Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Hipster pacifism

Some comments on the Facebook wall of hipster pacifist Preston Sprinkle:

Steve Hays What we see are hipster pacifists who equate picking up the cross with picking up a Caramel Brulée Latte, while they feign the rhetoric of martyrdom in the ouchless, painless forum of a Facebook wall.

Steve Hays Preston deploys two contradictory defenses:

i) The "Syrian refugees" pose no risk.

ii) We should take them in regardless of the risk.

Steve Hays I notice Preston ignores objections he can't refute. For instance, there's the persistent refusal to register the elementary moral distinction between protecting yourself and protecting another. Between putting others at risk and putting yourself at risk to protect others. Defending your wife and kids isn't selfish or playing it safe. To the contrary, that's endangering yourself to defend their physical well-being. 

Preston keeps taking ethical and intellectual shortcuts.

Steve Hays Preston says 1 Tim 5:8 is only about financial provision. Two points:

i) So, according to Preston, Paul thinks Christians have a duty to protect dependents from the physical harm of starvation of destitution, but no duty to protect them from the physical harm of rape, battery, or murder? That's a pretty artificial disjunction. 

ii) But for the sake of argument, let's agree with Preston's arbitrary restriction. Problem is, pacifism prevents a Christian from financially supporting his dependents. If you can't protect your livelihood or financial assets, then you can't support your family.

Steve Hays Preston says Christians who oppose pacifism are motivated by "fear". Is that generally true? 

Take the Muslim culture of rape. Most rape victims are women. As a man, I'm at very low risk of becoming a rape victim.

If, therefore, I'm concerned about importing a rape culture into the US, that's not because I'm afraid of rapists. I personally have next to nothing to fear from rapists. It's highly unlikely that I'd ever be the target.

Likewise, Preston says Christians who oppose pacifism want to play it safe. Is that generally true?

Suppose I leave a downtown tavern by the rear exit. In the alley I see a well-built man threatening a woman. If I wanted to play it safe, I wouldn't get involved. 

Suppose I interpose myself between the woman and the assailant. Am I playing it safe? Hardly. I'm exposing myself to potential harm, possibly grave harm. There's no guarantee that I will win that altercation. I may be hospitalized. I may be murdered. 

The objective is to buy the woman time to get away from the assailant. And I do so at my expense. 

Preston routinely posits a false dichotomy between safety and defense. But counterexamples like these are trivially easy to imagine–and they have many real-world counterparts.

Or take the command to love our enemies. Well, to continue with my illustration, the assailant wasn't my enemy. The assailant was the woman's enemy. (At least until I drew her fire.)

That's not a case of "retaliating" against my enemy. Rather, that's a case of protecting the innocent from their enemies. 

These are rudimentary distinctions which the hipster pacifists on this thread disregard. Take the difference between protecting yourself and protecting someone other than yourself. Consider two different scenarios:

i) A soldier throws himself on a grenade to shield his comrades 

ii) A soldier throws a comrade on a grenade to shield himself

Does Preston think these are morally equivalent actions? Are both actions equivalent to playing it safe?

Steve Hays Regarding Preston's "cruciform" way of following Jesus, Preston evidently thinks it is unChristlike to defend your wife or daughter against a rape gang. That's what his pacifism boils down to.

Steve Hays Preston's position is self-refuting:

On the one hand he complains about how unchristian it is not to give safe haven to "Syrian refugees."

On the other hand, he complains about how unchristian it is to forcibly defend the innocent from harm. But in that event, there can never be any safe haven for fleeing refugees.

Steve Hays "No one ever said that the radical, enemy-loving, cross-bearing, self-sacrificial, countercultural, cruciform way of following Jesus would be safe. If you want safety and security, just keep following the American Dream. As Christians, we cannot die and we cannot lose. We've been crucified to the world and the world to us." - @Preston Sprinkle

Is Preston suggesting that if you wish to protect woman from jihadist rape-gangs (to take one example), that's equivalent to pursuing the American Dream?

Steve Hays One problem is Preston's elementary failure to distinguish between protecting yourself and protecting others. 

In addition, these can be linked. If, say, a man is the sole caregiver for his elderly, enfeebled mother, then by defending himself against a mugger, he's protecting his mother. For if the mugger kills him, his mother will be bereft.

Steve Hays Let's consider one of Preston's key theses in his case for "Christocentric" nonviolence:

"Jesus never acted violently to fight injustice or defend the innocent."

There are several basic problems with that thesis:

i) It acts as though Jesus is dead. It acts as though Jesus was just a man who lived 2000 years ago, made some inspirational statements, and left us an inspirational example. 

It acts as though his field of action was confined to 1C Palestine. But according to NT Christology, the Son is active wherever and whenever the Father is active (Jn 5:17). 

In the 1C, at the same time the Son was doing things in 1C Palestine, he was doing things in 1C India, China, North and South America, &c. As a member of the Trinity, the Son is an agent of divine providence. The Son is active 24/7 throughout the universe. 

ii) The problem with Prescott using Jesus as an example, including his exemplary inaction, is that it undercuts his appeal to Christian charity. What is Jesus doing for "Syrian refugees"? Is Jesus personally housing, feeding, and clothing Syrian refugees? No. 

If Preston is going to analogize from Jesus' example, then we shouldn't have Christian relief agencies. We shouldn't do stuff Jesus isn't doing. Well, Jesus isn't on the ground in war-torn countries like Syria, aiding the hungry, homeless, wounded, destitute masses. Jesus is an example of nonintervention in the "Syrian refugee" crisis.

Steve Hays As I pointed out before, there's a central contradiction in Preston's argument. His position involves an argument by analogy. 

He says Jesus was nonviolent, so we should follow his example. So he's operating with a general principle, Don't do what Jesus didn't do.

Well, what is Jesus doing in the "refugee" crisis? What example is Jesus setting for us right here and now? Presumably, Preston thinks Jesus is still alive. Indeed, omnipotent.

On the face of it, Jesus is doing nothing to intercede. Therefore, by parity of argument, we should practice nonintervention as well.

Steve Hays My portrayal of his argument is drawn directly from one of the theses in his ETS presentation ("Jesus never acted violently to fight injustice or defend the innocent"). That isn't based on Jesus' commands, but Jesus' example.

You then proceed to equivocate regarding the analogy. Jesus isn't personally showing hospitality to "Syrian refugees." Rather, he's taking a hands-off approach. 

So, by parity of argument, we should follow his example by similar inaction. If we truly follow Jesus' lead in this crisis, that's a prescription for nonintervention. 

At best, we could delegate the heavy-lifting to third-parties, just as, according to you, Jesus now delegates the heavy-lifting to third parties.

Steve Hays Jay needs to learn how to follow an argument–in this case, Preston's argument. Jay is now admitting that we shouldn't emulate Jesus. After all, Jesus lets "Syrian refugees" starve, so by analogy, we should let "Syrian refugees" starve.

Presumably, the general principle undergirding Preston's argument is that Christians should do what Jesus does and refrain from doing what Jesus refrains from doing. By that logic, if Jesus lets "Syrian refugees" starve, we should follow his lead. 

If that's not the general principle, then that component of Preston's case disintegrates. 

Jay responds by insisting that we should treat "Syrian refugees" differently than Jesus treats them. But that's the opposite of Preston's argument. Jay has turned Preston's argument by analogy into an argument by disanalogy.


  1. Well done. I am sure that Preston wanted nothing to do with keeping US forces deployed in Iraq, so that we would not be having this refugee crisis at all.

  2. Nice takedown. Good form.