That’s a genuine question in the title to this post, and I have my suspicions about the answer. Here’s what prompts the question:
Justin Taylor posts some things said by Sonia Sotomayor that sound very, very conservative. The quotes in his post look like she is saying exactly what conservatives would want her to say, and that point is made by Justin’s comments in the post. What, you may say, is the problem with that?
Earlier this summer I read Greg Wills’ book on the history of Southern Seminary. Basically, the liberals and moderates who taught at SBTS talked to Southern Baptists the way that Sonia Sotomayor seems to be talking to the Senate. Here’s the skinny on how things seem to have played out, at least, this is my take on it.
At the dawn of the twentieth century everything was changing. Electric power and light bulbs were pushing back the darkness. Cars and planes were shrinking the distance between places. Telephones were connecting people. Indoor plumbing was changing lives. Technologically speaking, the world was progressing. And the progress wasn’t only technological. Darwin had recently published his theories, and they were gaining currency. Philosophers were now assuming many of Darwin’s views, as were psychologists. The theologians weren’t far behind. On every front, so it seemed, the world was making progress. And then the Marxist/Communist/Socialist vision of society started to be marketed as progress, too.
All this progress seemed to prove that the world was getting better every day in every way. Humanity really was making progress. The unexamined philosophical and theological implication seems to have been: evolution is happening. People are evolving up.
So if you were an educated person, this idea of progress was implicit everywhere. The liberals and moderates who taught at Southern Seminary were part of this progressive crowd. They might have rejected some particulars of Darwinistic naturalism, but they rejected them the way fish reject water. All this evolutionary progress was the sea in which they swam.
So their task was to make Christianity relevant in light of the new progress, which had obviously shown that the Bible and Christianity needed to be updated. The problem was that Southern Baptists who didn’t swim in the sea of evolutionary progress didn’t think the Bible and Christianity needed to be updated. The liberals and moderates thought this was simple ignorance, and they thought they could fix it by teaching the “truth” to future pastors and other people willing to be taught.
And how did they handle those unwilling to embrace their vision of the world?
They lied to them. They told them what they wanted to hear. They said whatever they needed to say to maintain their positions and retain their influence.
They believed that the “truth” of their view of the world and the “justice” of their cause validated their policy of deceit.
So is there an analogy between liberal theologians and liberal politicians and judges? Have liberal politicians and judges also bought into an evolutionary progress that demands that documents from the old world, such as the constitution, be updated? Does the “truth” of their view of the world and the “justice” of their cause validate a policy of deceit?
Are they right? Are things getting better every day in every way?
However plausible the progressive view of the world might have seemed in 1900, that view of the world is laughable in light of the horrors, atrocities, brutalities, and injustices of the last century. We may have made technological progress, but humanity has not evolved up. And the liars prove it. If humans were evolving up, we would all be able to tell the truth, understand the truth, and love the truth together. Ironically, the policy of deceit gives the lie to the “cause of truth” progressives pursue. The only progress they make is in the direction away from truth, integrity, justice, goodness, faithfulness, honor, virtue, and respectability.
The thing that troubles me about her comments and the fact that conservatives like JT might be (pleasantly?) “surprised” by them is that I think her comments are not comforting in the slightest. Reader response hermeneutics which is the basis for more postmodern leaning judicial theory admits that texts do not change–as the nominee also admits. However, they see the interpretive key in the reader/society/judge. Therefore, when she says that society changes she is showing her true colors. Sure, the intent of the framers doesn’t change but who cares? The will of the people/elite has changed and they are the ones who give meaning to the texts.
Fascinating observation, and your comments are also reminiscent of the ways that conservatives tried to expose the liberalism at SBTS, but often failed to see the implications of the philosophical and linguistic technicalities in the special vocabulary employed by the liberals. . .
But aren’t we all part of a larger, increasingly organized and interdependant emergent system? Throughout the evolution of human communities and networks, an inner transformation has been taking place. At each stage of evolution, our circles of care, compassion, and commitment have grown and our lists of enemies have diminshed. Our next step will be to learn to organize and govern ourselves globally, and to enjoy a mutually enhancing relationship with the larger body of Life of which we are part.
