Labels, Critiques and Fair Play
My posting yesterday in which I simply advocated that scholarly work be engaged before we label it provoked some interest, but also what I regard an ill-considered response from Robert Myles. I don’t spend much time scanning the blogosphere, so I usually don’t track what other bloggers may write about me or what I have to say. But Myles sent a comment indicating that he’d blogged in response on his site: “The Bible and Class Struggle” here. So, I read it.
I’m both a bit puzzled and somewhat offended. I’m puzzled because Myles seems to take my posting (and some earlier publications as well) as if I’m engaged in his own focus on “the class struggle” but on the other side of that struggle. I’m not . . . not on the other side, trying to keep down the masses, or prevent new and different voices in scholarship, or . . . well, you get my point. I fail to see anything in what I’ve written that gives reason to think otherwise (although I suspect that Myles might take the preceding statement as simply indicative of an insufficiently raised consciousness).
Had Myles read my posting more carefully, i.e., with an attempt first to understand what I was saying instead of first pegging me and then filtering everything through this label, he might have noted (among other things) (1) a complete absence of reference to Marxism, class struggle, or any of the various newer approaches in biblical studies, (2) examples given of “labels” were “conservative,” “liberal”, and my references to the American scene with the often frosty relations between these two camps, (3) my candid acknowledgement that there is no “disinterested objectivity” (contra the impression given in Myles posting that I’m some kind of naïve objectivist), with simply a plea that we try our best to treat with fairness and accuracy the views of others (especially those with whom we think we disagree). It’s also disappointing to have one’s views so curiously distorted.
At one point, Myles states that I’ve been criticized in print previously for my allegedly narrow view of biblical studies, citing an article by James Crossley published in the online journal Relegere here. But Myles curiously fails to mention my responding essay in the same journal available here, in which (among other things) I offer some corrections to Crossley’s representation of my views.
(Actually, the story about these two essays is interesting. Crossley, a UK colleague, wrote and published his essay in which he specifically engaged some of my publications, and I learned of it only because one of my former students drew it to my attention. When I read it, the unfortunate misrepresentations became immediately apparent. So, I contacted Crossley, indicating that I thought he’d mis-read me on some points. Crossley expressed some regret at the situation in which I learned of the essay and suggested that I contact the journal and request an opportunity to respond. The editors apologized, acknowledging that they should have sent it to me and allowed a response. And they kindly then invited me to write one. For the record, before submitting that response, I sent it to Crossley for comments and any corrections to my portrayal of his views. That’s just the way I ride.)
I’m also offended at some of the statements in Myles’s posting. In particular, I take exception to the term “disingenuous”, which means “insincere, lacking candour.” Effectively, to say that someone is being “disingenuous” is to accuse them of duplicity, of veiling their true position. It’s a character-attack. And that’s just the sort of inappropriate labelling that is so unhelpful, so misguided, misjudged, and counter-productive. It is corrosive to the serious issues that Myles would like to pursue.
So, can we please discuss issues without impugning one another? Could we please try, really hard, to understand one another as a standard first step? And how about this: How about checking out our understanding of someone before we write a critique of them? Just a thought.