Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A response to Pastor Bob

Pastor Bob left this in a comment, raising the issue that he too, as a theological blogger, has been on the receiving end of attack, and notes that the attack is not just positional but personal.
I blog on theological issues, issues in the PCUSA and sometimes Biblical issues as related to issues in the PCUSA. I'm male but have noticed the tendency to react by some bloggers with derogatory comments not only about what I say but also about me.

Being a Calvinist I suppose I understand the reason people don't respond in calm and ration manners. Winning is more important than rational discussion and some believe the proper way to win is attack.

I have participated in April's blog for a while now and while I don't always agree with her I like her perspective.

If you can get more women who will participate in rational discussion (while I have noticed that males tend to attack more often some women do too.) I would love to participate.

BTW I am not surprised but also disappointed that disagreement in academia is as virulent and demeaning as it is in church circles.
Bob raises two issues I would like to respond to. Regarding biblioblogging, I think we need to agree among ourselves to cultivate an atmosphere of respect, and demeaning remarks need to be left out of our conversations. Fair criticism is one thing. Demeaning a position or a person is another.

As for the viciousness of academia and the unwritten rule that we need to win at all costs, this is a climate we too can choose to change. Who made up this rule anyway? Who says that we have to fight like dogs in order to be good scholars? Now I don't want to be misunderstood here. Criticism is not a bad thing, but it needs to be constructive, it needs to work to move our thinking forward. We must take stands when a stand is needed. BUT let's face it, most of us are fairly close on our general views, and our arguments are generally (not always) over the small stuff.

Recognizing this, about fifteen years ago, I helped put together a group to study Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism. One of the things that was important to me was that the group function constructively, that the environment was not hostile and warlike, but collegial and cooperative. That group is still in existence, and I have had scholars come up to me more than once and say that the ONLY reason they bother coming to SBL anymore is to attend our group. Why? Because we are actually doing something constructive in an environment that is cooperative. Why most of our conference continues with this old model of fighting and bickering is beyond me. It serves none of us well, it does not move the field forward. It reflects a mentality of scholarship that is harmful not helpful. Academia is not a war. In fact, we can accomplish a lot more by putting our heads together in a think tank then we will ever be able to do fighting each other as individual scholars.


Mark Goodacre said...

Excellent post, April. What you say touches on some of the things I have been trying to say for a while, e.g. in my op-ed "On Scholarly Conduct",

PAULYR said...

Dr. DeConick, I heartily endorse your response to Pastor Bob. Politeness, keeping emotions in check, fairness, criticism that builds up, not tears down; these and related values are basic to civil discourse. The distance between correspondents within internet discourse is going to lead to irresponsibility in what is said by some people using the medium.

Jerome said...

Don't Calvinists believe in predestination?

Doesn't that mean that each and every one had to exactly write what he or she did at exactly that moment?

Why is Pastor Bob so upset then?

It's only the Divine Predestination playing out ...

Mike S. said...

Dr. DeConick,

Thanks for this post. As a student aspiring to be a scholar, it's good to know there's scholars like yourself who are not looking to tear down everyone else with different opinions.

Pastor Bob said...


Actually you are describing the doctrine of providence. Predestination refers to whether God has chosen one for life in the Kingdom of God.

But no matter what one names the doctrine it isn't that simple. You are describing determinism which is different, at least for some Calvinists.

But no matter how one defines the doctrine humans are still responsible for their behavior, not only before God but also in society. I, along with Dr. DeConick, prefer a civil society in which ideas are discussed with civility. This is most important when we disagree about things we hold most dear, like our own theories. One of the greatest gifts a human being can have is to accept the possibility s/he may be wrong.

Geoff Hudson said...

"BUT let's face it, most of us are fairly close on our general views, and our arguments are generally (not always) over the small stuff."

Lets bring some realism to this discussion. I suppose this is bound to be true given that most bibliobloggers are believers of a sort. What happens when the arguments are about the big stuff. You either get snuffed out, as on Mark Goodacre's blog, or Jim West's blog, or they come out of the woodwork, sometimes anonymously or under a pseudonym - really courageous. So my warning is be prepared for some ugly moments. The web is not a children's picnic.

Greg said...

Sometimes when religious authority is used to deny others their "civil rights" the niceties of polite discourse goes by the wayside.

Didymus Thomas said...

I thank you for taking time to remind us that it is not about winning in blogs but rather rational discourse. Thanks again!