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.