Another Sowell Responds

My brother took the time to write a letter to the editor of the Herald Mail Online publisher and quoted the thing in full in the comments on my Fundamentalism and the Dark Ages post. Since I liked it so much, and since a lot of people don’t read comments on other people’s blogs, I decided to post the thing in full.

[Below is my letter to the editor response to the article in the Herald-Mail Oline.]

After reading Allan Powell’s Jan. 23 article, Fundamentalism: A return to Dark Ages, my impression was that Mr. Powell is a liberal in desperate need of a liberal education. I would like to make a few points:

One, Powell’s perception of those he calls "fundamentalists" is a caricature. There are a very large number of people who are Christians and who voted for Bush and who agree with fundamentalists on a number of issues who are not fundamentalists, either because they don’t believe in creationism (which I reject myself), or don’t accept fundamentalism’s first principles (e.g. its rejection of the role of tradition). He repeatedly argues that reason and empirical science should trump those who disagree with him, amazingly unaware that many who do are themselves hard-core empiricists. Few people who voted for Bush fit Powell’s description.

Nor does Powell accurately describe the political agenda of those with whom he disagrees. On the issue of public schools, for example, the problem is that the current educational system subjects students to a holistic, Christianity-free process which monopolizes tax money and time that parents cannot effectively counteract. Leveling the playing field, not abolishing public schools, is what evangelicals seek. Powell should read more widely on a subject matter before his mischaracterizes the beliefs of others.

Two, Powell, like Bishop Spong, misuses the word "literal" when applying it to Biblical interpretation. Whether a specific passage in any text, including the Bible, is to be taken literally or metaphorically depends on context. There are many Biblical passages which are obviously to be taken as metaphors or allegories. There is therefore no such thing as a "literal" or "non-literal" interpretation of the Bible as such.

Three, Powell mocks a 9-year-old girl for believing in something because her parents taught it to her. He should consider the importance of tradition in society (as should fundamentalists). Were it not for tradition - normative conventions accepted based upon communal authority - then no society could function as every generation would have to reinvent civilization. Tradition can, of course, be wrong, and must be tempered with reason. Yet tradition at least is based on the accumulated experience of multitudes, and should be given due weight against the radical visions of avant-garde theorists who envision a different society.

Kirk H. Sowell