WILLIAM EDELEN: Courage and Controversy


The Contrary Minister

I have received letters by the hundreds over the past 30 years saying, “I want to congratulate you on your courage, writing as you do. How I admire your courage” and so forth.

Now my question: Why should it be considered “courageous” to write the materials in my columns that can be found in any history book in any library in this country?

Why is it “courageous” for me to write material that is accepted, and taught in the departments of religion in every major university in this country, or the world for that matter?

For instance, I write: “Our founding Fathers, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Franklin, Washington, Paine, were all Deists, classical humanists, who did not believe that Jesus was divine, and they did not believe that the bible was anything other than “literature,” and they did believe that the Christian church was a giant tyranny.” People write me and say “what courage to write like that.”

Well, what I have written can be found in the writings of the founding fathers themselves. It is hardly “courageous” to write facts and truth that are obvious and available in historical records.

Or, I write, “The virgin birth stories about Jesus are mythology, and virgin birth has been a universal theme in all religious traditions.”

What courage, people write me. Well, again, it is hardly “courageous” to write what is accepted and taught in religion and literature classes in major universities all over the world.

Now, please think through the word “controversial.” I have lost count of the times I have been introduced as “that controversial religion columnist.”

Again, how can any statement or subject be “controversial” if it is taught and accepted in major universities all over the world?

All “controversial” really means is that you have never heard about it. You have never heard your minister talk about these things, or he/she would be out of a job, and it is unlikely you have ever read about any of these issues in magazines or journals.

If you have believed that two and two are five, and some scholar comes along and tells you that two and two are really four, then they become “controversial.” It is no wonder that we are a nation of religious illiterates.

The media, the newspapers, magazines, internet and television, along with popular politicians, feed the illiteracy by placating, publishing, and courting Bible belt superstitions.

When the media publish religious articles that are an embarrassment to any religiously educated person, they are choosing an active role in sustaining superstitions and religious ignorance.

The fact that there are illiterate readers of a newspaper who still believe that the center of the cosmos and everything on the earth was “created” only 4000 years ago is no excuse for any newspaper to publish articles that support such ignorance and give support to such religious darkness and blindness.

It is neither “courageous” nor “controversial” to write about material that can easily be found in scholarly books in any library in this nation. For those who still like the label, “controversial,” I can only offer an observation by Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence: “Controversy is only dreaded by the advocates of error.”