I had about the same thought, but would not have expressed it as well.
It isn’t enough to question philosophy, you have to question specifics.
Thirty years ago I tried to help a naive young man (inappropriately) on a pulpit committee. The candidate was from Princeton, and it was a very conservative church. This youngster liked the candidate’s snazzy programs.
I said, “Ask him who wrote Daniel and when; who wrote the Pastoral Epistles and when; who wrote 2 Peter and when?”
He thought they were stupid questions, and wouldn’t ask the candidate. They called him.
He was liberal.
But I’m sure he told them he believed the Bible was inspired.
So was there some moment in our history that you see as the highpoint of “truth, integrity, justice, goodness, faithfulness, honor, virtue, and respectability”. If you are arguing that it is getting worse then you must believe there was a time that it was better and unless you believe that it just progressively gets better and better toward the beginning of time then there must be some point where it peaked and it has since been going down hill.
So, do you think it’s wrong to mislead someone intentionally–to lie to them?
An accompanying issue is the similarities in the ways the objectivity of texts is handled in both law and theology. Jaroslav Pelikan wrote a book a few years back, Interpreting the Bible and the Constitution, that illustrated this. Interesting read.
That’s kind of an odd response Jim. To answer your question, it depends. If we are talking about the famous example of Nazi’s knocking at your door looking for Jews and you’re hiding some then yeah I think that’s ok and not wrong at all. Do you think it is wrong to intentionally mislead and lie to Nazi’s looking for Jews? ; )
I would like to see you answer Bryan’s question. If “progress” is a myth, and according to your doctrine of depravity things keep getting worse or stay bad, then what was the high moral and ethical point of our history? Perhaps it was before Darwin and Marx when the Puritans were killing the Indians and stealing their land?
As far as “lying,” I know that some like to view things in black/white terms, but I would answer “sometimes yes and sometimes no.” I’ve been on mission trips with southern Baptists who lie about what they’re doing in the country. Is this wrong to mislead authorities about your attempt to preach the Gospel and instead tell them you’re a tourist? Would you tell them the truth, or “intentionally mislead them?” I’m sorry, but I don’t see the ethic of always telling the truth no matter what very evident in scripture. Honesty is a virtue, but some situations may demand dishonesty.
Luke & Bryan L,
It seems to me that the hermeneutics of skepticism and suspicion have poisoned the well of your view of history and religion.
I am not claiming that there was some historical golden age to which we should try to get back. I am of the opinion that the Constitution of the United States of America is a wise and good document. I am also of the opinion/conviction that there has been no “evolution up” in humanity since that document was written.
The Constitution establishes freedoms and rights that recognize and account for what the Bible teaches about human beings. This document was not composed by Christians, but it was composed by men whose world view was heavily influenced by biblical teaching.
Other forms of human government mistakenly think that the only reason socialism/marxism/communism have failed is because the wrong people were in charge. The people who think this way find themselves in charge, and lo and behold, they become the wrong people. “Wrong people” being those who make sure that everyone is equal, but some people are more equal than others. And, like in Animal Farm, the pigs always seem to have the best toilet paper.
As for the Puritans killing Indians and stealing their land, I would urge you to approach history from the perspective of the hermeneutics of sympathy rather than the hermeneutic of suspicion/skepticism. Take a look at the actual “civizilation” of the native Americans. Had the Europeans not come to North America, the native Americans would probably have the same savage (and they were savage) military practices, the same immoral (and they were immoral) lifestyles, and the same primitive (as in, stone-age technology) culture. Had the Europeans not come over, North America might be the same cannabilistic, unreached, stone age place that you find today only in places like Papua New Guinea, where the gospel is only now making its way.
