1) The reviewer must not be a part of an established religious institution (“ecclesiastical apparatus” – i.e. a minister, a seminary professor, etc.). Harpur believes that anyone who fits into this category will harbour a bias against him, and an agenda against his work, thus tainting any of their critiques.
2) The reviewer has to have read all of Harpur’s key sources in The Pagan Christ. Namely the works of Alvin Boyd Kuhn, Godfrey Higgins and Gerald Massey.
3) The reviewer cannot complain about the lack of resources cited because The Pagan Christ is not a PhD thesis, but a popular work and therefore doesn’t need citations.
4) The reviewer can only be deemed credible if they are dealing with the main thesis of the book. Any other critique about the book is illegitimate.
1) Harpur correctly recognises that anyone who reviews his book will approach it with a particular bias. If a Patristics scholar like Johannes Quasten or Jaroslav Pelikan were to review it, they might evaluate his use of the Church Fathers; if an historian like Paul Johnson or Christopher Hibbert were to review it, they might evaluate his historiography; if a member of the “ecclesiastical apparatus” such as Ben Witherington or Craig Blomberg were to review it, they might evaluate its theological accuracy, and so on. Each would come with their respective presuppositions, and each would focus on various aspects of his work. Yet, because it is in their best interest to maintain credibility within their field, they must deal with the facts that Harpur addresses in his work. Were they to reduce themselves to ad hominem remarks, they could easily be discredited for their bias. But if they engage Harpur’s points objectively, their work should stand as reputable. This is reasonable within academic scholarship, and Harpur, being a Rhodes scholar, should understand this.
As Heath questions, “is this a ‘reasonable approach’ to criticism?” (p. 127). In all other areas of academic discourse, scholars from various fields, beliefs and presuppositions interact with those whom they disagree. This is basic to scholarly interchange, even on a “popular level,” and is in the best interest of truth. So why should Harpur’s work be any different?
The best scholars recognise their biases and try to be as honest to their work as possible. Harpur must not forget that he too has biases (as is clearly seen from a casual reading of his book – he calls Christians “fundamentalists,” “ultra-conservatives,” “literalists,” etc), that must be met and challenged. If he is not willing to accept this, his credibility is deeply suspect.
As Heath rightly observes, “the argument can just as easily be turned around and used against Harpur. Certainly Harpur has a vested interest in his beliefs (who doesn’t have a vested interest in their own beliefs?), and it could equally be claimed that he is “deeply threatened” by any ideas that threaten his nontraditional beliefs” (p. 126).
This first “reasonable approach” is both highly unreasonable, and uncharacteristic of public discourse. It makes Harpur appear scared that his various arguments would be shown as faulty, which as we shall see in this series, they are. So maybe it is understandable that Harpur doesn’t want his book reviewed by anyone who doesn’t already agree with him, he’s fearful that his lack of scholarship will be brought to light and refuted.
Point two will be dealt with in a following post…