Monday, April 04, 2011

Defending exclusivism

I'm reposting some comments I left at Kevin DeYoung's blog:

steve hays March 31, 2011 at 4:38 pm

“Unfortunately, Kevin’s points 3 and 4 are offensive, repulsive, illogical, unbiblical nonsense. Kevin apparently believes that babies from Christian households go to heaven and ones from non-Christian households don’t.”

That’s a malicious distortion of what he actually said. He was silent on the fate of babies from non-Christian households. He doesn’t say what he doesn’t know.

"This opinion is also illogical and repulsive in stating that a still-born baby in Michigan has a chance to go to heaven but a still-born baby in Saudi Arabia has no chance. Those two babies are identical in their sin-nature (or lack thereof) and there’s no reason to say one goes to heaven and the other doesn’t except that Kevin knows people who would be really angry if didn’t make an exception for babies from Christian households.”

In the nature of the case, mercy may just discriminate between equally guilty individuals.

“Kevin’s point 4 is frankly just stupid. Kevin tries to distinguish the results from the grounds of punishment. This is merely typical reformed playing with words.”

Your objection is frankly just stupid. The default conditions of sinners is to be lost. Disbelieving in Jesus is not what damns someone. That’s an aggravating factor. But sin is suffient.

“The reality is that Kevin thinks that all people (leaving to one side the babies and mentally disabled issue) who have never heard of Jesus automatically go to hell to be tortured for eternity and there’s nothing they can do about that.”

What makes you equate eternal punishment with “torture”?

“Whatever playing with words Kevin wants to do about grounds and results, that’s what Kevin believes. So that makes Kevin’s God morally far worse than, say, Stalin or Hitler: at least both of those guys didn’t torture people for eternity for something they couldn’t not do.”

Ted Bundy hated women. He was so evil that he couldn’t not hate women. Is that exculpatory? No. That’s culpable.

“And to cap it all, Kevin doesn’t seem to understand that some people find this God of his utterly repulsive.”

And you don’t seem to understand that some people find you utterly repulsive. Cuts both ways.

“It’s hardly surprising there are militant atheists (or for that matter, people like Brian McLaren) around when Kevin and his friends write this stuff.”

Militant atheists like…yourself?

steve hays March 31, 2011 at 4:44 pm
Eric Mattingly:

“In my experience Christianity (though not often Christians) identifies God with power…”

Here’s a representative definition of God: “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth” (WSC 4).

Hence, the rest of your screed is predicated on a false premise.

steve hays March 31, 2011 at 8:06 pm
Eric Mattingly
“In my experience Christianity (though not often Christians) identifies God with power and therefore worships power more than ‘righteousness’ or ‘justice’ or any other such thing. It makes a certain amount of sense, really. Discovering what is ‘just’ is difficult on its own and involves delving into still-undecided question of what “justice” actually is. ‘Righteousness’ and ‘morality’ too are much too complicated to be much use theologically (in that they get into Euthyphro dilemmas and show theists to be just as relativistic as the most wishy-washy New Ager). Power, on the other hand, is simple and uncomplicated. God is that which has no peer and is bound to no other standard but his own. If you assume the most powerful entity in the universe has the right to do whatever he wants to his creations then, bang, there’s morality. There’s theodicy. If God wants to burn babies for fun then it’s his right. He owes nothing to us. Our notions of what is fair and unfair don’t apply since he is more powerful.”

“If justice is a standard outside of God, one that God himself adheres to, then there is something greater than God. But the definition of God is a being greater than all others. Thus, justice cannot be greater than God. Ergo, the only definition of justice that makes sense is one that defines it in terms of God’s soverignty, which is a synonym for God’s power.”

Well, that’s a deeply confused objection.

i) If, by your own admission, what “justice” is remains an “undecided question,” while “morality” is to “complicated” to be “useful,” then your notions of “fairness” or “unfairness,” by which you presume to judge Christian theology, are too “difficult” and “complicated” to be “useful,” hinging, as they do, on “undecided questions.”

