I can hardly claim that the past week has been very boring. Besides some activities in my role of deacon in my local church, some social commitments, and the assembling of a number of screens against mosquitoes, I invested quite a few hours in some writing and translation assignments that I am currently engaged in. In between these things I started reading a rather substantial novel: Huwelijksleven (published in in English as Married life), written by the Jewish author David Vogel. (Vogel was born in 1891 and died in Auschwitz in 1944). Until very recently I had never heard of this book, nor of its author. A few weeks ago my wife and I received the book as a gift from a friend, Kees Meiling, who produced a (splendid) translation from modern-Hebrew into Dutch.
But all the time my thoughts were also quite occupied by the reactions which I received during the past week regarding my book FACING DOUBT. In particular the two reviews on the popular Spectrum website (www.spectrummagazine.org) inspired many reactions—many directly to me by e-mail or Facebook, but also on the Spectrum site. There could not have been a greater contrast than between these two reviews. Dr. Tom de Bruin’s piece was on the whole extremely positive and did, I believe, full justice to the book. On the other hand, the second piece by Clifford Goldstein failed in my view to do justice to the book and, safe for a few positive remarks, was bitingly negative.
That was to be expected. Anyone who knows both of these authors (and that is certainly the case for me), realizes that they are totally different and have had a totally different faith pilgrimage. Goldstein is the editor of the Sabbath School Study guide for adults, but is also a prolific and widely-read author in Adventist circles. Honesty demands to say that there are also many who dislike his books with a vengeance and have great difficulty with his black-white kind of reasoning that does not leave any room for nuance. Years ago Goldstein took issue with me in some of the Adventist media when he disapproved of my (in his view) far too positive evaluation of changes in Roman-Catholicism, as I had argued in my PhD dissertation and in a subsequent article in the Spectrum journal. However, this did not lead to personal animosity between Clifford Goldstein and myself and his recent fierce criticism of my book will not do this either.
Many of the reactions were to the point and constructive, but quite a few were not. What amazed me most with regard to quite a few of the reactions which followed on Goldstein’s contribution, was their nasty tone.The chain of comments tended to develop into a pro-or-anti-Goldstein discussion. Many regular Spectrum readers no doubt consider Goldstein as a very conservative person, with whom they have (to put it mildly) little affinity. In other reactions the discussion deteriorated into a Bruinsma-bashing ritual. Some respondents indicated that I would do the SDA Church a favor if I left the church on my own accord, if I were not disfellowshipped. One of them—without citing any arguments—referred to the ‘theological obscenities’ that are found in my book.
Does all of this that bother me. Yes, of course, it does? Does it keep me awake? No, but yet . . . On the other hand I had expected this. However, I received so many positive reactions that I remain glad I embarked on this project of communicating with those in the church who are ‘on the margins’.
At the same time, these various harsh criticisms, which do not betray the slightest degree of Christian charity, provide an unintended illustration of one of the things I deal with in my book: the heartless attitude of people who claim to have all the truth; who can only think in terms of black and white and find it impossible to show any tolerance (and respect) when people have an opinions that differs from theirs. They don’t mind that by their attitude they chase others away from the church; in fact, they often think that is a good thing.
Well, I am not about to be chased away, for there are many pleasant people in the church who are prepared to enter into a dialogue and who have respect for others even if they do not agree with them. And I hope that (also through my book) I can inspire many to also not give up on their faith and on their church!
(My book FACING DOUBT: a book for Adventist believers ‘on the margins’ may be ordered through Amazon.com. Price $ 14,90.)