I submit that the native Americans were better off after the European settlers came and brought Christianity than they were before the pilgrims came. Examine the way they were and see if you don’t agree. I think the only way you can disagree is if you think, with the likes of Christopher Hitchens, that Christianity is bad for the world. Or, perhaps, if you think that people are no better off with it than they were without it, because all religions are equal.
And as for missionaries “lying” when they go into closed country, you can only equate this to what liberal politicians/judges who intentionally mislead do if you equate the missions of modern liberalism and Christianity. To make that equation, you have to set aside several things:
1) you have to set aside the reality of right and wrong, good and evil.
2) you have to set aside the reality of morality and immorality when it comes to the status of laws.
3) you essentially must set aside the notion that there are fixed absolutes, instead embracing the idea that morality is nothing more than evolving social norms, in which case you have embraced the essence of progressivism.
And here’s the biggest one: you have to think it is more important to obey men than to obey God. Christians go into closed countries because they must obey God rather than men, so they are fulfilling the great commission rather than obeying unjust, wicked laws made in immorality by God-dishonoring rebels.
This is God’s world. There is a higher morality than the false morality made by wicked people. So the “morality” of the wicked–which says that it is immoral to tell people the good news of Jesus–is rejected in favor of the true morality, which declares that Jesus is trustworthy, that God has made salvation and mercy available in him, and that all people should hear this good news.
The liberal basically agrees with what I have just articulated, but he slots in his liberal agenda where I have slotted in the gospel agenda. In other words, the liberal declares that there is a higher morality than that of the rubes and rednecks who don’t embrace progressivism, and in pursuit of that higher morality, the liberals set aside biblical morality. They declare good evil and evil good.
The Christian missionary goes into a closed country not to subvert that country’s laws and institutions, not to blow up buildings, and not to change its constitution. The Christian missionary goes into closed countries to tell people the good news of Jesus. The Christian missionary goes in to try to persuade people to believe in Jesus.
There is not a moral equivalency between this and what liberals do because liberals do not have a gospel. They have an anti-gospel.
So are there moral absolutes? Are there such things as good and evil, and can humans tell the difference between them? If not, then you’re right to make the moral equivalencies you make. Christians trying to tell people about Jesus are the same as liberals trying to deceive people so that they can gain positions of influence to pursue their atheistic and anti-gospel purposes, as they go after their utopian, socially engineered State.
History shows that wherever liberals have pursued and achieved their millenial kingdom, atrocities and curtailments of human liberty have followed.
This is only good if you think human rights are irrelevant, religious liberty is irrelevant, and categories such as good/evil, right/wrong are passe. That is, this is only good if you believe in progressivism.
I suggest you read Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, and Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism.
I just wanted to know when the high point of humanity was since you thought things had gotten worse. You said the only progress humanity makes is “in the direction away from truth, integrity, justice, goodness, faithfulness, honor, virtue, and respectability.” So by all accounts things should have gotten a whole lot worse if humanity has gotten so much worse (as you thought was evidence by the “horrors, atrocities, brutalities, and injustices of the last century”). And therefor we must be able to reason that if humanity can and does get worse then humanity must have had a time when it was better and therefor the world was better (maybe not technologically)? There must me some peak even if it’s not that high. Right?
I admit that I do approach history and even religion with a hermeneutics of suspicion. By that I mean history and region are often just texts, creations of particular people (e.g. Jim’s view of history and Jim’s view of Christianity) and I like to uncover the unconscious in them, and unmask the hidden agendas and ideologies (some which are good and some which are bad). I think that is better than blindly accepting and sympathizing with whatever history or view of religion I’m given (I’m guessing that is what you have in mind by “hermeneutic of sympathy”). I think a critical approach in general is always preferable in interpretation.
As far as all that other stuff I was only interested in your view of history and progress.
Have you ever set out to explain something on which you’ve been questioned with the words, “What I meant was . . . ”
We say that phrase and phrases like it when someone has taken us unsympathetically, or at least, when they have understood us in a way that we did not mean to be understood.
