One of the intellectual challenges we face in Christian discussions is the issue of proof-texting. This refers to a tendency to take snippets of scripture, lay them before people with no context, and say, “There! I have proven my point.” This is sometimes necessary because you can’t expect everyone to read the entire Bible to back up one point. It is also dangerous because it can be used to tell lies and deceive. One of my favorite example of this goes like this:
“Judas went and hanged himself....Go ye and do likewise.”
I hope you see the problem.
Pagans also have this problem. By pagans I mean the vast horde of scholars and professors who make up our elite teaching classes.
In his book, Idols for Destruction
, pp. 25-27, Herbert Schlossberg talks about this tendency in a section he calls “The Myth of the Seamless Web.” The idea is that scholars have a universal theory that is supposed to cover all of their subject, be it history or science. All information and data must fit into this theory, no, WILL fit into this theory. If information comes up that does not fit in it is ignored, discredited or distorted to fit into the seamless web. We have seen this in the modern fantasy called Global Warming. If it is cold, it is because of global warming. If it is hot, it is because of global warming. If we have flood is it because of global warming. If we have droughts,...you get the idea. You have seen this even if you do not acknowledge it.
One of his points of reference is a well known book by Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
. I know it is a well know book because I have read it. Kuhn makes the point that down through history even science has had major shifts. They are sometimes forced by overwhelming new knowledge. Small amounts of new knowledge are treated like global warming statistics and ignored. When there is a major shift, Kuhn says that the scholars go back and rewrite the history of science so that it seems like there has been a steady march to the present position, a seamless web. It is dishonest, to say the least.
Why is it important to also read the writings of “dead white guys?” Because they might have information that has been suppressed and would change our view of the present. One such case that I found in my reading had to do with the Civilized Tribes of Georgia. They are the archetype of the Noble Savage. John Wesley spent time in Georgia and records what he learned about these tribes in his Journals
, dated December 2, 1737.
In his introductory comments he says,
“During this time I had frequent opportunities of making many observations and inquiries concerning the real state of this province, (which has been so variously represented,) the English settlements therein, and the Indians that have intercourse with them.”
In paragraph 20 Wesley says “it is hard to pick out any consistent account of the Georgian Indians from the contradictory relation of their traders.” Everyone had a different opinion and Wesley tries to sum things up as best he can.
In paragraph 23 he makes a general statement.
“They are likewise, all, except, perhaps, the Choctaws, gluttons, drunkards, thieves, dissemblers, liars. They are implacable, unmerciful; murderers of fathers, murderers of mothers, murderers of their own children: It being a common thing for a son to shoot his father or mother because they are old and past labour; and for a women to procure abortion, or to throw her child into the next river, because she will go with her husband to the war.”
Notice it is not totally a blanket statement, he is excepting the Choctaws.
He has some good things to say about the Cherokee also.
“They are civil to strangers, and will do any thing for them, for pay;... But they are equally cruel to prisoners with the Chicasaws (sic), though not equally valiant. They are seldom intemperate in drinking, but when they can be so in free-cost. Otherwise, love of drink yields to covetousness: A vice scarcely to be found in any Indian but a Cherikee (sic).”
People are different. Cultures are different. We know that, but the saccharin picture of the Noble Savage is a fantasy. Sometimes you need to listen to people who were there.
Be alert when you read. Listen for the phrase that is jarring or out of place. Watch out for things that seem to good to be true. Use your common sense. Be informed. When it comes to what you read or listen to, “Caveat emptor,” “Let the buyer beware.”
homo unius libri