So you’ve disqualified yourself from moralizing about Christian morality.

ii) You also seem to suggest, parroting the Euthyphro dilemma, that if God is the ultimate moral standard, then morality is arbitrary. But if that’s your objection, then that’s a self-defeating objection.

Are you claiming that any ultimate moral standard is, by definition, arbitrary? Are you claiming that if moral judgments terminate in ultimate moral norms, then moral judgments are arbitrary? Are you claiming moral judgments must entail an infinite regress?

But if you think moral judgments are groundless, if you think moral judgments have no final foundation, then that same objection would also apply to secular ethics. Your own moral judgments about Christian theology would either be arbitrary, or lack ultimate moral backing–which comes to the same thing.

If, on the other hand, you think a (nonarbitrary) moral standard can exist apart from God, then why can’t God constitute the ultimate moral standard?

How can you accept the Euthyphro dilemma without generating a corollary dilemma for secular ethics?

iii) Do you think secular ethics is reducible to raw power? In atheism, does might make right?

steve hays March 31, 2011 at 8:19 pm
Eric Mattingly

“Calvinism, naturally, and exclusivism, as defined by our dear author, is the logical extension of this worship of power since, without an object to direct it against, power is lame. If God cannot actively and eternally vent his wrath on something then that wrath is meaningless. That’s why any notion of universalism is heretical: if all are blessed then a major portion of God’s power, his violence and anger, is rendered meaningless, which makes God, in the end, not powerful at all.”

What are you even trying to say?

Take a courageous man. If he lives in wartime, he will have occasion to exhibit his courage on the battlefield.

If, on the other hand, he lives in peacetime, he will have no occasion to exhibit his courage on the battlefield.

Yet, even in peacetime, he will still be a courageous man. He will still embody that virtue, even though that virtue remains inevident. And his courageous character will still be admirable.

If a courageous character weren’t inherently virtuous, it wouldn’t be virtuous on those occasions when he is actually called upon to exhibit his courage.

Courage is a primarily a dispositional property, and secondarily an occurrent property. If a man has a courageous disposition, then that will be evident on occasions when courage is called for.

Likewise, God can have attributes which remain unexemplified in history. That hardly renders them meaningless, anymore than the courageous character of a man living in peacetime is meaningless.

steve hays March 31, 2011 at 8:23 pm
Eric Mattingly
“This is why Christians can celebrate women being raped (in the Bible), women being turned into salt, children having their heads dashed against rocks, genocide, hell, and the burning of heretics.”

Well, that nicely illustrates your village atheist exegesis.

steve hays March 31, 2011 at 8:28 pm
Eric Mattingly
“2) Give me some evidence that any of what you said is true.”

Give me some evidence that any of what I said is false.

“3) Do you disagree that God has the right to burn babies and command the rape and genocide of people?”

Of course, that’s a trick question since you’ve built your jaundiced formulation into the question.

steve hays March 31, 2011 at 8:31 pm

“Kevin apparently believes that babies from Christian households go to heaven and ones from non-Christian households don’t…So that makes Kevin’s God morally far worse than, say, Stalin or Hitler…”

Of course Hitler and Stalin began as babies. So are we judging them looking forward or backward?

steve hays April 1, 2011 at 11:25 am
Eric Mattingly

“meh. Actually, my argument here was that those things are difficult to define in the context of theology because they have to be grounded in something in order to be coherent.”

Is this a backdoor admission that secular ethics is groundless?

“For instance, how do we define what is fair for God to do and not to do? If it is fair for God to make one football team beat another (assuming both teams were predominantly Christian) then it begs the question of ‘why’ this is the case.”

i) The rules of sports are just a social convention, not moral absolutes.

ii) Your comparison is askew. If both parties are guilty, then God can justly discriminate since neither party is entitled to clemency.

“Is there a standard that God submits himself to? (possibly one that is beyond our knowledge to understand) If so, then we have obvious problems in terms of God’s lordship of the universe. How, for example, do we know that God is always following the standard of fairness?”

