The internet (I heard on Grammar Girl that the AP Stylebook says you’re not supposed to capitalize “internet” any more) experienced a flurry of virtue signaling this past weekend as netizens (does anyone still use that word?) reacted to the interrogation of Guido Menzio for doing complex math on a plane. Now, of course, what happened to Professor Menzio was completely inappropriate and unacceptable. And, of course, I would hope that I would not mistake an Italian-American doing calculus for a terrorist. But the situation made me stop and ask myself whether there are categories of people that I tend to prejudge based purely on outward appearances? Honesty would compel most of us to answer “yes.” I can’t honestly say that my initial reaction to a scruffy teenager with half of his boxers showing above his jeans is the same as my reaction to a well-dressed businessman. And it’s amazing how many netizens decrying the other passenger’s snap judgment about Menzio jumped straight to “dumb blonde” jokes, based solely on a small detail about her own appearance. Prejudices, biases, and snap judgments abound. They go hand in hand with phenomena like pereidolia and hyperactive agency detection, and were probably adaptive behaviors at some point in human history. At any rate, despite my best intentions, I still have a lot of work to do.
Solar panel telemarketer: Is your electric bill more than $100 per month?
Solar panel telemarketer: Is your electric bill less than $100 per month?
At the risk of pouring vinegar on an open wound, there is something I must say about the controversy currently beclouding Emmanuel Christian Seminary: I feel ashamed of some of the treatment of Paul Blowers and of ECS coming out of the biblioblogosphere. We “overheard” Paul question Chris Rollston’s character (or at least some of his decisions)—and some of us responded by impugning Paul’s character. We “learned” that the “public opinion” held by ECS’s denominational constituency (including actual or potential donors) might influence ECS’s institutional behavior—and some of us responded by trying to leverage the “public opinion” held by “the academy” (of which we appointed ourselves spokespeople) to influence ECS’s institutional behavior.
I find these actions embarrassing. I find them self-referentially inconsistent. I find them lacking in both Christian and academic graces and virtues. Perhaps even more to the point, I find them completely inconsistent with Chris Rollston’s character. I cannot imagine that he would want anyone to defend him by attacking Paul Blowers, Michael Sweeney, or ECS as an institution.
The great medieval Jewish poet and apologist Judah Halevi (c. 1075–1141) wrote the following poem sometime after AD 1099.
לִבִּי בְמִזְרָח, וְאָנֹכִי בְּסוֹף מֵעֲרָב —
אֵיךְ אֶטְעֲמָה אֵת אֲשֶׁר אֹכַל וְאֵיךְ יֶעֱרַב?
אֵיכָה אֲשַׁלֵּם נְדָרַי וֶאֱסָרַי, בְּעוֹד
צִיּוֹן בְּחֶבֶל אֱדוֹם וַאְנִי בְּכֶבֶל עֲרָב?
יֵקֵל בְּעֵינֵי עֲזֹב כָּל טוּב סְפָרַד, כְּמוֹ
יֵקֵר בְּעֵינַי רְאוֹת עַפְרוֹת דְּבִיר נֶחָרָב.
Many Higgaion readers will already have found themselves knee-deep (or deeper) in the brouhaha surrounding Christopher Rollston’s article “The Marginalization of Women: A Biblical Value We Don’t Like to Talk About” (Huffington Post, August 31, 2012). I admit that when I finished my first reading of Chris’s article (the same day it was published), I didn’t give it much additional thought—Chris didn’t break any new ground in the piece. He simply reported, to a mass audience, things that biblical scholars should already know. But then Paul Blowers, Chris’s colleague at Emmanuel Christian Seminary, criticized Chris for the article in a Facebook post that Paul (inadvertently?) made public … and leading bibliobloggers jumped to Chris’s defense, in turn prompting other bloggers and Paul himself to defend the criticism.
I’ve watched with mounting sadness as the online argument between Chris’s critics and defenders has heated up. I’ve held back on any commentary of my own until now, largely because the last ten days or so have been so hectic that I’ve barely had time to breathe, let alone think. The dustup also reminded me, to my shame, of some of my own prior “conversations” with Jim West—and when I recently rebooted Higgaion, I pledged to myself to cultivate a kinder, gentler, more constructive, more Christian web presence. But now, on a quiet Friday afternoon, I find myself drawn back to the conversation around Chris’s HuffPo piece, albeit as a late entrant (and perhaps only in the service of my own catharsis).