Thursday, January 24, 2013

Anatomy of a scoundrel

Arminian theologian Randal Rauser has gone on the rampage:

I’ll comment on his screed. After that, I’ll append the comments I left at his blog, leading up to his screed.

If homosexuals are “sodomites” what does that make the rest of us?

What an odd title. Since “sodomite” is simply a traditional synonym for homosexual, that tautology doesn’t carry any implications for the rest of us. Rauser might as well do a post entitled If single men are bachelors, what does that make the rest of us? Short answer: nothing in particular.

Our story begins this past Saturday when I published an article called “Why do conservative Christians think everything is getting worse?” In the article I pointed out that the data is, at best, ambiguous and that much of it indicates broad societal improvement over the last two centuries and more. Alan Kurschner took issue with this claim, and part of his argument consisted of asking a simple question:

“is Canada more or less tolerant of sodomy today than it was in 1800? I’d like an answer from you.”

My initial answer was “wow”. There is a popular stereotype that conservative Christians are disproportionately concerned with sexual ethics over-against other important ethical issues. And now Alan was confirming that stereotype by suggesting that an assessment of the moral status of Canadian society c. 2000 over-against Canadian society c. 1800 could be settled simply by considering the legislation and social mores in each period on the issue of “sodomy”.

Rauser began with the straw man that premils think “everything is getting worse.” Rauser then cited what he took to be counterexamples to the straw man he was burning in effigy. Alan then cited a counterexample to his counterexample.

Rauser then responds by burning another strawman by acting as if Alan thinks the status of homosexuality is the only index of social morality. Needless to say, Alan didn’t say that or imply that. This is simply Rauser’s demagogical caricature.

I wondered at the time whether Alan was aware that one of the stars in the conservative Reformed firmament, Mark Driscoll, provides a spirited defense of anal intercourse between husband and wife in his book Real Marriage (p. 187 ff.). This is significant. You see, according to the English Buggery Act of 1533, buggery or sodomy included anal intercourse between a man and a woman. And since Canadian laws against sodomy were based on this act, had Mark Driscoll published his racy marital guide in 1800 in Canada he could have faced prison … or worse.

Of course, that’s just a distraction. And is far as that goes, Driscoll’s position was denounced by various Calvinists. Driscoll has come under fire for other things as well. If he’s a star in the Reformed firmament, he’s a falling star.

I didn’t bother to pursue that point since I took Alan to be using the term “sodomy” more or less equivalent to “homosexuality”. (Though one can surely pause to marvel at the irony here.)

Where’s the irony?

So I provided a reply to him in “Sodomy and the Kingdom of God” in which I asked him whether he thought homosexuals should be killed in accord with Canadian law c. 1800. Neither he nor Steve Hays (to whom I also posed the question) had the courage to provide a reply. This, in itself, is extremely disturbing. What is one to think when the question “Should this person be killed for their actions?” is met with silence?

That’s a demonstrable lie. I didn’t meet Rauser’s question with silence. Rather, I pointed out that Rauser was grasping for a pretext to change the subject.

This got started when Rauser caricatured premillennialism. Since it’s so easy to cite counterexamples which puncture his caricature, Rauser then felt the need to save face by deflecting attention away from his original, bankrupt argument.

Not surprisingly, these questions were also met with silence. Why?

i) It as met with silence (from Alan's end) because Alan is a busy guy. He wasn’t monitoring Rauser’s blog.

ii) Notice Rauser’s scurrilous pseudo-logic. Alan cited the normalization of homosexuality as a mark of social decadence. How does Rauser manage to go from that position to the allegation that Alan thinks homosexuals should be executed? There’s no logical validity to that move.

I can’t speak for Alan, but there standard reasons why conservative Christians might oppose homosexuality, but also oppose the execution of homosexuals.

i) They often regard most of the death penalties in the Mosaic Law as a reflection of Israel's cultic holiness. Something not carried over into the new covenant.

ii) Even during the OT era, some scholars regard the death penalty as a maximum penalty, not a mandatory penalty. Subject to commutation (except in case of murder).

So Rauser's imputation is fallacious.

iii) However, it remains the case that sodomy was a capital offense in OT law. According to God, sodomy merits the death penalty. Rauser may stamp his feet, but I prefer to take my cue from God’s disapproval rather than Rauser’s disapproval.

iv) From a Scriptural standpoint, sin generally merits the death penalty (e.g. Rom 6:23). That’s why everyone dies. At that level, every sin is a capital offense. 

At the same time, every sin is not a crime. Although every sinner is worthy of death, that doesn’t translate into penology. Scripture itself is selective in that respect.

I presume because it is easier to judge the actions of others at a distance rather than the sins that are going on in your midst.

That’s very rich coming from Rauser. When attacking the alleged hypocrisy of others, Rauser has 20/20 vision. But he suffers from instant glaucoma where his own conduct is concerned.