You’re repeating yourself. Once again, you’re falling back on the Euthyphro dilemma. Is that the only argument you know? But I responded to your invocation of the Euthyphro dilemma. You failed to update your objection in reply to my response. Unless you’re able to engage my counterargument, then my counterargument wins by default.

“And if it isn’t hidden (written on our hearts so to speak) then why does God’s commands so often contradict our intuitions?”

You mean it contradicts the morally warped intuitions of God-haters like yourself.

“And let’s say we know or somehow discover what that standard of fairness is and it contradicts something that God orders. Do we follow God or the standard?”

Many atheists admit that atheism leads to moral nihilism. Therefore, you have no alternative standard to appeal to.

“God, if he exists, is powerful. He creates the standards of fairness, justice, etc. The only reason those concepts exist at all is because God created and sustains them. Furthermore, they are arbitrary in the sense that he can suspend them whenever he wants.”

i) No, God doesn’t “create” the standard. Rather, God is the moral exemplar.

ii) At the same time some things are humanly wrong due to human nature. Human beings have certain obligations because they were designed by God with certain traits.

“If he decides to destroy a city, raise an emperor, or favor the New Orleans Saints then he is within his rights to. If he, in his anger, wants to send people to hell then his judgment is righteous. If he wants to hand-pick a few for salvation then that too is righteous. What else does ‘righteous’ mean other than he has absolute rights over the entirety of creation?”

You simplemindedly overlook the fact that their culpability leaves sinners justly liable to harm. Are you unable to keep more than one idea in your head at a time? Is that your problem?

“That’s why Calvin was astute in placing sovereignty as God’s central attribute.”

Calvin was opposed to voluntarism, as scholars like Paul Helm and Michael Sudduth have documented.

steve hays April 1, 2011 at 11:38 am
Eric Mattingly

“So what if secular ethics are just as arbitrary as Christian ethics? That doesn’t make yours any less arbitrary. Besides I’m not making a judgment on them (in this case) just an observation.”

Now you’re prevaricating. It’s obvious that you’re rendering value judgments about Christianity. If you don’t think there’s anything morally wrong with Christianity, what’s your incentive in attacking it?

“God’s righteousness relies on his sovereignty, i.e. power is the central divine attribute. I personally don’t like the implications of such a view but since I don’t believe it anyway it’s no skin off my nose. You seem to be the one who doesn’t like it.”

Once again, you’re merely repeating what you already read from your cue cards, without bothering to respond to my counterargument. Looks like you shot your wad in the first round.

What’s your problem? Are you just reciting arguments you picked up from a book by some village atheist? Can’t you think for yourself? When you run out of pat objections, are you unable to adapt to the situation?

“In the context of the current discussion it doesn’t matter whether might makes right for atheism does it? We’re not talking about secular ethics.”

To the contrary, a moral relativist forfeits the right to moralize about Christian theology.

“We’re talking about exclusivism and how God is justified in sending people to hell.”

I realize that you’d like to avoid exposing your own flank. But your attacks invite counterattacks. That’s the way it goes. Man up.

“And even if it were the case that Moral Error Theory (or Moral Nihilism) is true at least it’s because the universe is cold, uncaring and absurd not because the God who built it is a jackboot and made it that way to glorify himself.”

Actually, God made it that way to glorify his people.

“Jackboot” plays on the odious connotations of the term. But if you’re an atheist, and atheism leads to moral nihilism, then your recourse to judgmental terminology is self-refuting.

steve hays April 1, 2011 at 12:17 pm
Eric Mattingly

“Let’s say I, a sinner (and certainly not a courageous man), die without excepting Jesus. You won’t bat an eye in saying I’ll go to hell for eternity. Alright. I object tediously (God must get a lot of this) that I was a decent person, good to my family, friends and lovers, etc. Why, I might ask, can’t I just go to hell for a few million (or billion) years? Surely that will outweigh the paltry sins I committed in my handful of decades on earth. Then God (or his interlocutors) would respond that if they let that happen it would render Jesus’s death and God’s sovereignty meaningless because…”

How they ought to respond is to point out that your hypothetical is predicated on a false premise, viz. “A few million (or billion) years in hell outweigh “paltry sins.”