If people were to employ the hermeneutic of suspicion/skepticism to what we say and do, they would come away with the most negative reading of our words and deeds possible. I don’t think that arrives at an accurate understanding of others, and I don’t think someone applying that hermeneutic to me is going to understand me.
I want to understand the past, not simply condemn those with whom I disagree. Nor do I wish to use history as a club with which to beat other people.
As I practice interpretation, I want to do unto others as I want them to do unto me. So I think the hermeneutic of sympathy is superior to the hermeneutic of suspicion. The hermeneutic of suspicion will only lead to misunderstanding. If we employ the hermeneutic of sympathy, we can at least understand the values at work that result in the things done and said. If we deplore those values, we can say so. But if we do not understand, if we do not first employ the hermeneutic of sympathy, we open ourselves to the charge that we have cast judgment before we have understood.
I think we open ourselves to the (just) charge that we have been unfair.
I think that I had to employ the hermeneutic of sympathy to the words and actions of modern liberals in order to be able to understand the basis of their words and actions. They do what they do because they sincerely think that humans have evolved. Things have changed. Thus, the Constitution needs to be changed, adapted, so that it will match the new realities.
I sincerely believe they are dead wrong. But I understand what they are doing, and I understand why they are doing it. I disagree with it.
I can respect liberals who understand why conservatives reject their worldview. I think that we need more discussion of these fundamental issues that result in policy disagreements. It would be healthy for everyone. It would allow people to make informed decisions.
I’m for open, honest discussion of differences.
As to your question about when things peaked, I think the peak was in the Garden of Eden. Once humanity was cast out of the Garden, as we interpret history, we have to reject chronological snobbery (what is most recent is best, and ancient people and pre-modern people were stupid).
In my opinion, the principles at work in the writing of the US Constitution are superior to the principles at work in the minds of those who now argue that the Constitution is a “living document.” They need it to be a living document because they think humans are evolving, such that the rights protected under the Constitution are not the rights that need to be protected for the superior humanity embodied by modern liberals. They think they know better than those who wrote the Constitution. I think they’re wrong, arrogant, and only making progress away from decency and justice.
Hope that helps,
People also say stuff like that when they have been interpreted rightly and are embarrassed by what they said or are experiencing extreme backlash. Sometimes people go back and reinterpret their own words/texts based on later information or developments in their thinking. Just because someone says ‘what I meant was…’ doesn’t mean we beleive them or even that we think they have the right to give the official interpretation of what they said after they have said it.
Don’t beleive me? Take a look at how we interpret the words of politicians we disagree with or don’t care for. Someone like Obama is speakin about sex education and says he doesn’t want his daughter being punished with a baby. There’s a big uproar and people say he must view babies as punishment, curses, and needing to be aborted, blah blah blah. Then he comes back and tries to qualify what he said and help people understand what he really meant and that it’s not as bad as they think. Do we automatically go ‘oh I understand now, I just misinterpreted him’? Do we think he has the right to reinterpret what he said or that he is even telling the truth and we did in fact misinterpret him? No. Think of any of the many other statements someone like Obama might make that people get all outraged about that he then tries to go back and smooth over and restate in a better way. What’s going on here? People are practicing a hermeneutic of suspicion. Are they wrong to? No. Because we all realize that it is a valid practice of interpretation and that people aren’t always straight forward with what they mean or that some of the things they say and do that seem innocuous or not that big a deal (maybe even unconsciously) actually reveal how they really think and what their true agenda is.
First you seem to be using these two terms as a way of saying an attitude of openness (sympathy) versus an attitude of dismissiveness or distrust (suspicion), instead of the way hermeneutics of suspicion is traditionally used in critical theory for the practice of analyzing the hidden ideologies, presuppositions and agendas of a text. I beleive this is a legitimate practice and not necessarily opposed to trying to understand what a text is saying/means. In fact it is trying to understand a text more fully. It’s not opposed to trying to understand where a text is coming from nor does it mean that if we practice one we can’t practice the other. I beleive you are in fact doing this in this post when you say you try to see where liberals are coming from even while then going on to try and expose their hidden agendas and ideologies.
