Friday, February 10, 2017

Sparing the innocent

Lydia McGrew attempted a partial response to my critique:

I have answered the claim, above in this thread, that one could just "lie" about denying Jesus Christ, engage in the activity demanded, and thereby get the bad guys off one's back.

The question at issue isn't getting the bad guys off one's own back, but getting them off the backs of other people. So Lydia isn't engaging the actual point at issue.

I would emphasize again that that solution, if it were legitimate, would make it rather pointless to enjoin Christians to be prepared to stand firm and not deny Jesus before men. Virtually all (or all) martyrdoms would become unnecessary, since all the Christians/Jews could just pour the libation to the emperor, bow before Nebuchadnezzar's image, stomp on the picture of Jesus, say, "I deny Jesus" or whatever external gesture of renouncing Christ is demanded, while not really meaning it in their hearts, and then nobody would have to be martyred. "Lying to the persecutors" would take care of it. They could then go back to their fellow Christians and explain that they didn't really mean it, and everything would be fine. This seems to be a ridiculous position to hold given the injunctions both in Scripture and in Christians tradition against cooperating with such demands. Those injunctions (and the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) strongly (to my mind blatantly obviously) imply that the public act is sufficient for denying Jesus, that "denying Jesus" is not simply constituted by private meanings and intentions.

i) What's a "ridiculous position" is for Lydia to do a bait-n-switch. Once again, the question at issue is not whether Christians have a duty to undergo martyrdom, if it comes to that, but whether they have a duty to make others undergo martyrdom. Lydia is a highly intelligent woman, so why does she misrepresent the issue under discussion? 

ii) Moreover, the question at issue isn't whether denying Jesus in general is simply constituted by private meanings and intentions, but a morally complex situation in which other social obligations come into play. Some actions are pro tanto or prima facie wrong, but can be overridden by competing duties. The question of where our duty lies when our course of action is unencumbered by other obligations isn't interchangeable with situations where there are two or more mutually incompatible obligations vying for our submission. Jesus himself taught us that distinction in his debates over Sabbath-keeping. 

The "before men" part of Jesus' injunction becomes entirely extraneous on such a construal. All the moral weight is born by hypothetical injunction (which isn't even stated) against denying Jesus in your heart. 

It's true that denying Jesus in your heart is not part of the injunction. But Lydia cast the issue in terms of apostasy. So one question is whether denying Jesus before men is ipso facto tantamount to apostasy, regardless of any attenuating circumstances. The question is whether apostasy is reducible to public gestures. 

Even if one denies Jesus both publicly and in one's heart, on this construal, the "before men" part, the public part, isn't the problem. The problem lies with denying him in your heart! We can all agree that turning away from Jesus in one's heart is wrong, even if no persecution ever comes, so denying him in your heart while not doing it before men (if the subject never comes up) is wrong. 

That oversimplifies the issue. It is normally culpable to publicly recant the faith. But the question at issue is whether that's culpable in a situation where feigned sacrilege is motivated by a desire to spare the innocent from grievous harm. Why does Lydia continually caricature the argument? 

And if you really are an apostate in your heart and are told by persecutors to deny Jesus publicly, without even lying, it would seem ridiculous to enjoin the heart-apostate to lie and pretend that he's still a follower! That can't be what Jesus is talking about. 

I didn't suggest that Jesus was talking about an actual apostate who pretends to be a follower. Why interject that red herring? 

So really, it's just denying him in your heart that is wrong! Denying him before men doesn't have any special wrongness to it on this view. If you are really a heart-apostate, then why would you not deny him before men? But if you really are not a heart-apostate, it's perfectly okay to appear to deny him before men, or it's not un-okay in any special way…

i) Why does Lydia continually caricature the argument? The real argument is that there's a pro tanto or prima facie duty to endure whatever social sanctions are threatened rather than to evade them by publicly renouncing the faith. But in addition, the argument is that Christ's injunction envisions the typical incentive that people have to deny the faith under duress: to save their own skin. The injunction has an implied context. 

It's implausible that the injunction envisions a morally complex situation in which persecutors use the innocent to extort public sacrilege. There's nothing in the passage about torturing the innocent as psychological blackmail to make a Christian recant his faith. 

…it's just a special case of the general wrongness of lying, if there is any such general wrongness, which maybe there isn't!

Why does Lydia say things like that? Surely she must know that that's a malicious interpretation of the argument. Did I suggest that there's nothing generally wrong about lying? No. I suggested the opposite. 

It isn't anything Jesus is specially telling you not to do. So the only thing that is wrong is denying Jesus in your heart and maybe lying because lying is wrong! But denying Jesus before men is not wrong in itself. Which is an absurd construal of Jesus' words.

That's absurd because Lydia can't bring herself to accurately represent the opposing position. Lydia is a brilliant, sophisticated thinker, but temperamentally she's like some  New Atheists (e.g. Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne). Lydia is very passionate, with unshakable conviction in her moral intuitions. She has such unbridled contempt for certain positions that she cannot exercise the critical detachment necessary to fairly represent the opposing position. So she creates a parody of the opposing position, then proceeds to lampoon the parody. 

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