“You’re the one trying to convince me that I should become a Southern Baptist no?”

Don’t flatter yourself. Trying to convince you would be a fool’s errand. You’ve put yourself beyond the reach of reason. I’m doing this for the benefit of lurkers.

“You don’t get to start from the assumption that you are right and argue from there. You know, burden of evidence and the like. I’m waiting.”

I’m simply responding to you on your own terms. I don’t have to adduce independent evidence. Just expose your fallacious, ignorant objections. You’ve been setting the bar for the failure of your own arguments.

“Not a trick question at all. God certainly ordered the death of children. He also almost certainly burned some alive when he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.”

You use tendentious terms like “rape,” “murder,” and “genocide.” You need to exegetically justify your terminology.

steve hays April 1, 2011 at 1:31 pm
Eric Mattingly

“But we’re talking about the righteousness of YOUR God.”

And I’ve also responded to your fallacious objections directly.

“Again so what? We’re talking about the ethics of God not me.”

That’s what you’d like to talk about, but your self-serving agenda doesn’t dictate the terms of the debate.

“Your only response to my Euthyphro argument was that it applies to me to.”

No, that’s not my only response. You have yet to argue for the Euthyphro dilemma. You merely assert that the very ultimacy of a standard makes it arbitrary. But where’s the supporting argument? Why does ultimacy entail arbitrariness?

Why would the ultimately explanation for something be arbitrary? Isn’t the whole point of demanding explanations to arrive at the final explanation that truly accounts for the phenomenon? A sufficient condition?

“And, interestingly, it seems you affirm that God exemplifies a moral standard rather than creates it.”

No, I said God is the moral exemplar. A moral exemplar doesn’t exemplify morality. Rather, moral instances exemplify the moral exemplar. Master that elementary distinction.

“Now how do we know he exemplifies it always and forever with perfect fidelity?”

Now you’re shifting ground from the metaphysics of morality, which is what the Euthyphro dilemma is about, to the epistemology of morality. Is that a tacit admission that your original argument failed, so you’re having to abruptly change the subject?

“And do you disagree with Piper that we have no rights when it comes to God? That everything he decides is right? If not, does the moral standard only apply to God?”

To evaluate his statement, I’d have to have the actual statement, in context, and not your summary.

Keep in mind, too, that Piper is a Reformed pastor, not a Reformed philosopher.

steve hays April 1, 2011 at 4:25 pm
Eric Mattingly

“For me the most interesting thing is that you won’t answer my simple question: does God have the right to kill children and send them to hell? Does he have absolute rights over his creation? You prevaricate (pot meet kettle) by insisting I ‘exegetically justify’ the terms ‘rape,’ ‘murder,’ and ‘genocide’ as if there is a different definition for God that makes them any less ugly. My question is made with respect to the ordinary meaning of those words and not some abject theological hand-wavery that tries to assert and obscure at the same time.”

In “ordinary” usage, “killing” is not synonymous with “murder.” That’s your bait-n-switch tactic.

“If genocide is the obliteration of an ethnic group by force then God commanded genocide.”

i) God didn’t order the execution of the Canaanites because they were ethnically Canaanite (whatever that’s supposed to mean). He ordered their execution because they were wicked.

ii) There was provision under the Mosaic code for foreigners to convert to the true faith. So it was never an ethnic thing. Are you too ignorant of Scripture to know that?

“The same with hell. It would be wrong for me to stuff people into a barrel of acid because they refuse to worship me (or because they have inherited from their father an unholiness that makes me sick). Why is it ok for God to do worse? Does he have that right with babies?“

That’s another trick question because you’ve posited a tendentious analogy between hell and a vat of acid.

steve hays April 1, 2011 at 4:58 pm
God had the right to kill them. As for infant damnation (or not), I’ve discussed that elsewhere this week.

steve hays April 1, 2011 at 5:11 pm
It’s okay for him to kill any sinner, including you or me.

There are also double effect situations in which it’s okay to kill the innocent. That’s not punitive.

steve hays April 2, 2011 at 9:26 am
Eric Mattingly

“Moving on, given that God has the right to kill anybody WHY does he have that right? What special property of God gives him the right to kill anybody he wants.”

