academic integrity, bad argument, contradictions in the bible, controversial debate, cool infographic, fast company, good argument, journalistic responsibility, logical fallacies, novice versus expert, project reason, purpose of a vision statement, sam harris, straw man argument, suzanne labarre, the hebrew scriptures, what the bible got wrong
I found a great case study for us to consider as we learn to THINK together. We’ll dip into a little bit of formal logic, some philosophy, etc, but our focus is just plain old common sense. I do have a bachelors degree in Literature and 2 masters in various topics included in the humanities (a overarching category for fields of study like philosophy, religion, ethics, literature, composition, etc.) I don’t share this to brag or so that you’ll believe me just because I have some degrees. Check what I say with reason. THINK, my friends. My goal at the end of this blog isn’t to convince anyone what to think about this issue, but HOW to think about this issue. I think it’s a good piece for us because, first, it’s controversial and, second, it’s interesting that Fast Company of all people would run the piece. Let’s consider a few things:
First, Fast Company’s mission is written on their website: Fast Company sets the agenda, charting the evolution of business through a unique focus on the most creative individuals sparking change in the marketplace. By uncovering best and “next” practices, the magazine and website help a new breed of leader work smarter and more effectively. Fast Company empowers innovators to challenge convention and create the future of business.
The magazine exists to propel business and its practitioners forward. It is for this reason that I found it odd to see a piece on their website highlighting an Infographic titled “What the Bible Got Wrong.” What this piece has to do with the vision of the magazine…I’m not sure. And so our first lesson on how to think is this: If you have a mission statement that you really believe in, and that clearly defines what you are about as a person or firm, use it to say “yes” to the right things and “no” to the wrong things. Regardless of whether you agree with the content of the piece, the choice to run it on Fast Company’s website is questionable.
Lesson 2: if you’re not an expert in a highly controversial field, what do you do? Some would say, “stay away from it at all costs.” I disagree. I believe that new voices ought to regularly speak into old issues (and this issue is about 1800 years old), and be heard, even if they are not necessarily “experts.” However, there are rules. First, read widely and deeply, and make sure to read on both sides of the issue. The more controversy, the more you need to read. You aren’t an expert, but if you want to be taken seriously, you better work hard to become fluent in the issue, and if you are going to write strongly for one position over the other in the debate, then all the more reason to be well read on the arguments of the opposing team.
So, did Suzanne LaBarre, writer for Fast Company, follow these rules? The kind answer is, “Not that we can tell.” First, we must note that she is a smart woman. She has a BA in Women’s Studies and Psychology from UCLA and a Masters in Journalism (Magazines) from Columbia. Not a bad education at all. But, it should be noted that she does not have a degree in Religion, Letters, Ancient Near Eastern Cultures/Religions, Hellenistic Studies, Christianity, or even Philosophy or Literature. So, her education still leaves her as a novice in a very rich field. Further, she does not refer to any works on the topic other than the actual infographic produced by Sam Harris, director of Project Reason. For info about Project Reason, you can go to their about us page. Simply put, the organization exists to promote critical thought (something I like), though “all with the purpose of eroding the influence of dogmatism, superstition, and bigotry in our world.” Put simply (and this is an attempt to be completely faithful to their own documents), Project Reason exists to promote a “secular” worldview and undermine religion which they believe to be the cause of tremendous harm in the world. Harris is a well known author whose writings carry much the same purpose as Project Reason. We know what we get from quoting a source like Harris; namely, an outlier on the far side of anti-religion. He’s not the place to go for balance or inquiry.
Actually, LaBarre does quote another source…a piece about a woman who “slashed” her grandson, believing him to be the anti-Christ. You can read the piece here, but probably a better question is, “Does this website seem to be the best place to find helpful, balanced, or sane information about this issue?” Is it the place where a writer of a magazine like Fast Company should go to find support? Looks like Ms. LaBarre was looking for a straw man, and she found a doozy. More helpful would have been to walk us through the careful, scholarly responses by Jewish and Christian academics to these charges of “contradictions” in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Bible. That would have communicated a gravity about a controversial topic, a rigorous approach to one’s work, and a commitment to excellence…and at the end of the day, had she done her work, LaBarre could have personally come down supporting the infographic’s view of the issue, AND her readers would have been better educated and taken her more seriously in the process.
So, here’s a few more questions that a writer of LaBarre’s caliber should be asking: Are there reasonable responses to this question of contradictions? In 2,000 years, is Mr. Harris the first person to notice some or all of these? If others have noticed them, what has been done or said about this issue? From LaBarre’s presentation, it sounds as if this is a new discovery, and that the worldwide Jewish and Christian communities will disband within the week if we can just get the word out. This is astronomical naivety and historical ignorance.
Ms. LaBarre is a compelling writer; however, she appears to have gotten lazy on this one, relying on a very interesting Infographic produced by someone clearly with an agenda to one side of the debate, and of course, dropping a few one-liners for the sake of shock. In the end, we have an interesting infographic…that’s it. Unfortunately for us, if we want to really know anything more useful about its purported message, we’ve got to do all of the work as the author chose to check her brain at the door, drink the kool-aid, and leave us to figure it all out.
I hope what we’ve seen isn’t so much whether the infographic was right or wrong, but whether or not Suzanne LaBarre as a journalist and Fast Company as a magazine (and a business itself) truly did their job and furthered their vision.