In a subsequent discussion with Steve Hays I then pointed out that Alan was crassly attributing to me statements I never made. I wrote:

“By the way Alan Kurschner wrote an article titled “Randal Rauser Asserts Premillennialism is Pessimistic, Therefore, it is Against Social Justice and the Environment”. I never said any such thing. I trust that you’ll set Alan straight.”

To the contrary, Alan’s ascriptions were completely accurate. In his initial argument against premillennialism, Rauser resorted to straw men and hasty generalizations. When challenged, Rauser began to rewrite the history of his argument, then backdate his revised argument as if that’s what he’d been saying all along. Yet you only have to compare his current statements with his original statements to see the difference.

Here was Steve’s reply:

“I have no doubt that Alan is straight. You’re the one who’s defending sodomites.”

Note what Steve does here. In response to my point that Alan has attributed blatantly false claims to me…

Far from being “blatantly false,” Alan’s characterization of Rauser’s argument was blatantly true. The only thing which needs to be set straight is Rauser’s crooked behavior.

Steve replies by making a play on words…


…to suggest that I am homosexual. 

How does my pun suggest that Rauser is homosexual? Rauser’s bizarre reaction unwittingly illustrates the Rorschach test.

And then he charges me with “defending sodomites.”

Count me guilty on that one.

Which confirms my charge.

I’ll defend homosexuals against religious hypocrites any day of the week. After all, if there is one group Jesus did single out for special moral censure, it was religious hypocrites.

That’s a popular cliché, but it’s demonstrably false. For instance, Jesus also singled out “murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Mt 15:19) for special moral censure. And “sexual immorality” certainly included sodomy.

Moreover, Jesus singled out those who break God’s commandments (Mt 15:3), yet Rauser routinely attacks God’s commandments.

So then I asked Steve:

“Steve, we all know you hate homosexuals. But the real question is: what should be done with the remarried divorcees that fill the pews of churches, the very ones Jesus called adulterers? Why don’t you field that question since Alan refused to?”

Remarried divorcees aren’t ipso facto adulterers. Jesus made exception for divorce and remarriage in case of infidelity.

Steve replied:

“Randal, we all know you hate Yahweh.”

Huh? Ignoring that strange non sequitur…

That’s not a “strange non sequitur.” Here’s another example of Rauser’s deceptive debate tactics. Look at the full exchange:

Randal Rauser

By the way Alan Kurschner wrote an article titled "Randal Rauser Asserts Premillennialism is Pessimistic, Therefore, it is Against Social Justice and the Environment". I never said any such thing.

I trust that you'll set Alan straight.

steve hays

I have no doubt that Alan is straight. You're the one who's defending sodomites.

Randal Rauser

Steve, we all know you hate homosexuals. But the real question is: what should be done with the remarried divorcees that fill the pews of churches, the very ones Jesus called adulterers? Why don't you field that question since Alan refused to?

 steve hays

 Randal, we all know you hate Yahweh.

My statement that “Randal, we all know you hate Yahweh” is an obvious riposte to his statement that “Steve, we all know you hate homosexuals.”

So, no, my statement is not a “strange non sequitur.” But Rauser edited the exchange to eliminate his own statement, which I was responding to.

Moreover, I’ve documented Randal’s rejection of OT theism. So that’s the larger context.

I persisted:

“Please answer the direct question. What should be done with the remarried divorcees that fill the pews of churches, the very ones Jesus called adulterers?”

Not surprisingly, Steve refused to answer. Like his friend Alan, he prefers to focus his moral outrage on the sins of a select group rather than focus on the moral failings in his midst, even when the issue is one Jesus specifically addressed.

i) Rauser is so transparent. Does he really think people can’t see what he’s up to? This is just a distraction. Because he bungled his original argument against premillennialism, he’s laboring to deflect attention away from his failure. He does that by a show of mock indignation.

If I played into his diversion, that would give him the excuse he’s desperately seeking to shift attention to a discussion of my answer, thereby hoping readers will forget the original issue, which was his caricature of premillennialism. 

ii) As far as that goes, I’ve discussed the pastoral issue of divorced parishioners on my blog.

iii) Since I’m not divorced, I’m not guilty of hypocrisy in that respect.

iv) In my comment on Rauser’s blog, I haven’t exhibited moral outrage. Rather, I’ve discussed Alan’s counterexample in response to Rauser.

