More on the amazing Christian encyclopedia saga

(Note: Below, Alan Levine tells about his students’ reactions to the BC/BCE system.)

The truth of the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization controversy is more complicated than indicated in my earlier post. I’ll give my bottom line first: Both sides’ stories present problems and unanswered questions, there are unresolved contradictions between the two accounts, and from reading them one cannot know what the truth is.

First, there is the letter by the editor of the encyclopedia, George Kurian, posted at the blog of Evan Kuehn. Kurian’s story, taken straight, is one of the most appalling things ever heard, that the project went through the entire editing and publishing process, and the publisher, Wiley-Blackwell, then changed their minds and pulped the first edition for purposes of political correctness and anti-Christianity. The problem with the story is that the publisher’s behavior as described by Kurian is so extreme it’s hard to believe.

Then there is the reply to Kurian’s letter by Susan Spilka of Wiley-Blackwell, which casts the situation in a very different light. She says that Kurian agreed to have an editorial board check over the articles before publishing, and that the publisher only found out after the book was published that the editorial board had not read the articles. However, Spilka’s letter is also of questionable reliability, as it raises troubling questions that it does not bother answering. Did the publisher simply leave this whole process in Kurian’s hands, and have no contact with the editorial board itself? How could that be? Also, it makes no sense, given that Blackwell is now in contact with the editorial board and taking its suggestions. Spilka’s leaving such a central question hanging makes her look like a smooth-talking bureaucrat who is not telling the whole truth.

A second problem with Spilka’s letter is that she does not reply in specific terms to Kurian’s charges that standard Christian phrases and expressions have been deleted from the encyclopedia because of an anti-Christian agenda on the part of the publisher. In bland, bureaucratic manner, she simply says that Kurian’s charges are “completely without foundation,” and that’s it. But were “A.D.” and “B.C.” removed or not? Was “virgin birth” removed or not? And, if so, why? She doesn’t tell us, which is not reassuring.

Both Kurian’s and Spilka’s letters were posted at Kuehn’s site on February 6. I only learned about this story on February 12 from Edward Feser’s February 11 article at NRO. I assume that there is much more on this that has been posted since February 6. Perhaps my questions have been answered.

Whatever the truth is, it remains one of the strangest stories I’ve ever seen.

- end of initial entry -

February 16

Alan Levine writes:

Re the comment on the “Encyclopedia of the Christian West,” the business about A.D. and B.C. reminded me of something I encountered about two or three years ago. I discovered, when students asked about the use of “CE” and “BCE” as substitutes for AD and BC, that some had never been taught the difference between BC and AD dates! (You guessed it—products of the American public school system!) When I explained it, I told the class that the use of CE and BCE was simply a piece of silliness from people who did not wish to admit that our system of dating, now used by people of all religions everywhere, had religious origins. All, including Muslims, regarded this as laughable. Since then, I have had the same reaction over and over.

By the way, I explain to my classes, partly for the benefit of those who find the the distinction between BC and AD hard to handle, that it might help to understand, and saves space when taking notes, to use the system devised by George Sarton and used by some other writers—write BC dates with a minus sign in front of them and signify AD dates with a plus sign. It is interesting that this system is rarely used by recent writers I would venture to guess that it is not unreligious enough for the real fanatics. To write a plus sign before Christian era dates probably signifies something too positive for them!

LA replies:

I would totally oppose that plus and minus system. I think Charles Murray used that in his book on human excellence, it was awful. Mathematical symbols should not be used in text unless necessary, and certainly not as substitutes for words or abbreviations.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 13, 2009 01:08 AM | Send

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