Has the Constitution never been amended since it was first written? Article 5 builds within the constitution the idea that it is not complete and may need to be changed or added to based on future changes. Do you disagree with that?
To be fair I don’t see how the peak for humanity can be the garden considering there really wasn’t a society in the garden, just two people and their pets. And I don’t think it’s chronological snobbery to think that some things do get better with humanity over time (nor that our knowledge and wisdom might grow). If people unanimously come to beleive that slavery and racism are wrong then is that not better? Would you not rather live during that time? Societies sometimes become less cruel and more civilized. I think you acknowledged that in believing that the Indians are better now than they were before Christians. If decades down the road Islam becomes more peaceful (no longer blowing themselves or building up), much like Christianity then you will say that the evolved as people. If uncivilized tribes becomes become integrated into modern society and become civilized then they have evolved. I don’t think it’s chronological snobbery to recognize this and I think we all see various areas where things are getting better. We only have the ability to judge the various horrors and atrocities of the 19th century (which you did to point out that things aren’t progressing) because of the fact that we are more civilized than this now and that it is no longer acceptable for nations to invade other nations or commit genocide (and it wasn’t at the time which is why we fougth it instead of letting it happen). Do you think it is ok to force people to convert to Christianity or die like it used to be? Probably not, because you probably beleive that we have advanced in our thinking now. Do you think it is ok to have heretics killed like John Calvin did? No because you probably believe we have advance beyond that, even though people may at one time have believed that was ok.
Why do you believe those who wrote the constitution were in a particularly unique position to know better than those who came before and after them?What was special about them? Did they even view themselves that way? Would they have argued that their views were timeless and for all ages, never needing to be changed, added to or corrected? Do you get that impression from them?
Thanks for the taking the time to discuss this with me. Sorry my responses are so long. I write like I talk. : )
I’m not trying to be a smart-alec, but the hermeneutic you denounce to me and Bryan seems to be the same hermeneutic you employ in your post. You’re putting words in Sotomayor’s mouth and being “skeptical” about her comments. It is okay for you to do that to liberals, while I shouldn’t do it to history? And as far as Indians go, I think you give a simplistic answer that needs to be nuanced. Obviously we cannot do anything about it now, but the Puritans and colonizers needed a few lessons in missiology and contextualization. The result wouldn’t necessarily be a “civilized” people (civilization does not equal Christianity), but a primitive culture (like, for instance, the NT Christians) that reflects Christ and is not “savage” and “barbaric”. The Indians trusted us, which ended up being to their detriment. I’m not trying to be mean, but your views seems naive about native Americans. We still see the bad consequences with how we dealt with them, and the vast majority of them are still not Christian. It’s cool that you try to be optimistic, but your hermeneutic often results in simplistic answers and naivete, whereas one of suspicion at least causes us to look critically at the actions of our forebears and learn from their mistakes. Why can’t we employ both hermeneutical strategies in our views of history and social interaction? You seem to.
Sorry man, but I have to move on. . .
I don’t think I’m practicing the hermeneutic of skepticism on Sotomayor. If you’ve been watching National Review’s blog “the corner,” or the Townhall blog, or even posts like this one: http://theologica.blogspot.com/2009/07/sotomayor-and-abortion-tutorial.html, I think you’ll see that the only reason I’m skeptical about what she says is because there are manifest contradictions between what she has said in the past and what she now says in the present.
Blessings to you both,
Having just reviewed the case of C. A. Briggs at the end of the 19th c., the case of Fuller Theol. Sem. in the 50’s-60’s, and also having experienced through our oldest daughter what is happening at Trinity Western University in Langley, BC, what you describe truly is the modus operandi of liberal prof’s at seminaries and colleges who desire to keep their post, enlighten poor “fundamentalist” students sitting underneath them–all the while at the very least redefining the language used in statements of faith.
My concern is that most evangelical denominations and schools so dislike conflict that rarely will leaders deal with such instructors.
And, yes, this does look very much like what happens in the public arena.
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