For one thing, omniscience. God discerns the heart. He knows what motivates the culprit.

For another thing, God isn’t swayed by irrelevant considerations.

For yet another thing, God is holy, unlike sinful judges who judge fellows sinners, where the judge’s judgment is often clouded by his own sin.

“By analogy, say somebody killed a person I loved. They may deserve to die (and I may certainly feel like they do) but I don’t have the right to break into the person’s house and kill them myself.”

Frankly, that’s just a social convention. There are many cultures in which it would be your duty to avenge the wrongful death of a friend or relative.

However, cultures generally regulate who determines guilt or innocence and metes out punishment to avoid social anarchy. Someone to play traffic cop.

Also, there are obvious benefits to having guilt or innocence evaluated by a disinterested, third-party.

But you’re a hothead who will say any dumb thing that crosses his mind to attack the Christian faith.

steve hays April 2, 2011 at 9:00 pm
Eric Mattingly

“Let’s ignore the whole ‘obvious benefits to. . . a disinterested third party.’”

The ellipsis is deceptive. I didn’t say it was a benefit to the disinterested third party. That would be nonsensical. Rather, it’s beneficial to the accused that he be judged by a disinterested party. Or does that escape you?

“Since 1) God is clearly not disinterested.”

Since you’re so slow on the uptake, I guess I’ll have to slow down and go at your own pace, walking you through the argument in baby steps so that you can keep up.

What do I mean by a disinterested party playing the role of judge? Is that really so hard for you to grasp? Let’s see.

If one teenage boy kills another teenage boy, it’ s not a good idea to have the father of the dead boy be the judge. He’s too close to the situation to evaluate the situation objectively. He’s biased in favor of his dead son, even if his dead son had it coming.

Do you get the point, now, or do we need to explain it to you further?

“2) Traffic cops and the like don’t have the authority to condemn somebody eternally.”

Now you’re playing hopscotch. Having lost the argument, you jump to a different square.

You talked about God’s right to “kill” anybody, and you compared that with you not having the right to avenge the death of a loved one.

So that comparison wasn’t predicated on eternal condemnation, was it now? The fact that you lack the honesty to stick to the terms of your own argument shows that you argue in bad faith. But that doesn’t surprise me since you’ve admitted that you like to argue for the sake of argument.

Is that just a way for you to fill the time in your empty, godless life?

“Those same traffic cops are given authority within the context of a complex society and derive their it from a more abstract notion of rule of law– unless, of course, they derive their authority from an autocrat with absolute power. In other words my analogy breaks down here, which is not too awful since all analogies break down.”

Once again, since you’re so slow on the uptake, let’s go back and take it more slowly to see if you can catch up this time.

Was I talking about literal traffic cops? No. What was the point of my comparison? Well, as I explained, cultures generally designate certain individuals to judge crimes and mete out punishment to avoid social anarchy. Vigilantism.

They don’t necessarily do that because they believe vigilantism is intrinsically wrong. A society might think an aggrieved father does have the right to kill the rapist who murdered his daughter. But society has other concerns as well. If everyone takes the law into his own hands, that, too, can lead to wrongs equal to or exceeding the original crime. Hence, that duty is often reassigned to a disinterested third party.

The ‘traffic cop” metaphor was related to the social “anarchy” metaphor. Get it? Or is that still too subtle for you?

“It’s just not very interesting at this point (unless you take the autocracy path but then you’d be conceding my point).”

Does that represent your feeble attempt to be clever?

“So let’s concentrate on the explicit reason you gave: omniscience. This is curious since it seems you are implying that having more knowledge, or being capable of having more knowledge, is sufficient to give you the right to condemn somebody in particularly severe ways.”

Did I postulate that as a sufficient condition? No. I said “for one thing.”

Do you know what that means? Or do I also need to explain to you the difference between “one,” “two,” “three,” or “many”? I don’t want to go too fast for you.

