Thursday, May 10, 2012

Don't Think Just Believe

Credit: ASBO Jesus
Has faith replaced thinking today? And I'm not just talking about faith in religious circles. As I watch people continue to subdivide into ideologically-defined camps, I can't help but wonder how many of them have truly critically examined their beliefs. In my experience, most people leave the thinking to others. They decide that "so and so" is credible and trustworthy so they eagerly soak in everything he or she says. But how did they decide they could trust that person? They can't explain it and it usually boils down to agreement on presuppositions. But you can't learn anything NEW if you only listen to people with whom you already agree.

I don't understand blindly trusting someone else. (I understand faith in God is blind trust. This post isn't about that.) What you learned about investing from some guy on the bus is not fact until it's been independently verified. I don't trust. I research. I try to strip away the rhetorical baggage (or "spin") and figure out where someone's coming from. My hermeneutic of suspicion is always operating, not just in biblical studies.

But let's use my discipline of biblical studies as an example. How good of a Bible scholar would I be if I only read conservative evangelical Christian scholars? Or feminist scholars? Or Catholic scholars? What if I completely ignored Jewish scholarship simply because it wasn't "Christian"? The point isn't that I need to be well-read on every possible perspective. The point is that I need input from people who think differently than I do in order to grow in my thinking. I'm not challenged to think when I only listen to the people I agree with.

I admit that having to think for yourself can be difficult. It really is easier to let someone else do the thinking for you. The funny thing is that most people who aren't thinking for themselves actually think they are. The pinnacle of success for anyone looking to persuade you to vote for them, support their cause, etc. is for their ideas to take hold of you so strongly that you've convinced yourself you thought of them on your own.

So, how can you start thinking for yourself?

First, watch where you get your information from.  Are you into politics? Do you only watch CNN or do you also check Fox News? Fired up about gay marriage? Get info directly from both sides in the debate. Are you interested in the creation/evolution debate? Did you learn everything from Answers In Genesis or do you also glean information from pro-evolution Christians? Input from both sides is essential. No matter what the issue is, you can't trust someone who is opposed to a position to give you an accurate account of the opposition. It's only natural to frame the debate in a way that makes your preference look stronger than the opposition.

Second, once you've started watching where you get your information from, add the layer of evaluating every source. Figure out the writer's agenda. The late Bible scholar Robert Carroll analyzed the biblical text by asking himself, "Why is this guy lying to me?" (anecdotal hearsay uttered by Michael V. Fox in class once). Or ask yourself, "who benefits?" If I buy in to this person's agenda, who benefits from it? Political ads want to sway your vote. Religious rhetoric wants to sway your beliefs. Marketers want to sway your buying decisions. Trust no one. Think.

HT: James McGrath

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Inaugurating Mobile Blogging

Having discovered Blogger now has an iOS app, I may find time to post more regularly. My steep decline in posting roughly correlates with my switch to iPhone (which also roughly correlates to the death of my laptop). Apart from work, my online presence has been primarily mobile for over a year.

This short post is my initial test of the app. The only down side I can see so far is not being able to add links.

Regular blogging may commence soon.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Latest from Khirbet Qeiyafa

Something really really big that has finally and totally proven the historical reliability of the Bible has once more been found. But first, some perspective:
The idea that a single, spectacular finding can reverse the course of modern research and save the literal reading of the biblical text regarding the history of ancient Israel from critical scholarship is an old one. Khirbet Qeiyafa is the latest case in this genre of craving a cataclysmic defeat of critical modern scholarship by a miraculous archaeological discovery.[1]
Khirbet Qeiyafa has proven to be a very newsworthy archaeological dig. First, there was the pretty cool ostracon announced in 2008. Then there was the sensational, unofficial, buzz-generating interpretation of that ostracon announced by Prof Gershon Galil. Professional epigraphers and archaeologists are still debating the reading and significance of the inscription (see the May/Jun 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review). 

I admit that I haven't really been following the excavation since early 2010 (background from early 2010 here), but this morning Yosef Garfinkel, the lead archaeologist from Hebrew University excavating at Khirbet Qeiyafa, has announced the discovery of artifacts interpreted as proof of King David's ancient Israelite kingdom in the 10th century BCE. The announcement was highly anticipated but the news conference (as with many such announcements) has the ring of an attempt to head off the battle over interpretation of the finds before it's even begun. Once again, I find myself stuck between wanting to cheer on the maximalist interpretation and recognizing the valid questions raised by those of a more minimalist leaning.  

Image: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
In short, clay and stone boxes were discovered in connection with three large rooms interpreted as having cultic (religious) significance. The site is interpreted as Israelite based on the absence of pig bones and the absence of graven images. The boxes and related artifacts are being interpreted as scale model versions of the "Ark of God." 

However the artifacts are interpreted, it is a significant find which highlights the continuing importance of this site for reconstructing the history of the region in the 10th century BCE. In addition to reading the major press release version of the story, I recommend balancing your understanding with George Athas' observations on the discovery. I imagine the rest of the biblioblogosphere is exploding with the story even as we speak...let's take a's a post on the subject by Todd Bolen; Jim Davila; Brian LePort; Jim West; Duane Smith. Of course, I'm really waiting for a response from biblioblogger archaeologist-in-chief, Bob Cargill.

[1] Israel Finkelstein and Alexander Fantalkin, “Khirbet Qeiyafa: An Unsensational Archaeological and Historical Interpretation” Tel Aviv 39.1 (2012), 58. From G.M. Grena’s quote in a comment onAren Maier’s blog