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Fair Comment and Personal Abuse

September 7, 2011

In the discussion generated by my initial “Tools of the Trade” posting earlier this week, I’ve been troubled at the vitriolic tone of one contributor, who has also posted to this effect on another blog site that I refrain from mentioning.  I’m all for “fair comment”, exposing fallacies in arguments, identifying missing data, challenging readings of data/texts, etc.  But what’s the point of ignoring all this and simply “going personal”?  I usually judge that when people do that it means that they don’t have an argument and so just pick a fight to distract from their lack.

“Fundies” do it (boy, do they!) and it’s clear now that some who like to think of themselves as radical progressives stoop to the same tactics.  The Web allows for all sorts of views to be projected, but I’ll trust readers of good sense to judge what is substance and what is simply personal abuse. 

So, let’s stay with issues.  In the instance of my postings on “Tools”, the key issue was whether there is a “trade” for which those seeking to be credentialed in it should have a facility in certain “tools”, esp. languages of the ancient texts and of modern scholarship.  That’s not hegemony; it’s simply the necessary basis for a scholarly discipline to operate as such. 

I presume that we all applaud the growth of biblical scholarship in countries around the world.  Here in Edinburgh we are proud to be a major centre where PhD students from many countries come to acquire further enhancement of their scholarly abilities so that they can then make contributions to universities, theological colleges, churches and the larger societies of their home countries. 

There may be those who question whether a PhD in, e.g., NT/Christian Origins need require these language tools.  (I also had a senior OT scholar at another British university insist that Hebrew wasn’t necessarily required for a PhD in OT as, “It all depends on the thesis.”)  If so, then they can put forth their case.  But let’s focus on issues and arguments, and resist personal abuse, ridicule, character assassination, and general vituperation.  That is, if we want to be taken seriously as trying to make a contribution and not simply as a ranter.

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  1. Brian Collins permalink

    The comment about fundies seems a bit out of place. Having attended a fundamentalist seminary and having been in close contact with those in sister institutions, I can say that personal attacks rather than arguments on the merits of the case is strongly repudiated by faculty and students alike.

    I know there are fundamentalists who fit the stereotype, but from my inside view, they aren’t as numerous as one might think.

    As to the the issue of your post, I’d say our Fundamentalist seminaries would heartily agree with you about the tools for the trade.

    • Sorry about the insufficiently qualified statement. Didn’t mean to make a blanket characterization.

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