Home | Index | Schedule | Archive | Syllabus | New Books | Publication | Subscribing | Host
Archives: | A-D | E-L | M-R | S-Z |

Forrest G. Wood THE ARROGANCE OF FAITH - (Knopf, 1990)

Subject: Review: Wood(Huck)

From: Robert Huck 
Subject: Review: Wood(Huck)

Review:  THE ARROGANCE OF FAITH - Forrest G. Wood 
                             (Knopf, 1990)
                              Robert Huck
                       Illinois State University
                             April 16, 1994
	"Blest are you poor; the reign of God
		is yours.
	Blest are you who hunger, you
		shall be filled.
	Blest are you who are weeping; you
		shall laugh."  (Luke 6:21)
	Did the speaker of these words launch a movement that is 
inherently racist?  Using Christian attitudes towards slavery, Forrest 
Wood in THE ARROGANCE OF FAITH, claims that Christianity is inherently 
and iredeemably racist.
	Wood's argument rests on two fundamental precepts of 
Christianity.  His first argument is that Christianity's devotion to 
evangalization and belief that only Jesus is  "the way, the truth, and 
the life" give Christians a superiority complex vis-a-vis  
non-Christians.  "Christianity - from Richard the Lionhearted to Billy 
Graham - has almost certainly been responsible for more worldwide 
proselytizing and obtrusion than any religion in history.  One can only 
wonder how many 'infidels' have been killed or enslaved in the name of 
Christ" (27).  He goes on for chapters; quoting from pamphlets, sermons, 
personal letters, tracts, and books of every obscure Christian 
clergyman, theologian, missionary, or lay church official whose racist 
views support Wood's thesis.
	The second Christian precept that Wood says contributes to its 
racism is the Christian teaching on the Bible.  Christianity's belief in 
the inerrancy of scriptures, according to Wood, gives the Christian 
blinders when it comes to dealing with people of other faiths.  In the 
United States, Southern Protestants took the King James Version  (a 
deeply flawed translation) and used it, along with their view of the 
Bible's inerrancy, to justify the holding of slaves.  The King James 
Version rarely made distinctions between servants and slaves by often 
using the same English word in translating very different Greek and 
Aramaic words.  But to the Southern slaveholder, grey areas in Biblical 
translations didn't matter.  The slave owner would read Leviticus 25:44 
"Both thy  bondsmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be 
of the heathen that are round about you" and believe that God had 
ordained slavery.  The Bible is the inerrant word of God himself.  The 
Bible authorizes the enslavement of heathens.  Africans are not 
Christian, therefore they are heathens.  Therefore God must approve of 
enslaving the Africans.  End of discussion.
	Wood's observations of Christianity are true.  Many Christians 
have used their faith to commit unspeakable acts against millions of 
people.  Many Irish Protestants and Catholics are still using religion 
to justify discrimination, murder and terrorism.  However, many truths 
are not complete and this is where Wood's argument falls apart.   Wood 
makes many mistakes and omissions so glaring it is tempting to call them 
stupid.   Wood set out to chronicle Christian attitudes towards race but 
mentioned Martin Luther King only in passing.  He also failed to mention 
Rev. Vernon Johns (King's predecessor in Montgomery, Alabama) at all.  
The same for Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  How can anyone write about 
religion and race and fail to examine the records of these three  
Christians?  The answer is quite simple.  King, Johns, and Tutu prove 
that Wood's thesis is wrong.  How can Christianity be "inherently 
racist" and produce Martin Luther  King?  It can't.  The Ku Klux Klan is 
inherently racist.  The National Socialist Party is inherently racist.  
These groups did not produce people like King, Johns, and Tutu.  They 
produced David Duke and Adolf Hitler.
	Wood's slight of King, Johns, and Tutu is the key to his false 
premise.  To Wood,  Christianity is represented primarily by 19th-Century 
fundamentalist white American  Protestantism.  It isn't.  Not by any 
stretch of the imagination.  Most Christians are  Roman Catholic.  Wood 
admits this but doesn't examine the racial attitudes of Catholics in 
Europe, South America, or Asia.  He also ignores current attitudes of 
most American  Protestants and their co-religionists in Europe.  He 
doesn't mention the Eastern  Orthodox at all.  In short, Wood believes 
that Christianity is "inherently racist" because  100 years ago there 
were a few million racist Protestants in the United States.  Using this 
rationale I could make the same claim about Judaism.  The Book of 
Leviticus, where God supposedly endorsed the enslavement of non-Jews, 
was written by Jews for Jews.  Jews claim to be God's chosen people.  The 
Old Testament says that the Jews are destined to rule all land between 
Egypt and the Tigris-Euphrates valley.  Therefore Judaism is inherently 
racist.  I won't make this claim.  It is not true.  I know there are  
some Jews who are racist (e.g. the Jewish settler who murdered more than 
30 Palestinians in Hebron) but there are many Jews who are not racist.  
Therefore Judaism is not inherently racist.  Wood admits there are 
Christians who are not racist, but will not back down from his statement 
on Chrisitianity's supposed inherent racism.
	Wood's false assumptions of Christianity are not his only 
shortcoming.  He also makes several false assumptions of history.  In 
his examination of Christian/Native American relations, he questions the 
Christian's belief that his or her religion is for all people.  "[I]f 
Christianity is for everyone, why was it not from the beginning revealed 
to  everyone?" (23).  Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all based on 
the belief that God acts in history through people.  The Christian would 
say God revealed himself through  Jesus Christ at a specific time and 
place in history and gave Jesus' followers the mandate preach his 
gospel.  This continued the partnership God created when Abraham first 
revealed that there is but one God.  Admittedly God could have revealed  
his word to "everyone" but he chose not to.  Instead he established a 
partnership, or  covenant, with the people he created.  This is an 
entirely plausible explanation that Wood does not bother to answer.  
This is typical of Wood's approach.  If a theory gets in the way of his 
ideas, it is better to ignore it than to answer it.
	Wood also ignores the fact that Christianity is a child of 
Judaism.  Many of  Christianity's "racist" teachings come from the Old 
Testament, written by Jews centuries before Jesus, St. Peter and St. 
Paul.  If Christianity has racist teachings, shouldn't  Wood blame 
Judaism?  He does no such thing.
	THE ARROGANCE OF FAITH reminds us that many atrocities have been  
committed in Jesus' name.  It is important for all Christians to 
understand the dark side of their history.  However, Wood utterly fails 
to prove his thesis.  He even offers evidence (such as writings by 
Christian abolitionists) that argue against his ideas.  This may be done 
in the interest of fairness, but Wood does not realize the consequence 
of these statements.  He presents them without understanding that 
Christians do not have to be racist.  Since racism is obviously not a 
logical consequence of Christianity, Wood's thesis cannot stand up to 
even the most casual criticism.
	I have used 1,118 words to disprove Forrest Wood's ideas.  I 
could have used three:  Martin Luther King.