Monthly Archives: March 2011

A Homer surnamed Simpson

Consider the following statement explaining the presumed alienation of pre-multiculturalism black students from the masterpieces of Western culture, an alienation she implies was corrected by ethnic-studies courses: “In short, for a black student being asked to study the great books was not like being asked to do so for a white student. For the latter, it was an initiation into the elite stratum of one’s own world (159)….” [By contrast,] the “price of admittance” to the great tradition required black students to “repudiate their origins and to avow the superior value of European civilization” (151).

These statements make sense only in terms of a simplistic racialist view of culture that sees it as somehow biologically linked to race. Consider all the identity-politics assumptions in Nussbaum’s statement, leaving aside the marvelous variety ignored by the catch-all phrase “great books,” and the implication that they are mere hosts for uniform totalizing ideologies. The first is that if you are white you immediately feel some mystic kinship with Homer and Shakespeare. Presumably, Caucasians have a “great books” gene that can overcome the limitations of economic class and ignorance. Maybe in Nussbaum’s privileged “elite stratum” reading Homer is an initiation into a world recognizable because one’s upbringing has been surrounded by the art and literature of high culture, but for many so-called “white” people who lack such cultural advantages, the only Homer they know is surnamed Simpson. Or does Nussbaum believe that a poor-white Appalachian by nature has some racial affinity with a Mediterranean Greek?

Bruce S. Thorton, “Cultivating Sophistry,” in Bonfire of the Humanities: Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished Age (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2001), pp. 8-9.

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Posted by on March 31, 2011 in Society


Cultural critique and racism

It is impossible, I suppose, to discuss issues of race calmly. Nonetheless, that is my intent. Furthermore, I want to add this preface: racism is real, and I would not claim for a moment to really understand what it’s like to be discriminated against based on skin color. In addition, we all have blind spots to sin; the proper response, when someone draws attention to that blind spot (in this case, inadvertent racism) is repentance.

Now, I am on record in any number of places as being quite critical of the culture of fundamentalism. Fundamentalist culture is shot through with sentimentality and brutality, materialism, gluttony, and misguided individualism, among many other sins; in short, I believe that fundamentalists have absorbed much of the broader American, democratic ideals and attempted to synchronize them with the Christian faith.

Fundamentalists are also, overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly, almost unexceptionally white.

So my question: does criticism of the culture of fundamentalism imply anything about my opinion of white people as white people? If so, how? If not, why then is an accusation of racism an almost automatic response to the critique of other cultures?


Posted by on March 30, 2011 in Music, Society


Are conservative evangelicals separatists?

The title of this post promises more than the post will deliver, as I do not intend to answer my own question. Nonetheless, Roger Olson’s recent post is evidence that must be admitted to the discussion. Olson is quite insistent that there exists now a new generation of evangelicals who are separatists; Olson, as a postconservative evangelical, doesn’t applaud this development:

From my perspective, SOME conservative evangelical theologians, denominational leaders, biblical scholars, etc., have DE FACTO already declared, by their behavior, the division between them and postconservative, progressive evangelicals who, generally speaking, believe in the same basic doctrines they believe in….

There comes a point when one has to give up and say “Okay, have it your way.  We’re not part of the same movement anymore.”  I am saying that.  They may go their way and I and mine will go our way.  We both use the label “evangelical,” but it is too general to cover all of us without qualification.  To me, they are behaving like fundamentalists, so that’s what I’ll call them with “neo-” in front to distinguish them from Carl McIntire and the older, separatistic fundamentalist movement (that still exists but does not participate in evangelical endeavors).

In many ways, it is the old fundamentalist/new evangelical split repeating itself.  I have come to think it is permanent and there is no point in trying forever to reunite the two sides.

Again, I don’t think this ends the discussion, but we have here a theologian who insists that he represents the spirit of the New Evangelicals, and that the conservative evangelicals are, in some sense, the new Fundamentalists.


Posted by on March 29, 2011 in Fundamentalism


Not left and right: a matrix

One joke, made a few times during the panel discussion of January’s Preserving the Truth conference, had to do with the seating arrangement of the speakers on the platform. As I recall, Dave Doran noted that Mark Minnick was the far left extreme, and that Doran himself was to the right of Minnick. Off mic, Kevin Bauder and I took comfort in our position at the far right side of the platform. At least, it was the speakers’ right; from the audience’s perspective, we represented the left-most extreme.


It did occur to me at the time (although I didn’t add this to the discussion) that it would have been an interesting exercise to take a laundry list of issues, and for each of them, have the speakers get up and rearrange themselves from right to left. So, for instance, on the music question, Kevin, Scott Aniol, and I were suitably placed to the far right. But on translations, Kevin and I would likely not be seated so close to one another. And on willingness to share a platform with Dever, we could rearrange again. And then on Calvinism. And then on views of sanctification. And so on.

The simple point of this is that any attempt to sort out issues of separatism using a linear scale will not work; if we wanted to graph it, we’d have to do some kind of multidimensional matrix. I’m not enough of a math/graphics guy to pursue this, but we certainly can’t just put everybody as points along one line, and put brackets around certain of the points. We can’t even do a two-dimensional grid, or graph points in three-dimensional space, etc.; there are simply too many variables.


Posted by on March 28, 2011 in Fundamentalism