Monday, May 18, 2009

The Art of Oversimplification

Did anyone else stumble upon the CNN article about Bart Ehrman today? As you may have guessed from the title ("Former Evangelical Debunks the Bible") it was not a particularly nuanced piece. It wasn't terrible, but there were a couple of cringe-worthy bits, such as this:
Yet Ehrman's popularity also may be due to a larger trend. The books of people like Elaine Pagels, author of "The Gnostic Gospels," and Dan Brown, author of "The Da Vinci Code" and "Angels and Demons," resonate with people who believe there are parts of the Bible that the church left on history's editing floor.
I rather doubt Dr. Ehrman would enjoy being compared to Dan Brown, especially since he wrote a book eviscerating the historical hocum in The Da Vinci Code.* Likewise, the author mentions that "critics say Ehrman is saying nothing new", despite the fact that Ehrman never claims to be presenting anything new or radical. That's kind of the point - most Christians don't know much at all about mainstream Biblical scholarship and Ehrman wants to make the esoteric accessible.

Bah, that's all I have to say about this. Folks (rightly) like to complain about the horrible contortions of science so rife in science journalism, but watching a complex subject like Biblical textual criticism go through the journalistic wringer is just as bad.

*With the recent theatrical release of Angels and Demons I've been mulling a full post about Dan Brown's work, but I think I can get it out of my system here: Dan Brown writes fiction. If you know so little about religion and/or history that you find his stories either plausible or offensive it's your fault moreso than his. That being said, The Da Vinci Code (I've not read Angels and Demons) is a fun book, but it's absolutely full of historical howlers. Then again, Godzilla breaks the laws of physics at every turn - there's something to be said for suspension of disbelief for the purpose of entertainment.


Jay said...

About half of the articles about Ehrman make a point of saying how he used to be Evangelical and is now Agnostic, with the subtle implication that his perspective is coloring his scholarship, yet(or perhaps because of this), Ehrman makes a frequent point of mentioning that his agnosticism is a result of his struggle with the problem of theodicy. Now, there are people out there who feel perfectly justified in rejecting the material Ehrman presents without even reading it. I tend to think that if reading about the last 200 years of mainstream scholarship is considered a threat to one's faith, then one doesn't have particularly robust faith in the first place.

I read all of Brown's books within a few weeks about 5 years ago. His first two were crap, and depended on the main characters (who were supposed to be really sharp) becoming galactically stupid at the end of the book. His Langdon books fare a little better, but it's best to read them after you've turned off your prior knowledge of history, religion, and science.

Skippy the Skeptic said...

Ehrman is always careful to remind his readers that he's an agnostic because of theodicy rather than his Biblical scholarship, but that always gets dropped in news reports about him. I guess it's an attempt to make his viewpoint and subject seem all the more sexy and controversial.