Friday, December 5, 2014

A Ride in the Reconstruction Zone, Part 4

From the October 2011 E-Block.
It turns out this will be our last item in the series on the writings of R. J. Rushdoony; although a monster of a book, Institutes of Biblical law (IBL) turned out to be a much less demanding read than his prior works we evaluated, and I was able to finish all of it (save some 100 pages written by Gary North, which I consider outside our scope). 

As before, though, the major reservation about what Rushdoony offers is not what he says, but what he does not say. IBL is a comprehensive and overall worthy evaluation of the Ten Commandments and their meaning, followed by a few chapters of commentary; in all of this I found very little disagreeable or in detectable error within my purview. But as before, Rushdoony says little to nothing about to what extent, and in what way, the law of the OT ought to be applied to today. I have seen Rushdoony accused by atheists of wanting to re-institute stoning as a punishment. Though Rushdoony does support capital punishment, I saw no direct statement of the means to be used in IBL, but I can see why someone might argue such a thing of Rushdoony: His adamance about imposing Biblical law does not, where I have found so far (obviously, he may do so in yet some other work not available to me), doesn't often take the step of explaining depth and mode of application, and sometimes leaves it unclear what he supposes application ought to be. 

One of the few cases where Rushdoony is explicit on such matters is in regards to such things as the Sabbath observance and various forms of dress (Num. 15:38), which he sees as "superseded by the signs of the new covenant" like baptism and circumcision. But this is the exception rather than the rule. There are several cases where Rushdoony compares modern judicial malpractice to Biblical law, obviously (and often rightly) criticizing the former for its inadequacies, but he never explicitly states (at least not in IBL) something like, "The modern judicial system needs to adopt this biblical law to this or that extent." Given Rushdoony's boldness otherwise, I cannot help but ask why not. 

The closest we come to a specific program is this: "The education which breeds Amalekites [Rushdoony's designation for enemies of God in this part of the book] must be replaced with Christian education....The state must become Christian and apply Biblical law to every area of life, and apply the full measure of God's law. The permissive family must give way to the Christian family." [323] It's bold, it's broad, and it's thoroughly lacking in specifics.

I need not make much of places where Rushdoony and I disagree theologically or exegetically. I find his treatments and views on matters like Calvinism, tithing, and a few other points to be wrong, but I could say the same of any other writer in terms of finding things to disagree with. Perhaps his oddest arguments are his attempts to link profanity (even when it does not mention God) to Biblical prohibitions against swearing (in the sense of oaths -- 109); and his attempts to argue that the prohibition on tattoos applies as well today (223); his argument that the law against Lev. 19:19 forbids the production of modern genetic hybrids because hybrids are sterile and cannot reproduce (255 -- and later says that hybridization leads to "futile experimentation, such as organ transplants" [!]-- 262 ). In these Rushdoony goes much farther than the texts and their contexts allow. I also find to be strained Rushdoony's argument that the Deuteronomic covenant "circumscribes all men without exception" [655] and is in some way continued in the New Testament covenant, though this is more of a legalist technicality if one recognizes that principles inherent in the law will be a basis for judgement anyway; it need not be doubted that disobedience will still lead to judgment, as he says further.

That said, Rushdoony also offers a number of judicious insights, and makes it quite clear that he thinks that while certain details of OT law are not applicable to our times, it is the principles that matter today -- a position we agree with [293; and, 301, where Rushdoony discusses the dietary laws and deems them applicable not in detail, but in principle; though he adheres to a questionable view that the laws had some relevance to health]. So arguably the above oddities are cases in which he took false steps regarding what were details and what were principles. That being so I turn now to other criticisms from other sources.

One reader asked me to be particularly on the lookout for any place where Rushdoony implied that Christians were bound to pursue holy war, as it were, against the heathen. Up til now I found nothing of the sort, but at IBL 93 there is an expression that comes tantalizingly (if again, incompletely) close. Speaking of Israel's war against Canaan, Rushdoony remarks: "In brief, every law-order is a state of war against the enemies of that order, and all law is a form of warfare....Law is a state of war." In between the ellipsis he makes clear that penalties are made in accord with severity of an offense. But in light of his declarations concerning Christians asserting Jesus' Lordship over all creation, the reader may rightly wonder how far Rushdoony supposes this should go. Are we called to be Crusaders? Is it the responsibility of Christians to get themselves into public office, impose Biblical law, invade foreign countries that are not Christian and impose the same rule there? Rushdoony and the Reconstruction movement have been accused of this by critics I have encountered over the years, and while I have yet to see explicit statements where they demand this (they may be apparent in other writings!) I can see why someone might reach that conclusion.

