Thursday, February 07, 2008

A Response to Yesterday's Anti-Religion Op-Ed

I just got a blitz from Nathan Empsall '09, who writes the Wayward Episcopalian blog, in response to my post on Lucy Stonehill '10's condescending op-ed in yesterday's D:
Thanks for your post on Stonehill's op-ed. I can assure you I am no religious zealot (she didn't name me, but it was obvious), as the conservative evangelicals, liberal mainline Protestants, athiest leftists, agnostic Democrats, and fellow NAS majors I know can attest. You will notice that Stonehill never actually describes my arguments or evidence, merely asserting their worthlessness. The full explanation of the class is this: I was actually making an academic point about the multi-author nature of Genesis, suggesting that it can be read metaphorically rather than literally and does not have to conflict with evolution. Stonehill was insisting on a narrow literal reading so that she could push the view that Genesis is a narrow and arrogant text. I did not dismiss her claims, I merely tried to broaden the discussion to include multiple interpretations of the text in order to better understand the diverse array of Judeo-Christian creation beliefs. That may not have fit into her agenda of discrediting faith, but it was very much an academic pursuit in that it prevents students from walking away thinking certain Christians believe things that in reality they do not. I ask, which is more zealous and close-minded? Insistence on one and only one valid interpretation, or a broader approach willing to take into account multiple perspectives? ...I have since learned that the professor who usually teaches the class even teaches the same interpretation of Genesis that I was advancing. I do agree with Stonehill's point about religious zealotry, but in her anti-religion bias, she used a non-zealous irrelevant example to smear a student, portray him as something he is not, and distort her otherwise valid argument.

And for the record, I have never said I am a priest-in-training. It is the career path I am looking at, but the discernment process will not start for years and the "training" years after that. Anything can happen, and I try not to talk about it much.


So, yeah, both sides of the story.


John Bruce said...

Would the D not print the reply, or at least a letter to the editor?

Nathan Empsall said...

John, I have not formally submitted anything to the D as of yet. I initially found it unnecessary, given that she did not actually name me. I did send a note directly to Lucy and CC'd all the relevant D editors, but instructed them not to print the letter - I did not want to format it for length and audience, I just wanted to bring their shoddy standards to their attention. You may, however, see excerpts on Dartblog soon, that's up to Joe. The note posted here is one I sent directly to Christine. Other students have written the D, and I may reply next week as a last-word sort-of thing, depending on how the dialogue plays out tomorrow.

John Bruce said...

I believe it's a truism that there are two separate creation stories in Genesis. So which one are the religious zealots trying to force down our throats?

Anonymous said...

If people want to take this issue seriously, Mr. Empsall's response seems reasonable.

I read the op-ed and thought it was silly and not worthy of comment. Basically Ms. Stonehill found one of her classmates annoying and decided to write an op-ed that equated her pet peeve of the day with some kind of broader social problem.

It's almost a parody of college student interaction, and it seems that it will spur a flood of op-eds. Mr. Empsall's note makes me hopeful that some of them will be more sensible

Nathan Empsall said...

John, during class discussion Stonehill was focusing on the word "dominion." I added your point that there are two creation stories and perhaps four authors, and that multiple interpretations should be considered if the full array of Christian belief is to be understood.

Thank you, anonymous. I have seen a submission or two, and what I have seen is indeed sensible. Hopefully that is what the D will choose to run.

John Bruce said...

It might also be worth pointing out that Genesis is the foundation for its own tradition, not just the Christian. I've heard reference to a Talmudic version of creation, in which G-d created the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and then made the world from those. I like this very much. (I thought it was from the Kabbala until I heard a Reform rabbi discuss it.)

Hard to avoid a metaphorical interpretation of that!