously rational or harmonious pattern, particularly when one block represented the human perspective on truth and the other represented the divine.

It is particularly difficult for Westerners—those whose thought-patterns have been influenced more by the Greeks and the Romans than by the Hebrews—to piece together the block logic of Scripture. When we open the Bible, therefore, since we are not Orientals, we are invited…to “undergo a kind of intellectual conversion” to the Hebraic world of the East.

While philosophical and structural divisions of learning obviously have an important role to play in contemporary education, our Western culture—especially on most levels of secular and Christian instruction—has provided little understanding concerning the nature of Hebrew thought. Thus we have the natural tendency to impose more rational and systematic categories of thought on the Bible. Ibid. 150, 152. >>

This totally ignores the considerable degree to which Jewish philosophical theology was in dialogue with Greek, Islamic, and Christian philosophy and/or philosophical theology, and the considerable degree to which it has had a shaping influence on Western philosophy and Scholastic theology. If either Wilson or Holding had bothered to dip into the extensive literature on this subject, both in the form of scholarly monographs and standard reference works, they would never indulge in such palpably false generalities. And since Holding persists in denying what is demonstrably the case, I’d simply draw the reader’s attention to some of the academic literature of which he is so proudly ignorant:

Davidson, H. Proofs for eternity, creation, and the existence of God in medieval Islamic and Jewish philosophy (Oxford 1987).

Eisen, R. Gersonides on providence, covenant, and the chosen people: a study in medieval Jewish philosophy and biblical commentary (Albany 1995).

Frank, D & O. Leaman, eds. History of Jewish Philosophy (Routledge 2004).

Frank. D & O. Leaman, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Jewish Philosophy (Cambridge 2003).

Goodman, L. Neoplatonism and Jewish thought (Albany 1992).

Helm, P. ed. Referring to God: Jewish and Christian philosophical and theological perspectives (Curzon 2000).

Inglis, J. ed. Medieval Philosophy and the Classical Tradition: In Islam, Judaism and Christianity (Curzon 2001).

Kassim, H. Aristotle and Aristotelianism in medieval Muslim, Jewish, and Christian philosophy (Austin & Winfield 2000).

Lasker, D. ed. The refutation of the Christian principles / by Hasdai Crescas (Albany 1992).

Manekin, C. ed. The logic of Gersonides: a translation of Sefer ha-Heqqesh ha-yashar (The Book of the correct syllogism) of Rabbi Levi ben Gershom (Kluwer 1991).

Nasr, S. & O. Leaman, eds. History of Islamic Philosophy (Routledge 2001).

Neusner, J. Jerusalem and Athens: the congruity of Talmudic and classical philosophy (Leiden; E.J. Brill, 1997).

Silman, Y. ed. Philosopher and prophet: Judah Halevi, the Kuzari, and the evolution of his thought (Albany 1995).

Sirat, C. A history of Jewish philosophy in the Middle Ages (Cambridge 1990).

Stern, S. Medieval Arabic and Hebrew thought (London 1983).

Wolfson, H. ed. Crescas’ critique of Aristotle: problems of Aristotle’s ’Physics’ in Jewish and Arabic philosophy (Oxford/Harvard 1971).

Wolfson, H. From Philo to Spinoza: two studies in religious philosophy (Behrman House 1977).
_____, Philo; foundations of religious philosophy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Harvard 1968).
_____, Repercussions of the Kalam in Jewish philosophy (Harvard 1979).
_____, The meaning of ex nihilo in the church fathers, Arabic and Hebrew philosophy, and St. Thomas (Harvard 1948).

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