Another such statement is found at IBL 308. Rushdoony uses the image of the Amalekites to illustrate evil and disorder in the world, and says, "...the covenant people must wage war against the enemies of God, because this war is unto death. The deliberate, refined, and obscene violence of the anti-God forces permits no quarter...this warfare must continue until the Amalekites of the world are blotted out, until God's law-order prevails and His justice reigns." A little later Rushdoony also makes it clear that evangelism is part of this program. [321] But does he mean the war imagery literally? if so, to what extent? It is not made clear.

So now for a closing commentary, which reflects one significant purpose of this examination. One of the things I was on the lookout for was what was related in a rather heated blog entry by a Skeptic, in which it became clear that the lack of clarity I noted was indeed being taken, in many cases, to enable an interpretation beyond what was explicitly said. Some of the more offensive quotes offered were in sources not available to me, and so could not be checked. Others were indeed found in the sources, such as one in IBL: “"inter-religious, inter-racial, and inter-cultural marriages, in that they normally go against the very community which marriage is designed to establish." – which a defender of Rushdoony tried to explain as being a misunderstanding of how Rushdoony defined “race” (the explanation seemed rather contrived, though). Others were not. For example, these quotes were said to be from IBL, though no page number was given:

The move from Africa to America was a vast increase of freedom for the Negro, materially and spiritually.

Lazy slaves were “an albatross that hung the South, that bled it.”

The University of Timbuktu never existed. The only thing that existed in Timbuktu was a small mud hut.

The false witness borne during World War II with respect to Germany (i.e., the death camps) is especially notable and revealing…. the number of Jews who died after deportation is approximately 1,200,000 ....very many of these people died of epidemics.

This has become especially important now as apparently one of our Republican Presidential candidates (Bachmann) has declared Rushdoony an influence, and some of these quotes are being plastered all over the Internet. I saw none of these above in reading IBL, however; indeed I saw no chapter where they would have been contextually appropriate to the contents. It also happens that IBL is searchable on Google Books, and none of these quotes turned up. I have a past record of discovering bogus quotes, so I am naturally suspicious when this sort of thing happens. If critics wish to identify Rushdoony as a racist, or an anti-Semite, they will have to provide more definitive verification than this.

One quote that did turn up genuine, on page 203, was as follows:

The matriarchal society is thus decadent and broken... matriarchal character of Negro life is due to the moral failure of Negro men, their failure provide authority. The same is true of American Indian tribes which are also matriarchal.

The ellipsis, however, obscure some additional words, and the quote is not exact; for the sake of completeness:

The matriarchal society is thus the decadent and broken. The strongly matriarchal character of Negro life is due to the moral failure of Negro men, their failure to be responsible, to support the family, or to provide authority. The same is true of American Indian tribes which are also matriarchal today.

Are these the words of a racist? Perhaps, for they can easily be envisioned as being so used. On the other hand, having read a good deal of literature by African-American commentators, and having spoken to many African-American men who were prison inmates, I have found similar sentiments expressed therein about the failures of African-American men to be responsible as well. 

Just offhand, for example, Black Families by Harriette Pipes McAdoo reports that findings matching those described by Rushdoony were found in the words of serious scholars of the late 60s and early 70s -- at the time when IBL was published (while also noting disagreement on those findings). Were all those authors racist? Or, could an scholarly author's poignant (if arguably incorrect) social commentary be Rushdoony's racist claptrap? Conceivably, yes. But by itself, that isn't clear.

Suffice to say that there are enough genuine quotes of this type to be suspicious of Rushdoony, given how often he does not qualify or explain himself, but also enough quotes of this sort that I did not find that one may be suspicious of the critics as well. Were some of these quotes just made up? Or do we have sanitized versions of IBL on the market? Without more documentation, or reaching into sources not available to me, it is impossible to say.

The critics are also adamant that other Reconstructionist authors (like Gary North) offer even more explicit statements about such things as re-instituting stoning. In later E-Blocks we may well investigate these claims. In close for this series on Rushdoony, I can only say that at the very least, his reticence indicates a warrant of due caution for anyone who appeals to his work as authoritative.

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