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Paper gives Allan Powell too much ink

March 05, 2005|by Marilyn Janus

Since moving to Hagerstown 18 years ago, I have observed that Allan Powell gets more ink in The Herald-Mail than any other individual contributor.

His most recent column, "Fundamentalism: A return to Dark Ages," Jan 23) is no exception. Also true to form are several features that characterize his writing.

· Condescension. "It has long been known that people are, for the most part, unable to cope without the hope of a more powerful 'other,'" is a typical example.

In my experience, those who cite the omniscient "it" are merely trying to inflate the authority of their own opinion. Powell, I understand, used to teach at HCC. How he must have relished separating captive audiences of young people from their nave religious superstition.

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· An either/or mentality. Either the Bible is a book, authored by God, every word of which is exactly true and true exactly as written, or it is the world's longest fairy tale.

There is no middle ground. How foolish. And how unscientific. If, as Powell claims, "the laws of nature are invariant," then the Bell Curve operates equally for theologians and botanists, meaning that most folks, by definition, favor a moderate answer no matter what the question.

Generally speaking, the moderate view of the Bible is that it is not a book, but a library of books, inspired by God, but filtered through the minds of its all-too-human authors.

· A propensity to shoot himself in the foot. Quoting Anglican bishop John Spong that "opening up that sacred story to levels of insight and beauty that, in my experience literalism has never produced a valid argument," Powell presents as evidence talking animals and Joshua performing a miracle on the wrong heavenly body.

Twenty years ago, our parish priest in Arizona suggested it doesn't matter whether you take a Bible story literally or figuratively, as long as you don't miss the point. If the message is important, it matters not if the speaker is a man, a snake or a jackass (or a man who may also be a snake or a jackass, but let's not go there.)

The point of Joshua making the sun stand still is to establish his authority to lead the Israelites now that Moses is forbidden to enter the promised land. If you believe Joshua literally made the sun stand still, so be it.

If you believe the Sun symbolized earthly power bending to Joshua's will, so be it. Astrophysics has nothing to do with it. How Powell hopes to maintain his academic reputation by demonstrating his inability to recognize, let alone understand, a metaphor is the real miracle.

· Hidden agenda. Camouflaged by an otherwise unobjectionable argument against creationism, Powell has buried his usual land mine: Propositions of faith can never qualify as truth until verification has happened. In other words, believers are stupid. Pardon me while I put on my dunce cap and go sit in the corner.

One last request, though, before I go: the Chinese say a picture is worth a thousand words. I say a picture of Powell plus a thousand words is too high a price. In the future, can you just publish one or the other?

Marilyn Janus is a resident of Hagerstown.

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