And is sufficient conditionality germane to your original question? No. Rather, you’re question was asking for differential factors between God’s right to kill and our right to kill.

Try to at least follow the terms of your own argument, pitiful as that may be. I don’t think it’s asking too much that you keep track of your side of the argument.

Or is that too much of an imposition on you? Should we issue you flash cards so that you brush up on what you said before the next round?

“So, you are far more knowledgeable and intelligent than me: does that give you the right to punch me in the face?”

Once again, I realize that it’s hard for you to keep up, so I’ll slow down once more and help you along. Go back and notice that when I cited divine omniscience, I also included some epexegetical glosses, such as God “knows what motivates the culprit.”

Frequently we can’t assess the licit or illicit character of a deed from the deed alone, for oftentimes intent is a morally salient consideration. Was there criminal intent?

Are you capable of absorbing that rudimentary distinction, or do we need to explain it to you in more detail? I must never assume too much about your capacity to grasp the argument. Sorry if I overestimated you in our earlier exchanges.

“That’s a strange leap, brother.”

You’re not my brother.

“And let’s assume here that your diseased notion of humanity is correct: we are all scum and thoroughly nasty with no hope of ever being righteous.”

Well, one thing you’ve done quite well is to illustrate the Reformed doctrine of total depravity. I’ll give you that.

“I on the other hand have done nothing more than ask questions.”

You think anyone is taken in by that line? Attacks masked as “questions.”

You play hopscotch. You attack. You feint. You deflect. When you lose one argument, you instantly jump to another square, then act as if that’s what you were saying all along.

Like Tellerites, you don’t argue for reasons–you simply argue.

Here’s a parting thought: if you were diagnosed with terminal cancer tomorrow, and given six months to live, would you fritter away your remaining days with these flip, cutesy, superscillious back-patting attacks on the Christian faith, or would you drop the pose and actually get serious for once in your vain little life?

steve hays April 3, 2011 at 7:46 pm
Eric Mattingly

“Because your anger says to me that you know I’m right.”

That’s a polemical cliché.

“There is no God. No heaven. No hell. You cling to this rotting and irrelevant faith like a child trapped in a burning building who doesn’t want to watch the flames consume him.”

You’re trying to shame Christians out of their faith by assuming the role of the disapproving parent. However, you face a dilemma. If atheism were true, then it doesn’t matter whether we’re childish or not. If atheism is true, the corpse of the “childish Christian” and the corpse of the enlightened atheist are empirically equivalent. If atheism is false, you lose, but if atheism is true, you also lose.

So your hackneyed tactic of trying to shame Christians out of their faith by your faux adult, finger-wagging posture is meaningless given your secular outlook.

“The thought of facing reality as it is terrifies you so much that you would accept anything: Islam, Judaism, Roman Catholicism, whatever, if you had been born in the right time and place and it allowed you to avoid the truth.”

If atheism were true, we’d have no epistemic duties to be true to truth. So atheism slits its own throat.

“Can you guess what image I saw when I read your last post? Weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Well, since I didn’t say anything about hell, what you must be psychotic. Or perhaps you were high on acid.

“You can only free yourself.”

There’s no freedom in atheism. If atheism were truth, then you and I would merely be the byproduct of physical determinism.

“Pride led me to peek into your suffocating, smoke-filled building and comment on the ugliness of the colors.”

If atheism were true, your value judgment would be the illusory projection of values on a valueless world.

steve hays April 4, 2011 at 3:59 pm
Eric Mattingly

“Pride led me to peek into your suffocating, smoke-filled building and comment on the ugliness of the colors.”

More likely you thought to yourself, “Christianity is a house of cards, so I’m going to blow it down in three easy steps, then leave these Christians tongue-tied.”


    You no doubt defeated Eric with your command of logic, theology, history, and philosophy; however, about 2/3 of the way in you ceased being winsome and started to sound condescending.

    Keep fighting for the faith.
    Your brother,

  2. That's a calculated tactic. Since Eric wasn't arguing in good faith, and since, by his own admission, he suffers from intellectual pride, I hit him where it hurts. Sometimes we need to shame a disreputable opponent.