Of course Jesus didn’t just address divorce. In the Sermon on the Mount he drops an atom bomb on the “sinner vs. the rest of us” mentality. Jesus offers us a moral universe that is breathtakingly egalitarian: we’re all sinners, we’re all in need of redemption. It’s a world in which we recognize ourselves as the chief of all sinners and in which there’s no hatred left for others because it is all directed at stamping out the sin nature in our own decaying souls.

i) Rauser is now inventing a nonexistent position to attack, as if that has any bearing on Alan’s position or mine.

ii) Funny to compare Rauser’s disclaimer about an us-versus-them mentality in the context of a post which is completely framed in terms of Rauser’s us-versus-them mentality.

iii) Keep in mind that Rauser repudiates the moral authority of Jesus. This is coming from a man who thinks Jesus can give false theological answers. So why is Rauser wrapping himself in the mantle of the Sermon on the Mount? Even if we agreed with his glib interpretation of what Jesus said, Rauser’s kenotic Christology dissolves the moral authority of Jesus.

iv) Paul singles out homosexuality in Rom 1. From all the sins that Paul could choose to illustrate man’s moral and spiritual revolt, he makes homosexuality the showcase sin.

v) Divorce and sodomy aren’t morally equivalent. According to Scripture, sodomy is intrinsically wrong. By contrast, divorce is not intrinsically wrong. It depends on the circumstances. 

steve hays

“I argued that the widespread conservative belief that society is, on the whole, becoming less just and compassionate is not borne out by the facts.”

No, Randal, that’s not what you argued. This is what you initially argued: “Why do conservative Christians think everything is getting worse?” or “My beef is with the thesis that things are always getting worse.”

You also said: “Christian conservatives often exercise a clear confirmation bias as every major disaster (e.g. earthquakes, tsunamis, wars) and every attack on Christians (e.g. the removal of the creche from the lawn of the town hall) is marshalled in support of the ‘Things are getting worse’ thesis.”

So you seem to be backpedaling from your original claim. Is that a backdoor admission that your original claim was a strawman, so that you’re now having to retreat to a more qualified claim?

steve hays

Your revised argument reduces to saying dispensationalists are pessimistic because they don't think everything is getting worse. They only think some things are getting worse. Of course, amils don't think everything is getting worse, either.

Randal Rauser

That wasn't the argument.

steve hays

You're playing games.

I'm not going to chase your decoys, Randal. If you want to play fetch the ball, get a dog.
Randal Rauser

No really Steve. That wasn't the argument.

steve hays

But as I pointed out in my response to you yesterday, if you qualify your claim, then your claim is equivocal. So don't be condescending when you're guilty of fallacious formulations.

Randal Rauser

Because it's an archaic term based on an erroneous reading of Genesis 19. If you want to find biblical texts relevant to the discussion of homosexual acts you're better off turning to the Levitical law or Romans 1 or 1 Corinthians 6.

Anyway, I'd appreciate a response to my follow-up article. Your question seems to equate a just society with that society's broadly accepted social mores and legislative practices with respect to a subset of sexual practices. And I'm suggesting that is grossly reductionistic and myopic, serious charges to be sure.

steve hays

i) Notice that Rauser is committing the etymological fallacy.

ii) In addition, there are Bible scholars like Robert Gagnon who don't think that's based on an erroneous reading of Gen 19.

steve hays

This is one of Randal’s diversionary tactics. When Randal can’t present a reasonable argument for his position, he reaches into his bag of tricks. Let’s draw some rudimentary distinctions for Randal:

There’s a difference between decriminalizing homosexuality and legalizing homosexuality as a civil right, viz. homosexuals have the right to marry other homosexuals, adopt children, be Boy Scout leaders, serve in the military.

There’s a difference between decriminalizing homosexuality and criminalizing criticism of homosexuality as a hate speech, or criminalizing reparative therapy.

There’s a difference between treating homosexuality as capital felony and imposing civil restrictions on homosexuality.

There are degrees of social or legal tolerance and intolerance.

steve hays

That's a decoy, Randal. The question at issue was Alan's observation that mainstreaming homosexuality is a mark of social decadence. From the standpoint of Christian ethics, do you agree or disagree?

Randall. Let’s reframe the discussion to make it more precise. Take Paul’s famous statement about the Antichrist in 2 Thessalonians:

“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction” (2 Thes 2:1-3).

In context, Paul is responding to a false teaching which was circulating in some NT churches, according to which Jesus had already returned. He counters this by drawing attention to a necessary precursor to the Parousia. Jesus can’t return before the advent of the Antichrist.

BTW, there’s nothing uniquely dispensational about my summary. That’s the standard interpretation offered by a range of commentators, viz. Beale, Bruce, Fee, Green, Marshall, Wanamaker.

Questions for you:

i) You said you were amil. On an amil interpretation, this is still a future event. This NT prophecy has yet to be fulfilled.

ii) Since Paul treats the Antichrist as a preliminary sign of the coming Parousia, is it wrong for Christians to tentatively consider figures on the world stage today who may seem to be candidates for this role?

iii) If a Christian provisionally thinks somebody in the news might be the Antichrist, would it be wrong for said Christian to assume that from this point on, things will begin a downward spiral until the Parousia? Put another way, does this prophecy foster pessimism?

1 comment:

  1. "How does my pun suggest that Rauser is homosexual? Rauser’s bizarre reaction unwittingly illustrates the Rorschach test."

    Overly specific denials have always been suspicious.